andrew marr’s history of the world

  • Climate catastrophy in 535 AD, the year without Sun, the mini ice age, due to volcanic eruptions in indonesia led to the aztek empire’s downfall. They had been felling trees in the past causing the soil to be washed off and the drought in that era led them to starve and die out. They kept increasing human sacrifices to appease the gods.
  • Russia was created by Ivan the terrible for fur. The search for fur was also what led annexation of Syberia and expansion of Russia to be the biggest country in the world.
  • Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt married Julius Caesar, Senator of Rome, who subsequently declared himself king of Rome causing other senators to murder him in the senate.
  • All religions in history have spread only by the blood and sweat of evangelists and believers. Christianity has the most followers coz it has evangelizing bulit into it’s framework and also coz Roman Church had been involved with Politics for a long time and hence politicians push their agenda of expansion guized as religious evangelization.
  • Russian king being a viking wasn’t religious and so invited all religion heads to convince him to take one up for his empire and as Islam didn’t allow drinking, he took Orthodox Christianity as the official religion of his kingdom and hence Russia today has that religion
  • Russia was founded by Vikings and got it’s name from the translation of Viking ie Rus
  • Spain extracted 10 trillion worth of gold from
  • Martin Luther was german, and his protest book that led to founding of protestant movement. His movement took off as at the same time ie 1550s, another german gutenberg invented the press and started publishing his book to the masses.
  • Catholic and Protestant fight lasted 125 yrs and killed 13 million europeans
  • In the Middle Ages, black death in Europe and mongolian invasion in the muslim world prevented either from winning all out
  • 16 million people today are direct decendents of Genghis Khan
  • Constantinople Wall was like the great wall of China separating Europe from Asia until it was conqured in 1453 by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed who then converted its biggest church Hagia Sophia to mosque.
  • After the fall of the Arab world at the hands of Mongols, Europe rose on the ashes of Arab world by using Arabic Scientific ideas via Spain.
  • Having new money from the Flourishing trade, Italy invested that money in Arts leading to Rennaisance, which as basically the rediscovery of Arab and other kingdoms’ ideas by Europe
  • The dutch gave the british manhattan in exchange for a nutmeg island in 1650
  • In this age of discovery, Japan was an exception, coz when jesuits in Japan favored one shougan and instigated fight between warlords, Japanese exiled them all and turned away from outsiders. They passed laws that sentenced anyone caught escaping Japan to death. Moreover, they put holes in all their ships so that they would sink if they ventured out to sea. This continued for next 200 yrs. That’s why Japan even today has a distinct identity.
  • Unlike the rest of the world which was busy accumulating wealth, the Dutch were creating Companies and reinvesting their profit into expansion of their enterprise. They created the world’s first stock exchange in Amsterdam in 1607.
  • The dutch were known for their love of gambling and speculation. They started with speculating price of tulips and created the first bubble whereby a pound of tulips were going for the price of a house. it lasted for 4 days but gave birth to capitalism
  • With the American Decleration of Independence in 1777 and French revolution leading to death of King Louis by Guillotine, the age of absolute power and 1000 yrs of french monarchy ended and age of enlightenment began. The age of reason, freedom, equality and Science and Rationality had began. Britain and France were at the forefront of this revolution.
  • With the inception of the Rennaisance in Italy, one would have imagined Italy to lead Enlightenment too, but Galileo’s case showed why this wasn’t possible. Galileo had invented the telescope in 1609 in Italy confirming helio centric model of the universe put forth by polish Copernicus 50 yrs back. This model challenged church’s authority which maintainted that earth was the center of the universe and the bible said so too. hence they banned his book for 200 yrs. Hence, church’s control on state and censorship made sure Italy won’t lead the Scientific revolution.
  • The problem with royal absolutism like in India was that it was limited to the ideologies of the absolute ruler. Mughals were liberal and patron of arts, but in 1657 liberal shah jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangjeb who was a military man who imposed islam on everyone. He banned music and alcohol and destoryed hindu temples. He expanded to the south to defeat the hindu rulers in south india, creating largest empire in India. This bankrupted the mughal empire and set stage for British to take over india
  • Assasination and wars of succession were routing amongst the ruling families of Europe as well. Absolute rules tend to turn tyrant. Absolute power does corrupt absolutely.
  • In 1773, 13 British Colonies protesting the idea of taxation without representation in England’s parliament, revolved the raise in Tea Tax in Boston and America was born in 1783. France had helped America in this fight and ironically this led to their bankrupcy leading to french people overthrowing king louie in 1792 and adopting representative democracy like the US. the moderates sat on left side of chamber and extremists on left, the origin of left and right wing terms in politics. The birth was democracy was violent. the extremists won the election and persecuted their rivals. Finally in 1799 the army took power under general Napolean Bonaparte. In 1804 he invited the pope to annoint him emperor of france. The revolution had failed. Once again, the same old cycle of Idealism leading to Revolution leading to Extremism leading to Exhaustion leading to power in the hands of Military hardman was repeated.
  • The british were off conquering the rest of the world. In 1770 James Cook discovered New South Wales and claimed it for Britain. Britain then made Australia it’s Prison Colony to dump prisoners. They had 200 crimes punishable by death, so they found shipping the convicts to Australia much easier. They also exterminated the aboriginies as slavery was now abolished. It’s very hard to understand someone’s culture when you’re busy taking away their land.
  • In 1780, Edward Jenner heard that cowpox patients are immune to smallpox, a disease that killed one in seven all over the world. He tested this by infecting a boy with cowpox and later with smallpox and the boy was found to be immune. This was the first vaccine. In 1980, 200yrs later, the whole world is immune to smallpox

East VS West; Socrates VS Confucius

Confucius had argued that the good society is ordered and obedient. For Socrates, it was stroppy, dissident and open. Thinking of the differences between China and the West today, it’s pretty obvious that these ancient stories still haunt the modern world. And so they should. One of the great Greek tragedies was the death of Socrates. He showed that even this wonderful, brave, pioneering society thought there were some questions too dangerous to ask. And even the greatest minds were not able to express themselves quite freely. And he leaves all open societies with the same dilemma. When you feel genuinely threatened by a dissident, when you may feel your own liberties are challenged, do you lock them up? Do you shut them up? Ancient Athens didn’t have the answer to this, and nor do we.

Andrew Marr’s History of the World


For thousands of years, the Ayoreo tribe have lived in the forests of South America. They’re still leading much the same hunter-gatherer lifestyle as the very first humans on Earth. But in June 1998, they came face to face with the 20th century. KNOCKING This was a chance encounter between two worlds, both equally human but completely divided by history. In this series, I’m going to tell the story of the adventures and events that divided them… Thousands of years of explosive change. 70,000 years of human history – stories that we thought we knew and others we were never told. None of us can hope to know all of the human story but it does help to have the big picture because it’s really the story of who we are now, our own ancestors’ long walk, the tiny things that changed the world… EXPLOSION ..nature biting back, old glories, winners…and losers, truth seekers and astonishing discoveries… GUILLOTINE FALLS ..revolutions in blood and in iron… EXPLOSION ..modern madness and the wonders of the digital age. We have been brilliantly clever at reshaping the world around us – almost as clever as we think we are, though not perhaps as wise. There will be challenges, triumphs and surprises, all the essentials of the story – except, of course, how it ends. Africa, around 70,000 years ago. These people are fully developed modern humans, just like us, Homo sapiens – it means “wise man”. As hunter-gatherers we were driven by familiar basic needs – food, water, shelter. And for over 100,000 years, we’d been changing, adapting and struggling to survive. Climate was a big part of this – the Earth shivered its way through ice ages, the skies were darkened by vast volcanic eruptions, the planet grew hotter and drier, and then colder and wetter again, and each change challenged mankind to find new ways to survive. Those who did survive emerged tougher, cleverer and better organised. And in this particular tribe, there was someone special. She was part of one small group of probably fewer than a thousand people, slowly moving towards the north-east coast of Africa. For early people, life really was a journey. It was an endless trek after game and fruit and seeds. Settle down, call anywhere home, and you would starve to death. Criss-crossing Africa over tens of thousands of years, dealing with the changing climate and animals rather bigger and faster than they were, people learned the essentials of survival – language, clothing and cooked food… ..and, above all, working together to stay alive. Africa nourished us, but she was always difficult and always dangerous. WIND HOWLS SHE BREATHES HEAVILY Over tens of thousands of years, there’s evidence that other tribes made the same dangerous journey out of Africa. But after studying the evolution of human DNA, scientists have concluded that only one tribe lasted long enough outside Africa to leave a lasting legacy. This is the tribe that made it. HE YELLS They probably hopped from island to island, across what is now the Red Sea, arriving in today’s Arabia around 65,000 years ago, and, amazing as it sounds, almost all of us alive today are related to one woman in this tribe. Of course, we don’t know her name but she was a survivor, and we could call her simply “Mother”, because there is a tiny genetic mutation in every single person alive today who isn’t from Sub-Saharan Africa, and scientists have tracked it back to one migration out of Africa, one tribe, one woman. WOMAN CRIES OUT It seems impossible, but whether you’re from Aberdeen or Islamabad, Tokyo or New York, Scandinavia or the Pacific Islands, she is your universal African mother. BABY CRIES And the journey didn’t end in Arabia because her tribe kept on moving. Step by step, mile by mile, generation by generation, modern humans spread out and slowly colonised the rest of the planet. First, we travelled east along the coast towards India and East Asia. It’s reckoned that some of us may have reached Australia 50,000 years ago. The land bridge that then connected Asia and America wasn’t crossed until around 15,000 years ago, but then quickly people spread right down through the Americas to the far south. All these journeys were slowed or accelerated by cold or heat or climate change. From the Middle East, another branch of humans headed north-west, arriving in Europe around 45,000 years ago. By the time we arrived in Europe we were already deeply tribal, living and co-operating together in groups much larger than families, which was very important to our success as hunters, but it had another side. Our tribal loyalties meant we had an ingrained hostility to outsiders – anyone who looked a little different, spoke differently, dressed differently or perhaps even smelt differently. Truer still of people who really WERE different because when we got to Europe, we discovered that we were not alone. Another variety of human had been living here for an almost unimaginable period of time… The Neanderthals. Stocky and tough, they’d survived ice-age conditions we can barely comprehend and now they faced a rather more dangerous challenge – us. TWIG SNAPS SHOUTING Scientists argue about this but we probably co-existed with the Neanderthals in Europe for between 5,000 and 10,000 years, and during that time the Neanderthals went into rapid decline. NEANDERTHAL CRIES OUT Nobody knows for sure what