“Barbarian Empires of the Steppes”

Paleo Retiree writes:


Along with Blowhard, Esq. and Fabrizio del Wrongo, I’m a big fan of Kenneth Harl, a Tulane professor who has done numerous lecture series about early and medieval history for The Great Courses. He’s smart, he’s fast, he isn’t driven by ideology, he has a big gift for making facts seem like they matter, and he has a wonderfully caustic and lusty horror/appreciation for the egomaniacs and bastards who drive so much of history.

I just finished Harl’s “Barbarian Empires of the Steppes” and am pleased to report that it’s another good one. At 36 half-hour lectures, it may run a little long … but I felt like it flew by. Harl may be more fascinated by battles and conquests than I am … but he does have a genuine respect for culture and, hey, battles and wars and conquests are important. In the case of the barbarian tribes of the Euro-Asian steppes, he may be obliged to rely mainly on reports from the settled civilizations that surrounded them (the barbarians themselves didn’t leave many records) …  but he proves great at bringing the tribes and leaders to life anyway.

If that huge stretch between China and Europe is a big blank to you, as it largely was for me, this series will do an excellent job of filling it in. If you’re curious about Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan but are reluctant to commit yourself to reading entire books about them, this is a great introduction. I’ve got a much better grasp on the Turks, the Huns, the Mongols and many other tribes that have come and gone than I did previously. And hats off to Harl for his refreshingly realistic view of history. For him, the ebb and flow of populations over time is a matter of peoples and tribes trying to have their way in the world, and has little or nothing to do with ideals and such.


About Paleo Retiree

Onetime media flunky and movie buff and very glad to have left that mess behind. Formerly Michael Blowhard of the cultureblog 2Blowhards.com. Now a rootless parasite and bon vivant on a quest to find the perfectly-crafted artisanal cocktail.
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3 Responses to “Barbarian Empires of the Steppes”

  1. asdf says:

    It was a wonderful series, and Harl is a great lecturer.

    What amazes me is that he has an incredible breadth of knowledge (just look at the wide range of topics he has lectures on) and as you mentioned he manages to provide insightful analysis of the facts from different perspectives impartially.

    One stand out series for me was his “Fall of the Pagans”. It’s a dense subject and it includes not battles or other obvious narrative moments, but I was on the edge of my seat watching it. For such a touchy subject he says meaningful things without falling into any ideological rut.


  2. j says:

    The illustration is wrong. Mongols ride ponies and look mongoloid.


  3. jjbees says:

    What do you think of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast?


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