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The Italians before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean

Narrated by: Kenneth R. Bartlett
Length: 12 hrs and 8 mins
Categories: History, Europe
4.6 out of 5 stars (13 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Take a riveting tour of the Italian peninsula, from the glittering canals of Venice to the lavish papal apartments and ancient ruins of Rome.

In these 24 lectures, Professor Bartlett traces the development of the Italian city-states of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, showing how the modern nation of Italy was forged out of the rivalries, allegiances, and traditions of a vibrant and diverse people.

This comprehensive portrait of Italian history opens an exciting new world-a grand mosaic of lustrous and storied cultures as distinctive as the people who helped build them. As you come to know these many "Italys," you'll see how the Italian states defined themselves against the others, competing for territory, trade, and artistic supremacy - and how the vestiges of these interactions are visible even today.

Among other things, you'll consider the rivalry between the Genoese and the Pisans, which stems from a nearly 800-year-old grudge; examine how the crusades influenced the development of Genoa, Pisa, and Venice; and explore Italy's troubled relationship with the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

You'll also get a glimpse into the lives of the powerful and influential, including Pope Paul IV, who championed the Roman Inquisition, and Luigi Gonzaga, who cut out the hearts of his enemies and nailed them to the doors of their palaces as a warning to others who might challenge his power.

As you get to know the distinctive personalities and events that define the peninsula, you'll gain fresh insights into the Italy of today. Surprising, enriching, always engaging, this course offers a unique perspective on one of the most dynamic and creative cultures of the modern world.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2007 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2007 The Great Courses

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  • Quaker
  • 27-02-2015

European political history taken to the next level

Where does The Italians before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is a higher level, more in depth study than most of The Great Courses on Audible. I suppose it ranks lower than others on the "entertaining" scale, but higher on the depth of information scale.

What other book might you compare The Italians before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean to and why?

Other related series by the great courses would include Foundations of Western Civilization I & II (both excellent), Europe and Western Civilization in the Modern Age, and The Middle Ages series: Early Middle Ages, High Middle Ages, Late Middle Ages

Have you listened to any of Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Professor Bartlett also teaches The Great Courses series on European Civilization and the Italian Renaissance, plus their video series The Great Tours: Experiencing Medieval Europe. He is extremely knowledgeable. The other courses are less focused on the political evolution of Italy and more focused on civilization, art, and historic sites. It all depends on what you're interested in.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. This is a long and detailed title with 24 lectures. I listened to about an hour a day over a couple of weeks.

Any additional comments?

This is a series for those who know European history and want to delve deeper re the politics of the Italian city states. Prof. Bartlett assumes that the listener knows European history, particularly of the middle ages. It is assumed you already know about the Byzantines, the Holy Roman Empire, the Turkish empire, the royal houses of Anjou, Habsburg, etc. With that as background, this series provides a survey of all the city states and their political (more than cultural) evolution, particularly vis a vis their relationships with Rome and the rest of Europe.

20 people found this helpful

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  • Adeliese Baumann
  • 07-11-2016

A useful survey, just what I wanted

This course is a good survey-refresher. It is an ambitious endeavor to attempt to teach this subject in only 24 lectures. Any of the following lecture subjects provides more than enough material for a course (or lengthy book) of its own: 1. Italy, a geographical expression. 2. The question of sovereignity. 3. The crusades and Italian wealth. 4. Venice: a maritime republic. 5. Terraferma Empire. 6. Genoa: La Superba. 7. Bankers and dukes. 8. Pisa. 9. Christians vs. Turks in the Mediterranean. 10. Rome: papal authority. 11. Papal ambition. 12. Papal reform 13. Naples: a matter of wills. 14. Naples and the threat to Italian liberty. 15. Milan and the Visconti. 16. The Sforza dynasty. 17. Mantua and the Gonzaga. 18. Urbino and the Montefeltro. 19. Ferrara and the Este family. 20. Siena and the struggle for liberty. 21. Florence and the guild republic. 22. Florence and the Medici. 23. The Italian mosaic: E Pluribus Gloria. 24. Campanilismo: The Italian sense of place.

18 people found this helpful

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  • Andrew
  • 13-09-2014

Great prep for a 2-week trip to Italy

History with context!

The professor has a superb job putting everything in context. Italy is such a complex place which such a diverse set of historical drivers, and so it's tough to do right.

Most tour guide histories are just a list of "then this happened, then this king did this."

In contrast, this professor ably articulates the trends and particulars, so that the names, places, and events make sense.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Christopher
  • 05-05-2016

Could've Used More Culture + Color

There is a lot of detailed information here, but it is very dry: old-school history focused on political and military matters – to the exclusion of all else.

Professor Bartlett has a difficult task, as Italy between the fall of Rome and the Risorgimento was divided into many states, each with their own history and identity. He chooses to organize these lectures regionally more than chronologically. This has its drawbacks: many historical figures (like the Borgias) or international events (like the Plague) appear in the narrative of multiple states, and so we hear about them again and again, but only in little snippets each time – it can be disorienting.

