Andrew Marr's History Of The World (2012) s01e04 Episode Script

Into the Light

Late summer, 1498, Milan.
Leonardo da Vinci had just put the finishing touches to a defining image of the High Renaissance.
This wasn't just a decisive time in the history of art, but also for the world's competing civilisations.
After centuries of relative dullness, Europe was now home to the most dynamic culture of all.
Why? The answers are a little unexpected.
The story of Europe's rise from what used to be called the Dark Ages is often presented as a purely European story.
Somehow the glories of the Classical Age are rediscovered, and then the sculptures and the paintings just get better, and the churches get flashier, and the kings get mightier.
Go, those Europeans! Not quite.
Europe had been outclassed and outshone by the Chinese and Muslim civilisations.
And it was only by learning, and then profiting from the misfortune of others, that Europe rose and shone.
YELLING AND CLASH OF BLADES Europe's emergence would involve explosive brutality far way EXPLOSIONS AND SCREAMING .
other cultures Europeans barely new .
Oriental inventions .
titanic sieges.
YELLING Few cultures just keep going all by themselves.
They steal rivals' ideas.
They flow into the gaps that others leave behind.
Civilisations aren't just shaped at the centre but also at the margins, on the edges, in the empty spaces where one day something unexpected arrives.
BIRDSONG After the fall of Rome in the 5th century AD, Europe huddled, her optimism froze.
Strange migrants poured in from the east.
Towns shrunk.
Learning was forgotten.
The vitality came not from the old centres but from the edges.
And no people were more vital, more unexpected than the Vikings.
Crossing the seas and oceans by flat-bottomed boat, the Vikings had already terrorised and begun to colonise the British Isles, Iceland and France.
They'd even reached Greenland and North America.
Now they were heading deep into the heartlands of eastern Europe.
BIRD CALLS When it comes to civilisation, the Vikings from Norway, Sweden and Denmark haven't had a very good press.
Europeans tended to see them as ravening marauders, pagans without mercy.
They prayed to God, "Preserve us from the fury of the Norsemen.
" And raid they did, quite a bit of ravening.
But the reason the Vikings really matter is because their greatest talent was for settling down.
And one morning in the year 882, a group of Slavs in the small trading settlement of Kiev were about to be confronted by this strange talent of the men from the north.
We know what happened next, astonishingly enough, through written records.
Though only from the point of view of the Vikings, or the Rus', as they were known.
Below the ancient Monastery of the Caves in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev is a labyrinth of cells and underground churches - the last resting place of mummified monks.
And here, in the early 10th century, some of the monks wrote what became known as The Russian Primary Chronicle.
The great thing about The Primary Chronicle is that it is the Vikings speaking.
It's quite clearly the Viking world view still.
And the story it tells is that the local Slav tribes had no law and rose up against one another.
And so they went to the Rus' and they said, "Our land is vast and rich, but it has no order in it.
"Come in and rule over us.
" Is it likely that the invitation was quite so polite? No.
But come the Vikings did.
At the head of their expedition was Oleg, a Viking prince and leader of the Rus'.
He now staked his claim to Kiev.
SPEAKS NORSE YELLS SCREAMS YELLS IN TRIUMPH Victorious, Oleg declared himself the new prince of Kiev.
And Kiev grew into the royal capital of a region that became known as the land of the Rus'.
Or as we'd say today Russia.
Kiev still celebrates Oleg's victory as its real founding moment.
And quite rightly, because what Oleg achieved was he united all the tribes around and forced them to pay tribute.
He and the Vikings now had a stranglehold on all the trade running from north to south.
Many great civilisations have begun on river banks.
And here on the Dnieper, furs, wax and slaves went south, while silver - mined in Afghanistan by the powerful, new civilisations of Islam - went north.
At the mouth of the Dnieper was the Black Sea - gateway to the largest and wealthiest city in Europe, Miklagard, the Viking name for Constantinople.
