course
Ancient Greek History, 800-146 BC

Jan 2021

Professor Billows gives an in-depth overview of Ancient Greek History. He is opinionated and passionate, but in a way that brings the class to life. He often does this through his anecdotal-tangents, which can go on for upwards of 15 minutes and can be just as informative as the regular lecture. This class is maybe not necessary for Columbians not studying ancient history as the core does a good enough job, but is a must-take if more interested in the ancient world.

Dec 2020

I enjoyed this class.It's an excellent introduction to Ancient Greek history. Over zoom, the lectures are like wathcing a recording. The weekly discussion sections are much more lively.

Mar 2019

Took Ancient Greek History with Billows and it was the best history course I've taken at Columbia. He starts class at a level 10 and then takes it to a level 15. Like he started voice-acting historical figures. The man is a powerhouse. I never thought I enjoyed classics until this course, now I wish I had concentrated in it. His lectures follow the textbook very closely, in fact, almost verbatum. I started reading the main secondary source but then realized he hits ~everything~ in lecture. We covered so much material, and yet it feels like you're just with a friend who's telling you a gripping story they're really excited about. This is history at its best. Ancient Greek History is also epic. It's about this small backwater area of the Med. that ends up toppling the freaking Persian Empire. They also really like their "great men," which becomes entertaining when you learn about the life stories and legends/myths about people like Alexander the Great, Phillip of Macedonia, etc. Ask Billows about Alcibiades and you'll see.

Jan 2014

Billows is great. Charming, funny, a little corny, but beyond that, he really knew his stuff and made the class worthwhile. Each class Billows writes about 20 terms on the board, talks about each one, then crosses them off as he goes. Sometimes he uses pictures or maps, but, for the most part, he just stands there and talks. A lot. Many times to the point where he goes way over the lecture period time. Billows definitely grows on you, though, and it makes staying twenty minutes past the end of the lecture worth it. The class itself was an absolute breeze. The content was sometimes dry and seemingly pointless, and much of the exams was memorization and knowing major trends. Pretty much none of the readings have to be done. Even for the papers, facts from class and pulling tidbits from the required and recommending readings using the index were more than enough. Overall, an OK subject with a witty and knowledgable professor.

Jun 2013

Billows is a highly entertaining lecturer that definitely knows his stuff. His readings are very heavy, but you can pretty much skim them. He covers the important stuff in class. He likes to go on asides, is pretty much interested in the military, and tends to say stuff that sounds horrible, but keep in mind, he's saying what the ancients thought, not what he thinks. He'll often point that out. His IDs for his exams are always put on the board, so be sure to define them in lecture and start yourself a running spreadsheet of them from the start. You seriously won't have time to compile the kind of information needed on them when midterms roll around. There are also guaranteed to be a few that literally do not exist in the text book and were never mentioned in lecture. Have fun with that! Billows' TAs are a craps shoot. They are generally very nice, but will have no consistency whatsoever with regards to grading or expectation. Expect discussion to be a tangential waste of time, the paper to be graded harshly, and the midterm scoring to have no bearing on what they said to expect. All that negativity aside, I liked his lectures well enough to take him twice in a row, TA tomfuckery notwithstanding. If you are even slightly interested in Ancient Greece or Rome, his class is sort of not to be missed. He's liberal, goofy, and often gets lost down some weird(!!) roads.

Jun 2010

I have taken class with Billows multiple times. Accept that in a lecture he's going to tell you the same stories over and over again, not make any real attempt to engage his students, and go 10-15 minutes over every class. If you are interested in Greek history, all of this is worth it. He knows his stuff, tells it in a very entertaining manner, and generally is a very lenient grader. In the seminar I took with him, he had between 1-3 students present on the week's readings. Often times, Billows intentionally gave us arguments to read that he did not agree with, precisely so he could counter their claims in class. If you were not presenting (You have to present twice throughout the year), you basically just sat there and listened for 1:50 a week. At the end of the semester a 20 page paper was due. If you take a Billows seminar and it is in this format, I would recommend that you get a vague idea of what you want to write about in the beginning of the semester. Then you can sign up to present on that topic in class, use your research from your presentation to write most of your paper, and just find additional details to fill in the rest. You literally have to do no work otherwise outside of showing up (almost) every week.