This approach would make much more sense if he spent any time describing the states' individual cultures – he says over and over again that they were unique, but does little to illustrate what made them distinct beyond political organization. When he does mention something cultural, it's still dry: he might say that the Sienese developed their own painting style, but not say anything about what that style was or what made it special.

The lectures are also strangely limited in chronological scope: the (500+ year!) period between the fall of Rome and the first crusade is quickly glossed over (a single lecture!), and the lectures largely stop at the 16th century, long before Italian unification.

9 people found this helpful

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  • khilsati
  • 11-10-2018

Disappointing take on an amazing subject

It is not easy to produce a neutral critic for a book/course that disappointed you, without sounding influence by your emotion, but I'll try to do my best. It was also not my point to hurt Professor Bartlett, though my review might be harsh on him. PERFORMANCE: Compared to other Great Courses on Historical topics, the performance of "The Italians before Italy" is average. Though Professor Bartlett can be understood without trouble, he has the habit of breathing heavily and often. This tends to make it sound like he is not pleased of talking, which is a bit weird. This is added to the very descriptive way the course is made, and results in classes that don't have any thrill. On a subject as fascinating as this one, this is a huge drawback I think. STORY: Let me be clear: the topic is absolutely fascinating. Though complex, the Italian Cities History is incredible and thrilling, due to the multiple events that happen during the middle-age, and the diversity of each location. The way the course is built however is, in my opinion, the wrong way to go at it. The Professor decided to follow each location separately. This means that the timeline starts again at each new city, and impairs on the connection between each others. The impact on crusades for example is shown as the utmost importance for Venice and Genoa, but it barely appears for Rome. There is also a lack of information provided in the written notes provided with the audiobook. There is no map, even though it is precised multiple times by Professor Bartlett how geography impacted on each city's character. The timeline is a joke, to say the least, being crammed with bits of information. A (way) better way to do this course would have required to do a general timeline class for the first classes, then describing the cities by region, and go back to the timeline at the end to add more details. COURSE QUALITY: The main drawback I have though is the course quality. I have serious issues on how the Professor gives his personal opinion while talking about History, from using a very positive vision towards the papacy and avoiding the inner corruption in Rome during this time period (one of the main reason why the Reformation happened), to being in awe in front of totalitarian regime. Constant critics of republican system was also annoying, specifically the more the course advances. I was also surprised how the Professor talked about people as if he knew them, even though we only know what has been written about them (and usually, following their orders). As an historian, it should be your duty to bring doubts on the information you get from the past. This is clearly not the case here. Finally, the last two classes were the most annoying, in the fact that they were the Professor's personal geo-political analysis, which I found unprofessional in a History Class. Not to mention that he described and commented on today's politics based on middle-age ground, while barely mentioning the events of WWI and WWII, as if these didn't impact the country. I don't mind Professor's Bartlett having a different opinion than mind, but he should not be using his class to push his own political analysis, especially when it is clearly missing elements. And I would also add that his description on Italian behavior, to be connected to the village of your birth, is something you find not only in Italy but in almost all countries of Europe. Either the professor has never traveled in other countries than Italy, or he on purposely wanted to give a specific Italian trait - in any case, the last class is a simple annoyance. As a whole, I am upset that on a subject so interesting, the quality was not up to what the Great Courses can produce.

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  • V. K.
  • 25-02-2018

Don't Bother

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

No.

What was most disappointing about The Great Courses’s story?

The professor is very long winded. He obviously cares about the topic but most of the material is opinions. He tells you how important and unique the story of Italy is but, if after five chapters, I've only learned ten minutes of material, I don't really care.

What three words best describe Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett’s voice?

Not bad. He sighs a lot and his pronunciation of words like peninsula- which he says every five minutes as peninchula-
and fragmentation are distracting.

Was The Italians before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean worth the listening time?

No. The material could have been summarized in a fraction of the time. Extremely repetitive and unnecessarily explanatory but using words like "of course" when presenting geographical and historical information a newcomwe to Italian history would not know.

Any additional comments?

This was so boring. I have listened to histories of China, Egypt, and Russia from the Great Courses and loved them. I drifted off multiple times listening to this. Also, his pronunciation and overuse of peninsula was irritating.

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  • Booklover
  • 07-11-2016

Narration Flawed; Subject Matter Difficult

Professor Bartlett sounds like he's enduring a rather wearisome exercise. His tone is monotonous and he heaves great sighs periodically. In general, he does not appear to be engaged with, or excited by, his subject matter. (By contrast, Professor Tuck, who narrates The Mysterious Etruscans, sounds like he is having a wonderful time sharing his knowledge).
Separately, the course material is difficult to absorb. The details of the struggles in each city state at times are both tedious and overwhelming. Perhaps, because so many mini-histories comprise the history of Italy prior to the Risorgimento, it had to be this way. However, I'd like to believe that someone else could have made different choices in selecting and organising the course material.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Listen
  • 04-07-2014

Great course with some redundancy

Would you consider the audio edition of The Italians before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean to be better than the print version?