A source of trade and ideas, it was also home to the Greek Orthodox Christian Church.
BIRD CALLS A century after its birth, Kiev was still as pagan as its Viking founders.
Its ruler at the time, Vladimir the Great, wasn't an obviously religious man.
One chronicler described him as "Fornicator immensus".
But Vladimir decided that an up-and-coming city needed one of these fashionable, new-fangled religions.
And he came up with his own unusual way of choosing which one.
It's said that he asked representatives of Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodox Christianity, Judaism and Islam to come here and persuade him.
"Go on, argue.
Convert me.
" The old Viking warrior was quite interested in Islam until he heard that it would involve giving up alcohol, at which point he said, in effect, "OK, you're out.
" In the end, he chose Greek Orthodox Christianity and began to build the first stone church in Kiev.
It was a momentous choice because so much of what we think of as the look of old Russia, those onion domes, the priests and the monasteries and the icons, all goes back to Vladimir's decision.
What had started with trade - furs and silver - had flowered into culture, architecture and religion.
By the 10th century, Europe had an eastern Christian border, drawn by the Vikings and lasting to the present day.
Inside that border, Christian Europe still seemed unsophisticated, a bit ploddy.
Particularly compared to the vibrant, intellectual culture developing across huge areas of the world under Islam.
The year 827.
A team of astronomers and mathematicians was at work in the Sinjar Desert, in north-western Iraq.
They were led by Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi, an Uzbek scholar from the House of Wisdom, the great centre of Islamic learning in Baghdad, itself the heart of the new Muslim civilisation.
Al-Khwarizmi was struggling with one of the biggest scientific puzzles of the time - trying to accurately measure the circumference of the Earth.
This trek across the desert was only the first stage in a project which had been commanded by the Caliph of Baghdad, Al-Ma'mun, who wanted him to use his great scientific understanding to produce an accurate map of the world which would show the huge extent of the Islamic empire.
Islam already dominated an area bigger than the Roman Empire.
By the ninth century, Muslim rulers had more than 30 million subjects, stretching from today's Pakistan in the East to Spain in the West.
This is the age of vigorous, young, inquisitive Islam, bringing together ancient texts from all around the world, trying to understand them, pushing forward in science and maths.
This is Islam's golden age.
Al-Khwarizmi's idea was to measure the Sun's angle to the Earth until it changed by one degree.
He worked out that his men had walked 64.
5 miles before the angle changed.
Using just sticks and a simple brass instrument, he calculated the circumference of the Earth to be 23,200 miles - a figure that, remarkably, is very close to the accurate calculation.
Al-Khwarizmi went on to create a series of charts, listing more than 2,000 cities and geographical features right across the Islamic empire.
Al-Khwarizmi was taking breakthroughs in trigonometry and arithmetic and putting them together and explaining them.
His books were still being used hundreds of years later, and his real speciality was algorithms.
In fact, the word comes from the Latin version of his name, Al-Khwarithmi.
And of course algorithms are essential in modern computer programming, so every time you pick up your mobile phone, remember, there is an old Uzbek Muslim hidden inside it.
At this time, the Islamic world had Christian Europe surrounded.
The Spanish city of Cordoba was a glittering western outpost of the Muslim world, and the second-largest city on the planet, after Baghdad.
It was a sparkling rebuke to the more meagre, muddy Christian kingdoms of northern Europe.
At its centre stands the Great Mosque.
In its praying hall shimmer 850 pillars of marble, onyx and jasper, an imaginative mingling of Roman columns and the memory of palm trees in some distant oasis.
Fusion architecture.
Cordoba's Royal Library was said to hold 400,000 books, at a time when the largest Christian libraries contained a few hundred.
And where East met West, ideas were shared.
Places like Cordoba were wonderful at taking the news from one part of humanity and passing it on, so, ancient Greek learning, Jewish philosophy, Hindu mathematics, Muslim astronomy and engineering were passed to the Christian world.
