Exploring the Ancient World


What is Civilization?

“Civilization is a hopeless race to discover remedies for the evils it produces.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau (attributed)

“I consider the Christian idea, which has its roots in Greek thought and in the course of the centuries has nourished all of our European civilization, as something that one cannot renounce without becoming degraded.” – Simone Weil (attributed)

Certainly western thinkers have come to vastly different conclusions concerning this question. Some, such as French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, have considered civilization as oppressive and he encouraged humans to return to a state of nature. Others, such as philosopher Simone Weil, have argued that civilization is an essential component to living a full and meaningful human life. Who is right?

This course will consider and attempt to answer this foundational question.

This course explores the ancient world by studying the most influential civilizations on Western culture and is divided into four units:

Unit 1: Mesopotamia and Egypt

Unit 2: The Greeks

Unit 3: Greek Civilization

Unit 4: The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire

The course will help you pursue the following objectives:

  1. define the major religious, philosophical, political and social movements and ideas that shaped ancient and modern western civilization.
  2. explain the way in which geography has shaped western societies.
  3. contrast orthodox belief to heresy in the early development of the Christian Church.
  4. compare the varying political structures of the Greek, Roman and Medieval societies and to summarize their strengths and weaknesses.
  5. interpret historical documents from the ancient and medieval western world.
  6. evaluate religious and philosophical movements within Western Civilization through the lens of the Holy Bible and the Christian faith.

Moreover, in the exploration of these ancient civilizations we will also pursue answers to enduring questions that are critical to understanding human existence and the human condition: (1) Who is God?, (2) Is democracy good?, (3) What is a good human being?, and (4) What is a good society?

The lead instructor for this course is Dr. Josh McMullen, assistant professor of history at Regent University. For more information about Dr. McMullen, please visit the instructor section of this course.

Please note that there are self-paced questions in most of the sections designed to help you to review and assess your learning and comprehension in the course. We strongly suggest that you take notes on the video instruction and other content in order to best learn the material and do well on the quizzes. There is also a discussion board to facilitate dialogue among participants about the content of the course and in response to questions posed in the course.

Finally, you will notice that there are excerpts from primary historical texts integrated into the course. These readings are from key ancient authors and thinkers – Homer, Plato, Virgil, the Apostle John, Aristotle – and provide valuable insights into the ancient world. These readings are relatively short in length, each one being anywhere from one to several pages. As these texts were written in cultures different from the present, they will use language, cultural references, etc. that may be foreign to you and difficult to understand. In many cases, you will have to read and re-read these texts carefully and deliberately to comprehend them. Therefore, leave enough time to read these texts. Finally, to assist you with understanding these texts, some comments have been added within the documents in bold lettering and within brackets [ ].