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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Sins of omission - and distortion
5 July 2014 | by (Cebu City, The Philippines) – See all my reviews

This series fails for the simple reason that, while it cannot be expected to cover the topic comprehensively, it should at least provide a reasonably balanced and accurate account. It doesn't. This is despite the use of an impressive array of academics; one can only assume they were not involved in the shaping of the final product.

There are some jaw-dropping omissions, especially given that the title mentions 'Greeks' rather than 'Athenians'. In terms of influence on western civilization, there is no doubt that Athens was by far the most important of the Greek city states. However, if this documentary were to be the only source of information on Greece in the classical period, one would be (falsely) led to believe that (1) almost all the great Greeks were Athenians, (2) that practically everything about Sparta was bad, (3) that city states such as Thebes were of little or no significance (there was little or no mention of many important states), and (4) that the Battles of Thermopylae and Plataea never happened.

This last point is particularly unforgivable considering how much Thermopylae continues to be discussed today (though I wish people wouldn't just mention the 300 Spartans who died there - the 700 Thespians deserve just as much credit). To say that the Persian threat ended at Salamis in 480 BC is just plain wrong; an army of at least 80,000 Persians remained on Greek soil and was defeated by a Greek army under Spartan leadership in 479 BC, with Sparta providing the largest contingent.

While Athenian democracy is rightly lauded, no mention is made of the fact women were not only excluded but expected to keep quiet too (unlike Sparta where women were at least allowed to express their views, as well as being taught to read and write). Further, these Athenian male democrats owned lots of slaves and suppressed (sometimes ruthlessly) dozens of previously independent Greek city states to build their empire.

The treatment of The Peloponnesian War is all too brief and uneven. While quite some time is spent on the plague, the Sicillian expedition, and the prosecution of the generals, no mention is made of the heavy involvement of major states such as Corinth and Thebes (as part of the Spartan-led Peloponnesian League opposing the Athenian empire)who wanted to raze Athens to the ground at the end of the war (they were prevented from doing by Sparta), nor the reason for the eventual involvement of the Persians. Also hard to fathom is the failure to have at least a brief look at that most fascinating of characters, the Athenian statesman and general Alcibiades, a key figure during the war (and surely worth a documentary of his own).

Even if the series was retitled 'The Athenians', it would be hard to forgive the above sins of omission for one must surely provide a proper context. One needs the big picture to properly appreciate the influence of the Greeks on western civilization, whereas this is more like a series of sometimes distorted reproductions of random scenes from the classical period.


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