happened to them. They were tough survivors who had been around for at least 250,000 years – rather longer than we’ve managed. It’s probable that we pushed them out of their hunting grounds. It’s also possible, I regret to report, that we liked to eat them. HE CRIES OUT HE YELLS NEANDERTHAL YELLS 30,000 years ago the Neanderthals became extinct, and modern humans – clever, clannish and remarkably violent – were ready to rule the planet. Except that now our ruthless determination came up against something rather more formidable than the Neanderthals. Around 20,000 years ago, temperatures plunged even further. We were forced once again to adapt or die. Adversity favours the versatile, and this time a very homely piece of technology would make all the difference. This is a needle, made out of bone. This is the real thing. It’s about 17,000 years old. It’s got a beautifully made little eye in it, very similar to the needles you may have at home, and what a needle allows you to do is to wear not animal skins, but clothes that actually fit. The invention of the needle would help revolutionise human life. Wearing sewn clothing in layers, we could huddle and judder our way through the harsh ice-age winters. We could be out, tracking animals further, hunting for longer – better predators. We had arrows, yes, and spears of course, but the needle was the great, unexpected life-or-death breakthrough. Modern humans were proving to be one of the most resilient species on the planet, something new under the sun. But it’s in the French Pyrenees we find evidence that Homo sapiens might live up to the boastful “wise man” label, and hope for something more than survival. We are already trying to mark ourselves out, to understand our place in the world. Here at the Gargas caves in the South of France, we can see our ancestors’ determination to leave a record. What’s down here isn’t exactly art and it’s not graffiti. It’s something more personal and, I think, more emotional. These marks were made by people like us 27,000 years ago. Mouth and hand – it doesn’t get more personal than that. There is something so common, so ordinary about making a hand print – children in primary schools all over the world still do it – that you can’t help but feel oddly connected to these people who were standing here at the very beginning of the human story. These hand prints are some of the oldest human markings in the world. Similar prints have been discovered in South Africa, Australia, North America and Argentina. It’s the first example of what you might call recorded history – a universal statement saying, “We are here.” Around 16,000 years ago, the northern hemisphere began to warm up. After tens of thousands of years living as hunter-gatherers at the mercy of nature, this transformation of the world’s climate helped our ancestors to do something radically new. The river Tigris, Eastern Turkey, in the Fertile Crescent. Humans can eat 56 kinds of wild grass, and 32 of them grew here, compared, for instance, to just four in America. Fertile indeed. This is where the single biggest change that humans have ever made to the planet, even in our age of science and great cities… The one thing that has changed Earth more than any other, started here in the “land of the rivers”. The people who lived in this blessed place ate wild plants, kept a few tame animals, and hunted, but they were also lazy enough to not to want to keep walking further to find more tasty seeds to eat. Laziness turns out to be an underestimated force in human history. So, if you don’t want to go to find your food, you can hardly make your food come to you. Or can you? These are the great anonymous inventors, and it’s from this breakthrough that everything follows. It’s a crucial moment in shifting the balance between humankind and the rest of nature. THEY CONVERSE IN NATIVE LANGUAGE It’s not an obvious thing to do. You gather the grains – the food that you’re hungry for and your family is hungry for – but instead of eating it, you keep some of it back… ..and you take it and you plant it back into the dirt. And then you wait. WIND HOWLS THUNDER CLAPS To take a seed and plant it seems such an obvious idea now but 13,000 years ago it really was a gamble. It shows thinking ahead, it shows planning, it shows a certain faith. But by making that simple change, foragers who live throughout the landscape picking things up all over the place are starting to become farmers who have an investment in ONE piece of earth. And by choosing the biggest seeds to grow, people reshaped the plants, as well. Bigger seeds and, eventually, bigger everything. Later on, people in China, India and South America would invent farming for themselves. Three grasses triumphed in ancient times – wheat, rice and corn. 12,000 years on, and they are still the bedrock of the human diet. Farming was the great leap forward, but progress came at a price. When people settled down to farm, life got harder. The archaeologists are clear. Farmers became smaller and they died younger than hunter-gatherers. Labour in the fields led to joints inflamed by arthritis, and the diet of sticky porridge brought tooth decay for the first time. So why would people farm when the world was still teeming with game? More to the point, why would they carry on farming? Well, part of the reason is that they got trapped by their own population explosion. Once people were settled down with more food, the numbers in the families grew. Hunter-gatherers had to limit the number of children to those who could be carried with them, but farmers didn’t. As human numbers rose, and people started to work together, farmers began settling down in larger groups. Scattered across the plains of Anatolia in Turkey are mysterious mounds. Hidden inside them is the earliest evidence of that next big step – towns. HE CHANTS 9,000 years ago, a community, a small town of up to 8,000 people, lived here at Catalhoyuk. And it’s here that we meet one of the first individuals to emerge from our early history. Her skeleton was excavated in 2004. She was only in her twenties when she was buried underneath the floor of her home. She was found curled up, tightly holding a skull, forehead to forehead like this. The skull had been plastered and, in fact, it had been plastered and re-plastered quite a few times, suggesting that it had been used for one burial and then another, buried again and dug up and used again. It was almost certainly an ancestor, somebody who mattered to her family. What we seem to be seeing here is ancestor worship – worship of the ground that you stand in and the people you come from. The young woman was buried wearing a rare leopard-claw necklace. What’s going on here is the opening up of another human frontier. As a town, Catalhoyuk is a little conquest of physical space, the here and now, but the leopard lady’s grave is an attempt to take control of time, too, to link the dead, the living and those still to be born. These were people who, if asked, “Who do you think you are?” could give a very clear answer. Their town was a compact network of mud-brick houses, almost like a human beehive, and not so different from modern shanty towns in today’s world. People walked across the town on flat roofs and they entered their homes via ladders through the rooftops. First of all, it is recognisably a house, not so different in the way it’s laid out to innumerable flats and apartments and homes today. Through here is, if you like, the pantry with great big clay buckets originally, where they kept all kinds of grains and seeds. Through here there is what was probably some kind of bedroom. Five to ten people probably lived in this place, so a familiar design. But the second thing about it is that the people who lived here were scrupulously clean and they couldn’t wash the floors and walls because they were made of earth but what they did was they whitewashed them, endlessly. Over here you can see these little lines and that was layer upon layer of whitewashing, and this wall, archaeologists tell us, was whitewashed more than 400 times. So here we are, right at the beginning of human society, in a place and surrounded by the ghosts of people that we already recognise. The Leopard Lady grew up in a well-ordered and stable community where men and women were equally well fed and enjoyed the same social status. This seems to have been a peaceful place with no defensive walls and no signs of social division or conflict. There are no temples, there’s no palace, there are no warriors’ areas or special women’s quarters – just families living alongside one another and co-operating, almost like the modern anarchists’ fantasy of a world without rulers, a society without bosses, and the problem, of course, with that is that these kinds of arrangements always fall apart very quickly. The people of Catalhoyuk could only manage it for 1,400 years. SHE TUTS But this was no Garden of Eden. Like farming, living in towns brought new dangers. Thousands of people and goats, cows and ducks living in close quarters created perfect conditions for diseases to spread, and there’s evidence that tuberculosis passed from cattle to humans at about this time. THUNDER CLAPS Most of the worst threats to human health – smallpox, measles, flu – came first from farm animals. Maybe that’s why the Leopard Lady died an early death, before being buried beneath the floor of her home, like her ancestors. Farming and town-living had both brought new dangers but the trap had closed. There was no going back. Across the world, many of our ancestors were now living in independent settled communities. But what would possibly bring them together into bigger groups? Again, we have to look to nature – not simply its opportunities but also its threats. All around the world people have told stories about a great flood, and it really does seem that something happened about 4,000 years ago which caused devastation to many of the first civilisations, including China. But what makes China different is that they still tell stories, part myth but part, probably, history, too. In China, it really does all start with the Flood. THUNDER WIND HOWLS According to the ancient chronicles, there were nine years of heavy rain, causing the Yellow River to change its course with devastating effects. WIND HOWLS SHE CRIES OUT The Yellow River is also known as “China’s Great Sorrow”. For thousands of years it regularly burst its banks, wiping out entire villages, destroying everything in its path. THUNDER SHE CRIES OUT The 3,000-mile-long river flooded an area greater than the entire United Kingdom. The old legends say that one of the clan leaders appointed a man named Gun to devise a way to tame the river. The stakes were rather high. If Gun succeeded, he’d be richly rewarded. If he failed, he’d pay with his life. He built huge earth dams. But time and again, they were brushed aside by the floodwaters. Gun was unable to save his people… or himself. The father’s burden would now fall upon his son, Yu. After Gun’s execution, the clan leader ordered Yu to come up with a new idea about how to control the floods, and Yu dedicated his life to the job. According to old Chinese legends, he said he wouldn’t return to his pregnant wife until the river was tamed. The ancient chronicles say that Yu decided to begin by surveying the entire length of the river. On this epic trek he came up with a radically different plan. No more confrontations with nature, no more dams. Instead of trying to confront the raging waters like his father, he would divide them. Yu planned to create a vast network of channels. During the flood season, they would divert the full force of the river and reduce its destructive flow, but that meant a colossal work of engineering… ..and a huge diplomatic challenge – because in order to succeed, he’d have to convince hundreds of rival clans to set aside centuries of hostility. We’re going back to the old strength of pre-historic humanity, tribalism, which was now becoming a weakness, because only by working together could the clans possibly solve the problem of the Yellow River. Yu’s epic engineering project began. Myth or not, there were major river-taming projects at this time. The story goes that over the next 13 years, Yu passed his home three times, but he remained true to his vow of self-sacrifice and never went inside. Finally, his vast network of channels was complete. THUNDER And the rains came again. Yu’s great feat of engineering would be put to the test. But the channels calmed the floods. Yu’s story tells us an important historical truth about how natural challenges brought river-dwelling people together. Da Yu had united the clans of the Yellow River for the first time because only by coming together, under a single authority, could they solve this problem. As a reward, the clan leader made Yu his heir. Some people argue he founded the first Chinese dynasty, and certainly Chinese history begins on the banks of the Yellow River. Yu is known to this day as Da Yu – the Great Yu – and it’s interesting that the first Chinese hero was a civil engineer and a civil