Eventually, the Christians would destroy the kingdom of Al-Andalus, but not before one enemy had passed on the torch of learning to the next, so that what we call the Dark Ages was lit up by Muslim Spain.
At this point, you might have assumed the Islamic world would just keep advancing, that the future was scientific and Muslim.
The answer to why it wasn't can be found in another story from the margins, from a world of remote grassland and forests.
There's a very simple way of telling the human story.
First, hunter-gatherers and then farmers, and then towns and cities and all the rest of it.
But there's one group of people who stand completely outside this story, and they are the nomads, living on grassland which is too thin for farming but is wonderful for sheep and yak and goats, and so they move with the seasons.
In many ways, the nomads are the people who tread most lightly on the surface of the Earth and leave least behind.
But there is always an exception to the rule.
In the 12th century, the Mongolian Steppe was home to hundreds of rival nomadic tribes.
Into this world of feuding and violence, a boy was born.
His name was Temujin.
SPEAKS IN MONGOLIAN When Temujin was nine, his father was poisoned by a rival tribe.
SPEAKS IN MONGOLIAN Cast out with his mother and brothers, the young Mongol stayed alive by foraging and hunting.
THEY SPEAK IN MONGOLIAN Temujin would never forget a lesson his mother taught him.
"Brothers who work separately, "like a single arrow shaft, can be easily broken.
"But brothers who stand together against a world, like a bundle of arrows, "cannot be broken.
" From unity came strength.
This single piece of learned wisdom would be the basis of everything that Temujin would achieve.
As he got older, Temujin fought and manoeuvred his way to lead his clan.
But his ambition was much greater than that.
Temujin's greatest achievement was to unite the tribes of the Steppes.
When he defeated them, instead of offering them exile and disgrace, he would offer them brotherhood and a share in the spoils of future wars.
And quite soon, the rival tribes were being melded together into one people, one army, riding and fighting together.
In 1206, Temujin took the title "universal ruler", or Genghis Khan.
And he began to expand his empire beyond Mongolia.
In just six years, his army swept across northern China and in 1215, ransacked Beijing, giving the Mongols weapons they'd never seen before.
Defeating the Chinese gave Genghis Khan access to awesome new military technology - battering rams, scaling ladders, monster-sized crossbows, and catapults that could fire firebombs.
With China now absorbed into his growing empire, Genghis turned his army west and marched into Central Asia to confront the greatest adversary of all - the forces of Islam.
In the spring of 1220, the Mongols reached the magnificent Eastern outpost of the Islamic empire, Bukhara.
Bukhara, like Merv, Baghdad, and Samarkand, was where the rich, optimistic heart of the Islamic world could be found.
SHOUTS ORDERS But Bukhara had never experienced anything like the Mongols.
The combination of Chinese technology and Genghis Khan's disciplined, fearsome army of nomad horsemen produced a new kind of army, a new kind of threat.
The siege of Bukhara raged for 15 days, until the city was finally scorched into submission.
When Genghis entered Bukhara, his army showed no mercy.
And Genghis himself was honoured, as always, with the first pick of the captured women.
Bukhara was only the start.
One by one, the other great Muslim treasure-house cities were annihilated.
By 1223, Genghis Khan's destruction of the Muslim empire in Central Asia was complete.
Within 20 years, the Mongol empire stretched from Beijing in the East right through the land of the Rus', into eastern Europe, almost to the gates of Vienna.
Genghis Khan's belief in strength through unity had resulted in the largest land empire in history.
In his homeland today, the great warrior emperor is revered as a national hero and immortalised by this 40m-high steel monument.
But it seems as if Genghis Khan, a man of many concubines and conquests, may have achieved immortality of a different kind.
In 2003, scientists discovered a specific genetic marker in men in Europe and Asia, which originated a little less than 1,000 years ago, in an area suspiciously close to that of the Mongol empire.
And they concluded that probably 16 million men alive today really did spring from the loins of Genghis Khan.
