Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor is our most recent exploration of history through The Great Courses audio lectures. Listening to something educational while we haul the trailer is both a good way to pass the time and helps ease the stress of driving. This was a topic I knew so little about to begin with that I didn’t know where Asia Minor was when we started it. It turned out I was familiar with some of its history, but as with all the great courses, there was a lot more to learn.
In case you don’t know, Asia Minor is the area now occupied by the modern state of Turkey and it connects the middle east and Southwest Asia to the European continent. As we learned, due to this unique location bridging the divide between many great civilizations, its history is marked by shifts of influence over time, sometimes influenced most strongly by the western cultures of Europe, sometimes by the eastern cultures of the Arabian peninsula or beyond. The course begins with a discussion of the Hittites, then moves into the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Romans, the Persian Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and finally the Ottomans which are the root of the modern Turks.
In addition to the constantly shifting political and military history, professor Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D. also covers the social and religious influences that wash across the area and intermingle in remarkable ways. We get a wonderful insight into how the Hellenist faith took root here, how it mingled with Jewish traditions, then was revolutionized by early Christianity, then the Roman Christian Faith, then Eastern Orthodoxy, and finally Islam. In each case, the older faiths influenced the newer ones creating rich traditions and cultures that went on to have far-reaching cultural impacts around the world.
The professor is both very knowledgeable and very enthusiastic about the topic at hand. His expertise in Hellenistic history does show as they get the lion’s share of the course and their influence is harkened back to often in other sections. I’d have enjoyed a bit more about some of the empires I was less familiar with but I enjoyed all of what I learned about the Greeks. Of course, part of the reason for this is the Greeks simply wrote down much more of their history than later empires so we have more details to consider and discuss. Professor Harl is well spoken but his consistently high energy presentation can get hypnotically one-note after a time. This was the first of the Great courses where I occasionally got a bit sleepy listening hours on end while driving. Not because the content or voice was dull, only due to the lack of variation in tone and rather frequent interjections compared to other lecturers in the series.
Like all the Great Courses, I came away with in incredible wealth of new knowledge and insights while at the same time being entertained by grand stories of the past. This course is well worth your time and money, though I would suggest taking it a chapter at a time rather than the 4-hour binges we do while driving.