servant. All around the world, history is shaped by the desire to shape nature to suit us. BABY CRIES That means working together, but it’s also competitive and violent. Each move forward brings fresh problems. Farming brings more people, but it brings more disease, and in more complex societies, leaders and priests will emerge. It’s all a shaggy-dog story of unexpected consequences. From the sweat and success of the first farmers, all the world’s hierarchies, from landlords and popes to emperors would grow, and they only thought they were planting next year’s porridge or trying to keep dry. Egypt, 3,200 years ago. The Nile is the longest river in the world. It flows from south to north, but the prevailing winds go the other way, making it a wonderful two-way transport system and a lush green corridor. So it’s not so surprising that the world’s first great civilisation started here, with its temples, writing, priests, its awesome rulers. The pharaohs thought that their stony, river civilisation would last for eternity, and, of course, all of this is only possible because of the huge numbers of people planting, and cursing, and lifting and cutting – all the workers on whose backs these great edifices were raised and you never hear about them. You never know what THEY thought of it all. Well, except sometimes, you do hear. FAINT SHOUTS Thanks to one remarkable invention, we know exactly what life was like for ordinary Egyptians. This was once the town of Set Ma’at, “the Place of Truth”. The stonemasons and carpenters who built the pharaohs’ tombs in the nearby Valley of the Kings lived here. 22,000 years after we splashed our hand prints onto the walls of caves, our enthusiasm for leaving our marks on the world had reached a new level. Writing had developed in Egypt around 5,000 years ago, and at first it would have been the preserve of specialist scribes but the people of Set Ma’at are among the first working people in the world to learn how to write. The ordinary villagers sent letters and messages, rather as we fire off texts and e-mails today, but they wrote them down on little pieces of limestone or on broken pieces of pottery. They’re called ostraca. And they were discovered in their thousands where they’d just been chucked away, so that we can eavesdrop on village life from more than 3,000 years ago. SHE SIGHS SHE SIGHS One of the voices we hear is from an old woman called Naunakthe. As we hear her speak, a civilisation that seemed distant and alien suddenly becomes surprisingly familiar. ‘I have raised eight children and brought them up well, ‘given them everything they need. ‘Now look, I have become old and they don’t care for me. ‘The ones who put their hands in mine and looked after me, ‘I will leave them my property. ‘But as for the others, they will get nothing.’ The records are packed with all human life – children’s homework, laundry lists, a remedy for piles – green beans, salt, goose fat and honey on the backside for four days. Oh, yes, and the story of Paneb, a married man with a son and two daughters. A builder with a sideline – because Paneb was also a tomb raider. His story is told in the court records of a scandalous trial. HE SPEAKS THE LOCAL LANGUAGE Paneb was the talk of the village. He was accused of “plundering the tomb of the Pharaoh and stealing burial goods”. The judge also charged him with drunk and disorderly behaviour… HE SPEAKS THE LOCAL LANGUAGE ..and with a violent assault against his stepfather. HE YELLS Bad enough – Paneb, thief and hooligan – but there was more. Paneb… He’d slept with the wife of his fellow builder Kenna, and, no, it didn’t stop there. To make matters worse, Paneb then went on to sleep with Kenna’s daughter. THEY GASP THEY GIGGLE It’s beginning to sound like an early draft of EastEnders. An outbreak of wild Nile naughtiness. But what’s really interesting is the court itself. Each Egyptian community had one. What’s happening here is another major development in early human history. They’re trying to impose order on society. In villages and towns, the instinct for fairness is producing law. This is good news for human civilisation, although, on the whole, pretty bad news for Paneb. Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime. Life wasn’t easy for ordinary Egyptians, but order was infinitely better than disorder. We all remember the pyramids and pharaohs, but advances which were, in the long term, just as significant were being made behind humbler walls. But it wasn’t just ancient Egypt. All around the Mediterranean, you start to see people learning to read and write. They trade little luxuries. They eat better food. They consume spices and herbs. They drink beer and they drink wine. And things are just going to get better and better. Or maybe not. Writing helped speed up the spread of ideas. Trade accelerated the growth of towns and cities, and civilisation was spreading. But the battle with nature never stopped. The Greek island of Crete sits in an area prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes and this was the home of what’s been described as Europe’s first civilisation – the Minoans’. So what does that mean, “civilisation”? Literally, “people living in towns and cities” but it implies more style, more polish and few civilisations have seemed as stylish as the Minoans’. 3,700 years ago, the Minoans were pioneers of international trade. They shipped wine, olive oil and timber throughout the eastern Mediterranean. At the heart of the Minoan civilisation stood their great Palace of Knossos. In the early 1900s, Knossos was excavated by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. He discovered a sophisticated city that had frescos, aqueducts and even rudimentary plumbing. The frescos and figures of women holding snakes up to the sky suggest that women held a dominant position in Minoan culture. Evans was entranced by the Minoans, and he decided to reconstruct their city. There’s something interestingly cool and modern about the Minoan style, something very 1920s, and that’s because it IS very 1920s. Reinforced concrete. The stonework is new and, as for the world-famous frescos, well, they’re based on fragments of Minoan art but they’ve been very, very seriously worked up. The beauties shimmying down to a beach party with their flagons of wine were famously described by the novelist Evelyn Waugh as being rather like the covers of Vogue magazine. Evans excavated and rebuilt at a time when Europe was being torn apart by the First World War, and he presented the Minoan civilisation as a peaceful utopia. Evans imagined the Minoans ruling over a gentler, more peaceful Europe, far from the blood-soaked Europe of his own time. The Minoan culture seemed idyllic, but first impressions are as dangerous in history as anywhere else. In 1979, a darker side to the Minoans was revealed. MAN YELLS And that dark underside was first uncovered here at a little temple a few miles inland from Knossos. It seems a tiny, quiet fragment of paradise today but when archaeologists started digging through the rubble, they made a satisfyingly gruesome discovery. MAN YELLS SNAKE HISSES Now, on these stones, there was some kind of altar and on that the skeleton of a young man, about 18 years old, and across him was lying a bronze ceremonial dagger. The bones on the upper part of his body were white and on the lower part black, indicating to archaeologists that his heart had still been beating as the blood was draining from his body. He’d bled to death. He was a human sacrifice. WOMAN CHANTS Two other bodies were discovered, here and over here. One was the body of a woman, just over five foot high, of medium build, and her hands were trying to protect her face. Now we know that women had high status in Minoan society, and it’s possible, even probable, that she was a priestess. Minoan society was highly developed, but they lived in fear of the natural forces surrounding them, and their desire to control nature wasn’t matched by their ability. So they responded with the ultimate religious ritual in an attempt to appease the gods they believed controlled the natural world. KNIFE SLASHES RUMBLING Around 3,700 years ago, during this gory sacrifice, nature struck again. CRASHING LOUD RUMBLING Trying to police nature has always been the ultimate human challenge. It still is. All their attempts to placate the gods having failed, the Minoan civilisation was devastated. The Minoans will always be a mysterious people… ..and yet they do remind us of a fundamental truth, which is that although the journey from caves to civilisation had been awesome, there would be no final victories – certainly not over nature, nor over the darker side of human nature. THEY YELL RHYTHMICALLY In the next episode… HE YELLS ..the first great Age of Empire… ..bold new ideas in East and West… ..and Alexander the Great. HE YELLS 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. Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd


Ever since modern people began to spread from Africa, our biggest battles had been with the forces of nature. But, as we created the first civilisations, we found we faced a sharper threat… CHANTING …human nature. SHOUTING 3,000 years ago, the world was being churned and pulled apart in the first great age of empire. This was a time of vicious civil wars, all the way from China, through India, to the Mediterranean. And you’d think that all this violence would push the human story back. The awkward truth is that all the violence in fact drove the human story forward. This is a period of extraordinary new thinking on everything from democracy to God, from some of the greatest minds we’ve ever come across. War is always terrible. But here, in a way, is the case for war. SHOUTING The first empires spread a pall of smoke and a stench of death. From their grand palaces, kings and emperors assumed that to be great was to conquer, burn and enslave. And yet, from this blood-soaked soil, new ideas about how to rule and how to live would flower. The palace of Nineveh in what is now Iraq. So massive, it was known as the palace without rival, a stony monument to the power and determination of one of the earliest great empire builders – Sennacherib, king of the Assyrians. Underneath the eyeliner, a tiger of a man. Sennacherib was the original, the prototype, for the empire-building maniac. With an army better than anyone else’s, he had around 200,000 battle-hardened regular troops. And he knew how to use them. In 701 BC, the Assyrians had the world’s most potent empire. And then, ridiculously, the King of Judah dared to rebel. Retribution came like a thunderbolt. The city of Lachish was about to find itself on the wrong end of the most terrifying military machine of the age. The first thing Sennacherib did was to get his army to build a massive siege ramp up against the city walls. 25,000 tonnes of earth and stone. A big lump, and it’s still there. Lachish, on the other hand…isn’t. Today, we talk about “total war” and “shock and awe”. Well, invented by the Assyrians. The Bible calls them “a nation grim of face, like a vulture in flight… “ruthless towards the old… “…pitiless towards the young.” What happened if you fought back? Well, captives were flayed alive. Their leaders had their heads displayed on stakes, and anyone who survived was deported and enslaved. SCREAMING Anything left behind was torched. 