Learning Ancient History for Free

For life­long learn­ers, cours­es on Ancient Greece and Rome always remain in steady demand. While these cours­es are poor­ly rep­re­sent­ed in under­grad­u­ate pro­grams (at least in the States), they seem be to mak­ing a come­back in con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion pro­grams designed for old­er stu­dents. Even­tu­al­ly, it seems, many come to the con­clu­sion that you can’t skip over the foun­da­tions and still make sense of it all. And so they go back to basics.

The Teach­ing Com­pa­ny, a com­mer­cial provider of cours­es for life­long learn­ers, has rec­og­nized this demand and built a sur­pris­ing­ly rich col­lec­tion of lec­tures ded­i­cat­ed to the Ancients. (See full cat­a­logue here.) These cours­es are pol­ished and well put togeth­er. But they cost mon­ey. If that’s a con­cern, then you should know about some of the free alter­na­tives. Thanks to the “open course” move­ment, you can now find a series of free cours­es online, includ­ing some from top-ranked uni­ver­si­ties. Let me give you a quick overview of your options:

Last fall, Yale Uni­ver­si­ty intro­duced a new round of open cours­es that includ­ed Don­ald Kagan’s Intro­duc­tion to Ancient Greek His­to­ry (YouTube — iTunes Audio — iTunes VideoDown­load Course). A lead­ing fig­ure in the field, Kagan takes stu­dents from the Greek Dark Ages, through the rise of Spar­ta and Athens, The Pelo­pon­nesian War, and beyond. You’ll cov­er more than a mil­len­ni­um in 24 lec­tures. As I’ve not­ed else­where, Yale’s cours­es are high touch. And what’s par­tic­u­lar­ly nice is that the course can be down­loaded in one of five for­mats (text, audio, flash video, low band­width quick­time video, and high band­width quick­time video). Sim­ply choose the for­mat that works for you, and you’re good to go.

When you’ve com­plet­ed the arc of Greek his­to­ry, you can move next to the UC Berke­ley course, The Roman Empire. The course taught by Isabelle Paf­ford moves from Julius Cae­sar to Con­stan­tine (rough­ly 40 BC to 300 AD) in 42 lec­tures. And the audio comes straight from the class­room, which means that you’ll get sol­id infor­ma­tion but you’ll also have to endure some extra­ne­ous talk about home­work assign­ments and exams. (It’s free, so don’t com­plain.) You can down­load this course in one of three ways: iTunes, streamed audio, or via rss feed. Last­ly, I should note that Paf­ford has taught anoth­er relat­ed course at Berke­ley — The Ancient Mediter­ranean World (iTunes — Feed - MP3s).

Once you have the big sur­vey cours­es under your belt, you can switch to some more focused cours­es com­ing out of Stan­ford. Let’s start with Patrick Hunt’s course Han­ni­bal (iTunes). As I’ve not­ed in a pre­vi­ous post, this pod­cast­ed course takes you inside the life and adven­tures of Han­ni­bal, the great Carthagin­ian mil­i­tary tac­ti­cian who maneu­vered his way across the Alps and stunned Roman armies in 218 BC. The course also gives you glimpses into cut­ting-edge trends in mod­ern archae­ol­o­gy. Because Han­ni­bal still remains a fig­ure of intense his­tor­i­cal inter­est, it’s not sur­pris­ing that this course has ranked as one of the more pop­u­lar cours­es on iTune­sU.

Anoth­er short course worth your time is Virgil’s Aeneid: Anato­my of a Clas­sic. Pre­sent­ed by Susan­na Braund (a Stan­ford clas­sics pro­fes­sor at the time), the course teas­es apart the epic poem that was an instant when it was writ­ten 29–19 BC), and still endures today. Divid­ed into 5 install­ments, each run­ning about two hours, this pod­cast offers a good intro­duc­tion to one of the cen­tral texts in the Latin tra­di­tion.

Final­ly, let me throw in a quick bonus course. The His­tor­i­cal Jesus, anoth­er Stan­ford course taught by Thomas Shee­han, looks inside the historical/Roman world of Jesus of Nazareth. This is a his­to­ry course, not a reli­gion course, and it uses the best lit­er­ary and his­tor­i­cal evi­dence to answer the ques­tions: “Who was the his­tor­i­cal Jesus of Nazareth? What did he actu­al­ly say and do…? What did the man Jesus actu­al­ly think of him­self and of his mis­sion…? In short, what are the dif­fer­ences — and con­ti­nu­ities — between the Jesus who lived and died in his­to­ry and the Christ who lives on in believ­ers’ faith?

UPDATE: Thanks to a read­er, I was remind­ed of anoth­er relat­ed course: 12 Byzan­tine Rulers: The His­to­ry of the Byzan­tine Empire (iTunesFeedSite). These pod­casts cov­er the lega­cy of the Roman Empire that emerged in the East (after it had col­lapsed in the West). You can read more about this course in one of my ear­ly blog posts.

All of these cours­es can be found in the His­to­ry Sec­tion of our larg­er col­lec­tion of Free Cours­es. There you will find 200 high qual­i­ty online cours­es that you can lis­ten to any­time, any­where.


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