The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization

The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization

2000, History  -    -  Playlist 85 Comments
Ratings: 7.81/10 from 168 users.

The Greeks: Crucible of CivilizationThe lavish and lengthy production of PBS's The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization is a fitting tribute to the glory of ancient Greece, telling the story of Greek democracy from its first stirrings in 500 B.C. through to the cataclysmic wars that virtually destroyed the empire.

It concludes with a fascinating look at how the Greeks were defeated, yet their philosophy endured and changed the world forever. Beautifully photographed, and with intelligent narration delivered by actor Liam Neeson, this documentary goes into considerable detail while also being engaging to the eye as well as the mind.

The photography at ancient sites is often spectacular and judicious use of actors filmed in re-creations of critical events provide immediacy. Much of the story relates how the Greeks essentially invented politics and democracy, and interviews with prominent scholars of classical history provide insight into the major characters, including Thales, Pericles, and Socrates.

The stories of epic battles on land and sea and a thoughtful treatment of the Greek ideals of heroism are presented well. But the documentary particularly succeeds in the latter stages, when the story turns to the downfall of Socrates and a thoughtful explanation of how Greek philosophy transformed civilization.

More great documentaries

Notify of

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 months ago

So boring. Please try to make it a little more interesting. I love history but this documentary made me want to pluck my eyelashes out.

don goodinson
4 years ago

Greece is west of Persia not east.

5 years ago

All the hating comments only proves one its ok guys, we can not all be lucky enough to be Greeks. I am not even going to go in the process of telling you how wrong your non fact comments are because you already know that. Take a seat and shut up.

Women SK
6 years ago

As dawn broke Xerxes sat upon his portable throne overlooking the sea, and prepared to relish his victory over the defiant Greeks. However, as his vast armada sailed into the narrow straits between Salamis and the coast, they were met not by a fleet in disarray, but a well-ordered line of triremes, packed with Greek crewmen singing battle songs. Themistocles had forced them to fight.

Charles Budde
7 years ago

"THIS" is a top documentary?! This is a very poor video that has clearly had a lot of work put into it.

Phillip Thomson
7 years ago

Yes, Greece was influenced particularly by Egypt, and the Greeks made no bones about it. They made many references to this. But what the Greeks accomplished, especially in such a short period of time, was something so unique, so extraordinary and so powerful that it has deeply influenced our entire world to this very day and set the Gold Standards of which almost every nation on earth aspires to. The Olympics, Theatre and Drama - Trajedy and Comedy, Philosophy through which Science was born from, and the most powerful concept ever conceived to date - the concept and beginning practice of Democracy. There were innumerable other unique accomplishes beyond that just listed.
The Greeks were not perfect, but the Greeks set the very foundations of who we are today. The Greeks created something truly astounding that made us what we are today even after two and a half thousand years. And to think that all what we currently know of and have been influenced by only represents about an estimated 5% of their total achievements. Most of Greek learning and achievements was destroyed by a Christian Bishop Theopilus as he and his mad monks burned down the Library of Alexandria in 391 AD. Way to go Christians!!
We have so much we owe and still have so much yet to learn from the ancient Greeks.
And yes, I am a student of Eastern Philosophy and Religion for there is much beautiful wisdom and learning to be found in such a culture and civilization as it is to found in the East. But, again for what the Greeks have accomplished and had passed down to us as a gift, but to use wisely, there is still no comparison!!!
And I am not Greek!

10 years ago

There are alot of uncorrect facts in this documentary..

Alexander Svensson
11 years ago

Ancient Greeks are 100% ALBANIAN ANCESTORS! The modern greek is a mix of diffrent breeds!

11 years ago

That was really fantastic! Highly recommended.

Code Monkey
11 years ago

These Empire series are awesome. Now where's the rest of them?

Code Monkey
11 years ago

This is the best sh*t ever! Where's the rest of the series?

11 years ago

But I am human so these are my ancestors as are you my cousin.