1,500 men, women and children died at Lachish. Archaeologists have found their remains in a mass grave. It’s been estimated that the Assyrians deported more than four million people during three centuries of dominance – slave labour to build monuments to the glory of their captors. You may ask how we know about all of this. Well, the truth is that Assyrian leaders boasted about it on clay tablets, and had huge friezes, in effect propaganda pictures, made of their victories. The palace walls of Nineveh displayed this gruesome catalogue of brutality. The flayings. The impalings. The deportations. What kind of civilisation chooses this as its wallpaper? But the ruthless warmongers have left little trace on the world, and the biggest legacy of this time was one the Assyrians were barely aware of. Sennacherib had conquered most of the world he knew about. But he could never have dreamed that the great gift of the Assyrian age to humanity had nothing to do with his terror tactics or his glittering palaces. It was the scratchings of a group of sailors and tradesmen that he had terrorised and forced out over the seas. They were a seafaring people. The Greeks called them Phoenicians, living on the coast of today’s Lebanon and Syria. Being merchants, they tried to buy off the Assyrian invaders. They sailed the length of the Mediterranean to trade silver and other gifts which they then offered as tribute. And as they sailed, these traders carried something remarkable with them. The Phoenicians’ great export was something that surrounds us all today – the alphabet. Before then, writing was basically lots of simplified little pictures of things. So you might have a picture of a fish. But it didn’t tell you how to say “fish”. What the Phoenicians did was, they started to use little symbols for sounds. And then you put the sounds together and you can say them back and you’ve got words. It’s an incredibly useful, revolutionary breakthrough. This is part of the Phoenician alphabet. Aleph, beth, gimel… daleth… It’s beginning to look rather familiar, isn’t it? Just imagine how useful this is going to be to a trading people, bouncing around the coast of the Mediterranean, doing deals with peoples with many different languages and having to note those deals down. The Phoenicians simply found the alphabet a very useful tool. And so, since then, have many of the rest of us. The alphabet spread quickly. The Greeks adapted it with vowel sounds. And then, later on, the Romans – it forms the basis of Latin. The Hebrews used a version for their Bible. In fact, it’s thought that all today’s Western alphabets spread from here. Other cultures left behind palaces or pyramids. The Phoenicians left something far more impressive. Within 100 years of Sennacherib’s rampage through Judah, the Assyrians were a spent force… making way for the next new empire, that of the Persians. And their most famous ruler wasn’t exactly a wallflower either. “I am Cyrus. Great king, mighty king. “King of the globe. “King of the four quarters of the Earth.” We have heard this kind of thing before in world history. We’ll hear a lot of it again. But what does make Cyrus the Great different and possibly even great is that unlike any previous ruler, he listened to the people he conquered, he was open to cultural and religious influences. And if that makes him sound like an early liberal, think again, because before the listening came the old business of the conquering and the slaughtering. In 547 BC, the mighty Cyrus turned his attention to one of the wealthiest little kingdoms in the world. These are the ruins of Sardis, the capital of Lydia, in what is now Turkey. The Persians were hitting back against a troublesome rival but they were also following the money because the Lydians were rich. And when the invaders came knocking, they knew exactly who they were looking for… …Croesus, the king of Lydia. YELLING He may have been the richest man in the world but now, as he tried to hide with his son, his great wealth was putting his life in danger. DOORS THUDDING And that great wealth came from right here. This doesn’t look much like a significant site in the history of the world economy, but it is. This is the river bed of the Pactolus, which in ancient times was a stream running with very rich gold and silver deposits, which the Lydians learned to refine and turn into reliable, valuable coins which circulated all around this part of Asia. There was gold in the hills up there and this is why, even today, when we’re talking about somebody who’s loaded, we say, “He’s rich as Croesus.” Croesus’s gold coins were stamped with symbols of power and strength – the lion and the bull. Now, other cultures had had currencies before. They’d had bronze, or silver, or even rare seashells. But what the Lydians did for the first time was produce gold coins of a reliable weight and purity. Even today when people are frightened about the banks and governments, they go to gold. Well, it started here. CLATTERING AND THUDDING SCREAMS The fate of King Croesus now lay at the mercy of the Persian leader – Cyrus. Lessons from history – if a Persian king invites you to a barbecue, it’s probably wise to say no. Solon! Solon! Croesus called on the god Apollo to save him. COUGHS Aargh! Apollon…! THUNDERCLAP And he sent down a shower of rain to douse the flames. LAUGHS Well, maybe, maybe not. Some of what we know about Cyrus and Croesus, we think we know because of the writings of the great Greek historian Herodotus. LAUGHS The trouble is that he is not an entirely reliable witness. Apart from being known as “the father of history”, Herodotus is also sometimes called “the father of lies”. He certainly had that fatal journalistic weakness for a great story. According to Herodotus, the Persian king asked his prisoner why he’d fought him. Croesus, typically, blamed the gods. “Mmm,” thought Cyrus, “bad advice?” “Well,” said Croesus, “in peace, sons bury their fathers. “But in wartime, fathers bury their sons.” SPEAKS IN ANCIENT GREEK “Mm, fair point,” thought Cyrus. “Rather well put.” And so he let Croesus off the hook and appointed him as his adviser instead. CHUCKLING But it wasn’t just wise advice and mottos that Cyrus got from Croesus. The Persians also picked up the Lydians’ great invention – reliable, effective currency. Coins begin to spread around a large area at this time because of the Persian Empire. Currency becomes current because of war. Enriched with the gold from Croesus, Cyrus carried on his rampage across the Middle East. And eight years later, he conquered the great city of Babylon. There, the Hebrews of Jerusalem had been exiled and enslaved. “Weeping by the waters of Babylon,” says the Bible, and Cyrus set them free, sending them home. Cyrus even paid for the rebuilding of their temple in Jerusalem. The Wailing Wall is part of it, and remains the most sacred Jewish site to this day. Through these acts of religious tolerance, the Persian king became the only Gentile ever to be honoured with the title messiah. Like the Assyrians, like every great ruler before him, Cyrus had hacked and slaughtered his way to power. This period of history is a long catalogue of butchery and burning. But, out of it comes the alphabet, the first standardised currency and the birth of one of the world’s great religions. Free and back in Jerusalem, the Jewish faith really developed. And one big idea set them apart from most other religious groups at the time. They believed in one god. The great discovery, or invention, of the Jews was monotheism – the belief in one god only. And in a world of so many billions of Christians and Muslims, it might seem an obvious idea, but in the ancient world, it was truly odd. Then, wherever you looked around the world, there were huge numbers of gods – gods on mountains, gods in rivers and forests, father gods, mother gods, child gods. So how was it that this people came up with something so radical and so different? There had been one-god cults and faiths before in world history, but the Jewish experience of exile would produce a much stronger story. And that’s partly because they could write it all down using one of those wonderful, flexible, new-fangled alphabets. In the Book of Isaiah, God says, “…there is no other god but me. “No god was formed before me, nor will be after me.” Just one god. The Hebrews had never said it as loudly and clearly before. Monotheism is one of the most powerful ideas in world history. And without war and exile, it might never have happened. BELL RESOUNDS CHANTING In India, a similar time of warfare and turmoil was also making people question and explore the meaning of life. And here, the search for an answer was to lead to a creed of compassion, tolerance and non-violence. HORNS BEEPING In the 5th century BC, India was going through a period of massive social change. The new technology was iron, which made ploughing much more effective. Agriculture was spreading. The ancient forests were being torn down. Towns and even cities were appearing. And everywhere there were vicious little wars. So it’s not surprising that at a time of such social shaking, people are asking themselves, “Isn’t there something more?” There is a hunger for new ideas. Life in India was shaped by the caste system – a fixed hierarchy of classes. At the top were rulers like Siddhartha Gautama. His family were wealthy clan leaders in the foothills of the Himalayas. He lived a remarkably easy life for the time – cut off from the suffering and the turmoil outside. A loving wife, a newborn boy – what more could any man ask for? By his late twenties, Siddhartha was becoming frustrated. He became sickened by his easy life, reflecting that even his comparative wealth wouldn’t stop him from suffering, growing old and sick. And so he began to ask the fundamental questions. Life, what is it for? What is it about? INSECTS CHIRRUP After much anguish, Siddhartha abandoned his family and his life of privilege and went in search of an answer to the questions that haunted him. EERIE MUSIC AND LAUGHTER In the streets outside, he came face to face with poverty, pain and illness. For six years, he wandered through the forests of northern India. This was a time of wandering prophets, and on his travels he came across holy men, but they didn’t have the answers he was looking for. He tried almost suicidal fasting. That didn’t work either. Eventually, he concluded that to discover wisdom, compassion and insight, he needed to meditate about the meaning of life. One day, he came upon a bodhi tree – it’s a kind of big fig tree – and he settled himself down and vowed to remain more or less literally rooted here until his concentration and his focus allowed him to break open the great secret that he was searching for. Slowly, Siddhartha was able to let go of the world’s distractions. THUNDERCLAP Hour by hour, day by day, his mind became clearer. GASPS EXHALES BREATHES DEEPLY At last, he reached a state of radiant inner peace – spiritual liberation… …enlightenment. BIRDSONG Tradition says that Siddhartha sat under his bodhi tree for 49 days and 49 nights, right here. And this tree is said to be a cutting of a cutting of the original tree. So a kind of grandson of Siddhartha’s tree. Siddhartha himself became known as The Buddha – “the awakened one”. A temple was built next to the tree where he had sat and meditated. Pilgrims come here to Bodh Gaya from all over the world. It’s the nearest thing that Buddhism has to a Jerusalem or Rome or Mecca. But it’s small and quiet and very little developed. THEY CHANT For the rest of his life, the Buddha travelled and taught. “But how,” you may ask, “can we know anything “about the life or the words of someone who lived so far back, “before there were books in India?” Well, the group chanting of stories and sayings – so that everybody remembers the same words together – is partly a way of trying to stop things being distorted or forgotten. This is the power of oral history. The Buddha was one of the first, great radical thinkers in world history. At a time of shaking social change and civil war, he said, “Turn inward.” When all of what we call history is about technology and violence thrusting forward in one direction, he is saying, “No, no, no! Walk the other way.” And his version of enlightenment contained no hierarchy, no aggression, it was open to everybody – from kings to paupers. Compared to other creeds, this was a remarkably unpolitical reply to an unfair and painful world. But in a corner of Europe, at around the same time, politics became central, as another people asked, “How shall we live together?” In Greece, one of the original experiments in Western civilisation was about to begin. It was led, not by a king or a prophet, but by the ordinary, dusty citizens of the city state of Athens… who’d had enough of the tyrant of the day. And so they did something extraordinary and new. They threw him out. The world’s first democratic revolution started here at the Acropolis in Athens. The people massed in this area and refused to leave until the tyrant was sent off into exile. And after he’d gone, remarkable reforms followed. All male citizens had complete freedom of speech in public and they could vote on almost everything. It didn’t matter how rich or poor you were, your vote counted just the same. The Greeks had two words – “demos”, people and “kratos” for power or rule. Demos kratos, the rule of the people. Democracy. Next door to the Acropolis is the actual site – the Pnyx – where this new democracy was put into practice. For anyone interested in politics, this is sacred ground, because it was right here that the 6,000 Athenian citizens would meet and listen to arguments and debate and then vote. On this meagre soil, something was grown which has been transplanted to every democracy in the world. And yet it’s very important to remember that Greek democracy was not our version of democracy. It excluded all women and it excluded slaves, because Athens was a slave-owning society. For every free Athenian, it’s been estimated there were at least two slaves working the soil, cutting the stone, cleaning, doing all the jobs which allowed free Athenian men to sit here and listen and choose. But, within 20 years, this fledgling experiment in democracy was about to face a life-or-death struggle with our old friends, the Persians. They had the biggest empire in the world and they were determined to conquer the Athenians. A massive invasion force was dispatched. The armies met face to face, a short distance from Athens, on the coast at a place called Marathon. 