[TTC Video] Amanda H. Podany - Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the C...

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Welcome to Mesopotamia, the ancient name for the region that is now Iraq and Syria, a remarkably advanced civilization that flourished for two-thirds of the time that civilization has existed on Earth. Mesopotamians mastered irrigation agriculture; built the first complex urban societies; developed writing, literature, and law; and united vast regions through warfare and diplomacy. While civilizations like Greece and Rome have an unbroken tradition of written histories, passed along by scholars through the generations, the rich history of Mesopotamia has only been recently rediscovered, thanks to the decipherment of Mesopotamia’s cuneiform writing less than 200 years ago. In this course, you’ll fill in the blanks of your historical understanding as you plunge into some of the newest information historians have gathered from hundreds of thousands of ancient cuneiform tablets and other artifacts.

When we imagine what life might have been like thousands of years in the past, the images we often conjure are primitive ones: reed and mud huts or plain brick dwellings, cooking pits, villagers, and simple farms. That was indeed what life was like in the earliest settlements, but by five thousand years ago, life in some places had become much more sophisticated than we might think. Impressive achievements—like stepped temples that towered like mountains, elaborate palaces (some with bathrooms and plumbing), and complex houses—were also a part of life for people who lived in cities that arose thousands of years ago, particularly in the fertile region that emerged along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization is taught by one of the leading authorities on the region, Professor Amanda H. Podany. These 24 revealing lectures uncover events and advances that have had a profound influence on the world at large. Riveting stories about kings and priestesses as well as ordinary people from all walks of life transport you back in time, giving you invaluable insights into the history of a landmark region that has long been known as the cradle of civilization.

Creating Order Out of Chaos

Professor Podany begins with the Neolithic era, when early settlers began domesticating animals, planting crops, and crafting complex stone tools, and continues all the way through to the Iron Age, when the Persians conquered the region and ended Mesopotamia’s long era of independence.

Along the way, you will see why our notion of progress is something of an illusion. Each era of Mesopotamian history experienced immense change, and sometimes what many may consider “progress” when looking back into the past—like the shift from hunting and gathering to farming—proves to have been more complicated. While hunters and gatherers lived a relatively relaxed existence, often with abundant resources for their needs, farming actually added new and unpredictable complications to their way of life, even as it helped shape the future of the region. You’ll discover how the Mesopotamians adjusted to this new lifestyle and thrived under new circumstances.

The advent of agriculture may have contributed to a more predictable way of life in some ways, but unpredictable forces still raged through the lives of early Mesopotamians, from disease and famine to foreign invasion and natural disasters. Professor Podany demonstrates how the Mesopotamians, to compensate for all the uncontrollable factors at play, focused on the things they could control, creating orderly societies, shared social norms, and effective judicial systems. With her guidance, you will discover, for example, an early example of this type of organization and coordination: the extraordinary construction of the stone monuments to the gods at Gobekli Tepe, 12,000 years ago.

From temples to irrigation canals, you’ll witness many complex construction projects that required extensive organization and cooperation to accomplish. Additionally, the Mesopotamians were masters of trade who transported fine textiles and other goods across thousands of miles, trading them for metals, timber, and semi-precious stones.

You’ll also learn how religion functioned as a major unifying force that was interwoven in all aspects of society. Kings were believed to be chosen by the gods; all good and bad luck came from the gods, and the gods oversaw all judicial proceedings, treaties, and oaths. Religion was so omnipresent that they didn’t even have a word for it; they couldn’t conceive of it as something separate from other aspects of life.

Experience the Exciting World of Kings and Queens

Kings and queens have existed ever since the civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia, and Professor Podany explores how they attempted to be considered legitimate and to control their subjects. They did this by trying to be loved or feared, or sometimes both. This was not just an early form of public relations campaigns; the kings had to maintain the respect of their subjects and truly lead if they hoped to keep the throne. Official documents and fascinating letters exchanged between royals, all preserved on clay tablets, reveal:

Major responsibilities undertaken by kings, such as building temples to the gods, leading armies, levying taxes, and more;
The kings’ belief that the gods supported them and their decisions;
The graceful diplomatic language with which kings and queens communicated with one another internationally;
How diplomacy (conducted by envoys, and including exchanges of gifts and dynastic marriages) was used to form alliances and prevent wars;
Royal outliers who rose from humble origins, including a king whose story shares features with that of Moses in the Hebrew Bible; and
A range of ruling styles from the tyrannical to the benevolent.
While no two rulers may have been alike, one thing was constant: the rise and fall of kingdoms. Daily life for Mesopotamians was often surprisingly peaceful compared to much of the world in the same era, but it was often punctuated by periods of warfare. Professor Podany will help you trace this journey from one of the earliest-known examples of organized warfare, when the ancient site of Hamoukar was conquered, to the conquest of the Neo-Babylonian Empire at the hands of the Persians.

As you explore the relationships and conflicts among the peoples of Mesopotamia, Professor Podany highlights the perceived link between religion and wartime successes (and failures); points out some influential theories as to why great empires fell; and reveals the ways that times of prosperity could often be marred by natural disasters, infighting, and foreign invasion. Despite the ever-present threat of war, in many cases, kingdoms managed to avoid bloodshed through diplomacy. Stories of how kings leveraged resources and built relationships offer valuable examples of ancient wisdom and statecraft.

