Empires: The Greeks - Crucible of Civilization (2000– )

TV Series  -   -  Documentary | History
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A documentary, narrated by actor Liam Neeson, that chronicles the rise and fall of the civilization of ancient Greece.

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Series cast summary:
Paul Cartledge ...
 Himself - Cambride University (1 episode, 2000)
Victor Davis Hanson ...
 Himself - California State University, Fresno (1 episode, 2000)
Keith Hopwood ...
 Himself - University of Wales, Lampeter (1 episode, 2000)
...
 Himself - Narrator (1 episode, 2000)
Josiah Ober ...
 Himself - Princeton University (1 episode, 2000)
Nigel Spivey ...
 Himself - Cambridge University (1 episode, 2000)
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A documentary, narrated by actor Liam Neeson, that chronicles the rise and fall of the civilization of ancient Greece.

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9 February 2000 (USA)  »

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The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization  »

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Most enlightening...
21 March 2012 | by (Bradenton, Florida) – See all my reviews

I recently watched two exceptional mini-series on both the Spartans and the Athenians for PBS with Bettany Hughes. I cannot imagine making a show about the Greeks any better. Can this documentary (also brought to us by PBS) manage to be as good or better? In some ways, the series is exceptional. It has a more cinematic style and lovely music. However, it also lacked some excitement and could have used more energy. In particular, while Liam Neeson is a fine actor and probably a heck of a guy, his delivery as narrator is a bit too refined and smooth--almost, at times, lulling me to sleep with his lovely voice. Or, perhaps having several narrators with different voices would have been nice. All I know is that although it's a wonderful and quality series, it is, oddly, too refined--too nice. I might have liked more odd or salacious details or interesting vignettes as well--something to infuse a bit more realism and life into the shows. I also hated when one of the commentators used the word 'milieu'. 99% of the viewers probably never use the word and most of them probably have no idea what it means! Overall, I think I prefer Hughes less refined but more interesting style.

Although IMDb lists one season, when you click this link, it only shows one program. It actually consisted of three and below is a general idea of what episode entails.

Episode 1--This is the early history of Greece (but not discussing the earliest period, such as that of the Minoans)--when the city-states were on the rise (around 600BC). Sparta was the big Greek power but this VERY important state was not really talked about much. Instead, almost all the thrust is on Athens and other city-states were only mentioned in general. Initially, Athens was ruled by Aristos (a small group of the richest citizens) and tyrants and was not yet a major power. However, when Athens institutes democracy, the power and prestige of the city grows. The only odd thing in the episode is a quote from Aristotle about these early leaders--though they lived hundreds of years before he was born (and it sounded as if he was commenting on something about which he had direct knowledge). Usually, they tend to use contemporary accounts in documentaries (they are more reliable--and Aristotle, unfortunately, isn't that reliable in some of his writings).

Episode 2--This is the classical period of Athens. It begins with Battle of Marathon (versus Persia) and takes them to other Persian wars. There is a big emphasis on the rise of the Athenian navy. Also the serious flaw with Athenian democracy--the abuse of ostracisms--as they occurred to ANYONE who was famous or powerful. Following victories, the famous period in Athens began and philosophy and the sciences flourished. There is a discussion of two of the great Athenian leaders, Themistocles and Pericles. For the most part, everything is just ducky for the Athenians but the closing minutes indicate big things are in the near future.

Episode 3--This episode concerns the fall of Athens. After having grown so fast, the city-state became overconfident and took on the Spartans. More abuses of the democracy served to weaken them significantly, as generals, intellectuals and leaders could be executed or banished at the whims of the masses. Plagues and military setbacks also hindered them. However, the big tipping point came with Sparta and their new ally, the hated Persians--but this was, inexplicably, not talked about in the show. Instead, a HUGE portion of part three is on the death of Socrates--and then the show ends (very prematurely if you ask me as MANY more years of wars and chaos ensued during the Peloponnesian War). Could funding have run out and it was intended to be longer and more complete?! One odd thing was said in this third show: "...here it gave every Athenian citizen the right to have a say...". This is and isn't true. It did NOT give the right to women or slaves or children--so only about 1/3 (at most) of the people had a say in governing the city-state.

One final note. While the show is supposedly about the Greeks, it really is ONLY about the Athenians. The Spartans are minor characters (almost faceless bad guys) and the rest of Greece is only mentioned in passing. Because of this, the title of the show is inaccurate and it should have been something like "The Rise and Fall of Ancient Athens" or "The Ancient Greek World...But Mostly Athens".


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