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Athens and Pireus, linked via the Long Walls

An astonishing generation of individuals – Our city is an education – Theater, a cultural revolution – War with Sparta – Not an easy war to win – Retreat behind the great long walls – Socrates, a man unique in Athenian society – Leader of a revolution in thinking – Taking the Gods out of the heavens and replacing them with reason – Birth of Science.

Barricaded behind the walls, Athenians fall victim to the plague

New way of thinking – Life in the city becomes one of Socrates’s major concerns – Freedom of thought paramount – A life unexamined is not worth living – Spartans burn surrounding farm land – Plague devastates Athens – Pericles, Lynchpin of the Athenian state dies, populists rise – Athens slides into mob rule – Socrates protests but is not heeded – War with Sparta rages on for a decade – Sicilian expedition – Athenians throw themselves into the project with fervor – Invasion force sets out.

Socrates, Athenian philosopher and critic

Athens reaches an educational and cultural peak through the pursuit of science and art. A host of genial minds set the pace, and the democratic society follows suit and capitalizes on the opportunity. But feats of excellence give way to dreams of superiority, and, as time passes, a vision of war emerges. The aim? The destruction of Sparta, the bellicose city-state to the south, so that Athens can become the undisputed leader of the region.

Socrates, an astute philosopher and investigator of human behavior and thought, criticizes the notion. His aim is to question everything in order to separate fact from folly and formulate a solid understanding of the world. War with Sparta does not seem like a wise or promising option to him, despite the consensus for it. His voice of dissent is not heeded, and the war rages on.

One year into the conflict, Athens is under siege by the Spartans, her supply routes kept open via sea. But plague finds its way into the crammed city and a humanitarian catastrophe ensues. Athens is gripped by terror as a third of the population dies. Among them Pericles, visionary, leader, hero.

With Pericles gone, the city falls in the hands of populists. Democracy degenerates to demagoguery and mob rule. Opinions and initiatives become more than the city can handle, giving rise to temporary tyrants, insurgencies, deadlocks and stalemates, leading to crisis after crisis. As the years slide painfully by, hope of victory fades away. Desperate measures are sought to make things right, and a new military campaign is proposed, rekindling Athenian resolution.

From the phenomenal Atlantic Productions Documentary Series, The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization

Narrator: Liam Neeson

FOR MORE Athens: From Democracy to Hemlock