490 BC, and the Battle of Marathon – the most important battle in the ancient world. On the one side, a free, citizen army fighting for the right to think and speak as they wished. On the other side, the army of a despot. On the outcome of the Battle of Marathon hung not only the fate of this part of the world, but also, in many ways, how we still think today. No Greek army had ever defeated the Persians in open combat. The very name struck fear into the heart of the Athenians. And now, as the Greeks confronted the invaders across the battlefield, they could see that they were hugely outnumbered by at least two to one. The Persian commander was convinced that, faced with such overwhelming force, the Greeks would do the obvious and simply surrender. This was not a professional army. These were craftsmen and farmers and tradesmen and writers, protecting one another. In the ranks of this citizen army was a young playwright called Aeschylus. Alongside him, his brother, Cynegeirus. The Athenian commander, Miltiades, had a bold strategy – he ordered his troops to do something almost ridiculous. YELLS ORDER TROOPS CHANT YELLS ORDER Drawn up opposite the Greek army, the Persians looked on with amazement. The Greeks were doing the one thing that made no sense at all. They were attacking. YELLS ORDER To the vastly superior Persian force, the Greek tactics must have seemed like suicide. But there was method in the madness. Now, the Athenians were of course hugely outnumbered, but Miltiades had a cunning plan. He had deliberately weakened the Greek front line. YELLING The Persians punched through them with deceptive ease. Miltiades now had them outflanked. He ordered his two wings to act like pincers… gripping the Persian enemy tight… …and squeezing it slowly to death. That day at Marathon, 6,000 Persian soldiers were slaughtered. But just 200 Athenians died. The brother of Aeschylus was among them. YELLS Every Greek who died at the Battle of Marathon was remembered as a hero. Uniquely, in the story of ancient Athens, their bodies were not brought back to the city. Instead, they were buried here on the battlefield where they’d died. And 2,500 years on, here they are still – under a simple, modest mound of earth and grass. Can you imagine anything less like the pompous monuments raised for tyrants? But back on that extraordinary day, the danger was far from over. The surviving Persians returned to their ships and set sail for Athens. The exhausted Athenians now had to race back to defend their city before the Persians could get there. The Greek army’s heroic 26-mile run back to defend their city is of course remembered today in the Olympic Games, the ultimate test of courage and stamina – the marathon. The Athenian soldiers got there just in time, and the Persian fleet turned tail and sailed home. The young soldier Aeschylus went on to become one of history’s greatest playwrights. YELLS The Parthenon itself, the crowning achievement of Greek architecture, is a remarkable offering of thanks for the Athenian victory over the Persians. If the Persians had won at Marathon, the world today would feel different. Greek culture would be just a footnote. And however we governed ourselves, we certainly wouldn’t call it democracy. But the victory gave the Athenians the most extraordinary outpouring of self-confidence and cultural brilliance. Yes, this is a story about war, but there was once a golden age. And it happened here. While the Greeks were developing the idea of democracy, a very different set of values was beginning to take shape in the East. This new thinking was also born in a time of turmoil and chaos. In 500 BC, much of the land we now call China was dominated by the Zhou dynasty – a line of rulers going back hundreds of years. But now, the country was at risk of fragmenting into small rival states. The threat of war dominated the times. Out of these wobbly, anxious years came one man with a clear vision of a safer, kinder, better-ordered world. The man was an official, a bureaucrat, who’d worked his way up. He famously liked his food and he was very proud of his ability to hold his drink. The Chinese know him as K’ung Fu-tzu. We call him Confucius. Confucius worked in the court of Lu in eastern China. He was one of the old school who yearned for the good society and the stability of the past. And he could see that standards of discipline, behaviour and respect were slipping. ‘Without feelings of respect, ‘what is there to distinguish men from beasts?’ Confucius thought that the best way to rebuild the good society was to encourage the proper performance of rites. Now, that meant the proper way to mourn, to praise and to pray, the proper way to conduct celebrations and anniversaries, even the proper way to eat a meal and dress. This is no easy matter. In traditional Chinese society, a well-educated gentleman had to know around 3,000 different rules. And yet, for Confucius, this is an essential moral crusade. Confucius began a campaign of reforms to improve standards in the court, and he had some success. But then he was to face a further challenge from his master himself. He started neglecting his duties after he was introduced to some particularly enticing new courtesans. Audiences were cancelled, work was left undone. Confucius believed that if you didn’t set a good example at the top, there was little hope for anyone else. SPEAKS IN CHINESE Feeling bitterly let down, Confucius packed up and left the court. He was having one of the most important mid-life crises in the history of ideas. In his mid-50s, he was completely sure that he was a failure. But he was walking out to change China. Like The Buddha in India, Confucius went on the road. He travelled through China, listening, teaching, gathering converts. He was convinced that individual actions on a small scale could shape the whole of society. And so he urged his followers to honour tradition, respect their families and follow ancient rules of good behaviour. ‘Respect yourself and others…’ ‘And not to do it is to…’ ‘Do not do unto others ‘what you would not like done to yourself.’ Confucius died aged 72, and his story might have ended in failure were it not for the fact that his followers wrote down his wise sayings and his teachings in a book called The Analects. After his death, his followers spread his ideas with remarkable success, and a cult developed, which was eventually embraced by the rulers of China themselves. The social philosophy of Confucius took root in Chinese society. Over time, it became deeply embedded in state institutions. Confucian teaching was drilled into generation after generation of Chinese civil servants. And the emperors, for hundreds of years, had a bureaucracy that was infinitely more efficient and effective and just than anything in the West. 2,400 years after his death, Confucian ideas are still enduring in today’s China. WOMAN SPEAKS IN CHINESE CLASS RESPONDS IN CHINESE For those looking for something more than Communist ideology or mere materialism, his teachings on morality and good conduct are still seen as an important lesson for the next generation. THEY RECITE IN CHINESE Confucius’ ideas were a response to disorder, and they made Chinese civilisation more distinctive, more itself, even unique. But in the Mediterranean, just the opposite would happen. HORSE WHINNIES Conflict was about to crash rival civilisations together. In 356 BC, a legend was born. He’d be a new kind of empire builder. According to legend, when he was a boy, a wild, unbroken horse was brought to his father’s court in Macedonia. The boy begged his father to let him try to tame the beast. He had noticed that the horse was afraid of its own shadow. WHINNIES AND SNORTS The horse was called Bucephalus. And the boy would, of course, grow up to be… ..Alexander the Great. Alexander was brought up on stories of Homer’s heroes from the Trojan wars. He was a true child of the Greek golden age. His father hired the great philosopher Aristotle and asked him to create a little school, here in a remote part of Macedonia, where he spent three years intensively teaching the young Alexander everything from history and geography to mathematics and philosophy. And one of the things that started to entrance Alexander were the stories of the Persians. Cyrus the Great became a particular hero of his. His father said to him, “My son, “seek out a kingdom worthy of yourself. “Macedonia’s too small for you.” Alexander became king of Macedonia at the age of 20 after his father was assassinated. His imperial ambition was said to be limitless. After finishing off independent Greece, he crashed through today’s Turkey, marched into the Middle East, then into Egypt, before conquering the old enemy – Persia – and carrying on towards Afghanistan and the borders of India. Along with war and conquest… …Alexander founded 70 Greek-style towns… across North Africa and Asia. And Greek became the new common language across his empire. Alexander’s Macedonian veterans scattered his enemies wherever he led them, but, like his hero Cyrus, Alexander was fascinated by the people he conquered. And he thought that knitting together their different traditions could create a new kind of almost multicultural empire. Cyrus the Great had tempered tyranny with tolerance, but Alexander wanted to go a lot further and actually mingle Macedonian and Greek customs with Persian customs. So he started wearing Persian clothes and the Persian royal crown, and even making people prostrate themselves in front of him in the Asian manner. So it’s not surprising that his plain-speaking Macedonian generals became outraged at his decadent clothing and his increasingly foreign habits. Even Alexander’s trusted friend Cleitus thought he was going too far. – Alexander! – Cleitus? Cleitus was the leader of the Macedonian cavalry. He’d once saved Alexander’s life in battle. Now, he was taunting him for being more Persian than Greek. The Macedonians were famous across Greece for being great drinkers, and Alexander was no exception. YELLING But this fight was just a bit worse than your average drunken brawl. After the death of Cleitus, Alexander is said to have wept and fasted for three days. But he then briskly wiped the tears away and marched straight on, until his empire was the biggest the world had ever known. And to bond his peoples, he went far further in trying to fuse the cultures of Greece and Asia. He married not one, but two Asian princesses himself. And he then applied the same logic to his troops. Alexander organised a mass wedding of Macedonian soldiers and Persian women and gave them all generous golden dowries. And the marriages were extended way down into the Macedonian army. Alexander hoped that the children would become rulers for his new empire – a literal marriage of East and West. Alexander wanted the children of these hundreds of Greek and Persian marriages to be the beginning of a new warrior people who’d preserve his empire long into the future. But within a year of the mass wedding, aged just 32, Alexander was dead – some say poisoned. It’s more likely that he died unheroically of typhoid fever. Alexander’s gigantic empire was divided up between feuding successors, but the spread of the Greek language and culture continued from Athens to Syria, North Africa, right the way to Afghanistan. And the culture of ancient Greece, its architecture and its legends, its poetry and its philosophy would shape the classical world and then, later, all the West. In the broad sweep of human history, Alexander’s empire was a heartbeat, a mere puff of smoke, but he acted as a kind of giant, bloody, cultural whisk – churning together the Greek and the Persian worlds. And his story reminds us of the uncomfortable truth that war, however horrible, is one of the great change-makers in human history. To achieve his empire, Alexander had swept aside all remnants of Greek democracy, but the deeper challenge to the idea of democracy didn’t come merely from force of arms, but from the sheer difficulty of running an open society. CHANTING And this challenge had been thrown down 80 years earlier, not by a glory-drunk hero, but an old man who asked awkward questions – questions which are still being asked today. 400 BC, and the Athens of this time wasn’t a happy place. Wars had drained away her wealth and social conflict ate away at her young democracy. Tyrants had briefly seized power and used thuggery to suppress the voice of poorer citizens. When democracy was restored, it felt itself besieged. And one of its most contemptuous critics was the philosopher Socrates. Today we remember Socrates as the father of philosophy, the founder of a tradition picked up by Plato and Aristotle. But in Athens, at the time, he was seen as a dangerous influence – a dissident who was a genuine threat to this embattled democracy. He taught his students to question everything. For him, learning to ask challenging questions was essential to the development of a mature civilisation. So he jabbed and pinched the Athenian democracy. Political leaders lacked virtue and some voters were simply too stupid to choose well. This was dangerous stuff. And Socrates’ adoring pupils included aristocrats who would later revolt against the democracy, turning tyrant themselves. The greatest problems for would-be democracies have never really been about voting systems or institutions, hard though those are to get right. It’s about how an open society deals with genuinely subversive critics. Socrates was challenging the Athenian democrats to come up with an answer to this dilemma. When the democracy is under threat, for how long do you hold on to your principles of free thought and free speech? When do you give way to censorship and repression? By 399 BC, the authorities had had enough of Socrates’ awkward questions. SPEAKS IN ANCIENT GREEK They panicked and arrested him. Socrates was tried on charges of corrupting the youth of the city and undermining the government. He gently mocked the court as he forced them to confront the consequences of their own censorship. He was narrowly convicted. The sentence was death. In Athens, the death sentence was carried out by making the prisoner drink the poisonous juice of the hemlock plant. Socrates could easily have bolted for exile, which would perhaps be an easier way out for his critics as well, but his principles would not allow that. And so he said goodbye to his wife and his family and, with his students around him, he calmly prepared to die. Better that than shut up or live as a hypocrite. Confucius had argued that the good society is ordered and obedient. For Socrates, it was stroppy, dissident and open. Thinking of the differences between China and the West today, it’s pretty obvious that these ancient stories still haunt the modern world. And so they should. One of the great Greek tragedies was the death of Socrates. He showed that even this wonderful, brave, pioneering society thought there were some questions too dangerous to ask. And even the greatest minds were not able to express themselves quite freely. And he leaves all open societies with the same dilemma. When you feel genuinely threatened by a dissident, when you may feel your own liberties are challenged, do you lock them up? Do you shut them up? Ancient Athens didn’t have the answer to this, and nor do we. In the next programme, the word and the sword. Allah… Who would rule the world? Kings and emperors… ..or the gods? If you’d like to a little bit more about how the past is revealed, you can order a free booklet called How Do They Know That? Just call 0845 366 0255, or go to and follow the links to the Open University. Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd


March the 7th, 203 AD. Carthage, North Africa. A young woman called Perpetua was waiting to be killed in a Roman arena because she wouldn’t reject her faith – a faith so extreme it was shaking the empire. BABY WAILS Her family had begged her to renounce her beliefs and live. Terrified, she refused. CHEERING AND SHOUTING Perpetua was one of a growing number of spiritual rebels. All around the world, these are centuries when we see mass movements of moral and religious revolt. People who seem to want more – more than entertainment, more than safety, more than power. On the world’s stage, this is an age of struggle. A fight between the sword and the word. Allah! Old Indian writings tell a unique story, a moral revelation, whose details were virtually forgotten for 2,000 years. One day, in 295 BC, a young prince called Ashoka was searching for his grandfather’s sword. His grandfather had built the Mauryan Empire, which stretched across northern India. He’d warned the boy that swords were dangerous, but, as in all good legends, the boy ignored the old man. BATTLE CRY Ashoka means “without sorrow”. GROANS IN PAIN And the Prince was true to his name. When his father died, he slaughtered his brothers to capture the throne. He then invaded the neighbouring state of Kalinga, killing 100,000 men, women and children. Frankly, so far, so dull. History is littered with corpses on battlefields and wild-eyed victors. But this story is rather different. Because when this victor wandered among the corpses, he didn’t feel triumph. When Ashoka contemplated the devastation that he had caused on the battlefield, something seems to have changed inside him. What is this great victory? He said, when a country is invaded, it brings death, slaughter and deportation. And it’s not just the soldiers – you can break a whole society. He said the innocent – the priests, the teachers, the families, the friends – also suffer from the violence and separation from their loved ones. I can’t think of any other example in history where a great conqueror is not remembered for his victories, but for his remorse. Ashoka went through what’s perhaps the most extreme spiritual and political conversion in history. He turned to the peaceful Indian values of Buddhism. Compassion, the alleviation of suffering, a striving to understand and improve life here on earth. Ashoka began to transform his empire. He outlawed slavery, established schools and hospitals… ..he even had wells dug and trees planted for shade to help travellers. Ashoka may have given up military expansion, but he certainly wanted to spread his ideas, and at his capital city, he created a sort of factory to produce huge stone pillars topped with his lion and to be inscribed with his laws and his views of the world and sent all over central India. This early broadcasting system was completely forgotten, lost to history, until Ashoka’s messages were decoded in the 1800s by a young Englishman who cracked the ancient script. ASHOKA: “No living beings are to be slaughtered or offered in sacrifice.” “No criticising other religions. “Show respect to elders, towards the poor and distressed,” “servants and employees.” You could almost call Ashoka’s edicts a declaration of human rights, more than 2,000 years before the United Nations. He also sent Buddhist missionaries as far as Vietnam, Sri Lanka, even the Mediterranean. Today, Buddhists are found on every continent on Earth. As Ashoka grew old, he gave up his earthly power and possessions. When he died, it’s said that only half a mango was left. Later on, more aggressive religions and political leaders virtually pushed Buddhism out of India. But Ashoka is a lot more than a footnote. Because after his rediscovery, he became a great inspiration in modern India. Ashoka may not be well known in the West, but to tens of millions of Indians, he is still a symbol of tolerance and pride. He’s been an inspiration for non-violent leaders like Gandhi… ..standing for moral, not military, might. I think Ashoka would have thought that was a proper monument. But Ashoka was the exception. 1,000 miles north-east of the Mauryan Empire, another leader relied on the traditional route to power – violence. In the third century BC, mainland Asia was a cauldron of warring states… ..until one of the leaders finally crushed his rivals. He did it with a deadly battle tactic known as the rain of arrows. It took him 25 years and the deaths of a million enemy troops, but, by 221 BC, he’d conquered all the states. His name was Ying Zheng, King of the Qin. He named himself First Emperor. In honour of his own people, the Qin, he named his vast new empire China. Ying Zheng was determined to unite the 50 million people he’d conquered and he would build China as ruthlessly as he waged war. All the old Chinese kingdoms, with their own capital cities and traditions and cultures, were wiped from the planet. The First Emperor instituted a single system of currency and weights and measures, one government, and vast armies were used to begin the enormous project of defending the northern frontier, which we call the Great Wall of China. But even more important than that, the great emperor created the first single system of writing for all of China. A single nation could finally emerge – not the kind Ashoka’s India would have admired. But Ying Zheng was also interested in the spirit world. He had a pretty simple idea of the afterlife. “If I go, I’m going to take it all with me.” Construction began on the greatest mausoleum known to man. The ancient historian Sima Qian describes an underground world built by 700,000 slaves where a vast domed ceiling twinkled with stars above a bronze Imperial Palace. Everything led to Ying Zheng’s body, lying at the centre of a series of subterranean chambers. A mannequin army would surround the Emperor’s tomb. The 100 rivers of China were said to run in miniature streams of pure glittering mercury. A little not-so-little China for the Emperor to rule through all time. This story sounded like over-the-top fantasy until, in 1974, some workers were digging water wells in Xi’an. They broke into a vault containing 7,000 life-sized figures made of fired clay, now known all round the world as the Terracotta Army. Archaeologists believe that the Terracotta Army is just a small part of the Emperor’s massive underground burial complex covering 22 square miles. Unless the archaeologists are wildly wrong, under this mound may lie the greatest secret the ancient world still has. Ying Zheng kept China together by imposing a philosophy of law and order known as legalism. But it wasn’t unchallenged. Like ancient people all around the world, the Chinese had huge numbers of what you might call local religions. They respected nature spirits, they worshipped their ancestors, they practised shamanism. But they also had a social philosophy which had been created by the thinker Confucius, which emphasised respect, family, order, but also had a message for local kings and rulers – be wise, be clear, be just, but also be kind. Not a message followed by all of China’s rulers. Ying Zheng despised Confucius’s humanity. An infallible sign of a tyrant getting anxious is when he starts destroying books. In 213 BC, the Emperor ordered the great burning of the books – Confucius’s thoughts. A year later, 460 scholars were found still in possession of the banned writings. Ying Zheng had all of them buried alive. But ideas are harder to kill. Confucianism still survives in today’s China. Ying Zheng wanted to reign for as long as he could. He wasn’t too keen to reach his mausoleum, and he gobbled pills to try to cheat death. An alchemist offered him an elixir of eternal life. But you can never quite trust the doctor. The active ingredient in his magic potion turned out to be the highly toxic mercury. RANTS IN CHINESE Ying Zheng didn’t die well. So, just another deluded tyrant reaching the limits of earthly power. Except that this was one of the truly pivotal figures in world history. As the First Emperor, harsh and brutal, he nonetheless gave the Chinese a sense of themselves as a single people in a single country, under a single leader, and that’s very much part of the world we still live in. So to that extent, Ying Zheng remains a genuine earth-shaper. At this time, half the world’s population lived in one of two great empires… …China, and a Western rival it had barely heard of. Rome. Each empire ruled roughly the same number of people – about 45 million at the height of the Roman Empire, and, according to the Han Chinese tax records, 57 million there. They had roughly the same amount of territory and both thought that, in effect, they ruled the world. The Romans talked about orbis terrarum, “the whole earth”, and the Chinese about “all under heaven”. They were both great engineering cultures, and their armies looked pretty similar and were equally deadly. And yet, separated by four and a half thousand miles, neither was really aware of the other’s existence. Rome was a civilisation based on militarism, consumerism and trade – the financial and political capital of the Mediterranean. But earthly power wouldn’t be enough for its most famous upwardly mobile soldier, about to apply for the position of living god. In 48 BC, he arrived in Egypt. He’d fought his way up through the rough world of Roman politics, slaughtering more than a million people in Gaul to win himself applause. He was now the most powerful man in the Mediterranean, and his name… Abi nunc. ..Of course, was Julius Caesar. Egypt had once been the glory of the world. Now, under Greek rulers, it was still a storehouse of ancient learning and science. It was weak, it was deep in debt. But its capital city, Alexandria, was widely considered the greatest city on Earth. Its library had 700,000 volumes, virtually the entire collection of human wisdom so far in the classical world. It was a centre for the study of everything, from engineering to medicine, mathematics to history. Egyptians saw their pharaohs as living gods. Cleopatra embraced the tradition, but to think of her as a saucy vamp is to grotesquely misunderstand her. She spoke nine languages, she was an author, she was trained in philosophy and the sciences. SPEAKS IN EGYPTIAN But she was a ruthless survivor in a power struggle with her little brother Ptolemy. She needed muscle. She needed Caesar. Her brother had put guards round Caesar. But Cleopatra was not a woman easily stopped. The stage was set for one of the most dramatic entrances in history. KNOCK ON DOOR CAESAR: Introi. DOOR OPENS THEY SPEAK IN EGYPTIAN Cleopatra had just one night to win Caesar over. The Roman historian Plutarch dryly notes that Caesar was much impressed by her intelligence, charm and…charisma. I’ll bet he was! Plutarch also says that Cleopatra proved