Dec 2009

After taking this course, I'm firmly convinced that Billows received his education in the Spartan "agoge" and eats lunch with his "syssitia" every day. This guy loves everything Ancient Greece, and he certainly loves to discuss every detail of a "hoplon" shield and the tactical formations of a Macedonian phalanx, and how the Macedonians kept Persian cavalry charges at bay with their "sarissa" long pike. As you can imagine, this class is mindnumbingly boring, especially at 10:30 in the morning. Basically class is structured around Billows writing 20 terms on the blackboard, and then he gives a lecture where he goes over all the terms, and underlines each and every one as he covers it. It's basically a long stream of dates and people, and its just gets to be pretty unbearable after awhile. Class goes over by at least 15 minutes every day, which really got on my nerves. The thing is...despite the fact that the class is boring, it's SO EASY TO DO WELL. I mean, the pragmatic person (Pericles was the archetypal pragmatist, Billows emphasizes) would suffer in the short term to benefit in the long run. When it comes to the midterm and final, Billows gives you a list of like 120 terms, which is basically miserable to go through each and every term, but if you want to do well, just suffer and go through them all and write up some notecards. Despite suffering, it's not hard to get an A in the class. Mike was an excellent TA, probably because he didn't know anything about Ancient Greece. We talked more about historiography and how to read ancient texts and what information we can glean from texts like Herodotus and Thucydides. Here's some tips: go to section, don't go to lecture all the time, meet with your TA about the paper, READ FREEMAN'S Greek Achievement, read the LitHum sections of Herodotus, read the Melian Dialogue from Thucydides, read Robert Kagan's Peloponnesian War (quick read), don't even buy Plutarch or Polybius. You can do it. Trust me.

May 2009

Professor Billows is a classic Columbia professor. He has no clue what is flying, but that just makes the class all the more better. His lectures are really interesting, especially if you are in to the subject matter.

Jan 2009

A great professor if you're looking for a lecture-style history course that is actually engaging. Don't expect personal face time with Billows, who you will see basically only when he comes twice a week to lecture. That said, he's a funny and dynamic lecturer, easy to listen to. You won't have to worry about staying awake in his class. The material is interesting and the syllabus isn't too intense. So long as you come to class for the lecture notes and read Greek Achievement, the main text around which this class is centered, you should be prepared for the exams. The other readings are unnecessary, as you will not be tested on them. There is a weekly hour-long discussion section that you should attend, but the TAs don't take attendance so it's not totally mandatory. There is one paper, conveniently due right before Thanksgiving so that you don't have to worry about it during finals time. For the exams, you just need to know the information cold and spit it out, but the information you need to know comes directly from the lectures and from Greek Achievement.

Jan 2007

My only complaint about Professor Billows was that he seemed to be confused as to what time the class actually ended. He has it in his head that the class time is an hour and a half, and as a result, you WILL be in class for ten to fifteen minutes longer every single class. But other than that, I really enjoyed Professor Billows class. He is, as other reviews say, a old school professor. He lectures straight for an hour and a half and is likewise always rather thrown off when someone asks him a question in the middle of his lecture. He has a dry sense of humor that can spice up the lectures, and his building excitement when he talks about war is quite entertaining. I knew very little about greek history before taking this class, and although I did not have much of an interest in the subject, I found the class really enjoyable. The lectures were for the most part very interesting. Definitely recommended.

Jan 2006

Billows is a good professor overall. - He runs 10 minutes over every class. all semester. - you dont actually need to read Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius etc. But do so if you have the time. - Read the textbook. Altough he covers all the information in his lectures, his style can be haphazard and confusing at times. There is a lot to write down, so bring a computer or write fast. - Class was what you made out of it, section was terrible. -Make sure to really study for the exams, just memorize the terms and you'll do fine. -Don't write the paper the night before, because some research actually does have to be done

Jan 2005

It's true, his lectures are always 10 min. too long (be careful when scheduling a class in the next block) but they are really funny and entertaining. Doing the reading is helpful but not wholly necessesary since his lectures are really thorough. Be prepared to take lots of detailed notes because he rattles of dates and names about as fast as you can write them once he gets going. His impersonations of various historical figures are real gems. The downside to his class (excluding the lecture length) is that he is not very approachable. Especially concerning papers, his responses to questions often bear little resemblance to the question asked. He grades fairly (not too hard but he will call bs what is is). His terms lists make studying for the midterm and final really easy (but be prepared to study a lot).