No. With so much information contained in these lectures, one cannot properly gain enough knowledge without some written material. Simple things like, how the names are spelled and which dates related to what events/figures are just part of the reason why written text is necessary for learning history.

Would you recommend The Italians before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean to your friends? Why or why not?

Yes and no. See my comment below.

What does Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

N/A.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No.

Any additional comments?

After I listened to his “The Italian Renaissance”, I became a big fan of Professor Bartlett. History could be full of wars, names and dates tend to be pretty boring, but Bartlett has managed to keep audience interested by personalizing the historical figures, their background, character, journey in the way that you and I can related. He also provided various aspects of the Italian culture that we still can see today when we visit the country. In so doing, ancient history becomes highly relevant to today’s Italy and Italians.

One thing I am not entirely satisfied with this course is that there are a number of chapters seem to be directly copied from his “The Italian Renaissance”, or vise versa. The material is all great, but if you purchase one, the other doesn’t seem to add much value.

Another thing I am unhappy about it is the fact that the lack of course outlines in the Great Course series. With the huge amount of information delivered in these lectures, some written material will be most helpful for the students to review and solidify what’s learned. I will have to buy his written book as a suppliment.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Lovelesh
  • 04-04-2019

very insightful

loved it. narrations , lectures, and insight from historical to present is absolutely right on! Perfect for preparing for my first to Italy.

1 person found this helpful

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  • M. Bernardi
  • 13-03-2017

Incredibly Enlightening

Prof. Bartlett fully explains why Italy clutches onto its regional identities over its national identity, which is still emerging. I never considered how the Crusades brought wealth to these nation states, which brought about further experimentation with forms of democracy and ultimately fueled exploration of art and science and encouraged the production of luxury goods, though perhaps it is because I missed the over-arching significance of it in grade school history class. I have already listened to it twice to try and grasp this complex history. It is truly fascinating and worth delving into.

1 person found this helpful

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  • L Minnema
  • 23-07-2017

excellent overview of interactions between cities

If you could sum up The Italians before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean in three words, what would they be?

This course offers an excellent overview of the political and economic interactions between the major Italian cities Venice, Genua, Milan, Rome, Mantua, Urbino, until the Napoleonic take-over of Italy. Medieval and Renaissance Italy is the battlefield for the competition between the Habsburg empire and the French kingdom fighting each other in Italy, the Italian cities becoming allies of either the one or the other. Within most of the Italian cities, the aristocrats oppose the merchant classes, the aristocrats linking themselves to the Habsburg emperor, the merchant classes linking themselves to the French king or to the pope, cities having to shift sides if the tide turned.

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  • astriddg
  • 19-10-2018

Great course, recorded in the wrong order

The course itself is excellent. Griping, measured, and giving a good overview of shaping events for each city. Sadly the audio book itself starts at lecture 10 to the end before going back to lecture 1... This is a pretty bad mistake to make in my opinion...

4 people found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 24-05-2020

Interesting material. Poor delivery.

This series was useful as a primer before a family holiday to Italy and it certainly enhanced my experience by helping me to understand the history and culture of this fascinating country. Unfortunately, it was spoiled somewhat by a lecturer who tries to hard to sound erudite and lyrical. As a result, he repeats himself constantly and you have to live through phrases such as, "This sign, this symbol, this representation...". It seems someone pointed this out to him as his series on the Renaissance has less of this, but it was clearly too late to salvage this performance.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Dennis Sommers
  • 26-08-2020

It fills all the gaps!

For someone who tries to connect up all the different bits from art, music and literature this course has it all. To know about Venice I the Renaissance, or to visit Pisa; to try to place the major families and their lo Histories is difficult without the overview this well-designed and

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  • P Hemming
  • 03-08-2019

A good general introduction to the states of Italy

As per the headline, this is a good overview of most places of importance within Italy. For example, I knew little about Pisa and now have a good general idea of its rise and fall. The narration is pretty good considering this isn't supposed to be a spy novel (though the clearly studio-added clapping at the outset of each lecture is rather strange). However, as someone who knows a bit about Florence, a few questions have to be asked about historical accuracy. The Medici are treated very positively here, there is little by way of counterpoint. For example, Bartlett states that Piero was just acknowledged as hereditary ruler after the death of Cosimo. This just isn't true: there was absolutely a succession crisis and it's one of the pivotal moments in Florence moving from Republic to Ruled. Secondly, it is stated that the Pazzi plot occurred on Easter Sunday. Almost any academic history book would tell you otherwise. This is a myth. And one which would be understandable in the average person but not in an expert. Although I have enjoyed the several I have listened to thus far, I do have reservations as to how accurate the other lectures are, given the above.