By wiping out the heart of the original Muslim civilisation, Genghis Khan left the way clear for another part of the world to begin to grow.
Christian Europe.
Trade flourished between East and West in the century after Genghis died, an era of peace known as the Pax Mongolica.
Flashy fabrics and pungent spices had travelled along the Silk Road to Europe from ancient times, but the lands they came from - China, indeed all of the Far East - remained a mystery in the West.
After the victories of Genghis Khan, the Silk Road was opened to outsiders.
And soon, it would set the imagination of Europe aflame.
Genoa, 1298.
Two political prisoners share a prison cell.
One man is Rustichello of Pisa, a writer of popular tales.
The otheris a gabby Venetian with a fabulous story to tell.
E dopo tre giorni di cammino sulle montagne And in Rustichello, Marco Polo had found his perfect ghost writer.
Marco Polo was a new and adventurous kind of European merchant.
And Venice was becoming the essential hub for trade between Europe and the rest of the world.
Its prosperity was built on ruthless commercial attitudes and a navy mass-produced at its world-famous shipyard, the Arsenale.
But the Venetians were less interested in conquering than doing deals.
And in a world that craved foreign tastes, you got the best deals by looking east.
The Venetian fleets were tightly tied into a huge trade network dominated by the Muslim world, and dealing not just in slaves but in timber, fur, salt and the incredibly valuable spices.
The young Marco Polo's world was already flavoured and scented with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and pepper.
This was literally the smell and taste of the East.
And he dreamed from an early age of following the ancient Silk Road which led to China.
In 1271, aged just 17, he was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with his father and his uncle.
He set out east from Venice, bearing greetings from the most powerful man in Western Europe, Pope Gregory X.
Most Europeans barely moved more than a few miles from their birthplace.
Heading out so far into the unknown must have felt like launching yourself at the moon.
The trek took them more than three years through the deserts and the mountains of Asia.
Finally, in 1275, they reached their destination.
The court of Kublai Khan in Shangdu, better known as Xanadu.
Xanadu seemed an earthly paradise.
Kublai Khan was entranced by the civilisation he now ruled.
He was a Mongol becoming Chinese.
His court celebrated the flow of ideas.
This was a land of safe roads, broad canals and manufactured goods.
Still, he was fascinated by his visitors from Italy and their message from the Pope.
He briefly considered turning Christian himself briefly.
Pleased with their tales of distant lands, he invited them to be part of his inner circle of diplomats and advisers.
Marco Polo told Rustichello he travelled to distant corners of China on diplomatic missions for his patron.
Later, he'd tell of astonishing things never seen in Europe, such as money made of paper, the burning of pieces of black stone for fuel, and the practice of eating snakes and dogs.
Though other things you'd think he'd notice, such as chopsticks or the Great Wall of China, were missing from his tales when he finally got home.
Around some men, stories gather like flies.
It's said that when Marco Polo returned to Venice after 24 years travelling in China and the Far East, dressed in greasy furs and filthy silks, he simply slit open the seams of his clothes, and a cascade of rubies and emeralds poured out.
It's a good story, but take it with a pinch of salt, because even in his lifetime, Marco Polo was known as Marco Il Milione - Marco Millions.
Not because of his wealth but because of his exaggerations.
Millions of this, millions of miles, millions of that.
At this point, Marco Polo might have disappeared from the pages of history.
Instead, he dictated himself into them.
arrive su un alto During their imprisonment, Rustichello of Pisa noted down his cellmate's stories.
trovi un fiume bellissimo! And in 1298, copies of the manuscript began circulating around Europe, as Marco Polo's Description Of The World.
And Europe was gripped.
Marco Polo's message was simple and seductive.
There was a fabulous world of wealth and opportunity beyond Europe.
But as Europeans would soon learn, there was also a dark side to this new international network.
Seven years after Marco Polo's death, a strange epidemic in China started killing people in huge numbers.
