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The Ancient Greeks: A Short Global History – five online talks by Professor Antony Spawforth

posted on 29/07/22


Ancient Greece and Rome provide the cultural foundations for today's Western civilisation. Nowadays even China is fascinated by Greek philosophy and builds replica Parthenons. In these five talks Professor Antony Spawforth charts the rise and chief works of Greek civilisation from the earliest times. He examines how the Greeks passed the civilisational baton to their fierce Roman conquerors. In turn a co-mingled and long-lived empire of Romans and Greeks transmitted some of this legacy of older cultural achievements to the Christian and Islamic states of the Middle Ages. Such embers helped spark the Renaissance of the 15th century AD, and thence modernity.

They take place every Thursday from 17th November to 15th December at 4.30pm (GMT) and, including Q&A, will probably last an hour. They are available for viewing for eight weeks after the last episode is streamed (9th February 2023).

Register for the webinar series for £65


The talks 

1. From caveman to democrat: Greeks and their predecessors, 7000-500 BC (17th November 2022)

Archaeology shows how hunter-gatherers in Greece's Stone Age turned to farming and a settled life. This in turn gave rise to Europe's first advanced civilisations, the Minoans on Crete and the Mycenaeans on Greece's mainland. Recent discoveries including DNA research are transforming how we understand these Bronze-Age cultures and their contribution to the emergence (8th century BC) of a new world of small Greek city states. A few of these, including Athens, had already developed by 500 BC what the ancient Greeks called 'democracy'.

2. The Classical Age (490-323 BC), its highs and lows (24th November 2022)

Slavery, the exclusion of women from politics, imperialism and colonialism: the charge sheet against the Greeks in their Classical heyday is not a short one. The same era (5th-4th centuries BC) saw the ancient Greeks at their most creative and original. To name but a few of these achievements: the Parthenon, theatre, realistic art, Greek philosophy, new approaches to health and wellness.... Later times would repeatedly return to these achievements for inspiration, models, and education.

3. A superspreader: ancient Greek culture goes inter-continental (323-30 BC) (1st December 2022)

Alexander the Great (died 323 BC) was an arch-imperialist who conquered an empire for the Macedonians stretching from Greece to Pakistan. Settlers from the Greek heartlands in new colonial settlements created important centres of Greek culture in Egypt and Asia. In some of them, Greek-speaking kings sponsored ground-breaking science, as well as creating repositories of existing Greek learning and literature in great new libraries. To the west, the rising  power of Rome found expression not just in the conquest of Greek lands but also in a fascination with, and appropriation of, Greek culture.

4. "Graeco-Romans" and six centuries of the imperium Romanum (30 BC-AD 565) (8th December 2022)

The Roman conquest of Alexander's Mediterranean empire transformed the Romans – from choice – into the new protectors of Greek civilisation. Roman rule privileged the Greeks and their cultural achievements. Roman emperors praised the Spartans, made gifts to the Athenians and recruited Greeks to the Senate: one of them commanded a Roman legion in Scotland. In the AD 300s Greeks shaped the theology of the newly official Christianity. As the Roman Empire splintered under pressure from migrations, its Greek-speaking half based on Constantinople helped to preserve some of ancient Greek civilisation into the Middle Ages.

5. Byzantium, Baghdad and beyond: how we rediscovered the ancients (AD 565-2022) (15th December 2022)

Like the Romans before them, the Arabs who created the new Islamic empires of the early Middle Ages hungered for Greek wisdom. Their translations into Arabic joined with the copyists of medieval Constantinople in preserving ancient Greek writings. Starting in the 15th century learned Europeans craved access to the ancients and to the cultural wellsprings offered by their languages, their writings, their arts. This Renaissance saturated western civilisation with admiration for ancient Greece into the 20th century. Nowadays western admiration of Greek civilisation  is tempered by a growing critique of its less socially progressive aspects. Meanwhile enthusiasts in China are translating Aristotle. A thirst for Greek wisdom endures.

The speaker

Professor Antony Spawforth

Antony Spawforth is professor emeritus of Ancient History at Newcastle University, UK. He was co-editor of the 3rd and 4th editions (1996; 2012) of The Oxford Classical Dictionary, the standard English-language reference work to classical antiquity. His last book, The Story of Greece and Rome (Yale paperback 2020) has been translated into six languages including Modern Greek, Italian and Chinese. He lives in Brighton.

Register for the webinar series for £65

Frequently asked questions

What methods of payment do you accept?

An electronic invoice will be sent to your e-mail address 1–3 working days after you have completed our registration form. Payment can be made online using AMEX, Apple Pay, Google Pay, MasterCard or Visa.

How do I purchase the webinar series as a gift?

Please contact us specifying how many subscriptions you would like and who they are for (we require their full name and e-mail address). We will invoice you directly, and after we have received your payment we will release the webinar joining instructions to your friend(s) or family member(s).

Can I purchase a single episode?

No, unfortunately not. The series must be purchased in full.

How do I join the webinar?

An e-mail confirmation will be sent to you after you have paid for your subscription, which includes your unique link for joining the webinar. Reminder e-mails will be sent to you one day and one hour before each event. We recommend that you download the Zoom software in advance of the first webinar.

Can I watch the live broadcast(s) on more than one device?

Only one device can be connected to the live broadcast(s) at any one time. If you wish to purchase a second subscription, please contact us.

What happens if I am unable to attend the live broadcast(s)? 

A recording will be uploaded to a dedicated webpage approximately two hours after the live broadcast. For copyright reasons, these recordings cannot be made available indefinitely; access is granted for eight weeks after the final live broadcast of the series.

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