The Intellectual and Cultural Influence of Ancient Athens

The Theatre of Dionysus - Birthplace of European theatre

Episode 19: Greek Gods, Philosophy and Science

The Big History of Civilizations (2016)

Dr Craig G Benjamin

Film Review

The ancient city-state of Athens created one of the richest and most influential cultures in Western history.

They adopted the Phoenician alphabet (adding vowels to it) to create a written Greek language and they adopted papyrus from the Egyptians to preserve their ideas in books.

In addition to geometry, astronomy, philosophy, physics, engineering, drama and medicine, the Athenians introduced the modern concepts of reason and logic. Prominent Greek philosophers included:

  • Thales (born around 600 BC) – asserted the entire physical world could be worked out through reason and mathematics and correctly determined the approximate shape of the earth and its orbit around the sun.
  • Pythagoras (born 570 BC) – led a religious cult that used mathematical proportions to understand musical harmony and the movement of the planets and stars.
  • Democritus (born 460 BC) – theorized everything in the universe is made up of atoms.
  • Hippocrates (born 460 BC) – the first physician to to systematically classify illnesses based on points of similarity and difference.
  • Socrates (born 470 BC) – asserted knowledge can only be obtained through constant questioning.
  • Plato (born 427 BC) – (most famous disciple of Socrates) deduced planets move in a circular pattern around the sun and that day and night result from the Earth spinning on its axis.
  • Aristotle (born 384 BC) – Plato’s most famous pupil, founded the Lyceum and taught Alexander the Great. More focused on data than Plato, he studied and documented the physiology of all animals, and expounded on ethics, virtue and good character.

In this lecture, Benjamin also discussed the Greek gods and their origin myths, as well as the Cult of Dionysus and  efforts by Athenian to channel the Cult’s drunken and lascivious behavior into lavish open air theatrical events. Seating as many as 20,000 people, these events featured plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and other playwrights.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a library card.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/greek-gods-philosophy-and-science

Prehistory: The Persian Empire Conquers Mesopotamia, Egypt, Libya, Kush, the Indus Valley and the Early Greek City States

Cyrus the Great Biography - Facts, Childhood, Family Life ...

Cyrus the Great, first emperor of Persia

Episode 17 Oxus Civilization and Powerful Persia

The Big History of Civilizations (2016)

Dr Craig G Benjamin

Film Review

According to Benjamin, the dry climate and lack of river valleys in Central Asia limited prehistoric settlement to a handful of agrarian villages around desert oases. Anau (in modern day Turkmenistan) and Oxus were two of the region’s ancient cities. Anau, which traded with Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley, collapsed around 2400 BC. Oxus, which emerged around the same time as Anau, consisted of clusters of settlements around oases in Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Associated with the early use of soma,* it was the fifth largest ancient civilization on Earth. It would be absorbed by the Persian empire in the first century BC.

The latter arose on the Iranian plateau east of Mesopotamia around 559 BC, when king Cyrus overthrew the Medean king and united Mesopotamia, Egypt, Libya and Kush. Between 521 and 486 BC, Cyrus III expanded the Persian empire to include the Indus Valley, the Balkans, Thrace and Macedonia. He appointed 23 local governors (satraps), who created administrative networks made run by local subjects.

Persia required all subjects of conquered territories to pay tribute (tax) to Persia as well as submit to conscription into the Persian army. Other tax revenue included customs duties, sales tax and rent on royal properties. In return, the emperor provided farmers with seed grain and fruit seedlings, subsidized cottage manufacturing and explorers, built ports and 8,000 miles of roads and dug a canal connecting the Red Sea and Nile.

The Persian empire was the world’s largest to that date. It started to decline during the fifth millennium when a number of conquered Greek city states rebelled. Following Persia’s conquest by Alexander the Great, his Greek successors systematically dismantled the Persian empire.


*Soma was a combination of cannabis and opium used in Zoroastrian and Hindu religious ceremonies. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, during the 5th century BC the Scythians poured soma on hot rocks in their steam baths and inhaled the vapors.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a library card.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/oxus-civilization-and-powerful-persia

The History of Ancient Egypt

King Menes {Narmer} Facts & History - Egypt Tours Portal

Egypt’s First Pharaoh Menes

Episode 9 Divine Rule in the Black Land

The Big History of Civilizations (2016)

Dr Craig G Benjamin

Film Review

Benjamin briefly covers the founding of Egypt’s First Dynasty by Narmer (aka Menes), around 3000 BC when he unified Upper and Lower Egypt founded Memphis, the first Egyptian city. The period 3100-2600 BC was characterized by continual conflict with its southern neighbor Nubia. After Egypt gained control of upper Nubia, Nubian males formed a large proportion of the Egyptian army and intermarried with Egyptian women.

The massive pyramids on the Giza Plateau were built during the Fourth Dynasty (2613 -2494 BC) as tombs for their pharaohs. Pyramid building declined during the Sixth Dynasty (2345-2181 BC) owing (Benjamin believes), perhaps due to climactic changes that reduced food production* and the onset of civil war.

The Egyptian empire reached its zenith during the New Kingdom (the 18th, 19th and 20th dynasties 1515-1150 BC). During this period, Egypt’s pharaohs ruled over a population of four million people and a territory comprising modern day Syria and Palestine.

By the 14th century BC, the Egyptian pharaohs had adopted bureaucratic templates devised by the Sumerian kings Sargon (founder of Akkhadian Empire in the 24th century BC) and Hammurabi (who brought nearly all of Sumer under Babylonian rule in the 18th century BC). Egypt’s rich agricultural system, based on the Nile and a complex system of irrigation canals, also played a big role in the stability of the Egyptian empire.

Benjamin focuses special attention on the reign of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun (aka King Tut), whose tomb was discovered in 1922. Ascending the throne at age nine in 1332 BC, he and his advisers reunified Egypt by restoring the sun god Amon as the supreme god. This allowed Egypt to successfully wage war against the Nubians and assimilate their territory. 

Genetic testing reveals that King Tut’s parents were brother and sister. He was born with a number of birth defects, including cleft palate, scoliosis and club foot. He died, with no heirs, at age 19, the last ruler of the 18th dynasty.

Under Ramesses II (1279 – 1213 BCE, Egypt had a brief respite from continual war after he negotiated a peace treaty with Hittites who controlled Mesopotamia to the north. Following his death, Egypt was invaded and occupied first by Libya, then by the Nubian rulers of Kush, and finally by the Assyrians who ruled Mesopotamia.

The Assyrians continued to rule Egypt until the 26th Dynasty (663-525 BC) finally expelled them.

In 525 BC, Egypt was conquered by the Persians and in 332 BC by Alexander the Great. It would continue to be ruled by foreign powers (the Roman, Ottoman and British Empire) for 2,000 years.


*It’s estimated that construction of a single pyramid required 84,000 workers to work 80 hours a year for 20 years. Archeological evidence suggests they weren’t slaves (as is commonly believed) but received wages for their labor.

 

 

 

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/egypt-divine-rule-black-land