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The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes

Narrated by: Kenneth W. Harl
Length: 18 hrs and 15 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (14 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The word "barbarian" quickly conjures images of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan. Yet few people realize these men belong to a succession of nomadic warriors who emerged from the Eurasian steppes to conquer civilizations. It's a part of ancient and medieval history that's often overlooked, but for an accurate view of how the world evolved, it's essential.

Covering some 6,000 miles and 6,000 years, this eye-opening course illuminates how a series of groups - from the Sacae and Sarmatians to the infamous Huns and Mongols - pushed ever westward, coming into contact with the Roman Empire, Han China, and distant cultures from Iraq to India.

Along the way, you'll learn how these nomads caused a domino effect of displacement and cultural exchange; meet fascinating figures such as Tamerlane, the "Prince of Destruction"; witness struggles to control the legendary Silk Road; trace the spread of Buddhism and Islam, and more.

By looking past the barbarian stereotype, you'll understand who these people were, the significance of their innovations - which include stirrups, saddles, and gunpowder - and the magnitude of their impact. Of course, these warriors did wage campaigns of terror, and you'll hear many accounts of violence as well.

Led by an award-winning professor, these 36 lectures provide new insights on how the world was shaped and introduce you to cultures and empires you've likely never encountered.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2014 The Great Courses (P)2014 The Teaching Company, LLC

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
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  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Christopher
  • 2014-09-25

More than You Ever Wanted to Know re Steppe Nomads

Would you consider the audio edition of The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes to be better than the print version?

This is a fabulous course. The course covers over 3 thousands years of Central Asian and Near Eastern history and is a wonderful introduction to the Empires that have flourished there over this period. You come to appreciate the mounted archer and the savagry of the great warriors of the plains as well as their military sophistication.

Who was your favorite character and why?

The discussion of Ghenghis Kahns, his sons and the history of their empires is fascinating. This is the best structured overview of this topic that I have ever hear (or seen). Really a wonderful course and presentation.

Have you listened to any of Professor Kenneth W. Harl’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

To say that Professors Harl has an encyclopedic knowledge of Central Asian, Near Eastern and European history is an incredible understatement. You will be constantly dazzled by the facts, figures and analysis that rolls of Professor Harl's tongue seemingly without end.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Ninja's of the dessert--3,000 years of the horse archer.

20 of 20 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Levi
  • 2015-05-24

How to defeat an army of nomadic horse archers.

Would you listen to The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes again? Why?

Yes, because it's a great story, but too much information to process in a single time through.

What did you like best about this story?

I liked how it filled in the gaps between the major urban societies that one usually learns about. The scope of the material was enormous and putting it together was an impressive achievement.

What about Professor Kenneth W. Harl’s performance did you like?

The Harlisms. "How do you defeat an army of nomadic horse archers? You get your own army of nomadic horse archers!" Dr. Harl really makes some of the characters and scenes come to life. His description of Attila's invasion of eastern Europe was breathtaking. I added all of Dr. Harl's great courses to my wish list, because I really enjoyed this one and his one on Asia Minor.

Any additional comments?

Several people complained about the lack of a map. Those people should learn how to use google, because the internet is full of excellent maps.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Mike
  • 2014-02-20

Attila the Hun demands you read this book!!!

Any additional comments?

Are you a lover of history who seeks out those rare books that explain those often mentioned but little known peoples and places of the globe? Have you ever wondered who the Huns, Turks, or Mongols were, where they came from, and why they did what they did? Then this book is definitely for you!

The excellent lecturer gives a mostly chronological and comprehensive overview of the various peoples or "barbarians" that lived on the eurasian steppes and played a major role in world history. In fact, they play such a large role in world history that I left this read convinced we do a great disservice by not giving them a more prominent role in our textbooks. This book covers a serious blind spot in most of the world's history books.

He starts from the steppes earliest Indo-European inhabitants and moves through the archaic period with peoples such as the Shueng-Nu, Scythians, and Huns, discusses the medieval period dominated by the Turks, and ends discussing the terrible and glorious legacies of the great Mongol conquests and the subsequent disappearance of the steppe way of life with the advent of the modern age. The series is thorough and detailed and will leave you with few major questions once it has been finished.

Perhaps the most enlightening part for me was how the lecturer explained so clearly the geography and dynamics of the eurasian steppes. The unique environmental factors of the world of the steppes did just as much to shape their history, and that of the world's, as did the amazing lives of those who lived there. This feature alone makes this a worthwhile listen.

I cannot recommend this series highly enough to fellow history addicts or those who are just curious. You will not be disappointed. It was definitely one of my best reads this year. Enjoy!!!

23 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Christopher
  • 2015-02-08

One damn thing after another

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

The story is fascinating, the presentation is pedestrian

What did you like best about this story?

As the professor says,'six thousand years of history across six thousand miles', what's not to like?

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

Focus less on dates and more on the big picture.

Could you see The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

No

Any additional comments?

I had just come from an incredible history course - 'The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest' by Professor Jennifer Paxton. This suffered by comparison.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Kaleb
  • 2016-07-11

Interesting history, performance leaves something to be desired

Professor Harl's breadth of knowledge on the subject matter was top notch, and the information in this course makes it worth the listen. His performance was sub-par at best.

