Category Archives: History Documentaries

Legacy: The Origins of Civilization Series

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The Cradle of Civilization

“We humans have been on the earth for more than a million years, but civilization, life in cities, has come about only in the last 5,000. Through history civilizations rose and fell; carved out of nature, dependent upon nature, and in the end nature took them back. But in the past few hundred years, on form of civilization, that of the west, has changed the balance with nature forever. And now it is civilization itself, which has become the central problem of our planet. To understand why, we must look afresh at how we see history.”

After thousands of years as a hunter/gatherer, man built the first cities 5,000 years ago on the banks of the Euphrates River. Civilization as we know it began with the glorious cultures of Ur, Nineveh, and Babylon.

From the PBS Documentary narrated by Historian Michael Wood:

Empire of the Spirit

“Among the millions of ordinary Indians from all castes and walks of life, a holy men and women who have renounced the material world for a life of austerity and meditation, one of India’s oldest callings. Here too are followers of the world’s oldest living god, the creator and destroyer, the man-woman, the Great Yogi Shiva himself. India was one of the earliest of the great civilizations and it defined the goals of civilized life very differently from the west. The west raised individualism, materialism, rationality, masculinity as its ideals. India’s great tradition insisted on non violence, renunciation, the inner life, the female, as pillars of civilization. And through all the triumphs and disasters of her history she hung onto that ideal- an eternal quest, to identify humanity with the whole of creation, a unity in diversity.

As our troubled century draws to a close, a deeper understanding of the achievements of other civilizations has become a necessity. As Mark Twain said here a century ago, the Indians may seem poor to us rich Westerners, but in matters of the spirit it is we who are the paupers and they who are the millionaires. History is full of Empires of the Sword, But India alone created an Empire of the Spirit.”

Ancient India is with us today in the living tradition of the Hindu religion, the basis of Indian culture. The traditions that are honored by millions of Hindus in the present were born in the Indus valley 5,000 years ago.

From the PBS Documentary narrated by Historian Michael Wood:

The Mandate From Heaven

“China was the last of the great civilizations to develop independently in the old world- over a thousand years after the first in Iraq, and theirs was a vision of life unique unto itself. The Chinese conception of civilization differed completely from that of the west. For them its goal was a moral order on earth, sustained by virtue and reverence for ancestors. These ancient ideas permeated all aspects of Chinese life. Even the cataclysms of our own time, from the communist revolution, down to the crushing of democracy movement here in Tiananmen Square in 1989 have been played out against these deeper forces, which have shaped China for thousands of years.

Chinese civilization first arose on the banks of the Yellow River, but unlike the civilizations of the west, the source of political power did not lie in control of nature, but in control of the past. It was through the magic power of writing that the ancestral spirits could be raised and the ancient Chinese word for these symbols, writing, would become the word for civilization itself. In the beginning was not the city, but the word. This was the basis for political power, and with this can the ruler possess the gift, a gift that could be kept so long as he was just and cared for the people- The Mandate of Heaven.”

Many breakthroughs on which the modern world is based were discovered in China long ago… iron-casting, gunpowder, even printing. When introduced to Europe, these things changed Western civilization. This episode presents the synthesis of East and West.

From the PBS Documentary narrated by Historian Michael Wood:

The Habit of Civilization

“Egypt was one of the earliest great civilizations that arose independently on earth 5,000 years ago. The monuments the ancient Egyptians left behind, like this, the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza, are still among the most impressive and the most long lasting creations of humanity. In the Pyramid are enshrined some of the central concerns of their culture, concerns shared by all civilizations, even by the modern west. But, no civilization held them for longer, or more tenaciously than the Ancient Egyptians.

Since ancient times, the Egyptians have experienced so many changes, above all in the triumph of Islam, that they might appear to be cut off forever from the age of the pharaohs. But, perhaps their is a deeper sense in which society’s ideas are passed on, a Habit of Civilization.”

This is a  great documentary about Ancient Egypt that confirms that it was the birthplace of modern civilization, more than 5000 years ago. This documentary supports many of Dr. Walter Williams claims in regard to Egypts influence in the founding of Christianity and Islam.

From the PBS Documentary narrated by Historian Michael Wood:

The Burden of Time

“150 years ago, in the jungles of Central America, European explorers came upon the ruins of a vanished civilization. In the solemn stillness of the forest, the monuments were like sacred things, like divinities mourning over a fallen people. The builders of the Pyramids, the Maya, had achieved astonishing feats of astronomy, science, and mathematics. They had invented writing independently of the old world. Such sights, said their discoverer, were like a newly found history, proving that the ancient peoples of the Americas had not been savages, but had equaled the finest monuments of the Ancient Egyptians. So much about them seemed totally original, and yet their were also intriguing clues from a deeper common past of all humanity.

At the core of the Mayan view of civilization was an all consuming obsession with time. Time measured in vast recurring cycles of hundreds of millions of years- longer indeed than a universe is known to have existed. The Greeks explored the cosmos through geometry, the Hindu’s through metaphysics, the Maya through the Mathematics of eternity- the Burden of Time.”

Isolated from the rest of the world, the Mayans and Aztecs created sophisticated civilizations that in many ways paralleled ancient Mediterranean empires. God-like kings and a priestly ruling class dominated splendid cities of temples and pyramids.

From the PBS Documentary narrated by Historian Michael Wood:

The Barbarian West

“After centuries of conflict, the Europeans are finally moving to unite, the descendants of barbarians, of Franks. Goths, Anglo and Saxons, the first people in history to spread their civilization across the whole planet. The ballet field of Verdun is the most poignant reminder of how our supposedly rational and humane civilization can descend to terrifying violence, and irrationality all in the name of civilization. And that brings us to that most difficult of tasks, which is to see ourselves as others see us; to see our culture as we would a foreign country, and there the inescapable lesson of history, is that for all the great achievements of the west- for all its humanistic values and its egalitarian principles, it’s character is touched by deep strain of violence. And that is the paradox which confronts us as we look tot he future of civilization, at a time when all across the world, the values of the west are supposed to have triumphed- The Barbarian West.”

Civilization arose in Asia, but it was the West which would create the first world culture. This final episode traces the origins of western culture through Greece and Rome prevailing by borrowing from the legacies of the original five old world civilizations.

From the PBS Documentary narrated by Historian Michael Wood:

Thanks to my friend Vladimir de Tiriac, who sent me these links.