Bettany Hughes searches for the truth about the 'Golden Age' of Ancient Athens, investigating how a barren rock wedged between the East and West became the first democracy 2,500 years ago. ... See full summary »
Bettany Hughes searches for the truth about the 'Golden Age' of Ancient Athens, investigating how a barren rock wedged between the East and West became the first democracy 2,500 years ago. Democracy, liberty and the freedom of speech are trumpeted as the bedrock of western civilization, but what was Athens really like? Bettany goes deep underground to explore a treasure trove of prehistoric bones and ancient artifacts. In silver mines and tombs she uncovers evidence for what this society was really like. This was a democratic city built on slave labor, manipulated by aristocrats, where women wore the veil and men pursued a bloody foreign policy, slaughtering thousands in the pursuit of the world's first democratic empire. The program reveals amazing, sophisticated voting systems but also a society where smooth-talking politicians used spin, and where those who didn't vote were known as 'idiotes'. This first episode charts the epic story of Athens' victory in one of the greatest sea ... Written by
Five years after she wrote and starred in an exceptional BBC/PBS series on ancient Sparta, historian Bettany Hughes is back--this time to bring us a show on the history of Athens and Athenian democracy. What is interesting here about this show is that although today we think of these people as the ideals of democratic rule, Hughes points out (rightly so) that this system was far from completely democratic and often abused its power. In short, this sort of system wasn't all it was cracked up to be and had many shortcomings. First, despite its reputation for philosophy and learning, it was an incredibly warlike society. Second, it took democracy to a crazy extreme--allowing the masses to suppress or punish anyone--even if they hadn't actually committed any crime. In other words, it was, at times, mob rule. And, third, it was democratic--provided you weren't a woman, a slave, had no property or were underage--and this eliminated up to 9/10 of the people! Now this isn't to say that the basic tenants of Athenian rule were bad--but they were an experiment that hadn't yet been worked out completely.
Topics covered in the film include the Delian League, wars with Persia (such as Marathon and Salamis), empire and conquest of its neighbors as well as its relationship with its greatest thinker, Socrates. Overall, I must say that this series, while shorter than the one on Sparta, is actually better because it manages to challenge assumptions and present an interesting contrasting view of these ancient people. Well worth seeing and entertaining.
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