Dec 2004

Richard Billows, like every one else has been saying, does tend to keep you 10 and sometimes 15 minutes after class in lecture/ The lectures were however really intriguinf and he is quite vibrant and colorful in lecutring, meaning it would be hard to fall asleep. I heard he is an easy grader and he probably is, I did very well on the midterm, but it is annoying to memorize and study for the million IDs. If you want an interesting course with a pretty lenient professor, take this one. One thing I found annoying were the recitations. I am not sure whether they were mandatory or not, but I found them quite useless. We did not go over anything relevant to the exams and my TA, Stephen, mumbled all during rec so everyone ends up falling asleep.

Apr 2004

I agree that this course was pretty easy. Prof. Billows takes his lectures almost straight from the textbook, so if you miss a class or skip a reading it's not the end of the world. The lectures could get kinda dry sometimes, but make sure you pay attention when Billows talks about Athens; it is his specialty, and it can actually be pretty funny to observe his obvious bias against all other greek cities. He has a really dry sense of humor, but you might miss his jokes and sarcastic remarks if you don't pay attention. He doesn't like to be interrupted when lecturing, so prepare to be shot down when you offer comments or questions, especially if you say something uncomplimentary to the Athenians. The worst part of the course was that he honestly went at least 10 minutes overtime for EVERY SINGLE CLASS. Overall, an interesting course with a relatively light workload, and taught by a professor who definitely knows his subject.

Dec 2003

One of the driest professors I have ever experienced. If you dont want to try to memorize a million Greek ID's, don't take this (unless he's changed since fall 2001)..

Dec 2002

took him in Fall 2002. this was one of the courses i heard was really "easy"! we all know what that means. its easy to others, but when you take it, you find out that its not all that easy. so yes, this is a relatively manageable easy course (note: i am not saying "easy"). but u GOT TO READ WEEKLY ASSIGNMENTS. they arent that long tho. take good notes in class; they are crucial. the class is quite fun and can get quite animated by the professor's jokes and remarks on greeks. he is an easy guy who is passionate about teaching this course. but he takes 10 min extra evcery class so that can get to you some times when u sit there for 2 hrs at a stretch. i think its possible to get at least an A- (a B+ easily) if u read the books and prepare for the midterms and finals way before the last night. he gives review sheets (nothing outside it will appear in the exams) but the prob is that there a lot of them!! so making notes and then (worst) memorising all the dates and names can be impossible if u start the night before. try to work in groups (esp to make the notes). i had this TA named Erik-- he is kinda cool. not necessarily an easy grader but a nice helpful reasonable guy. he wont give u an easy A by BS-ing,u got to show work first. if u r into reading and the Greeks, this is a grt course. should be easy for u then

Dec 2002

I took this course Fall 2002. It was an interesting class but Prof. Billows seems to think that he can go 10 minutes after class EVERY day. Yea, it gets annoying so if you are taking this class, make sure that you don't have anything after this to rush to so you can stay. It is interesting material and Billows kept my attention. Most importantly the sections with the TAs aren't mandatory!! My TA wasn't even helpful at all. If you aren't really interested in Greek History this class might not be worth your Humanities credit. If you are a history major this will be great to take!

May 2002

NOTE: Giovanni is not actually a professor at Columbia, he's a grad student in ancient history. That said, if he teaches here again, seek out the courses he TAs, regardless of the professor. I never thought a discussion section could be so helpful and fun. He was great at distilling the contents of the lecture and helping to understand complicated governmental systems or battles. He usually knew the answers to our questions and if he didn't he found them out and e- mailed the section with the answer. Simply put, Giovanni is the man.

Nov 2001

Billows is an old school style professor, meaning that he spends every lecture pacing in front of the class and talking. There is no multi media and there are practically no handouts. His lectures tend to be dry, but when he is funny, it is hilarious. The textbook has been described as a cure for insomnia, this is true. The saving grace of this class was the TA, Giovanni. If you take this class and he is one of the TAs, go to his section. He is chill and really funny and does not believe that greek history is life. This makes for a great section. You also pick up knowledge of the Ptolemies and war elephants, as this was the topic of his thesis. To girls: he is cute. Very cute. This makes the actual class a lot easier to get through but a lot harder to pay attention in, since all you will be tempted to do is stare at him.