11 years ago

This documentary flows really slowly. It's great for smoking to.

Rafael Roos Guthmann
11 years ago

The ammount of BS in these comments is absurd. First, the Greeks did not influence our civilization: the Greeks are our civilization. The entire modern world came out of western civilization and western civilization came out of Greece. All the foundations for our modern culture, science, arts and philosophy came from Greece.

Athens was the single most important and influential city state in classical greece, so it would be natural that it would be the focus of a documentary about Classical Greece. That's not bias, that's focus. Also we do not have much information regarding other city states contemporary with Athens. So the focus on Athens is also due to the constrains on the surviving sources.

The documentary is excellent. However there are some flaws: for instance at the beginning it is said that life expectancy in classical greece was 15 years. That's incorrect: modern studies on bone remains showed that life expectancy was around 35 years in classical greece, having increased by 10 years from the archaic period, indicating improving living standards. A life expectancy of only 15 years wouldn't be possible for long as population levels would decline surely.

They also say that life was harsh brutish and short in ancient greece, that's not correct. Life was not that bad: in Athens a unskilled worker needed to work for only 50 days in order to make the income needed to purchase wheat for the whole year for a family of 4. Clearly to have the free time to do philosophy, arts, etc, would mean that living standards weren't that bad. Other ancient societies had terrible standards of living but the Greeks were different, in the same way they developed democracy and freedom while all other societies were tyrannies.

11 years ago

havent seen the doc yet, but i have read most of the comments. i will agree with epicurean logic that the modern way of thinking is greatly influenced by the teachings of ancient greece.
Because one cannot understand it as he/she is growing up doesnt mean that its not there, unless you believe that any person below a certain age threshold is nothing more than a cro-magnon. You might think that something is common knowledge but make no mistake. it's not. because you are raised to know that when you are falling sick an aggressive virus is hosted in your body, it doesnt mean that people from ancient times believed that as well. because you are raised to hold some ideals, it doesnt mean that these ideals were respected throughout the human history.
True, ancient greece practised slavery. And what of it? Of course by the way our society has evolved the last - hmmm- 2500 years slavery is unacceptable, and who can tell what would be unacceptable in another 2500 thousand years.. Hunger? maybe.
To try to compare a civilisation that existed 2500 ago by todays standards is at the very least ludicrous. To even mention that women couldnt vote back then is laughable.. i will remind the user (i cant remember whom) that wrote this, that women's vote in the western civilisation is a quite a new thing...
Even the comment of the last user about Napoleon is a bit out of place. I agree with him 100%, but it is not applicable in this case.
This ancient history has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with nationalism, and how nations (particulary winners) bend the facts to their liking.
There is a very simple reason that ancient greek history has been elevated at such a high status. It has really influenced everything we see around us. From architecture to mathematics, from oratory to the arts. Everything (and when i say everything, i mean by the western standard of life) is influenced by these ideas and ideals that the greek civilisation gave to the world. Even the way of war with its organised infantry battalions has its roots there. The list is to big.
I will not even comment on what some illirianpapyrus or something said about the "ancient albanian" race.

11 years ago

*looks over at comments* Wow... some people must remember the words of Bonaparte Napoleon... "History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon." Highly mistaken as "History is written by the victors." Therefore of course the historical events from neighboring nations and especially the history in many of the countries in Africa aren't known. Whoever has the financial means will be the ones who control what will be taught and what is deemed as "important" (what's important to you may not be so for someone else). I know about my European roots, it has been pounded into my skull since the day I stepped into a classroom, but what about my Taino roots, and my deep down Yoruba roots? Those are tossed to the back burner and forgotten, yet the history of those nations had influenced a lot in my family and even the cultures that are within Cuba today. Unfortunately, only European and Asian nations are focused in the curriculum of schools...and not even all of the nations within these continents are explored. Shoot even Australia has disappeared from worth history books. If we're talking about knowing about ones history and about not denying those civilizations that has influenced modern world, than you HAVE to include ALL of the history of every nation on the planet, because each one had influenced humanity in one form or another.