Very soon, the Black Death, carried on ships, probably by rats, spread into the Mediterranean region and then beyond.
The same exchange of goods and people that had made Venice so rich was now taking a terrible revenge.
Across Europe, bustling markets became ghost towns, villages emptied, literacy retreated, authority tottered.
Marco Polo had issued a great, optimistic rallying call, but Europe was simply too weak to respond.
The old core of the Islamic empire had been destroyed by Genghis Khan.
But the decimation of Christian Europe by the Black Death meant that the stand-off between these two great religions would go on.
Yet trade between them always continued, too, especially between Venice and the fabulously wealthy Muslim city of Cairo.
And in July 1324, something appeared on the horizon that would have a startling effect on Cairo's economy.
A train of up to 60,000 soldiers, 70 camels, and 500 slaves carrying sceptres of gold.
Leading this astonishing procession was an African king, Mansa Musa, on a pilgrimage to Islam's holy city, Mecca.
They had spent a year marching more than 2,000 miles across the vast desert that separated most of Africa from the Mediterranean world.
Mansa Musa was king of the greatest of the African empires south of the Sahara.
Mali was a Muslim society where lots of people could read and write.
It was a rich land based on farmers and fishermen, and on trading towns like Timbuktu and Djenne on the River Niger.
The Niger was the lifeline of Mansa Musa's vast empire .
carrying good throughout his kingdom, which occupied nearly half a million square miles.
But the most significant source of Mansa Musa's prosperity was a commodity craved by rulers all over the world .
Mali was an African El Dorado, and most of the world knew nothing about it.
Until now.
When Mansa Musa's glittering caravan stopped off in Cairo, on its way to Mecca, he was an immediate sensation.
He and his entourage spent three months in the city as guests of the Egyptian ruler, freely handing out gold to its astonished residents.
Cairo at the time was the world's largest gold market.
But he threw around so much of the stuff that the price of gold plummeted.
Indeed, merely because of Mansa Musa's tips, the economy of Cairo, it is said, took ten years to recover.
The sudden appearance of Mansa Musa and his gold was a revelation.
The world had just got bigger and richer.
By the end of the 14th century, two-thirds of the gold in Europe came from Mali.
It's thanks to the Muslim trading world that Mali was able to touch hands with Europe.
And it's thanks to the Muslim travellers and writers we know so much about it.
But Mali was not alone.
There were plenty of other African civilisations at this time.
There was Zimbabwe, with its great stone-city dwellers.
There was Benin, with its amazing metalworkers, who could rival anything in Italy or Germany at the time.
But it was gold and glittering Mali that had caught the European imagination.
And in 1375, when map-makers in Spain produced a series of charts, known as the Catalan Atlas, Mansa Musa was shown sitting at the centre of Mali.
Mansa Musa had quite literally put Africa on the European map.
Wherever European Christians reached outwards in the Middle Ages, they found Islam.
These two great religions of the Book had been at war for centuries.
The Christian Crusades to gain control of the Holy Land and the city of Jerusalem had inspired Europe, but then the tide turned, and Muslim Turks, the Ottomans, pushed deep into once-Christian lands.
But all that time, religious propaganda cast a discreet veil over a flourishing web of trade and ideas passed between the rivals, and that is true even of the most epic moment in the story - the Siege of Constantinople.
May, 1453.
The Ottoman leader Mehmet II had dreamed of possessing Constantinople since he was a small boy.
It was a vital trading crossroads at the edge of Christian Europe, protected by massive Roman walls.
For more than 1,000 years, these were the most awesome defences in the Western world.
They kept out rebels and renegades, and Islamic armies too.
If a massive Arab siege in the early 700s had succeeded in breaking these walls, then there's no reason why the armies of Islam wouldn't have reached the North Sea.
We've heard of the Great Wall of China - well, these were the great walls of Europe.
Established by the Romans on seven hills, Constantinople had always seen itself as the new Rome, and its people Roman.
They were fiercely proud of its imperial past and its magnificent churches.
Including the greatest one in Christendom, Hagia Sophia.
The city was still a storehouse of classical learning and ancient ritual.
It was still hypnotic.
But now, it faced its fiercest threat yet.
SCREAMING In Mehmet, the Ottomans had a cool and calculating leader.
SPEAKS IN TURKISH He was a pious Muslim, though there were plenty of Christians among his army of up to 400,000 soldiers.
By contrast, Constantinople was seriously undermanned.
The army defending the city numbered fewer than 5,000 people.
Most of Christian Europe was far too busy making money to bother to come to its aid.
Among the few who did was Giovanni Giustiniani Longo, a mercenary from Genoa and an expert at siege warfare.
As the weeks passed, the city was slowly throttled.
For the people of Constantinople, the days before the final attack were days of bad omens.
WOMAN SHOUTS The priests carried a huge icon of the Virgin Mary through the streets, praying for her to intercede.
But the icon seemed strangely heavy, and they slipped and almost dropped it.
Bad omen.
Then, there was a terrible rainstorm, turning the streets into rivers, worse than anyone could ever remember.
Bad omen.
And finally, there was an unearthly, eerie, red glow in the sky which seemed to bathe the dome of St Sophia with a colour rather like that of human blood.
You don't get many omens worse than that.
It seemed to the people of what had once been called the city of God that perhaps God was deserting them.
30am on the night of the 29th of May, the city came under all-out assault.
EXPLOSIONS Giustiniani rallied every able-bodied defender to the walls.
Facing him was, well, Christian technology.
Awesome siege guns made for Mehmet by Hungarian and German technicians.
Constantinople managed to hold off the remorseless attackers for five hours.
But then, Giustiniani was mortally wounded.
Panic quickly spread amongst his exhausted men.
SHOUTING Wave upon wave of Ottoman soldiers now smashed their way into the city.
On that final morning, Hagia Sophia was crammed with the last of the Romans.
Terrified people, old men and children, nuns and noblemen, crammed in here for a final mass.
Up there on the altar, the priest would be chanting and praying, and yet above their voices was the sound of the great oak doors splintering under Ottoman axes.
And as the screaming inside the church got louder, and the chanting by the priests got louder, so did the sound of the axes, until finallythe doors gave way.
So the most coveted city in the world was taken.
And soon the great Christian cathedral of Hagia Sophia resounded to Islamic prayers.
It's been a mosque ever since.
Later that day, a triumphant Mehmet rode through the city.
Even he was shocked by the scale of the slaughter.
And so an empire which had lasted for more than 1,100 years gave way to the Ottomans.
Christianity was replaced by Islam.
The news of the fall of Constantinople arrived in the rest of Europe like a thunderclap, and it spread like wildfire.
But no sooner was the blood dry on the corpses of the defenders, including many heroic Genoese and Venetians, than boats were setting sail again from Genoa and from Venice back to Ottoman Istanbul, seeking terms of trade with the Sultan.
Almost as soon as the gunpowder smell had faded, it was back to business as usual.
Business never rests.
The capture of Constantinople was the Ottomans' greatest victory.
But it also marked the end of an era.
This was the last great medieval siege.
And what Mehmet could not have realised is that the most advanced, pushy part of the world had already moved on.
The great new cultural clash was between the rising and fiercely competitive city states of Italy.
Now brimming with wealth from trade and new ideas from around the world, Christian scholars who had fled from Constantinople found these buzzing towns to be citadels of knowledge, and from within their walls, Europe would be reborn.
The Renaissance.
Europe's rebirth.
Well, it was a long and painful birth - it went on for about 200 years.
We're told that the Renaissance was all about the rediscovery of classical learning, and it's absolutely true that in this period the great Latin and Greek writers begin to bubble back into Europe's consciousness.
But, really, the Renaissance is about the new.
New ways of building, new ways of painting and making, new money and new confidence.
