Nothing changes the world as quickly and inexorably as war. In warfare, the future course of entire civilizations, regions, and continents can be determined in as little as a few hours.
Throughout history, specific individual battles have turned the tide of historical events, triggering changes that have given us the world we know:
The 7th-century battle of Badr transformed the prophet Mohammad into a major political force, establishing Islam firmly as a legitimate religion that could not be suppressed.
The 1066 Battle of Hastings impacted world history by creating a new fusion of peoples and cultures in England and orienting the country permanently toward Europe.
The 1759 Battle of Quebec determined the future of North America, shifting power such that the English language and British culture would predominate.
In addition to causing changes on a global scale, military engagements have often produced monumental effects within individual cultures:
The outcome of the 4th-century battle of the Frigidus River established Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire.
The 16th-century battles of Panipat established Mughal domination over the Indian subcontinent that would last for centuries.
In 1836, a battle that lasted a mere 18 minutes resulted in the U.S. acquisition of nearly one-third of its continental land mass.
In these battles and many others, if it were not for the particular outcome that transpired, history might have turned out very differently. As such, looking closely at military engagements provides a vital key to historical causation—showing us how and why events unfolded and civilizations developed as they have.
A penetrating look at military conflicts also acts as a corrective, allowing for a more accurate view of major events and the forces underlying them. As a case in point, the Battle of Waterloo is commonly thought of as the downfall of Napoleon; yet his losses at the earlier Battle of Leipzig unquestionably doomed his ambitions and were the true marker and determinant of his fall. Similarly, a 1939 battle in Mongolia that is all but forgotten played an extremely significant role in both the outbreak and the outcome of World War II.
For these reasons and more, the study of pivotal battles is a highly revealing analytical tool and a key component for understanding world history. Offering eye-opening insights into humanity’s past, a knowledge of mankind’s most critical military engagements enriches and deepens any view into civilizations and their evolution.
In the dynamic lectures of The Decisive Battles of World History, Professor Gregory S. Aldrete of the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay guides you in a discovery of the military conflicts that have had the greatest impact in shifting the direction of historical events and shaping our world. Covering nearly 4,000 years of history, this course explores more than three dozen history-making military engagements, from the landmark battles of the Western world to their counterparts across Asia, India, and the Middle East. These 36 lectures feature vital historical background, vivid accounts of the campaigns themselves, and a thorough look at their influence on the unfolding of history.
Military Encounters that Changed the World
In a grand tour of the battlefields of history, you’ll relive extraordinary conflicts such as these:
Actium, 31 B.C.: Witness the drama of this massive naval battle, played out against the tragic love affair of Antony and Cleopatra. Actium marked the birth of the Roman Empire and its centuries-long domination of the Western world.
Yarmouk and al-Qadisiyyah, 636: Follow the exploits of the Islamic Rashidun armies as they vanquish the Byzantine and Sassanid forces in two milestone battles, establishing the religious and linguistic orientation of the Middle East that persists to this day.
Tenochtitlán, 1521: A pivotal event in global history; learn about the astounding defeat of the powerful Aztec Empire by fewer than 1,000 Spaniards, which set the model for the era of European colonization that would transform the world.
Sekigahara, 1600: In this huge confrontation of the samurai era involving 160,000 combatants, study the political intrigue and battlefield events that forged the nation of Japan, inaugurating a lineage of shoguns that would rule until the modern era.
Trenton, 1776: Trace the daring maneuvers undertaken by George Washington at the darkest hour of the American Revolution to outwit the British and save the revolutionary movement, events that were essential in turning the tide of the war and bringing the United States into being.
Trafalgar, 1805: Envision the British naval forces under Admiral Horatio Nelson as they face Napoleon’s combined fleets in the greatest battle of the age, and the titanic engagement that marked the beginning of Napoleon’s decline.
Complex Causes, Galvanizing Effects
As a central and outstanding feature of these lectures, you’ll look in depth at layers of causation in the evolution of civilizations, as well as in the conflicts between cultures and nations. For example, you learn that the consequence of the Greek victory over the Persians at Plataea in 479 B.C. was Greek independence and freedom, which allowed for the era we know as the cultural Golden Age of Greece. A Persian victory at Plataea might have left us without the ideas of Socrates and Plato or the scientific thought of Aristotle, which achieved their influence on Western civilization through the spread of Greek culture that resulted from Alexander’s victory at Gaugamela in 331 B.C.
The Science and Art of Warfare
Through detailed study of the campaigns themselves, you’ll grasp how the historic outcomes of the battles were achieved militarily. In doing so, you’ll learn about military systems, from the war chariots of ancient Egypt and the Roman “manipular” armies to the battle tactics of the Mongols, the siege warfare of the Ottoman Turks, the armies of the Napoleonic wars, and the tank combat of World War II. You’ll witness the evolution of naval technology, from the ancient triremes of Actium to the galleys of the Renaissance, and from the Age of Sail’s mammoth “ships of the line” to the battleships and aircraft carriers of the modern era.
Throughout this inquiry, you’ll assess the achievements of history’s most outstanding military commanders. In addition to learning about iconic leaders such as Alexander and William the Conqueror, you’ll encounter numerous other extraordinary figures who left their mark on these dramatic events, such as
Saladin, the legendary Islamic general who routed the Christian Crusaders at Hattin;
Admiral Yi Sun-shin, one of the greatest naval commanders of all time, who almost single-handedly repelled two invasions of Korea;
Simón Bolívar, the dynamic revolutionary who played a leading role in the campaigns to end Spanish rule in Latin America; and
Helmuth von Moltke, the brilliant military strategist and organizational genius who commanded the Prussian forces at Königgrätz in 1866, forging a united Germany.
Epic and Multidimensional Human Drama
Through his powerfully evocative words, aided by specially made maps and animations of the engagements, Professor Aldrete brings the battlefield events alive with gripping vividness, taking you blow-by-blow through the unfolding of each conflict. Throughout the lectures, he reveals rich historical background material that highlights the high drama, poignancy, and scope of the human experience of war.
You’ll learn about the royal intrigue underlying the medieval battle of Tannenberg and the 1571 “Holy League” of European nations formed to confront the Ottoman juggernaut, and you’ll contemplate the larger-than-life personalities of Sam Houston and Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who clashed in the battle for Texas’s independence from Mexico.
In the heat of battle at Sacheon (1592), you’ll encounter the monstrous, armored “Turtle Ships” of the Korean navy, surmounted with great dragons’ heads spewing smoke and flames— among the most ingenious and fearsome weaponry ever devised. You’ll learn how, in the 1709 battle of Poltava, the fate of two empires hinged on a freak musket shot that wounded a king’s foot, and how four crucial minutes in the 1942 battle of Midway permanently shifted the balance of power in the Pacific from Japan to the United States.
In The Decisive Battles of World History, you’ll trace the critical pivot points where key military engagements determined the course history has taken. This enthralling learning experience provides far-reaching insights into the story of world cultures by revealing the foundational impact of military battles in human affairs.
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