11 years ago

I hate pretentious persons, its a documentary it has to be vaguely entertaining to say they left some info out, of course they did if they were to go into all details it would take days to watch and a fortune to make. If it is such a terrible doc then make your own seriously

11 years ago

I love all these fools that think athens isn't a democracy just because only male citizens could vote. The liberation of slaves, women, minorities, etc is called emancipation r****ds. In their time their society was the most advanced on earth: look at all the achievements athens made in just a handful of years- no other civilization has ever built such an environment. Its citizens felt and were truly free and indeed were more free and had more control of their government than anyone does today. All the western countries today aren't even democracies! They are modeled after Rome. The voters make almost no important decisions; all we get to do is elect corrupt retards that will accept massive bribes from corporations to take away our jobs and deny us healthcare. I have no doubt that if athens existed today women would vote and slavery would be abolished. Athens existed over 2000 years ago and you want to judge them by today's standards? Go get a real education instead of watching docs and reading wikipedia.

12 years ago

I love Greek culture. I am not Greek but I adore the history of this beautiful place. I guess I am pretty biased because my father gave me the middle name of Irene the Greek Goddess of Peace. Eirene

12 years ago

Its strange how they call Athens a democracy that emphasizes freedom and Persia a slavery based empire that emphasizes obedience when the only Athenians that could vote were men, women could not vote and the Athenians all owned slaves! How conveniently this has been forgotten to glory the west and vilify the east as barbarians. Not only that but the only reason Cleisthenes gave power to the people was because he knew that was the only way in which he could stay in power, he was an aristocrat through and through and had he been given the chance he would have kept the oligarchy that was in place before Pisitratus! A typical American documentary with very subtle forms of propaganda especially at this time.

12 years ago

People for got that the Illyrians were the sea people, with rich hisotry which still going today,the albanian. The Illyrians are known as Greeks to the world, but they were much different from the Greeks, they had thier own language and culture, which is today albanian. to much prapaganda from the greeks today, forgot that they Illyrians were the most powerfull people, the first Queen Teuta was the first Queen tobe known ruling the ancient world, which shows that they illyrians women had their freedome to be rullers. when u see soldiers and gods wearing white hats and fustanela, the albaians still wear them today. to back up, look at the 18 and 19 century, the albanians south of the albanian with fustanella and white hats and north albanians with white hats and albanian costum. Epiru which is known from the King Pyrus of Epirus, they were all the albanians and non of them spoke greek, during the greeke independence war, 80% of the soldiers were from south of Albanian, and wearing the fustanella, they onely thing in commmon they had with the greeks were religious.

12 years ago


12 years ago


12 years ago

what about the Illyrians, poeople forget that they were the birth of the gods, what u call them now the greek gods, the Illyrians had is known to the world as the Greek, but they had thier own language and culture, which is today albanian, and as u can see some good wearing the white hap, made of wool, Qeleshe in albanian, that the albanians still wear it today, also the fustanelly, people still wear it in south albania, which was called Epiru. also to back up see some albanian soldiers in 18 and 19 century, south albanian with fustanelly and whict hat, and north albanian with white hat! Illyrian were the sea poeple.

12 years ago

peolpe dont know that the Illyrian have been the kings of the sea and thier history is forgoten, or in mention as greeks, and Illyrian History is the birth of the democracy, the world nows the Illyriansa as greeks, but they had thier own language, which is today albanian. Epiri (south albania) is the Birth the goods!

12 years ago

The documentary is decent, however it a very apparent Athenian bias.

12 years ago

To all that are denying the value of Greek history and its effect on the modern world. You really are being childish and silly. It's like denying your mother and father, however much you think that you don't resemble them or that you'll never be like them or whatever else... you are really just denying your own base nature. The ideas developed by the Greeks are so fundamentally ingrained into the human psyche that to remove or reject them is not even possible.

