The Decisive Battles of World History Series

The Great Courses
Show More

36 episodes in this series

Episode 1 What Makes a Battle Decisive?
Contemplate the ways in which warfare can change the course of historical events. Examine the factors that make a military battle "decisive," such as its role in transfers of power…
Episode 2 1274 B.C. Kadesh— Greatest Chariot Battle
The battle of Kadesh ushered in an unprecedented era of peace in the ancient Near East. Follow the strategy and tactics of the Egyptian and Hittite armies, featuring each side's…
Episode 3 479 B.C. Plataea—Greece Wins Freedom
In the 479 B.C. battle of Plataea, Greek "hoplite" forces fighting in phalanxes met the mighty army of the Persian superpower. Study the unfolding of this dramatic engagement, and learn…
Episode 4 331 B.C. Gaugamela—Alexander’s Genius
The victory of Alexander at Gaugamela resulted in the spread of Greek culture throughout the Macedonian Empire. Trace Alexander's campaign against the Persians, which led to the battle, and his…
Episode 5 197 B.C. Cynoscephalae—Legion vs. Phalanx
In 197 B.C., two rival military systems clashed. Learn about the forces of Philip V of Macedon, with their phalanx system; the legacy of Alexander; and the up-and-coming Romans with…
Episode 6 31 B.C. Actium—Birth of the Roman Empire
This great naval battle resulted from conflict within republican Rome. Follow the intense rivalry between Mark Antony and Octavian for domination of Rome, leading to the fateful events of the…
Episode 7 260–110 B.C. China—Struggles for Unification
The wars of the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. were crucial in forging the later history of China. Study the military technology of the ancient Chinese and the conflicts through…
Episode 8 636 Yarmouk & al-Qadisiyyah—Islam Triumphs
In these dramatic conflicts, the Islamic Rashidun armies toppled two long-established empires. Learn about their defeat of the Byzantine army at Yarmouk and the Sassanid forces at al-Qadisiyyah, which determined…
Episode 9 751 Talas & 1192 Tarain—Islam into Asia
This episode explores military engagements between widely differing cultures. Learn about the 751 battle between the Chinese Tang forces and the Abbasid Caliphate, which altered the religious orientation of central…
Episode 10 1066 Hastings—William Conquers England
The Battle of Hastings changed the course of both English and world history. Here, encounter the redoubtable figure of William the Conqueror and his 1066 invasion of England to claim…
Episode 11 1187 Hattin—Crusader Desert Disaster
The religious and cultural effects of the Christian Crusades are still felt in today's world. Study the origins of the Crusades and the events leading to the fateful confrontation at…
Episode 12 1260 Ain Jalut—Can the Mongols Be Stopped?
Now, envision a militaristic society that threatened nearly all the civilizations of Asia and Europe. Study the rise of the Mongols, their terrifying conquests, and their astounding military expertise. Witness…
Episode 13 1410 Tannenberg—Cataclysm of Knights
This 15th-century conflict pitted the armies of Poland and Lithuania against the fearsome Germanic order of the Teutonic Knights. Learn about the political background of the bloody confrontation at Tannenberg,…
Episode 14 Frigidus, Badr, Diu—Obscure Turning Points
This episode discusses battles that have had extremely important effects, though information about the specific events involved is scanty. Consider the battles of the Frigidus River and Badr, both vital…
Episode 15 1521 Tenochtitlán—Aztecs vs. Conquistadors
The 16th-century Spanish conquest of the Americas resulted in some of the most unusual military encounters of all time. Here, learn about the campaign under Hernan Cortes to conquer Mexico,…
Episode 16 1532 Cajamarca—Inca vs. Conquistadors
Continue with Spain's campaign against the vast and highly organized Inca Empire. Follow the daring maneuvers of the forces under Francisco Pizarro, aided by European military technology and including the…
Episode 17 1526 & 1556 Panipat—Babur & Akbar in India
Two highly significant 16th-century battles were fought at the Indian town of Panipat. Learn about the rise of the Mughal emperors and the military clashes that first opened the door…
Episode 18 1571 Lepanto—Last Gasp of the Galleys
The conquests of the Ottoman Turks led to the largest naval battle of the Renaissance. Trace the formation of the Holy League, an alliance of Christian powers against the raiding…