herself a bold coquette. By the time morning came, when her younger brother broke in, there they were, Caesar and Cleopatra. Too late, little Ptolemy. Cleopatra was back on the throne. Caesar and Cleopatra sealed their alliance with a procession up the Nile. Being seen was vital to ancient rulers. At 21, Cleopatra was now sole ruler of Egypt. And she was pregnant with Caesar’s son, Caesarion… …a potential leader of both the Egyptian and the Roman worlds. And a middle-aged Caesar? Fired by his conquest of this living god, Caesar decided to become one himself. He had his face painted red, like the god Jupiter, for his triumphal return to Rome. A new religious cult was instituted – Jupiter Julius. Outside his house, a special shrine was raised to the living god and, of course, they named a month after him. We call it July. If Caesar had been a modern politician, we’d have had no doubt about the trouble. We’d have said he’d lost it. Rome was a stroppy, political city that had rejected the rule of kings nearly 500 years before. Caesar’s bid to be a god would be his undoing. When Caesar was declared dictator in perpetuity, some of the senators decided to act. WHISPERED CONVERSATION On March the 15th, 44 BC, Caesar entered the Theatre of Pompey where the Senate was meeting that day. He was presented with a petition as a distraction. CAESAR GROANS IN PAIN Caesar’s one-time friend Brutus is said to have dealt the last of 23 dagger thrusts. It’s a rough old trade, politics. The empire was torn apart by civil war, as would-be successors to Caesar fought for supremacy for 14 years. Cleopatra found herself on the losing side. She was too dangerous to be allowed to survive. BREATHES DEEPLY HISSING Cleopatra refused to give herself up. She was, after all, a god, and not about to let some common mortal take her life. HISSING GASPS As she died, so died Egypt. The world’s oldest kingdom became just another Roman province. But it was Caesar’s megalomania that won out in the end. Every one of his successors was worshipped as a divine emperor. Rome was becoming dominated by the super-rich, by corruption and by emperors playing at being god. Divinity had become corrupted by political power. Rome was ripe for spiritual revolution. And it started on the very edge of the empire… ..when an ordinary man had an extraordinary change of heart. Jerusalem in the year 36 AD. Saul was doing well for himself supplying tents to the Roman army. He was a local contractor, a Roman citizen and a devout Jew. CLAMOURING VOICES On this particular day, there was a man called Stephen who’d been causing trouble here in the market in Jerusalem. He was saying that the son of a carpenter, who’d been crucified just a few years earlier, was the son of God. Among those watching, nobody was more hardline than Saul. He said himself that he was known among the Jews of his generation for his enthusiasm for the traditions of his ancestors. And to say that Christ was the Messiah was blasphemy, intolerable. And for blasphemy, there was only one punishment. YELLING CRUNCHING THUD Saul watched as Stephen was killed. YELLING AND JEERING Stoning is still used as a punishment for blasphemy in some parts of the world today. Stephen had just become the first Christian martyr. Did his horrible death make Saul think again or feel squeamish? Certainly not. It encouraged him to join the persecution. He was seen breathing threats and murder towards the followers of Jesus. SPEAKS IN HEBREW And with the permission of the high priest, he now set off to hunt some more of them down in Damascus. But his manhunt was stopped dead in its tracks. WIND HOWLS According to the Bible, Saul was struck down on the road to Damascus. PANTING He heard the voice of Jesus telling him to stop his persecution of Christians. He came to… blind. In Damascus, he went for three days without food or drink. A Christian called Ananias laid his hands on him and it’s said, “the scales fell from Saul’s eyes.” What happened to Paul on the road to Damascus sounds a bit like a desert hallucination. But the voice he heard changed his life. The persecutor got himself baptised in the faith of the people he’d been persecuting. He got rid of his old Jewish name, Saul, and he became Paul. And he gave himself an almost crazily ambitious job, which was to carry news of the new faith not simply to Jews, but to Greeks, to Romans, to Egyptians, to anyone who would listen. Because for him, this was one god and one set of rules for everybody on the Earth. Paul started by heading south into the Arabian Desert. He was still a travelling salesman, but now he was selling a message which would change the history of religion. Up until Paul, the followers of Jesus Christ had all been Jewish. The story of the man from Galilee had been a local event but Paul’s burning need to convert convinced thousands of non-Jews that Jesus had come to save everyone – Jew or pagan, slave or free man. SPEAKS IN HEBREW Today, there are perhaps 15 million Jews in the world, but because of the evangelising tradition begun by Paul, the number of Christians is 2 billion – the largest religion ever known. Paul went on the road endlessly. He was arrested and thrown into prison. He was whipped, he was shipwrecked, he suffered thirst and starvation. He said he was beset by pagans, Jews, brigands and wild beasts. This was the power of the word carried around the world at the pace of one man’s tramp. Paul’s journey came to an end at the centre of the empire, Rome. He was arrested for starting a riot by preaching about Jesus in a Jewish temple. Now he was prepared to use his own death as a spiritual weapon that would shake the whole empire. Martyrdom. It’s said that, in Rome, Paul was beheaded. He’d normally have faced the far more agonising death of crucifixion, but Paul was a Roman citizen, and the Romans didn’t crucify their own. Except, of course, that Paul was no longer their own. All around the Mediterranean world, little groups of his mysterious new sect, the Christians, were appearing and beginning to spread. The execution of Christians was turned into mass entertainment all across the empire, from the Colosseum in Rome to provincial theatres in north Africa. CHEERING On the morning of March 7th, 203, a small group of prisoners was led into the arena at Carthage. Among them was a young woman called Vibia Perpetua. As a Christian, she’d been condemned to death for the amusement of the crowd. Perpetua’s is one of the few female voices that have come down to us from the ancient world. It was preserved from an account she wrote in the filth and darkness of a Roman jail. BABY WAILS PERPETUA: “We were put into prison. I was terrified.” “I’d never been in such a dark hole. “It was crowded, the heat was stifling,” “and I was tortured with worry for my baby.” These don’t seem to be the words of a historian or a priest telling us about Perpetua. We think these are the young woman’s words from her own mouth at a very tough time indeed, because her father had driven himself almost insane, pleading with her to recant and save her life. Her husband had cleared off and, in prison, she was left with her baby son. BABY WAILS “My baby was faint from hunger.” DOORS CLANG “In my anxiety, I spoke to my mother and brother about the child.” Huc veni. Absiste ab eis. “And I gave the child in their charge.” SPEAKS IN LATIN BABY WAILS “I was in pain because I saw them suffering out of pity for me.” PANICKED, SOBBING BREATHS The night before her execution, Perpetua had an extraordinary vision of what would happen to her. “I gazed upon an immense crowd who watched in amazement.” “Then, a horrible-looking Egyptian came at me “with his backers to fight with me.” “And there came to me as my helpers handsome young men.” “I was stripped and became a man. “Then my helpers began to rub me with oil,” “and I saw that Egyptian rolling in the dust.” BABY WAILS “And we began to fight.” “He tried to grab hold of my feet “while I struck at his face with my heels.” “And I was lifted up in the air “and began to thrust at him as if spurning the earth.” “I joined my hands and I took hold upon his head “and he fell on his face. “And I trod upon his head.” “The people began to shout and my supporters to exult.” “Then I awoke.” “And realised that I was not to fight with beasts,” “but against the Devil.” Dreams like this carry a revolutionary Christian message – ordinary people matter. They are the arena of a cosmic struggle between good and evil. This is a rare glimpse inside the mind of an early Christian martyr. Perpetua’s extraordinary dream is the last thing we have in her own words. But her final confrontation with Rome came the following day, when she was led into the arena with another young woman called Felicitas. Watching was a fellow Christian, and we have that eyewitness account of what followed. CHEERING MAN: “The people demanded they be brought forward.” “They rose and went towards the place they would be martyred.” CLAMOURING VOICES AND CHEERING “They remained still and were put to the sword in silence.” CROWD QUIETENS CENTURION GRUNTS CROWD GROANS SLICING AND THUDDING SCREAMS “Perpetua screamed as she was struck on the bone.” “Then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator” “and guided it to her throat.” GRUNTS MUTED APPLAUSE For the Christians, this was less about death than victory over death. The Romans found this cult of martyrdom strange and confusing. But they did see something they valued, which was that to suffer bravely was to win great honour. And so Perpetua had taken a humiliating public death and turned it into a kind of victory for faith. The promise of Heaven attracted more converts than Rome could possibly kill. Within 100 years of Perpetua’s death, Christianity had spread right across the Roman world. Shopkeepers, administrators, merchants and then finally, in 337, the Emperor Constantine – a man who’d come to power by military coup, and was an enthusiastic political assassin, announced his conversion. Christianity would never be the same again. Constantine was the first person to make Christianity a fighting religion. Before, Christians hadn’t even been supposed to join the military. They were, like Perpetua, pacifists. Now, the cross became a sword. The Roman response to spiritual revolt was, in the end, just so Roman – pragmatic, shrewd. They reached out and they assimilated even this revolutionary cult and they made it Roman. It’s hard to know whether to admire this or despise it. The merger between Christianity and worldly power would long survive the Roman Empire. It’s a basic foundation of the Western world. But not all empires leave a legacy when they collapse. Around the rest of the world, other cultures were still trying to appease nature. 535 to 536 was known around the world as the year without sunshine. From Irish monks to historians in Byzantium and Antarctic ice cores, the same story emerges of a catastrophic year of dark skies and crop failures. WIND HOWLS All the mass spiritual movements in China, India and the Roman world could only shiver and endure. But it proved catastrophic to the Nazca culture on the Pacific coast of South America. The Nazca were great engineers and artists. But they also provide the ultimate reply to the lazy idea that native peoples are bound to have a wise and harmonious relationship with nature. The Nazca left behind these immense lines and pictures, created between 200 and 600 AD. The drawing range from hundreds to thousands of metres in length. Many can only be understood from the air, as if they were drawn for gods to see. The Nazca left us a lot more than their lines. Those little hills you can see behind me were once pyramids surrounded by great plazas and dominated by one huge, central pyramid 30 metres high. Because this was the Nazcas’ holy city of Cahuachi. It must have been quite a sight. And not just the buildings. Nazca priests were selected as infants and their skulls were shaped with boards and tightened bandages until they became bizarrely long and pointed. Their job was to buy off angry gods – a form of social insurance paid in severed heads. The victims were their own people. And here is one. This is a young man. And this is not a model. Out here in the desert, very little rots. Grisly. But all round the world, it seemed a good idea to kill people and offer them to the gods, and by doing that, try to control the rains or the earthquakes or whatever the trouble was. But there seems to have been a sudden increase in human sacrifice here. And it seems to have happened because the Nazca were making a terrible mistake. The key plant in the desert here was the huarango tree. Its roots plunge as much as 15 metres into the earth to find water – the key to life. Aqueducts, lined with boulders, brought water from the mountains to these reservoirs, called puquios. The water irrigated the crops and kept Cahuachi alive. As the population grew, they needed more food. Huarango trees were torn down to make way for crops. Big mistake. The Nazca didn’t realise that the huarango tree was also the key to the desert ecosystem. Its deep roots kept the soil and their