Review of The Ancient Greeks - a free online history course on Coursera

This article is on the course "The Ancient Greeks" provided by Wesleyan University on Coursera. Details regarding course content, duration, cost, how to apply, etc are provided here. Also, a brief review of the course is given, along with where it does well. Do read on for more.

The Ancient Greeks is a course covering the broad contours of Greek history from the Bronze Age Minoan civilization and ending with the conquests of Alexander of Macedon. The course is offered by Wesleyan University on Coursera and the instructor in charge of this course is Dr. Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, Professor of Classical Studies at Wesleyan. The course is offered free of cost on the platform and is of a seven-week duration. Let us look at the course in some more detail.

Duration and course overview

As already mentioned, the course is 7 weeks long. Each week covers either a particular historical period or a particular theme through lectures that are on an average 15 minutes long. Each week consists of 6 lectures and after the completion of each week, there is an assessment consisting of 20 MCQs. Various reading assignments are also included to let the learner access some of the original sources. The syllabus covered in these seven weeks is as follows:
  • Week 1: Prehistory to Homer

  • Week 2: The Archaic Age (ca. 800-500 BCE)

  • Week 3: Two city-states: Sparta and Athens

  • Week 4: Democracy. The Persian Wars

  • Week 5: "The Great 50 Years" (ca. 480-431 BCE)

  • Week 6: The Peloponnesian War I

  • Week 7: The End of the War, the End of the Century

Brief review of the course

The course, as you can see from the overview given above, covers a massive span of time. The time span is almost 1200-1300 years and when we add to it the complexity of the topic we find that it must have been challenging for the instructor to fit everything within a 7-week course. Considering all of these I think it is fair to say that Szegedy-Maszak has done a really good job.

The teaching style is relaxed but at the same time, he touches on certain topics with a fair deal of rigour. Professor Andrew is a good speaker and as a person who has completed this course, it is fair to say that he won't let your attention wander around. This is especially true for some of the most stirring lectures in the course like the ending scenes of the Trojan War or the unforgettable battle at Marathon or at Thermopylae. He also does a good job by providing various angles or perspectives, especially while analyzing contentious issues.

The course attempts to take up a massive subject and as such, there is no doubt that certain chosen themes would have to be covered at the expense of others. Nevertheless, the course attempts to be as extensive as possible. Major political and cultural developments are given their due importance. The course also draws on a massive range of sources to explore the themes. There is the use of epics, lyric poems, vase and wall paintings as well as architectural remains from the Parthenon at Athens to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. There is also the use of plays (both comedies like 'The Acharnians' and tragedies like 'Antigone') as well as genuine histories written by two of the earliest pioneers in the subject, Herodotus of Halicarnassus and Thucydides the Athenian.

Due to the nature of the sources, it is obvious that Athens would be given a certain amount of centrality over the other polis. Nevertheless, developments in Corinth or in Sparta are not ignored in the least. It was perhaps also inevitable that sufficient justice couldn't be done to all the important themes. Despite this, however, I believe that the course focuses too much on grand events like wars and themes such as the economic processes are almost glossed over. Topics such as the position of women and slavery in Greece are almost added as an afterthought. Nevertheless, this is not such a massive limitation as to derail the purpose of the course itself. Even the best books on history are sometimes bound to be selective.


The course is available free of cost. However, if you want to get the course certificate then an amount of Rs 2189 has to be paid. The good news is that financial aid is available for this course just like several other courses on Coursera.

Should you take the course?

The course "The Ancient Greeks" is rated 4.7 out of 5 on Coursera while the instructor for the course, Professor Andrew Szegedy-Maszak has also received very high ratings. Also according to the "Learner career outcomes" mentioned on the 'About' page of the course, 37% of those who have enrolled in the course managed to receive some tangible career benefit from this course which is considerably high for a history course. Additionally, if you are, say, an undergraduate student and you want to add a greater in-depth knowledge of Ancient Greece then this course is a must-try. Moreover, for any history enthusiast, this course would be a treasure. The course like any other online course provides you with flexible timings. Since the materials are available free of cost, you can check them out if you are really interested in the subject.

So please do check out the course. You can access it by signing up on Coursera and searching for "The Ancient Greeks" on the search bar. Happy learning to you!


No responses found. Be the first to comment...

  • Do not include your name, "with regards" etc in the comment. Write detailed comment, relevant to the topic.
  • No HTML formatting and links to other web sites are allowed.
  • This is a strictly moderated site. Absolutely no spam allowed.
  • Name: