Empires: The Greeks - Crucible of Civilization (2000) s01e03 Episode Script

The Collapse

Athens, the year 431 B.
Pericles takes the podium of the great democratic assembly and presents the Athenians with his most daring plan war with Athens' oldest enemy the city-state of Sparta.
Sparta was the only other Greek city-state which still matched Athens in power.
For the Spartans, trained from birth in the arts of war were a fearsome military force and they ruled all of southern Greece.
Pericles was convinced it was time to finally vanquish this old rival.
Victory over the Spartans would make Athens the undisputed leader of the Mediterranean.
If we go to war as I think we must be determined that we are not going to climb down for it is from the greatest dangers that the greatest glory is to be won.
The assembly embraced Pericles' plan.
The Athenians were never ones to shrink from a fight.
The ancient Greeks as a whole were not by any stretch of the imagination a peace-loving people.
Peace was an interruption of war rather than vice versa and the Athenians were as bellicose as any other Greeks.
But for all the Athenians' enthusiasm Pericles knew that this would not be an easy war to win.
Athens' power lay in her navy.
The Spartan infantry could well defeat her on land.
And so he proposed a strategy of unusual complexity and sophistication.
Pericles convinced the Athenians to abandon all the land around Athens and to retreat behind the great, long walls that stretched down from the city to its harbor at Piraeus.
Pericles would use the Athenian navy to supply the city by sea.
And he would use this same navy to attack and harry the Spartans from the coast slowly wearing the enemy down until they gave in.
It was a strategy based on a set of finely judged assumptions.
Pericles' expectation was that after a year or two, but no more than three, the Spartans would realize that they could not win the war because the Athenians would never give them the infantry battle they needed in order to win and they had no other device available.
The Athenians crowded behind the city walls.
Confident in their vision of imperial power and glory they assumed that Pericles' strategy could only bring them victory.
But among this teeming multitude could be found one man who refused to assume anything a man unique in Athenian society a man called Socrates.
If you were an ancient Athenian citizen the first thing you'd see is a man who was unbelievably ugly.
His head was too big, his eyes were too large his nose was all the wrong shape.
Socrates' appearance breaks every rule of classical Greek aesthetics of the idea of proportion and measure.
Socrates walked the streets of Athens barefoot clad only in a dirty robe.
He cared nothing for appearance or any of the other conventions of his day.
Socrates was interested only in the mind.
This unlikely figure would become the leader of a revolution a revolution in thinking that had been gathering strength across the Greek world.
This revolution had begun far to the east of Greece in the legendary city of Babylon where the world's first astronomers had gathered great records of the movement of the stars, the sun and the moon for they believed that these celestial bodies were gods.
This knowledge and study of the heavens had been slowly spreading across the ancient world.
Until it reached Greek colonies on the coast of what at is modern day Turkey.
There, a shafleflng change occurred.
For the Greeks took this astronomical knowledge and transformed it.
They took the gods out of the heavens and replaced them with reason.
Gradually the Greeks begin to say: "These are not persons, these are things.
"There's an orderly world "which the human mind can actually capture.
It is subject to our understanding.
" These Greeks began to calculate and predict the movement of the moon and stars through mathematics and logic.
Rather than using gods and spirits to explain everything.
It was the birth of science.
The first great Greek scientist, a man named Thales wrote the earliest book on navigation and how to sail using the stars as a guide.
And on a journey to Egypt, Thales was the first man to measure the height of the great pyramid.
Brilliant idea.
He stood next to the pyramid until high noon when his shadow was exactly the same length as his height and at that point he measured the shadow of the pyramid and accordingly knew the the height of the pyramid, which was actually an application of a rather sophisticated geometrical theorem.
But Socrates was not interested in the stars and the heavens.
He would use this new way of thinking using reason and logic, to study people.
The gram change comes with Socrates, who turns his back, so to speak to the world of nature.
What he cares about is the individual.
You become an object of study and care.
Socrates spent his days in conversation walking the streets of Athens talking and debating with anyone he met.
With over 150,000 people now packed behind Athens' walls he was in his element.
One of the amazing things about Socrates is that he is the first fanatical urban individual.
He loves the city.
He makes life in the city one of his major concerns.
Socrates' life was spent questioning the assumptions his fellow Athenians held about their lives-- what they felt was right and wrong, what was good and bad.
And he was happy to turn convention upside down.
One of Socrates' followers recorded how, at the end of a drunken dinner party Socrates proved to a fellow guest that he was, in fact, the better-looking of the two.
My eyes must be more beautiful because they bulge out and therefore I can see better.
And by the same account, my nose is more beautiful because my nostrils flare out and so I can therefore gather in more smells.
This is typical Socrates using reason and logic to examine the world anew.
Socrates says you must make every decision based on your own understanding of what is good and what is not good what is right and what is wrong.
For Socrates this freedom of thought was paramount even if it meant upsetting the whole notion of a beautiful nose.
I tell you, let no day pass without discussing all the things about which you hear me talking.
A life without this sort of examination is not worth living.
But as Socrates spent his days in debate his city was fighting a war.
The Spartans invaded Athenian territory and set about burning all the farmland around the city.
The Athenians became increasingly anxious.
They could only watch from the city walls as their fields and crops were destroyed.
But such was Pericles' reputation he managed to convince the Athenians to stick with his plan.
The city could rely on her fleet and shipments from overseas to survive.
Little did Pericles know that this fleet now carried an even greater threat.
One year into the war the grain boats that fed the city brought with them an additional cargo Plague.
A disease that would now devastate Athens.
Pericles' plan couldn't anticipate difficulties that we now would suggest were rather likely in those ciroumstanoes of crowding an d the results were horrendous.
With the population crammed behind the city walls the affliction spread like wildfire.
The symptoms were horrific.
The Athenian historian Thucydides who lived through these years, recorded its effects.
"The body was suddenly seized first with violent heats around the head and redness and inflammation of the eyes.
And then the disease descended into the bowels producing violent ulceration and uncontrollable diarrhea.
The sufferings of individuals seemed almost beyond the capacity of human nature".
Sufferers, wracked with fever and overcome with unquenchable thirst would crawl into the city's cisterns and water mains to die.
The city must have looked terrible smelled terrible, been awful to be in and terror must have reigned everywhere.
The plague would kill over a third of Athens' population.
And then it struck the city's figurehead Pericles.
Plutarch, Pericles' biographer, described his symptoms.
"The plague seized Pericles not with sharp and violent fits but with a dull and lingering distemper wasting the strength of his body and undermining his noble soul".
By the end the patrician hero of the city was reduced to relying on potions and magic in an attempt to cure himself.
"He showed one of his friends a charm that a woman had hung around his neck as if to say that he was very sick indeed when he would admit of such foolery as this.
Finally after six months of lingering illness Pericles died in 429 B.
Pericles had planned to make Athens into the Mediterranean's greatest power, but his carefully calculated strategy had brought only disease and death.
Like most brilliant men, like most people who have had great success all their lives Pericles simply underestimated the degree to which some things are out of the control of the very best intelligence and the very best knowledge that there are.
Pericles' death would have far reaching con sequences.
It soon became clear that this one man had been the linchpin of the Athenian state.
With out a single strong leader countless figures now scrambled for the top position and they were happy to do anything the people wanted if it gave them power.
For Pausanias, the effects were swift and dramatic.
"Perides' successors who now wanted to occupy the top position simply followed the prejudices and passions of the masses in order to gain support".
Athenian democracy now revealed a new and terrifying potential the potential to slide into mob rule crippling her ability to fight a war.
As the conflict raged on an Athenian naval force won a skirmish with the Spartans in rough and storm-tossed seas.
The generals who had commanded the force return ed to Athens expecting a heroes welcome.
In stead, they were thrown into prison.
The storm had forced the Athenian commanders to sail straight back to Athens without picking up any of the soldiers who had fallen overboard during the battle.
Rabble?rousing speakers had convinced the assembly that this failure to rescue the men was a crime so appalling that all the generals should be summarily tried and executed.
We know of only one man who stood up and attempted to calm the fevered assembly: Socrates.
Socrates alone and against the very, very serious and vocal and aggressive and mad, furious reaction of the public stood his ground and said it was the wrong thing to do.
He was going to vote against it.
Socrates' principle of questioning the society he lived in now had a real and practical purpose.
But in the end Socrates was only one voice amongst the multitude and he could not sway the assembly.
The generals were condemned to death by drinking poisonous hemlock.
With the assembly in the hands of self-interested despots once-mighty Athens began to lose her way.
After the death of Pericles Athens never again had a political leader with a well thought out general picture or a set of goals that he could pursue with reasonable hope of bringing them to fruition.
The war again st Sparta degenerated into a bitter, dragging conflict that spread over a decade.
The Spartans ravaged the land around Athens and the Athenian fleet kept the city supplied.
Neither side was able to defeat the other.
Deprived of victory the Athenians grew increasingly frustrated.
Were they not the greatest state in all of Greece? Surely the time must come for Athens to prove her power once and for all.
Then, in the year 416 B.
a daring proposal was put before the assembly.
