Great Courses: War And World History: Part II, taught by Professor Jonathan P. Roth
Admittedly, and pleasingly, I found the author’s war and society much less irritating than I did at first. When one is listening to lectures about ancient history where the author has a bogus evolutionary perspective and no particular regard for biblical history, it can get pretty tedious and tiresome very quickly. Thankfully, this particular part of the lecture focused on an area where the author’s broad cultural view and interest in the legitimacy of military history in often ignored regions (like Subsaharan Africa, Oceania, and the Americas in the pre-Conquest period) makes this a far more enjoyable set of lectures to listen to and gives me hope that the remaining twelve hours of lectures will be equally worthwhile. Here’s hoping, at least, as the author does show himself to be knowledgeable about a wide range of cultures and also shows himself helping the listener to realize that much remains to be studied and written about world military history and that there are some major gaps that deserve thoughtful research, all of which is heartening to someone who is and who knows a great many military historians looking for worthwhile material to write about and research.
The twelve lectures included in this part of the overall course deal with the period between the third century BC and the fifteenth century AD, a particularly exciting area for world history. The author begins with a discussion of the armed peace that resulted from the rise of the Roman, Han, Parthian, and Mauryan Empires that lasted more or less for several centuries under these large and powerful states (13), moving on to the influence of monotheism on military strength (14), and looking at the linkages of the core during a time of barbarian conquest in which these core empires fell (15, 16). The author then moves to discuss the common way of war focused on elite horsemen during the Middle Ages around the core (17) as well as the period of global feudalization that resulted from the rise of the armed horsemen (18). The author discusses the similarities between the Crusade, jihad, and Dharma Yuddha as religiously infused ways of war (19) as well as the conquest of much of the core by the Mongols (20). After this the author looks at the business of war in medieval Europe (21) as an explanation for the rise of the gunpowder revolution in that hitherto marginal part of the core (22) before spending the last two lectures of this part of the series examining warfare in the margins of Subsaharan Africa, Oceania, and the polar north of Europe and Asia (23) as well as North and South America (24).
There were at least a few elements that made this part of the lecture series particularly enjoyable for me. For one, the author examined several aspects of history that are somewhat obscure and that I have a large degree of interest in, including the medieval warfare of the Middle East and East Asia, the military history of North America in the period before 1500, and in the spread of military culture from one state to another, all of which the author discusses. The author’s obvious interest in broad cultural connections allows him to draw appropriate comparisons between cultural traditions that are often viewed in isolation, such as the tie between Japanese and European noblemen in the Middle Ages and the delays and order of adoption of gunpowder and armed horsemen and even manages to write about a subject I would like to know about in the bow revolution in North America, a vastly neglected aspect of the spread of military culture/technology that possibly has serious results with regards to the fate of various prehistoric North American political entities. All of this makes for an enjoyable listen.