Explore Diverse, Tight-Knit Communities

Equally fascinating are the lives of ordinary people. With her warm and engaging style, Professor Podany personalizes each lecture and paints vivid pictures with her words, as when she imagines the everyday activities within a community with this evocative description: “…no doubt children ran from one house to another and women chatted while winnowing grain on the rooftops. Families must have eaten together and then slept on the flat roofs of their houses, enjoying the cool night air and staring up at the infinite stars overhead.”

Throughout Ancient Mesopotamia, you will journey through communities small and large, from the Neolithic town of Çatal Hüyük in Turkey, where houses without doors were crammed so close together that occupants had to enter by ladder from the roof, to one of the earliest and (for its time) largest cities, Uruk, featuring temples with dazzling geometric mosaics. Some of the things you will survey include:

How extended families functioned as a safety net;
How society was structured into social classes and professions;
How people divided their time between work and pleasure; and
The roles played by men, women, and children.
You’ll also learn how Mesopotamia was a cosmopolitan society that offered incredible diversity in terms of cultures and languages, which included (to name a few) Sumerian, Akkadian, Amorite, and Aramaic. Its rich farm land and flourishing cities attracted immigrants from far and wide. Unfortunately, the newcomers were sometimes viewed with suspicion, and during the Ur III period, one king even built a wall to keep them out.

Trace the Transformation of the Written Word

Fortunately for scholars today, literate people in Mesopotamia mostly wrote on clay, allowing their writing to be preserved through the centuries. In fact, around a quarter of a million tablets have been uncovered and there are many that have yet to be studied and translated. Professor Podany charts the evolution of writing from purely transactional to the complex form of expression we recognize today. While their writing system initially communicated primarily in pictures, over the years it transformed into a means for expressing sounds, allowing people to keep records and keep in touch with one another.

Especially revealing are the practical and official documents that detail everything from tax records to lists of cargo. While they may seem mundane on the surface, these documents provide an insider’s look at how people lived, worked, and traded with one another. More than 120,000 cuneiform tablets from the Third Dynasty of Ur (22nd and 21st century BCE) teach us:

How society was built around households;
The range of professions people held, from officials to merchants to farmers to artisans; and
The architectural details of major construction projects such as temples, as well as the size of the immense workforces required to build them.
Our knowledge of Mesopotamian culture is continuing to expand as more artifacts are examined and tablets are translated. While access to some of these amazing objects is still limited by modern-day conflicts in the Mesopotamian region, every new discovery sheds further light on an immensely influential and fascinating civilization.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina


[TTC Video] Amanda H. Podany - Ancient Mesopotamia. Life in the Cradle of Civilization
  • 24. End of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.mp4 (848.5 MB)
  • 02. Natufian Villagers and Early Settlements.mp4 (746.6 MB)
  • 03. Neolithic Farming, Trade, and Pottery.mp4 (719.6 MB)
  • 04. Eridu and Other Towns in the Ubaid Period.mp4 (695.7 MB)
  • 05. Uruk, the World’s Biggest City.mp4 (705.9 MB)
  • 06. Mesopotamia’s First Kings and the Military.mp4 (719.8 MB)
  • 07. Early Dynastic Workers and Worshipers.mp4 (733.4 MB)
  • 08. Lugalzagesi of Umma and Sargon of Akkad.mp4 (753.0 MB)
  • 09. Akkadian Empire Arts and Gods.mp4 (708.8 MB)
  • 10. The Fall of Akkad and Gudea of Lagash.mp4 (743.2 MB)
  • 11. Ur III Households, Accounts, and Ziggurats.mp4 (762.3 MB)
  • 12. Migrants and Old Assyrian Merchants.mp4 (741.0 MB)
  • 13. Royalty and Palace Intrigue at Mari.mp4 (768.4 MB)
  • 14. War and Society in Hammurabi’s Time.mp4 (789.2 MB)
  • 15. Justice in the Old Babylonian Period.mp4 (718.2 MB)
  • 16. The Hana Kingdom and Clues to a Dark Age.mp4 (744.0 MB)
  • 17. Princess Tadu-Hepa, Diplomacy, and Marriage.mp4 (746.1 MB)
  • 18. Land Grants and Royal Favor in Mittani.mp4 (731.7 MB)
  • 19. The Late Bronze Age and the End of Peace.mp4 (780.4 MB)
  • 20. Assyria Ascending.mp4 (772.1 MB)
  • 21. Ashurbanipal’s Library and Gilgamesh.mp4 (747.6 MB)
  • 22. Neo-Assyrian Empire, Warfare, and Collapse.mp4 (781.2 MB)
  • 23. Babylon and the New Year's Festival.mp4 (738.7 MB)
  • 01. Uncovering Near Eastern Civilization.mp4 (767.8 MB)
  • Amanda H. Podany - Ancient Mesopotamia. Life in the Cradle of Civilization (Course Guidebook).pdf (33.1 MB)
  • MediaInfo.txt (64.6 KB)
  • Online Course About Ancient Mesopotamia The Great Courses Plus.URL (0.3 KB)



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