Join us on first Wednesdays at 6:00 pm from October through June 2013 for our Great Battles lecture series. Every age of human history has experienced battles that have been instrumental in molding the future.
Battles win wars, redraw borders, topple thrones, and change laws and history. Battles influence the spread of culture, civilization, and religious dogma. They introduce weapons, tactics, and leaders who dominate future conflicts. Not all battles are fought solely on the battlefield.
$40 General Admission
$15 Penn Museum members
Single lectures with advance payment
$5 General Admission
$2 Penn Museum Members
Wednesday, October 3, 6:00 pm
A Tale of Two City States: Quirigua's Victory over Copan in 738 CE
Honduran archaeologist Ricardo Agurcia Fasquelle, Executive Director of the Copan Association
Until recently scholars depicted the ancient Maya as a peaceful civilization devoid of warfare. This somewhat romantic notion has been overturned by evidence of a starker reality: during the Classic era (ca. 250-900 CE) an array of Maya kingdoms were engaged in a series of major wars that ravaged the heart of the Maya homeland. For much of this era the major kingdom of Copan appears to have escaped these conflicts. Everything changed in 738 CE, however, when Copan was dramatically defeated by its far smaller vassal, Quirigua, which thereby gained its independence in a single stroke.
Wednesday, November 7, 6:00 pm
The First Crusade: Three battles for Latin Christendom
This event has been POSTPONED. More information here.
From 1096 to 1101, over 100,000 people from all over western Europe set off towards Jerusalem. These men and women, these warriors and pilgrims, priests and nuns, lords and laborers, didn't have a name for what they were doing—no one would use the word Crusade to describe an armed pilgrimage, or holy military expedition, until more than another century had passed. Yet the battle that preceded their march, a battle along the way to Jerusalem, and still another after that city was conquered by a tiny remnant of the original force, combined together to permanently re-shape the nature (both spiritual and physical) of Catholic Europe.
Wednesday, December 5, 6:00 pm
Was there a Trojan War?: Assessing the Evidence from the Most Recent Excavations at Troy
C. Brian Rose
In the course of the latest campaign of excavations at Troy, in northwestern Turkey, archaeologists have uncovered a wealth of evidence that enables us to situate the site within the political and military history of the late Bronze Age (14th/13th centuries BCE). The recent discovery of a large defensive ditch cut from the bedrock needs to be considered with the monumental fortification walls around the citadel, both of which shed new light on the history of warfare at the site.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013, 6:00 pm
Gettysburg: History and Hype
It is conventional to depict Gettysburg as a decisive Union victory, the turning point in our Civil War. But that conflict dragged on for nearly two years after Gettysburg, and the fierce resistance mounted by Confederate armies in Virginia and Georgia in the spring and summer of 1864 almost caused a war-weary Northern public to lose its will to continue fighting and turn Abraham Lincoln out of the White House.
The hype surrounding Gettysburg causes most Americans to miss the fact that the Union's truly decisive victories—those that significantly weakened the Confederacy and pushed it closer to defeat—were won in the Western Theater at places like Fort Donelson, New Orleans, Shiloh, Chattanooga, and Atlanta. The Union Army of the Potomac, the winner at Gettysburg, took four years to advance over the 100 miles separating Washington, D.C., to the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, and it only took Richmond after Union armies in the West had gutted the rest of the Confederacy. Nothern armies in the West covered much more ground much more quickly—and captured many important Southern cities—New Orleans, Nashville, Memphis, Natchez, Baton Rouge, Vicksburg, Little Rock, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Atlanta, Savannah, and Columbia.
Depicting Gettysburg as a turning point also reinforces the fantasy that wars are simply a series of conventional battles, which makes war look too neat and tidy, and more like a sporting event than the barbaric business it really is. In addition to fighting conventional battles, Union soldiers also found themselves targeted by a fierce insurgency the moment they invaded the Confederacy (much like what our troops faced during the recent war in Iraq). Focusing on spasms of mass slaughter like Gettysburg has left us with a distorted view of what the Civil War was really like—which blinds us to the kind of nation that the Civil War produced.
Now, of course, Gettysburg was big, dramatic, and important (it was not the biggest or longest Civil War battle, but it was the bloodiest). It is interesting that the veterans of the Army of the Potomac chose to make Gettysburg their monument—rather than Appomattox, Virginia, where they finally won a decisive victory by trapping Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and forcing it to surrender. It is time to question the conventional wisdom regarding this legendary event.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013, 6:00 pm
From Actium to an Asp: The beginning of the end for Cleopatra the Great
In the years following the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE, internal Roman power struggles—combined with the increasingly negative response to Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony’s romantic partnership—led to the deterioration of the relationship between Egypt and Rome. The conflict ultimately came to a head with the Battle of Actium in September of 31 BCE, which pitted the Roman forces of Octavian against the Ptolemaic army of Cleopatra and Marc Antony. After a lengthy delay in less than ideal conditions (coupled with a series of seemingly poor strategic decisions) the Egyptian forces were decimated at sea—with Cleopatra and Marc Antony barely escaping with their lives. The aftermath of this battle set the course for the final desperate year of Cleopatra’s life.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 6:00 pm
The Siege and Fall of Masada
In the first century BCE, King Herod the Great fortified the mountain of Masada, which is located by the southwest shore of the Dead Sea. Seventy years after Herod's death, Jewish rebels occupied Masada during the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans, holding out even after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. In this slide-illustrated lecture, we examine the archaeological and literary evidence for the Roman siege of Masada, including information from the 1995 excavations in the siege works, which Magness co-directed. We end with a discussion of Josephus' controversial account, according to which the siege ended with a mass-suicide of the Jewish rebels.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 6:00 pm
The Scopes Monkey Trial July 21, 1925
The Scopes Monkey Trial was a landmark American legal case in 1925 in which high school science teacher, John Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act* which made it unlawful to teach evolution. Setting modernists, who said religion was consistent with evolution, against religious fundamentalists, this trial helped to fuel the controversy regarding teaching evolution in public schools. Although Scopes technically lost the case, many have perceived it as a victory for evolutionists and rationalism. *Formally known as The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes and informally known as the Scopes Monkey Trial.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 6:00 pm
Thermopylae: the Battle for Europe?
This lecture examines the tactics and strategy of the battle of Thermopylae, 480 BCE. Why was the battle fought at this location and was it, as it is often portrayed a turning point in the confrontation of East and West? In this lecture we'll put the battle of Thermopylae into the context of the Persian Wars and examine the battle's significance for the Greeks as well as for later Europeans in later periods, in art and poetry.
Wednesday, June 5, 2013, 6:00 pm
Hannibal’s Secret Weapon in the Second Punic War
Hannibal’s use of the environment in his warfare against Rome in the Second Punic War, often called the Hannibalic War, set precedents in military history. His unique utilization of nature and weather conditions became weapons that complemented his generally smaller forces. This strategic marshaling could be described as a "second, secret army", as demonstrated in his battles at Trebbia, Trasimene and Cannae.