Not coming from empires or nation-states but from the great city-states of Europe and, in particular, the great city-states of northern Italy.
And Milan.
For 13 years, Leonardo da Vinci had been employed at the court of the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza.
Every week, he bombarded the duke with new ideas and schemes for portable bridges, fighting machines deep-sea diving suits? His talents were prodigious.
A prolific inventor, he was also a musician, an engineer and an artist, and he had found the perfect place to fulfil his talents.
Milan in the late 15th century was the wealthiest city in Italy.
With its ambitious duke, it offered a fertile environment for new thinking, risk-taking.
The duke's family, the Sforzas, were part of a new political class who had grown rich from Europe's ever-expanding trade networks.
Like present-day oligarchs, they dealt in money and power, but what they craved was respectability.
Ludovico wasn't exactly aristocracy.
His father had been a mercenary warlord who kept changing sides.
Fight for absolutely anybody.
And he'd ended up effectively grabbing Milan.
The Sforzas didn't exactly need bling, but they needed some class.
They needed some artistic bedazzlement to try to make the people out there forget where they'd come from.
Leonardo was paid to provide this.
But he wasn't a day-job kind of man.
He filled notebooks with sketches and scribbled thoughts, digging into the underlying structures and curious parallels he found all around him in nature.
In Leonardo's time, there is no division between art and science.
The artist studies the laws of perspective, works out how colours change, looks very closely at the underlying structure of things.
The artist learns how to grind lenses to look more closely, learns how to cast metal to create a statue.
Science is just knowledge, and learning the practical skills which allow other things, including art, to be made.
And now the Duke gave Leonardo a chance to pull together his studies of geometry and perspective and human anatomy for one spectacular painting.
Sforza commissioned Leonardo to paint Christ's last supper with his 12 disciples on the wall of the monks' dining room in the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
It was a traditional scene, one that had been painted many times before.
Io voglio un grande va bene? Above all, the Duke wanted his Last Supper to be big and impressive.
But Leonardo realised this was an opportunity to do something genuinely new.
Leonardo was obsessed by the now and the future.
He was a compulsive experimenter.
Like modern scientists, he was fascinated by finding the hidden patterns underneath reality.
He wasn't about looking back.
He was about looking better, looking more intently, looking around him and looking ahead.
Leonardo decided to freeze one dramatic moment in time.
The climax of the story, when Christ revealed to his disciples that one of them would betray him.
And every posture, every gesture, every facial expression in the painting would be taken from real life.
Leonardo ransacked the streets of Milan looking for faces for the disciples.
The really difficult one was Judas.
And, apparently, he spent nearly a year looking for somebody with the right mix of cruelty and evil to play Judas.
Leonardo drew on a series of his own anatomical sketches to capture the essence of human expression.
Slowly, the painting and its characters began to emerge.
Finally, after three years of painstaking work, The Last Supper was finished.
Boungiorno signore.
Per favore.
Posso Aspetta.
Art and science had come together in miraculous harmony.
Leonardo had humanised the disciples by allowing them to show raw emotions.
Building on Islamic scholarship of optics and perspective, he draws our eye to Christ at the centre of the table.
Everything radiates from him.
For the people who first saw it, this would have been almost like a hallucination.
Sitting and eating in this room, they would have been drawn towards Christ almost as if they were sitting and eating with Christ in person.
In its day, this was the shock of the new.
Leonardo remains a standard-bearer for the new confidence of Christian Europe, but its journey to Renaissance was far more than simply a European story.
That muddy backwater had absorbed wealth and ideas from all around the world.
Some of that mud was now paved with marble, and the backwater now thronged with merchants' ships, adventurers.
Europe was ready to spread her sails.
In the next programme EXPLOSION .
the age of plunder.
Exploration, conquest .
and the birth of capitalism.
If you'd like to know a little bit more about how the past is revealed, you can order a free booklet called How Do They Know That? Just call: Or go to: And follow the links to the Open University.