Episode 19 1592 Sacheon—Yi’s Mighty Turtle Ships
These great naval conflicts left deep imprints on two nations. Chart the 1592 Japanese conquest of Korea, the remarkable naval technologies involved, and the stunning victories of Korean admiral Yi…
Episode 20 1600 Sekigahara—Samurai Showdown
In this monumental episode of the samurai era, learn about the underlying politics and the major figures in the conflict, including one whose wavering loyalty took an astonishing turn on…
Episode 21 1683 Vienna—The Great Ottoman Siege
The Ottoman campaign to capture Vienna was one of the largest and most significant in Ottoman history. Study the background of the siege and the military technology and strategy on…
Episode 22 1709 Poltava—Sweden’s Fall, Russia’s Rise
In the 17th century, Sweden emerged as the most powerful state in northern Europe. Learn about Swedish king Charles XII, his ambition to conquer Russia, and his opponent, the resourceful…
Episode 23 1759 Quebec—Battle for North America
This key incident in the Seven Years War between England and France critically shaped the future of North America. Discover the conflict through the eyes of the opposing commanders as…
Episode 24 1776 Trenton—The Revolution’s Darkest Hour
In late 1776, the rebellion of the American colonists appeared to be heading for dismal failure. Here, uncover the dramatic events that were the pivot point of the war. Learn…
Episode 25 1805 Trafalgar—Nelson Thwarts Napoleon
In 1805, after subduing much of Europe, Napoleon Bonaparte turned his sights on England. Study the events leading to the largest naval battle of the age, as Napoleon's combined French…
Episode 26 1813 Leipzig—The Grand Coalition
In this massive clash, a coalition of seven European powers united to oppose Napoleon. Trace the preliminary military actions culminating at Leipzig, where four armies finally converged on Napoleon's forces.…
Episode 27 1824 Ayacucho—South American Independence
The early 19th century saw the rise of numerous independence movements in Central and South America. Learn about three key leaders who were prominent in these struggles; their bold plan…
Episode 28 1836 San Jacinto—Mexico’s Big Loss
First, encounter the larger-than-life commanders of this extraordinary action, Sam Houston and Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Track the tensions between the Mexican government and the province of Texas, resulting…
Episode 29 1862 Antietam—The Civil War’s Bloodiest Day
At the time of this landmark battle in the American Civil War, the Confederacy seemed poised to achieve its goal of independence. Envision the protracted, bloody struggle between North and…
Episode 30 1866 Königgrätz—Bismarck Molds Germany
The historic engagement at Koniggratz brought a united Germany into being. Assess the opposing Prussian and Austrian forces, and track the Prussian initiative to capture the German-speaking states allied with…
Episode 31 1905 Tsushima—Japan Humiliates Russia
A modern Japanese naval force stunned the world in this history-making battle. Learn about Japan's 19th-century industrialization and militarization, its conflict with an expansionist Russia, and the maritime confrontation that…
Episode 32 1914 Marne—Paris Is Saved
This providential clash critically shaped World War I. Study the German and French preparations for warfare and vital errors in planning by each side. Follow the offensive that began the…
Episode 33 1939 Khalkin Gol—Sowing the Seeds of WWII
Here, an obscure battle in Mongolia produced global effects. Track the tensions between Russia and Japan that led to a bloody border conflict that neither side had sought. Grasp how…
Episode 34 1942 Midway—Four Minutes Change Everything
The advent of aircraft carriers brought a significant new era in naval warfare. Witness the most dramatic and pivotal of the "carrier versus carrier" battles, where the events of a…
Episode 35 1942 Stalingrad—Hitler’s Ambitions Crushed
Chart the German invasion of Russia at the height of the war in Europe, which massed the full force of Hitler's war machine. Follow the clash of the seemingly invincible…
Episode 36 Recent & Not-So-Decisive Decisive Battles
In concluding the course, take a keen look at what may be some of the historically decisive battles of the six decades following World War II. Finally, consider two famous…

