I wrote this course for my two daughters.  It’s a full year Ancient History course, based around The Great Courses lectures “History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective,” Course No. 3850 by Professor Gregory S. Aldrete.


image credit: By Antimenes Painter – Walters Art Museum, Public Domain,

5 April 2016: This syllabus is taking longer to blog-ize than I’d thought.  I will publish it now, but continue to update the links and add the specific exam questions.  Please bookmark the page to be notified of updates.  All of the book links are available in my store – please consider buying from there, as it helps pay for this syllabus at no cost to you.

The Great Courses lectures are aimed at introductory college level and come with lengthy reading lists.  The biggest problem I find using them is narrowing down the reading list to something achievable for my students.  Here’s what we used to accompany this and turn it into a challenging high school course.  My children are very familiar with Greek myths and legends and the Roman world, so we did not cover any of that material.

You can buy the Great Courses as DVDs, online streaming (by the course), or by subscription.  At this time, History of the Ancient World is not available by subscription, but that could change. [At this time, the Great Courses shopping cart does not work with Firefox; it seems to work better with Chrome or Internet Explorer.]  All of the courses go on sale at least once a year, so it may be worth while joining their mailing list and looking for sale and coupon offers.

We began the course before Professor Aldrete, using the last few lectures of Major Transitions in Evolution (Great Courses #1518).  We already owned this course, so there were no extra costs; you might also find the free program Bones, Stones, and Genes: The Origin of Modern Humans useful, although I have not watched it.

In the first half of the course, we concentrated on papers; later on we moved to hour exams, because of extensive writing commitments in other courses.  Any of the papers could be easily swapped for exams and visa versa. (I only assign essay exams, not fact-checking exams; I expect the facts to be included in the essay exams.)  Literature cross-overs are concentrated in first semester, as English was more of a composition course in second semester.

You can find all these books at the Homeschool Teacher Store, or click on the links in the syllabus.  The Amazon offerings will provide me with a referral fee, at no extra cost to you.  Non-Amazon links do not.

Course Overview:

  • All history papers are to be written with citations in Chicago Style (CMS) (see Hacker & Sommers A Writer’s Reference  or Kate Turabian’s Student’s Guide to Writing College Papers.)  Purdue’s OWL (Online Writing Lab) also has excellent help with citations.
  • All literature papers are to be written with citations in MLA Style (see above)
  • Spine textbook: Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, The World (we used the older 2009 edition; much of the evolution section is outdated.)
  • Ancient History reference to use throughout, especially when there isn’t additional reading: John Haywood, The Ancient World
  • Atlas


Write a half page summary (typed) after each book/magazine/textbook selection, including the source in CMS citation format for history and MLA citation format for literature.

Take lecture notes on each lecture using Cornell Notes style.

(We watched 2 lectures / week)

Papers or exams due after each unit.

Unit 1: Human Evolution and Prehistory:

Part 1


From Martin, A. and Hawks, J. (2010). Major Transitions in Evolution.
Lecture 21 First Humans—Toolmakers and Hunter-Gatherers
Lecture 22 From Homo to sapiens—Talking and Thinking


Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, The World, chapter 1 “Out of the Ice”
Scientific American September 2014 Human Evolution issue
Chip Walter, Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived
Pat Shipman, The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction
[NB – this was fascinating, but in many places it was too much speculation without sound background. Recommended for people who like dogs, but could be omitted.]
Steven Mithen, After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC  (first half) (read 3-4 stories quite carefully, skim the rest.)

Unit 1, Part 2:

From Martin, A. and Hawks, J. (2010). Major Transitions in Evolution.
LECTURE 23 Our Accelerating Evolution
LECTURE 24 Reflections on Major Transitions


Fernandez-Armesto. (2010). The World, chap 2 “Out of the Mud,” #3, “The Great River Valleys,” and # 4 “A Succession of Civilizations” [NB. We read a lot of the textbook this unit because we were traveling in the next unit and to shift some of the reading out of Unit 2.]
Cochrane, G. and Harpending, H. (2009). The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution
Mithen, S. (2003). After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC (second half; concentrate on 2-3 stories; skim the rest)

Unit 2: Early Civilizations

From Aldrete, G. (2011) History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective.

LECTURE 1 Cities, Civilizations, and Sources
LECTURE 2 From Out of the Mesopotamian Mud
LECTURE 3 Cultures of the Ancient Near East
LECTURE 4 Ancient Egypt—The Gift of the Nile
LECTURE 5 Pharaohs, Tombs, and Gods
LECTURE 6 The Lost Civilization of the Indus Valley
LECTURE 7 The Vedic Age of Ancient India
LECTURE 8 Mystery Cultures of Early Greece


Ferry, D. translator. (c. 1200 BCE) Gilgamesh: A New Rendering in English Verse. 1992.

Nicolson, Adam. Why Homer Matters. [NB contains a description of the author being raped.]

Homer. The Iliad. Trans. Robert Fagles.

Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles

Writing: 2-3 pp essay on The Iliad (in Spark Notes style if you wish) and 3-5 pp essay on the Iliad and the Odyssey. Citations in MLA format.



Troy [NB violent]

The Odyssey

Unit 3: Greece & Comparisons

9 Homer/Indian Poetry
10 Athens & Democracy    Fernandez-Armesto The World #5 “Rebuilding the World”
11 Hoplite Warfare & Sparta    (read Gates of Fire)
12 Shang & Zhou
13 Confucius & Greeks
14 Mystics, Buddhists, Zoro    Fernandez-Armesto The World #6 “The Great Schools”
15 Persians & Greeks
16 Greek Art & Arch
18 Peloponnesian War
19 Philip of Macedon
20 Alexander the Great
21 India
22 Shi Huangdi
23 Earliest Historians
24 Hellenistic World    Fernandez-Armesto The World #7 “The Great Empires”
25 Han Dynasty


Test: Homer’s role in glorifying battle (William Blake Quote).

Unit 4: Rome (and Comparisons with Han)

26 Etruscans
27 Punic Wars
28 End Roman Republic
29 Augustus
30 Roman Emperors
31 Han & Rome Geography
32 Han & Rome Govt
33 Han & Rome Problems


Virgil, The Aeneid, Fagles translationwe all gave up on this one.  As daughter said, “He’s no Homer!” (and I said, “This is fanfiction …”)

Aldrete, Daily Life in the Roman City

Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe, Melville translation.

Movies: I, Claudius

Test Han v. Rome 

Unit 5: Americas (and the Pacific)

34 Early Americas
35 Americas Jared Diamond,   Guns Germs & Steel
36 Mayan     Michael Coe  The Maya
37 Polynesian
Test: Guns Germs and Steel in the Americas

Unit 6:  New Religions, New Empires

Fernandez-Armesto The World #8 “Post Imperial Worlds,” #9 “The Rise of World Religions,” and #10 “Remaking the World,” (revisits some topics from unit 5).

38 Art & Arch
39 Comp armies
40 Crisis & Christ      Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity
41 Decline & Fall
42 Byzantine Empire
43 Tang China
44 Tang China
45 Islam
46 Monasticism & Saints
47 Charlemagne
48 Wrap Up
8-10 pp ESSAY DUE  

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