A small Greek colony on the island of Sicily had asked for protection protection from a neighbor allied with Sparta.
Why should the Athenians not come to their aid humiliate their Spartan adversary and perhaps conquer all of Sicily at the same time? As one Athenian addressed the assembly This is the way we won our empire and this is the way all empires have been won.
Let us set out on this expedition for it will destroy the arrogance of the Spartans and at the same time, we shall become rulers of all Greece.
It was a bold planto to be executed on a vast scale.
Requiring a great fleet of warships and a landing force of over 10,000 men.
The Athenians threw themselves into the project with fervor.
Armorers beat out new weapons soldiers tested out their equipment stores were loaded onto a fleet of Athenian triremes and the shipwrights prepared their vessels for the sea.
Then, to great fan fare the mighty invasion force set out for Sicily.
Six months later, word came back.
The campaign was not going as quickly as hoped.
They needed reinforcements.
And then nothing, no news at all.
Then in the autumn of 413 B.
, a sailor arrived in the city a man who needed a haircut.
And as he talked to his barber he told an appalling tale of a vast and terrible slaughter.
It was the story of an invading army that had been pinned down where it landed of how its leaders had argued with each other about strategy of how their food and water had run out of how they'd attempted to ford a great river in a desperate attempt to escape.
They rushed into it all discipline lost and every man wanting to cross first.
They fell over each other and trod each other underfoot and they drank thirstily.
The water was foul, but still they went on drinking mud, blood and all the dead lying thick in the riverbed.
This was how the Athenians discovered that they had been the victims of one of the greatest defeats in ancient history.
Over 50,000 men had been killed or taken prisoner.
Two entire fleets of Athens's prized triremes had been destroyed.
The Sicilian campaign is a mess for a variety of reasons.
First of all, it's a long way away.
It's over 600 or 700 miles.
Once they arrive they squabble and fight about what to do.
But perhaps the biggest problem is there's not a tactical reason to do it, there's not a strategic reason to do it.
The motivation is highly self-interested.
They believed wrongly they could go quickly in raze the countryside and win a quick victory and a rich tributary subject state.
The Athenians entranced by a vision of imperial glory had in fact engaged in a pointless and vain campaign.
With Athens' military power now crippled her enemies began to close in.
The Persians, whatom the Athenians had humiliated 50 years before now saw the ideal opportunity for revenge.
They approached the Spartans with the offer of help.
The Persians had been watching this carefully and they decide to intervene and subsidize the Spartans and that subsidy is in the form of manpower for rowing and fleet construction.
Where previously the Spartans had never been a naval nation now they had a fleet, paid for with Persian gold.
With Athens' navy decimated by the defeat in Sicily the Spartans could now blockade the Athenian harbors.
The great grain convoys from Egypt and the colonies could no longer get through.
And finally, the Athenians began to starve in the streets.
The people turned to their patron goddess, Athena.
At the height of Athens' glory, only 30 years before Pericles had honored her with the most glorious temple ever seen.
But the goddess could offer no help now.
Athens, once so sure of her preeminence in the Greek world was now home to a population ravaged by plague and war besieged and starving with her treasuries empty and her once proud fleet crippled.
In 404 B.
, Athens finally surrendered to the Spartan commander, Lysander.
The Spartans' terms were heavy.
The great walls which had defended the city were to be torn down.
Her fleet was to be destroyed.
We have this wonderful scene of Lysander sailing into the Piraeus and dismantling the Athenian fleet.
That's important, because the destruction is symbolically a destruction of the Athenian empire.
What remained of Athens' mighty navy was put to the torch, with only 12 ships allowed to remain.
No longer would she rule the Mediterranean.
The Athenians became convinced that they could do, finally, in the end more than they really could.
And I think this is really the point in which the potential that Athenian democracy brought about could turn to tragedy.
They could achieve great things, they could not achieve all great things.
But it would still take one more act of vanity and violence before the Athenians could redeem them selves and their city could be reborn.
Humiliated, their empire lost, the Athenians looked for someone to take the blame for their defeat.
They searched for an en emy within their city walls someone who had dared to question their dreams of supremacy.
They searched for Socrates.
Socrates was a critic.
He was critical of the thinking and the thought processes of his fellow citizens and he was critical about the public affairs of Athens.
For over 50 years Socrates had been publicly questioning and attacking the traditions of Athenian life and around him he had gathered a group of youthful followers.
Surely this must have weakened the city's moral character undermined her hunger for glory.
Socrates was arrested on charges of undermining the state religion and corrupting the youth of the city.
I am quite sure that especially in a relatively small society like Athens someone who's constantly questioning the principles by which the society has tradition ally governed itself would be perceived as a very major danger by at least some people in the society.