Professor Harl seemed to belt this course out at the listener, I truly felt like I was being shouted at for a number of the lectures. The consistent "uhh" and "ahh"-ing became enough to make me cringe towards the end, it became extremely difficult to sit through even a whole lecture. I understand that this is the way a human's brain catches up to it's mouth, but this was extreme and I expected better from The Great Courses. There were also a number of mispronunciations, and names used when another was meant. These are small gripes when they are in small doses. They can and should be ignored in most cases. This course was an exception the sheer number of production/presentation problems added on to one another really made the course a struggle.

I would recommend listening to the sample before buying, make sure you can take it.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Tommy D'Angelo
  • 2017-07-14

Okay with flashes of "good" but not "great"

What did you like best about The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes? What did you like least?

If you're interested in some really good history of the various nomadic clans from the western, central, and eastern Steppes as well as how they interacted with the great empires of the day, then this course is for you. But a warning: the professor's style can be hard to adapt to (at least for me it was).

First the good:
1- I learned alot. Let me reword that: ALOT. This course covers so many civilizations including those I had never heard of; and I've taken many many history courses.

2- Professor Harl knows his stuff inside and out. Say what you want about his style but he is an encyclopedia of facts, big and small. I don't know how his head doesn't explode from carrying all that content (I say this as an extreme compliment!).

3- This course provides good historical narrative on the major nomadic steppe cultures and their interactions (alliances and battles) with civilized sedentary empires like China, Rome, Byzantine Empire, India, Islam, and Russia from aprx. 600 BC to apx. 1500 AD


Steppe groups covered:
o Earliest Indo-European speaking nomads that migrated to the Steppes (6500/5000 BC)
o Xiongnu ( frequently battled with the early dynasties of China in the eastern steppes)
o Scythians (interacted with the Greeks and Persians in the western steppes)
o Parthians (conquered regions of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire)
o Sacae (western nomads who eventually settled in India)
o Kushan (western nomads who eventually settled in India)
o Sarmatians (interacted with Rome in the western steppes)
o Huns (battled Rome in the west)
o Hephthalites (battled the Sassanid Empire or Neo-Persian Empire in central Asia)
o Avar Turks (eastern battles with the Chinese and expanded into central Asia and the west where they interacted with the Byzantine Empire)
o Gök Turks (originally allies of the Sassanids against Hephthalites but they form their own kingdom in central Asia after conquering the Avar Turks)
o Uighurs Turks (conquered the Gök Turks in central Asia)
o Bulgars Turks (interacted with the Byzantine Empire in the west)
o Khazars Turks (interacted with the Byzantine Empire in the west)
o Magyars (interacted with the Byzantine Empire in the west)
o Pechenegs Turks (interacted with the Byzantine Empire in the west; Originally allies with the Rus but became enemies of the Russians)
o Cumans Turks (interacted with the Byzantine Empire in the west)
o Western Turks (including the Karluks; These tribes battled with the Arabian forces of Islam in Central Asia)
o Karakhanid Turks (converted to Islam)
o Ghaznavid Turks (ruled over Central Asia and northern India)
o Seljuk Turks (conquered the Abbasid Islamic Caliphate and Asia Minor from the Byzantine Empire)
o Northern India Turks (Islamic tribes that ruled northern India)
o Khitans (clashed with the Song dynasty in northern China)
o Jurchen (battled the Khitans in northern China)
o Kara-Khitans (battled the Karakhanid Turks, conquered central Asia, and overthrew the Seljek Turks)
o Mongols (conquered the Jurchen, the Kara-Khitans, Abbasid Islamic Caliphate, Russia, and China)
o Central steppes Turks led by Tamerlane (conquered central and western steppes)
o Central steppes Turks led by Babur (established the Mughal Empire in India)


Weaknesses of the course:
1- The professor throws so much information at you that he often doesn’t stay on the charted narrative but instead ventures off onto side tracks or gets “lost in the details” vs. sticking with the big picture leaving your head spinning at times

2- I took the audio version and while I can't speak to the quality of the video version, I found this course somewhat hard to follow without a map/visual because the professor hops around regions in lightning speed and without notice, referring to areas by their ancient names (vs. referring to a region as “modern day ”; Great example: I can swear the professor loves to hear himself say "Transoxiana" and will find every opportunity to get it in each lecture) or rivers and other natural features that are not well known; I think he knows these areas so well that he is comfortable jumping all around but it can be bewildering to those without great knowledge of the layout of the ancient world.


All in all I would still recommend this course. There is just way too much in it you will never find in other courses. While I wish it could've been done differently and more streamlined (I always thought that one of Professor Harl's shortcomings is he loves to dispense knowledge and facts but comes up short in the art of "teaching"), I found exploring these Steppe cultures an enlightening and worthwhile journey.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2014-12-26

No Guidebook

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

If they would add the guidebook, which is always available when you buy a course directly from The Great Courses, and often when you buy from Audible

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • 8675309
  • 2019-03-26

"Uhh... Uhhh...." Painful

The narrator is terrible. He's always shouting and every other word is "uhhh." It's unlistenable.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
  • Colin
  • 2018-11-26

Long and dull

A long list of dates and names - the kind of history you dreaded in high school. I've listened to other Great Courses and thoroughly enjoyed how they identified the big movements in history, discussed themes, and related historical events to the modern world. This course did none of that.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Manny K
  • 2018-11-23

Just a litany of names and places and dates.

Not suitable for a mobile listener. Without a map and other references in front of you the lectures are impossible to follow. Far too cluttered with a litany of names, places, dates, names, places, dates with near constant asides to add even more, though rarely relevant, details. Almost exclusively a military history with too little cultural or social context. The bright spots are unfortunately suffocated under too many details. Could easily be trimmed to half or less.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful