Engineering an Empire: The Maya and The Aztecs

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Ratings: 8.44/10 from 27 users.

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Engineering an Empire: The Maya and The AztecsAt the height of its glory, this mysterious civilization ruled a territory of 125,000 square miles across parts of Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize. What began as a modest population of hunters and gatherers expanded into more than forty flourishing city-states who engineered sky-high temple-pyramids, ornate palaces and advanced hydraulic systems.

Where did they come from and what catastrophes caused the collapse of this innovative civilization? From the Temple-Pyramids at Tikal, to the royal tomb at Palenque, to the star observatory at Chichén Itzá, this episode will examine the architecture and infrastructure that enabled the rise and fall of the ancient Maya civilization.

In less than 200 years the Aztec's transformed themselves from a band of wandering nomads to the greatest civilization the New World had ever known. What records remain of this amazing feat indicate they did it through brilliant military campaigns and by ingeniously applying technology to master the harsh environment they faced.

They built their capital city where no city should have been possible: in the middle of a lake. The Aztec also practiced human sacrifice on an unprecedented scale and made many enemies. By the time the Spaniards landed they had no trouble recruiting tribal allies to destroy the Aztecs. Watch with host Peter Weller as we examine the architecture and infrastructure behind the New World's greatest, and last, indigenous society.

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23 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Jacob M

    I always take what the History Channel has to say as a grain of salt. I have witnessed them lie first hand, about ending certain programs years ago that still continue. But thank you Vlatko, this is very entertaining

  2. gero2006

    This review is on the documentary about the Maya.

    Superficial discussion of Mayan history & culture. Very little information about Mayan engineering - not sure why they put 'engineering' in the title. Only mentioned some aspects of monumental architecture, road building, and water management.

    Terrible background music that was so loud I had to strain past it to hear the comments of the interviewees. I needn't have bothered straining - the interviewees had nothing very significant to say.

    But this documentary does provide interesting images of Mayan archaeological sites so still worth watching as 'eye candy' for archaeologists.

  3. gero2006

    This review is on the documentary about the Aztecs.

    See earlier review about Maya. This seemed a bit less irritating maybe because I had lower expectations. Same superficial treatment of the subject. Same over-loud background music.

    Peter Weller is the presenter on both documentaries. I do not know this person. He sounds like a coach or sports commentator rather than a presenter of a documentary. He is really weird: he describes the building of a temple as if he were giving an explanation of football strategy. The same breathless over-excited shouting you get when a commentator is screaming into a microphone because someone has just scored. In the Maya documentary he was over-excited about some steps. In the Aztec documentary he gets over-happy about a bath. Am I the only one who finds that strange? It's like watching a documentary about astronomy presented by someone dressed as a whale. There they are in a whale costume talking about Black Holes and you're thinking 'Why are they dressed as a whale? Should I keep watching to find out? Or are they just crazy? Or am I the crazy one?'

    Whether intentionally or not, Peter Weller makes these two documentaries surreal. Part of me quite likes that cookieness. The rest of me is annoyed. I have probably been watching too many British documentaries - we Brits like our documentaries to be 'sensible'.

  4. Entity

    I give credit where credit is due ...but this is garbage. Bla Bla Bla. Stone Tools, Bla 2,000 years ago .. same ol rehash. Rehash with really annoying music in the background. Opera music the whole time; evidently it isn't over until the fat lady sings.

  5. rtm

    Didn't finish watching it but it was more of a historical summary than insight into the engineering.

  6. Hugo Arana

    Again! How do we call this? "Historical genocide"? I don't know how to call this. But again and again people say that the Mayans disappeared. Well, we have not. We are still at least 8 millions Mayan living right now, in Guatemala alone. and, many more are in Mexico

  7. Rip

    This is what I think, ppl's expectations are way too high for their self absorbed, nothing's good enough complainers. This is a free site Vladko puts together for documentary lover's and others seeking further education with no other means.

    I bet not one of these perfectionist critics that have commented above have yet to make their own exciting, well produced,emmy winning documentary.
    Ppl don't appreciate anything anymore. You're all great ppl, let's be positive!

    Keep the great docs coming Vladko, this is another perspective, done by another narrator with different music, I like learning about the Mayans and mostly every thing else.

    Thanks again.

  8. SimonTheSorcerer

    @Rip Right said!

  9. Rip

    LOL,I just reread my post, I know tell it like it is, I'm a hypocrate, but I"m trying!

    Peace.

  10. MelanieL

    I quite liked these episodes of Engineering an Empire. Yes, the History Channel can be hit-and-miss when it comes to their programming (Nostradamus Effect, anyone?), but I felt this was well produced and entertaining. Some may find the information offered lacking, but not everyone is as well versed in Meso-American history as gero2006 and Entity may be. These programmes are good starting points for viewers interested in learning about ancient architecture and culture. Subjects of interest may then be more thouroughly explored in other documentaries and books.

    The host, Peter Weller, is better known as RoboCop from the 1987 film of the same name. I felt he was a strange choice for a host until I found out he has a Master's degree in Roman and Renaissance Art from Syracuse University and occasionally teaches courses in ancient history for the university, as an adjunct faculty member. He is also currently finishing a Ph.D. at UCLA, in Italian Renaissance art history. I've grown to like his hosting style; he seems so enthusiastic about the topics discussed in each episode.