You can easily see that a few hundred people might want him out, and they did.
The Athenians would now put to trial the one man who dared to question the way they lived their lives.
Socrates' trial would be held in Athens' central marketplace under a canopy to shade the fierce heat of the Greek sun.
He would be tried by a jury of his fellow citizens, chosen at random.
The same kind of group that had condemned six generals to summary execution only seven years before.
Socrates would be given only a limited time to defend himself for all speech es in the Athenian courts were timed by a water clock one jar of water steadily running into another.
But Socrates shows no fear in the face of his accuser.
In fact, he is positively stubborn.
To put it bluntly I've been assigned to this city as if to a large horse which is inclined to be lazy and is in need of some great stinging fly, and all daylong I'll never cease to settle here, there, everywhere rousing and reproving every one of you.
It is not an approach designed to win sympathy.
Socrates is setting himself and his life against the entire Athenian state.
He is doing what he thinks is the right thing to do.
He thinks the life he has chosen, this life of thinking for you rself is the best life.
As he says in his speech "the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.
" If Socrates had simply apologized to the court he might well have been acquitted but instead, he demands free dinners for life for all the work he has done.
I can just imagine what that jury and the audience at that trial must have thought at the time.
They must have been absolutely speech less.
When the final vote came the verdict could hardly have been a surprise.
The court found Socrates guilty, with the penalty of death.
But Socrates reacted with calm and serenity.
Well, now, it is time to be off I to die and you to live but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but heaven.
Socrates was taken from the court to Athens' prison.
The site of this prison still exists.
We can still trace the layout of the cell in which Socrates was probably held.
And we still have accounts of Socrates' last days from friends who visited him in his cell.
Socrates would be executed in the traditional Athenian manner: by drinking hemlock.
Some of the hemlock cups used for the poison are still preserved.
Death by hemlock is excruciatingly painful causing gradual paralysis of the central nervous system but as the moment of his execution drew near Socrates turned to his friends treating the whole affair as if it were nothing at all.
For me, the fated hour calls.
In other words, I think it's about time I took my bath.
I prefer to wash before drinking the poison rather than give the women the bother of washing me when lam dead.
But as the hemlock was poured his friends broke down.
We have the account of one named Phaedo.
In spite of myself the tears came pouring down so that I covered my face and wept brokenheartedly and then everyone in the room broke down except Socrates himself, who said "Really, my friends, what a way to behave.
"I'm told that one should make one's end in a reverent silence.
Calm yourselves and be brave.
" As Socrates lay back on his bed and let the poison take effect his friends watched in silence.
Here was a man who was dying not for glory not for fame and honor, but for the sake of his principles, because he believed that man should question the world around him.
It was a sight they would never forget.
Socrates, in his life and in his death becomes a completely new Greek hero.
From now on, the hero is a person of conviction a person who will follow nothing but the dictates of his intellectual conscience and that is a new conception of what a human being is like and what a good human being must be like.
For centuries the Athenians had believed in one ideal the vision of a martial warrior hero.
It had driven them to conquer great foes to build a mighty empire.
But now, in the depths of defeat they discovered a new figure to venerate.
Effigies of Socrates have been found amongst the ruins of the Athenian prison perhaps offerings to the dead philosopher.
Perhaps the most important lesson that Socrates left is the need to be critical, and the need to be self-critical.
The interesting thing that I see in Athens in the years after the execution of Socrates is this same capacity to look at themselves and recognize that they have perhaps gone too far in the past and indeed to embrace a certain kind of maturity.
Athens was never again a great imperial power but neither did her democracy lapse again into mob rule.
Instead, she became a city of intellectual inquiry a haven of study and discussion what ere Socrates' students and his students' students slowly began to build a world based on reason.
Plato tried to formulate the ideal society.
Aristotle studied nature establishing biology and zoology.
And slowly the ideas and work of these Greek thinkers began to spread across the known world.
One could say that a major part of the energy of the Athenians turns into building what one might call empires of thought.
So, what ere before you had Athens sending its ships to the various islands in order to collect taxes here you have reason extending its dominion over all areas in which our lives are actually lived.
Socrates' principles of reason of questioning assumptions and the world around you, still endure.
In the space of less than 200 years the ancient Greeks transformed their world.
For amongst these ruins a few great figures carved a mighty empire.
They in vented democracy and politics science and philosophy.
They gave us literature and drama art and monuments which still take our breath away.
And ultimately, these Greek taught us how to reason and think.
Two and a half thousand years later their astonishing achievements continue to shape our world.
- Created, synced and