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TTC - Peloponnesian War


Into the Thick of Action
Professor Harl is well known to many Teaching Company customers for his compelling courses  Rome and the Barbarians, The Vikings, The Era of the Crusades, The World of Byzantium, and others. A connoisseur of detail, he plunges you into the thick of politics, military strategy, economics, personalities, culture, and technology. In these 36 half-hour lectures, you will feel the ancient Greek world come alive as you explore such scenes as:

  • War debate at Athens and Sparta: Thucydides records speeches that took place in citizen assemblies as war fever took hold—and cooler heads were ignored. These make a gripping narrative, comparable to the drama that led to the outbreak of World War I.
  • Plague of Athens: Severe overcrowding in Athens probably touched off the devastating plagues that swept through the city beginning in 430 B.C. Thucydides himself contracted the disease and survived. The great Athenian statesman Pericles was not so lucky.
  • Revolt of Mytilene: In deciding the fate of an ally that tried to change sides, one Athenian demagogue argued that all adult males should be executed and the women and children enslaved. This policy was adopted, but rescinded at the last moment.
  • Battle of Pylos: The unthinkable happened to the proud Spartan army when a contingent of its troops was outmaneuvered by Athenians and captured, eventually leading to a peace treaty that ended the war after 10 years. But the fighting soon flared up again.
  • Sicilian expedition: The climax of Thucydides's account is a massive expedition mounted by Athens against cities allied with Sparta on the rich island of Sicily. Well manned and well equipped, the expedition was ineptly led and would end in disaster.

New Look at an Old Conflict
One of the surprising aspects of the Peloponnesian War is that it sparks lively scholarly debate even today, and Professor Harl introduces you to some of the key controversies. For example, what was the true nature of Sparta's notoriously closed society? Was it, at bottom, alien to our Western values—as some historians now believe? Or did Sparta partake of a common Greek culture that made it more similar than dissimilar to Athens? Professor Harl takes the latter view and argues that this position is crucial to understanding why Sparta achieved something that confounds traditional interpretations: Sparta won the war.

Throughout these lectures, you will focus on the major figures behind events: men like Pericles, who gave Athens her greatest monuments but also did more than anyone to bring on the war; Alcibiades, the gifted and unscrupulous Athenian aristocrat, who first led Athens—then switched sides—then switched back again; and Lysander, the Spartan general who finally won the war but ended his days as a meat carver at the table of the king of Sparta.
Citizens Deciding Their Own Fates
Unlike earlier great wars, the Peloponnesian War was not a conflict between kings but between citizens from different city-states, who shared the same language, gods, oracles, and festivals such as the Olympic Games. Citizen assemblies decided questions of war and peace—literally voting on their own fates, since they were the ones who had to do the fighting.

One of the major themes of the course is that as the war progressed, stasis erupted in city after city. The term stasis comes from the Greek word for standing and means faction-driven sedition or civil war. In the murderous stasis that overtook the island of Corcyra, Thucydides noted, "To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member."

You will also learn other Greek terms. For example, the traditional heavily armed Greek infantryman is called a hoplite, after his massive circular shield, the hoplon, which was designed to cover the soldier while also protecting the man to his immediate left in the fighting line—an innovation that heightened unit cohesion and the sense of comradeship of citizen soldiers in combat.

Culture amid War
Ironically, the Peloponnesian War was fought against the backdrop of Greece's Golden Age, epitomized by Athens and its astonishing innovations in government, architecture, oratory, philosophy, and the dramatic arts. One of the most remarkable aspects of this era is that culture flourished side-by-side with the politics of war—that even as Athenian citizens were honoring Aristophanes's mocking antiwar play The Acharnians by giving it first prize in a drama competition, they were debating with equal ardor whether to continue the war, and deciding overwhelmingly to do so.

Course Lecture Titles

  • 1. Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War
  • 2. The Greek Way of War
  • 3. Sparta—Perceptions and Prejudices
  • 4. Sparta and Her Allies
  • 5. The Athenian Democracy
  • 6. Athens and the Navy
  • 7. Victory over Persia, 490–479 B.C.
  • 8. Athens or Sparta—A Question of Leadership
  • 9. Cimonian Imperialism
  • 10. Sparta after the Persian Wars
  • 11. The First Peloponnesian War
  • 12. The Thirty Years' Peace
  • 13. Triumph of the Radical Democracy
  • 14. From Delian League to Athenian Empire
  • 15. Economy and Society of Imperial Athens
  • 16. Athens, School of Greece
  • 17. Crisis in Corcyra, 435–432 B.C.
  • 18. Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War
  • 19. Strategies and Stalemate, 431–429 B.C.
  • 20. Athenian Victory in Northwest Greece
  • 21. Imperial Crisis—The Chalcidice and Mytilene
  • 22. Plague, Fiscal Crisis, and War
  • 23. Demagogues and Stasis
  • 24. Pylos, 425 B.C.—A Test of Leadership
  • 25. New Leaders and New Strategies
  • 26. The Peace of Nicias
  • 27. Collapse of the Peace of Nicias
  • 28. From Mantinea to Sicily, 418–415 B.C.
  • 29. Sparta, Athens, and the Western Greeks
  • 30. The Athenian Expedition to Sicily
  • 31. Alcibiades and Sparta, 414–412 B.C.
  • 32. Conspiracy and Revolution, 411 B.C.
  • 33. Alcibiades and Athens, 411–406 B.C.
  • 34. The Defeat of Athens, 406–404 B.C.
  • 35. Sparta's Bitter Victory
  • 36. Lessons of the Peloponnesian War

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Tags: Thucydides, Peloponnesian, historian, history, world, ancient, Greek, Sparta, other