Being childish, argumentative, rebellious and blinkered doesn't exempt you from the benefits bestowed upon you by the fathers of modern thought however much you deny it.

You deny your own self and fail to see the causes put into play by the ancients and their effects upon you. There is no need to list the benefits, direct and indirect, that you have received from the ancients because if you don't have the ability to see what they are or the honesty to admit them, then frankly you are beyond help at the present moment in time.

Some of the arguments that imply that the knowledge of the ancients was basic and obvious are just laughable. If they were so obvious then why didn't any other peoples write them down with such detail and energy until a thousand years later? And why were these ideas the foundation and direct cause of the great European revival and renaissance? Just because our tech-level is so far ahead of people who lived over 2000 years ago (duh, what do you expect?) you imply that their findings were trivial! If you like I will send you some basic Archimedean problems solved by the great man and we can see how far you can get with them!

Ad hominem arguments of 'goat herders' just border on the racist and you should be ashamed of yourself at stooping so low in attacking the object of your hate. But for the life of me I cannot fathom why you hate the Greeks so much?

Again I re-iterate. Whether you realise it or not to deny the greatness of the Greeks is to fundamentally deny your own self and to act lie a spoilt and ungrateful child.

12 years ago

Regardless of the veracity, or lack of it, in this documentary the opinions and the debates it sparked in the replies were just as interesting as the documentary itself.

12 years ago

After watching the first half of the documentary I decided not to go on watching for the following two main reasons, the second being the most important.
1. It is elementary. It didn't add almost nothing new to my knowledge.
2. There are grave historical omissions and in all the whole story is presented in a -possibly intentionally- biased way. Some examples:
- It revolves exclusively around Athens and no mention is made to the other Greek cities and their role and participation in events.
- The history of the evolution of democracy in Athens is presented poorly, to say the least. Kleisthenis is characterized like the man who put democracy in place which is a completely wrong to say. He was just the first of a series of lawmakers who introduced democratic reforms and the system he implemented was far from democratic. I suppose, for example, that no mention is being made later in the documentary to Ephialtes, the lawmaker from the common people -and not the aristocrats- who radicalized the system rendering it more democratic than it had ever been until then. Democracy in ancient Athens was a continuously evolving system, a continuous revolution one could say. A system where everything was questioned and changed every single day and therefore it should be no surprise that it gave birth to philosophy, drama, historiography, the sciences etc
- No mention at all is being made to what democracy meant for the Athenians and the institutions which realized it. No mention for example that the Athenians, having debated and discussed extensively upon systems of government, regarded representation, elections and professional judges and politicians as characteristics of oligarchic regimes, and on the other hand direct participation in all forms of power, lot, officials controlled by the assembly, with short terms and recallable at any time, as characteristics of democracy. Obviously to my eyes, this is done intentionally from the part of the documentary makers in order to obscure the startling differences between true democracy and today's "democracies". The fact that the whole story of Athens is presented like it revolved exclusively around charismatic figures, with aristocratic origins, who pretty much manipulated the people however they wanted adds to this. In my mind this is done in order to intentionally draw parallels between ancient Athens and its empire and modern US and its empire. Nothing further from the truth. Parallelizing modern US with ancient Rome would be much more accurate. The fact that the Romans always marveled and envied the Athenian culture and never managed to produce anything as original and as marvelous in their multi-century empire as the Athenians did in a couple of centuries but made merely bad copies of the Greek works speaks by itself.

I bet that I would discover another dozen of objections if I kept on watching, but I couldn't stand it anymore.

12 years ago

Absolute drivel. Saddening to the core.

Not one mention or I should say complete selective representation of the ancient Greek society.

They keep going on and on about democracy, this is Greek democracy a SLAVE society in which only non slave males can vote.

This gross omission of the facts is a distortion worse then lying about it.
During these times women in the tribal north had positions from higher to equality to men.
Societies there were vastly different including models more democratic then the Greeks could ever dream of.

