Athens: The Truth about Democracy
We choose to forget that in the name of democracy, Athens followed a policy of aggressive overseas expansion and persecuted some of its leading intellectuals. Despite its recent popularity in the West, democracy in ancient Athens did not flourish but quickly died.
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 civilisation, but what was Athens really like?
Bettany goes deep underground to explore a treasure trove of pre-historic bones and ancient artefacts. In silver mines and tombs she uncovers evidence for what this society was really like.
This was a democratic city built on slave labour, 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 programme 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.
The film charts the epic story of Athens’ victory in one of the greatest sea battles of the ancient world, when the Athenian triremes defeat Xerxes’ mighty Persian fleet at Salamis, and reveals the real story of the building of the greatest monument of this first democracy – the Parthenon – as a symbol of Athenian power.
Watch the full documentary now (playlist – 1 hour, 37 minutes)