Part 6: City of Man City of God
In the last of the series, archaeologist and historian Richard Miles examines the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.
At the height of its power, the Roman Empire extended the benefits of its civilization to a 60 million citizens and subjects in a swathe of territory that extended from Hadrian’s Wall to the banks of the Euphrates. Even under the rule of mad, bad and dangerous emperors, the imperial system proved to be robust, buttressed by the support of elite families in the far-flung corners of the empire whose loyalty was ensured by a system of cultural aspiration, economic opportunity and military coercion.
But the material benefits of the ‘good order’ delivered by Roman rule provided its citizens and subjects with the security to ask profound questions about the meaning of life, questions that the pragmatic, polytheistic Roman belief system was ill-equipped to answer. Christianity grew to fill the spiritual vacuum at the heart of Roman civilization, eventually claiming an Emperor, Constantine, as its greatest prize. The City of Man would be eclipsed the City of God.
How did an insignificant cluster of Latin hill villages on the edge of the civilised world become the greatest empire the world has known? In the fifth programme of the series, archaeologist and historian Richard Miles examines the phenomenon of the Roman Republic, from its fratricidal mythical beginnings, with the legend of Romulus and Remus, to the all too real violence of its end, dragged to destruction by war lords like Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar.
Travelling to Sicily and North Africa, Richard tells the story of Rome’s century-long struggle for dominance with the other great regional power, Carthage. It was a struggle that would end with the total destruction of this formidable enemy and the transformation of landlubber Rome into a seapower, and the Republic into an Empire. But with no-one left to beat, the only enemy that Rome had left was itself.
In Richard Miles’s epic story of civilization, there have been plenty of examples of the great men of history, but none came close to the legend of Alexander of Macedon, known to us as ‘Alexander the Great’. Uniting the fractious Greek city-states, he led them on a crusade against the old enemy, Persia, and in little more than a decade created an empire that stretched from Egypt in the west to Afghanistan in the east.
But it was Alexander’s successors, the Hellenistic Kings, who had to make sense of the legacy of this charismatic adventurer. By knuckling down to the hard graft of politics, taxation and public works, they created something far more enduring than a mere legend – they built a civilization.
Richard traces Alexander’s battle-scarred route through Turkey, Syria and Lebanon to Egypt and ultimately to the western Punjab, Pakistan, where he discovers fascinating traces of a city where Greek west and Buddhist east were united in an intriguing new way.
Richard Miles explores the power and the paradox of the ‘Greek Thing’ – a blossoming in art, philosophy and science that went hand in hand with political discord, social injustice and endless war.
He paints a fascinating picture of the Ancient Greece and the internal and external pressures that fuelled this unique political and social experiment, one that would pioneer many of the political systems that we still live with today, from oligarchy to tyranny, from totalitarianism to democracy.
Archaeologist and historian Richard Miles looks at the winners, losers and survivors of the great Bronze Age collapse, a regional catastrophe that wiped out the hard-won achievements of civilisation in the eastern Mediterranean about 3,000 years ago. In the new age of iron, civilisation would re-emerge, tempered in the flames of conflict, tougher and more resilient than ever before.
Archaeologist and historian Richard Miles explores the roots of one of the most profound innovations in the human story – civilisation – in the first episode of an epic series that runs from the creation of the first cities in Mesopotamia some 6,000 years ago, to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Starting in Uruk, the ‘mother of all cities’, in southern Iraq, Richard travels to Syria, Egypt, Anatolia and Greece, tracing the birth and development of technology and culture.
Ancient Worlds is an illuminating and spectacular six-part odyssey tracing the development of Western civilization – from the first cities of Mesopotamia to the fall of the Roman Empire.
Ancient Worlds tells the amazing stories of disappeared, ruined and modern cities – from Ancient Iraq to Augustan Rome, and from Phoenicia and the city states of Greece to today’s Damascus – and reveals the compromise, ruthlessness, sacrifice and toil that made each city work.
In an epic sweep of history against a panorama of stunning locations, Richard Miles, with the help of local experts and archaeologists, brings these legendary civilizations back to life to show how the successes and failures of the ancients shaped the world that we have inherited.