Has anyone ever read Socrates and so on, 99% of their work doesn't get further then a proper phrasing of COMMON knowledge, the reason they are revered is that they were rich slave holders with all the spare time on their hands to compile knowledge.

So sorry if I don't buy into the deeply racist nationalistic propaganda they left behind for us to copy paste as history as good little sheepish inferior races.
Try finding socrates explanations why slaves ought to be slaves, and the examinations of different races of slaves and their clearly inferior minds but useful traits as physical laborers.

12 years ago

overall its a good doc, but some turning points are unfortunately left out. I.e the full story of Phidippides ends abruptly and the spartanĀ“s involvement is kind of missing...

12 years ago

This documentary should be called: The Athenians, for it completely ignores the role of the other Greeks, except when they appear as the bad guys. The Spartans did in fact march to aid the Athenians at Marathon; the Battle of Thermopylai is left out, as is the major role in art and culture of the Ionian city states, which in fact preceded that of Athens. I guess the valor and greatness of the non-democratic city-states doesn't strengthen the point, which seems to me very American, moralistic and anachronistic. While very shiny and dramatic, this documentary should hardly be valued for its scientific approach to history or its accuracy.

12 years ago

the greeks invented, apparently: democracy, taxonomy, a formal system of disputation / rhetoric, a western dramatic tradition, a western aesthetic tradition, a western ethical tradition, a range of philosophical systems radiating from both the objective and the ideal, a transformed ideal of the great man from a simple warlord to one congenial within a civil order.

in short, they provided a template for modernity.

not too shabby for a few hundred years of cultural evolution, amidst the great empires of the day.

did they invent everything? no. has anyone said they did? no.

if the impulse exists to deride them, that stems from something unreasonable and injudicious.

the greeks were simply an amazing people. the greatest, certainly, within the western world. their pattern greatly influenced the world in which they lived, judeochristian & arab thought thereafter, and fueled, millenia later, a renaissance (with a lot of help from the arabs, who preserved their record amidst the intervening lost age)

12 years ago

@ tariqxl

I'm inclined to agree with your point, despite your undervaluations of Greece. Yet I'm averse to accept the views of Farking Spamhell.

It is true, the Chinese and the Arabic world (and, yes, perhaps the world over, in their own rights) no doubt founded a great many of the intellectual properties we use, and are grateful for, today. The spiritual influence, too, of the east, is profound.

I hold no bias to either the west nor the east. I simply tend towards deploring the views (such as is Farking Spamhell's), in which the ancient civilizations and their people are disrespected, arrogantly ignored and disregarded.


12 years ago

"The Greeks: A bunch of goat herders that got lucky"

Simplistic and theatrical documentary.

The usual "freedom" this "democracy" that through modern naive tinted glasses.

Although it was nice to see how mob rule, violence, vanity and self interest eventually reigns. A lesson from history or more like a glimpse into our future.

12 years ago

Very informative, I recommend it purely for the Greek history, although I agree with equidae a little melodramatic at times. Well put together, and of good quality in my opinion.

I would also recommend the free Philosophy Course on 'Death' (Class Title) Which also goes into a lot of the Greek frame of mind and some history. Not sure how links work here so will tell you how to get there :p google search 'Academic Earth' and from their search you can just type 'Death' to get his course.

I am not affiliated with that website, but it and Top Docs are my two web browser windows :p Almost every course you could want to learn for free from Academic Earth, and then some mellow learning from here, a winning mix ;)

12 years ago

Edit: Removed double post

12 years ago

A little melodramatic at times. But as everyone else says one of the best if not the best on ancient greece, and amongst the best documentaries on any subject.

12 years ago

Excellent documentary. Once more thanks Vlatko

12 years ago

Great documentary film. This is probably the best documentary on ancient Greece you're ever likely to watch. 5*

12 years ago

Great documentary film. This is the best documentary on ancient Greece you're ever likely to watch. 5*

12 years ago

First! Best. Documentary. Ever.