Related videos

Recent & Not-So-Decisive Decisive Battles
In concluding the course, take a keen look at what may be some of the historically decisive battles of the six decades following World War II. Finally, consider two famous conflicts often thought to be among the most decisive of all time, and see how careful analysis casts doubt on…
What Makes a Battle Decisive?
Contemplate the ways in which warfare can change the course of historical events. Examine the factors that make a military battle "decisive," such as its role in transfers of power and its social and political effects, and consider the study of battles as an analytical tool for understanding history.
Frigidus, Badr, Diu—Obscure Turning Points
This episode discusses battles that have had extremely important effects, though information about the specific events involved is scanty. Consider the battles of the Frigidus River and Badr, both vital turning points for world religions, and that of Diu, which marked the moment when Europe began its rise to world…
Scipio Africanus the Elder
Part of the Series: Famous Romans
The son of the consul of 218 B.C., Africanus earned his sobriquet by crushing Hannibal in 202 at Zama (now Tunisia), one of the most decisive battles in world history. Here we compare Scipio and Hannibal and the lessons they offer.
1905 Tsushima—Japan Humiliates Russia
A modern Japanese naval force stunned the world in this history-making battle. Learn about Japan's 19th-century industrialization and militarization, its conflict with an expansionist Russia, and the maritime confrontation that radically altered the Western perception of Japan, signaling its entrance onto the global stage as a major power.
751 Talas & 1192 Tarain—Islam into Asia
This episode explores military engagements between widely differing cultures. Learn about the 751 battle between the Chinese Tang forces and the Abbasid Caliphate, which altered the religious orientation of central Asia. Then follow the 1192 clash between the Indian Rajputs and a Turkish Islamic army, and its permanent effects on…
1526 & 1556 Panipat—Babur & Akbar in India
Two highly significant 16th-century battles were fought at the Indian town of Panipat. Learn about the rise of the Mughal emperors and the military clashes that first opened the door to their advance into India and then solidified their control, establishing a dynasty that would last for centuries.
636 Yarmouk & al-Qadisiyyah—Islam Triumphs
In these dramatic conflicts, the Islamic Rashidun armies toppled two long-established empires. Learn about their defeat of the Byzantine army at Yarmouk and the Sassanid forces at al-Qadisiyyah, which determined the cultural, linguistic, and religious nature of the Middle East for the next 1,500 years.
1274 B.C. Kadesh— Greatest Chariot Battle
The battle of Kadesh ushered in an unprecedented era of peace in the ancient Near East. Follow the strategy and tactics of the Egyptian and Hittite armies, featuring each side's distinctive war chariots. Trace the unusual sequence of battlefield events that led to a remarkable treaty, an important forerunner of…
Charles Martel Defeats the Muslims
Episode 20 of Living History
Take the battlefield in one of the most decisive battles ever fought between Muslims and Europeans. In the century after Muhammad, Islam's spread seemed unstoppable until the disastrous Battle of Toulouse followed by the Battle of Tours, in which Charles Martel, leader of the Franks, defeats the Muslim invaders.
History's Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They Teach
Military history often highlights successes and suggests a sense of inevitability about victory, but there is so much that can be gleaned from considering failures. Study these crucibles of history to gain a better understanding of why a civilization took - or didn't take - a particular path. Full of…
1571 Lepanto—Last Gasp of the Galleys
The conquests of the Ottoman Turks led to the largest naval battle of the Renaissance. Trace the formation of the Holy League, an alliance of Christian powers against the raiding Ottomans; follow the events leading to Lepanto; and study the dramatic naval engagement that ended Turkish incursions into the maritime…