  11. coyote03

    I thought this documentary (The Maya) did an amazing job going through the different rulers and the structures they created, the father/son that ruled for almost 100 years was particularly interesting. The music in the background was a bit annoying, but it hardly detracted from the information and the beauty of the sites themselves.

    These engineering of an empire episodes are meant to look at how different buildings and technologies evolved in these ancient empires. This documentary does a great job showing how they went from simpler to more complex arch structures, how they utilized water pressure, how they used the number 0, along with many other interesting facts. Above and beyond that, it showed the most impressively engineered structures of the Maya, great 45 minutes!

    100% agree with everything you said MelanieL! Weller's enthusiasm definitely adds to it for me as well :)

  12. dave

    robocop giving lectures on maya and aztec hehe didnt see that one commin nice program though tanks for uploading

  13. garbonzo

    @ MelanieL

    I agree I recognized his name when I saw this first air on TV and said "wait a second that's robocop lol". He is pretty enthusiastic and I liked him in this series, but most of the episodes I walked away having learned little that I didn't already know.

  14. Vplex

    Robocop? Well, yeah, but... that's also BUCKAROO BANZAI! Across the Eighth Dimension!

  15. Henry

    I didn't even notice the annoying music everyone is talking about. I thought it was a interesting documentary to watch.

  16. Randy

    I love Peter Weller. I think he is an under-rated actor, but he is a brilliant History professor at Syracuse University.

    It's not far from me, and I have attended some of his lectures.

    In fact, he features in one of my novels, (as a holographic, machine-ghost)... although I do not think I captured him well. If it ever gets published, he would have to give it his permission.

    Maybe I would get to talk to him about the history of Rome? It wouldn't matter to me, if he approved my novel or not, I would just love to be able to talk to him and learn from him...

  17. tomregit

    Peter Weller as host of these docs is just fine with me. He has genuine credentials which qualify him more than most talking heads we see. I never noticed the music being all that intrusive.
    And to gero2006; yes, I suspect you are the crazy one. Your "whale costumed presenter" comment was way off the mark. Thus your smugness about British docs (which I also enjoy) rings a bit hollow after such a ludicrous comment. By the way do you mean "kookiness". Not sure just what "cookieness" is.
    MelanieL; I thought your comments were to the point and insightful.
    I did get a some new information from this series, but not a lot. Nonetheless it was entertaining and enjoyable to watch.

  18. Taharqa (black pharaoh)

    I don't know why people are always so fast and eager to criticize so quickly. Get a Life or Enjoy the show!!!

    Anyways very refreshing knowledge and impressive!!!
    I will like to see many more documentary films about ignored chapters in history.
    Keep the good work Vladko!!!

    It is always refreshing and good to know that other great ancient empires such as the Maya and the Aztecs thrived other than the old, repeated and tired stories of the so called "great empires" of Europe such as Romans, Greeks etc

    I think it's about time for a new revolution of information
    about ignored chapters in history to be unraveled.
    There are just a plethora of knowledge buried in the ground regarding lost forgotten or ignored ancient empires.

    I can't wait to see a great modern movie/epic about the Mayas and Aztecs or even a documentary film or movie on the great Black Pharaohs (Conquerors of Ancient Egypt).

    ROBERT DRAPER, National Geographic Contributing Writer wrote a 30 page dedicated article on the black pharaohs of Ancient Nubia(Sudan) & Egypt...that was very refreshing as well.

    "The Last Pharaoh" by Will Smith coming soon to theaters near you!!!!!!!!!!!

    Enough said,
    Keep the good work and Thumbs UP to Vladko!!!

  19. Nicoles

    UMMM what? the aztec documentary is completely off. Not just the pronunciation but the story of coyolxauhqui? NO she was not killed by huitzilopochtli becauce she got pregnant in a shameful way. Actually the reason he killed her is because she tried to kill their mother, Coatlique while she was pregnant with him because Coyoxauhqui thought Coatlique got pregnant in a shameful way...even though it was a ball of dust that impregnated her. Anyway Huitzilopochtli leaped from his mothers womb in full armor and dismembered Coyoxauhqui. Are you serious????

  20. Winston Smith

    When the Spaniards discovered this land, their leader asked the Indians how it was called; as they did not understand him, they said uic athan, which means, what do you say or what do you speak that we do not understand you. And then the Spaniard ordered it set down that it be called Yucatan.. -Antonio de Ciudad Real, 1588

    [quoted in Ambivalent Conquests by Clendinnen]

  21. Les Kovacs

    got 10 mins into it an couldnt stop laughing, what a crock of rubbish

  22. Daniel Figueroa

    lol crock of rubbish? This isn't Ancient Aliens. Not liking it for the way it was put together or the narrator is one thing, but, while they may not have gotten everything right, how can you say it's all rubbish?

  23. Jacek Walker

    Pyramids in Africa, temples in South America and churches in Europe.
    Different facades covering indifferent greed, power hunger and bestiality of their "high priests". Not matter when, no matter where.

    And stupidity of the masses in the background.

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