world together. For hundreds of years, the Nazca kept offering up heads to the gods, cutting down the huarango trees and maintaining their extraordinary, underground water system. And the water kept flowing and life was good. And then came bad news from the sky. That fateful year without sunshine, in 535, covered the world in a shroud. THUNDERCLAPS The Nazca then experienced an apocalyptic 30 years of rain. Without the roots of the huarango trees, the soil was washed away. Then the rains were followed by 30 years of drought. The earth was left hard and lifeless. It’s been suggested that as the Nazca became more desperate, they sacrificed more and more of their people and created more and more of their lines. But none of it worked. The Nazca spent all that time thinking about severed heads when all along, it was the severed trees that really mattered. The Nazca vanished into the Andes Mountains, taking their gods with them. History is littered with gods, ideas and civilisations which didn’t last. But at just this time, another desert people arose whose beliefs would stand the test of time. They’d achieve this by taking the merger between spirituality and politics that Roman Christianity had started and pushing it much further. Mecca, 620 AD. According to Islamic tradition, Bilal Ibn Rabah was an African slave from Ethiopia. Allahu Akbar. He was a secret follower of a radical new faith called Islam. Like Judaism and Christianity, it believed in one god and many of the same prophets. Allahu Akbar. Bilal’s owner was Umayyah Ibn Kaliff, a tribal chief. Umayyah’s latest enemies were followers of a new preacher called Muhammad – a tough guy known to his disciples as The Prophet. And his creed he called Islam, which means “submission to the will of God”. And like the Christians, Muhammad preached equality in the eyes of God to all people – rich and poor, slave and free alike. Quite rightly, Umayyah saw this as a challenge to his own tribal authority and now one of his own slaves, Bilal, was secretly following Muhammad. Bilal! BIRD CRIES Ummayah’s men dragged the young slave into the desert and they laid him out on the burning hot sand. YELLS He was pinned down and ordered to reject Muhammad’s revolutionary message. Like Perpetua in her prison, Bilal refuse to submit. Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar! He simply repeated, “God is great.” Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar! Violence couldn’t stop the passion of spiritual rebellion. It failed to in Rome, and it would fail to in Arabia. But news of Bilal’s suffering and faith soon spread. One of Muhammad’s companions bought his freedom. (Allahu Akbar.) (Allahu Akbar.) As Muhammad’s followers grew more defiant, the tribal chiefs drove them out of Mecca. The Muslims then fled to Medina and took Bilal with them. Bilal helped to build a simple place for Muslims to come together and to pray – the first mosque. And it’s said that Bilal’s was the very first voice to make that distinctive Muslim call to prayer – the Adhan. HE CHANTS Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar. Wa asyhadu anna Muhammadar rasulullah. Allahu Akbar. Bilal joined Muhammad’s armies as they won one victory after another across the Arabian Peninsula. The Muslims took spiritual struggle and military struggle and they bound them together. So, in the end, they almost seemed to be the same thing. SHOUTING Muhammad’s armies made invasion a religious duty. With one language and one God, Islam expanded far faster than Christianity or Buddhism. Except that Islam didn’t really expand. It exploded. Within 120 yeas of Muhammad’s death, his followers had converted and taken control of societies from Central Asia to Spain, an area even larger than the Roman Empire. Some of the most creative and powerful civilisations in world history would be built in the name of Islam. MUEZZIN’S CALL TO PRAYER Today, 1.5 billion people around the world obey the call to prayer – the tradition begun by Bilal. MUEZZIN’S CALL TO PRAYER RESOUNDS In these 1,000 years, the most densely populated parts of the planet were transformed by new beliefs and new religions. And the shocking, swift impact of Islam really does provide the correct climax to this period. The power of the sword is strong. Old fact. The power of faith is strong. New fact. You take the power of the sword and of faith, and put them together and you have the most fearsome human force on the planet. In the next programme – the golden age of Islam… ..the Vikings – nation-shapers… ..Genghis Khan rewrites the story… ..and Europe emerges as the surprising winner. 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 08453660255 or go to bbc. co. uk/history and follow the links to the Open University. Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd


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 other…is 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. BELL CHIMES At 1.30am 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 finally…the 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. Genoa. Pisa. Florence. Venice. And Milan. 1495. 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. Shock. Grief. Anger. 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. Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd


Saturday, November 16th, 1532, Peru. Two worlds were about to collide. Spanish adventurers had come for gold and glory. Now they had to face the most powerful man in the Americas. Atahualpa – emperor of the Incas. The Spanish friar told Atahualpa that the book contained the holy words of God. Written words and paper were unknown to him. All he saw were dull scratchings. SHOUTS IN SPANISH The unwitting rejection of Christianity became the excuse for slaughter and plunder on an epic scale. The 16th century saw Europeans go far beyond plundering gold and silver. Fortunes would be made by giving consumers warmth, beauty and new flavours. Buccaneers would become businessmen, merchants would create the first modern companies to rival old kingdoms. In 150 years, mankind starts to move from wealth and simple plunder to capitalism. It’s a bloody story, and its consequences are all around us today. Half an hour before sunrise, August the 3rd, 1492. An expedition sets sail from southern Spain. The three ships had a Spanish crew of 90, led by an Italian captain… Christopher Columbus. They were heading for the Orient, the land of silk and money. The only way for Europeans to get to the East had been a 5,000-mile trek overland. Muslim traders controlled that route. Any European who could find a direct sea route would cut out the middlemen and make a fortune. Columbus’s plan was risky. He would go west, off the map of the known world. So, when Columbus said that he could get to Japan within four weeks of sailing from the Canary Islands – he reckoned that the distance was 2,400 miles – this sounded like a wonderful gamble. Of course, even Columbus knew, when he set sail, that his calculations were wildly optimistic. They sailed for the four weeks he’d reckoned on, but no land was seen. The crew didn’t share their captain’s optimism. None of them had been this far out into the dark Atlantic before. There was one thing that kept them going. The King and Queen of Spain had offered a vast reward to whichever sailor first caught sight of land – 10,000 silver coins a year for the rest of his life. And yet, as the weeks passed, there were endless false sightings of land and the sailors became more and more despondent, and Columbus had to beg and cajole them to keep going. More than five weeks into the voyage, still nothing but endless sea. But then, at 2am on the 12th of October, 1492, a sailor called Rodrigo de Triana finally spotted something. Tierra? Tierra! ‘Tierra!’ Tierra! Tierra! Tierra a la vista! MEN SHOUT LAUGHS Soy yo! Soy yo! That fabulous royal reward was his – he’d won the ultimate lottery! Oye! Or had he? No, said Columbus. As it happened, he himself had seen a light four hours earlier. It must have been on the island. So the king’s reward was his. De Triano would never get over the betrayal. It’s said that, years later, he died in obscurity, hanging himself from a yardarm. He was convinced he had arrived in the Far East. This might be China or Japan or possibly India. In fact, he’d landed somewhere in the Bahamas. He planted the Spanish flag and declared the name of the island to be… San Salvador. ..San Salvador – Christ the Saviour. Its real name was Guanahani – that’s what the natives called it. The natives… the still deeply confused Columbus called them Indians. And the name stuck. Alto! Aguarden, aguarden. Columbus wrote… “They ought to make good and skilled servants, “for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. “I think they can very easily be made Christians, “for they seem to have no religion. “Weapons, they have none. “For I show them swords, which they grasp by the blade…” “and cut themselves through ignorance. “I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men “and govern them as I pleased.” Columbus seems to have identified the three things that would define Europe’s relationship with… well, wherever he thought he was. Religion, conquest and slavery. The Spanish sailors had spotted what they wanted… Quiere cambiar? Quiere cambiar? In little rings hanging from the noses of the natives. They traded glass beads from Venice for as much of it as they could find. So, what did the islanders think of the Spanish? We will never know. Within 18 years, 98% of the island’s population… would be dead. After 13,000 years of being cut off from the rest of humanity, the people here had no immunity to typhus or smallpox or the common cold or many other diseases, and they dropped like flies. The Spanish didn’t understand this. They’d just come here looking for gold and silver. There’s also evidence that the native Americans would give the Spanish something to bring home – a new strain of syphilis. But the most important thing that Columbus brought back was headline news. There is a world out there that we Europeans can take. And take it, they did. Over the next four decades, Spain’s conquistadors ripped into Central America, asset-stripping the Aztecs and everybody else they found. Columbus’s tomb in Seville Cathedral is a monument to the man who started all of this, the man still said to have “discovered America”. In fact, he went to his grave thinking that he’d gone to the Far East. His maths were hopeless. He had absolutely no idea where he’d got to, and he was out by only… one continent and the entire Pacific Ocean. Christopher Columbus had made the most important mistake in human history. The chance of getting rich drove European ships in every direction over the next century. What began as a path to plunder would grow into a web of international sea trade. The very beginnings of a new economic order. But, by 1517, the news of Columbus’s discovery of a new world still had very little impact on most ordinary people in Europe. Their daily lives were dominated by a much more immediate power… ..the Catholic Church. The average European lived in a world constrained by poverty, ignorance of the outside world and fear of famine, violence, disease. The best hope of a better life was in the afterlife. And the keys of heaven were strictly in the hands of the Church. Danke schon. Liebe Frauen, meine Herren, bitte schon. SPEAKS IN GERMAN Salvation was sold in the form of indulgencies – printed certificates for the absolution of sins. Virtual passports to heaven… in exchange for hard cash. And one of the Church’s best salesmen of salvation was a man called Johann Tetzel. Liebe Frauen, liebe Herren, kommen Sie herein… Johann Tetzel’s sales patter was effective, but it wasn’t subtle. You fear the fires of hell… pay up. Your poor, dead parents are down there in purgatory in the flames, in agony, begging for release. Pay up. And if you think that’s unfair, here’s one of Tetzel’s jingles. Wenn die Munze im Kastlein klingt, die Seele in den Himmel springt. “When the coin in the coffer rings, “the soul from purgatory springs.” And of course, all those coins were going to the great ones of the Church. Pope Leo X was in a dash for cash. He was rebuilding St Peter’s Basilica, the biggest church in the world. But to some, the Pope’s sale of indulgences to pay for this looked cynical and greedy. On October the 31st, 1517, a German monk is said to have strode up to Castle Church in Wittenberg, Saxony, and nailed 95 arguments against the Church’s behaviour to the oak door. His name… was Martin Luther. He was by now furiously angry. He wanted a public fight. And this was a way of taking the argument out of the church and onto the streets. And in words that everybody would understand, the Pope, he said, is immensely wealthy. Why should he not build St Peter’s Basilica with his own money, rather than the money of the faithful poor? There had been protests against Church power before. But this time, a device which had been created by Johannes Gutenberg helped turn Luther’s protest into a full-blown revolution – the printing press. Until then, books had been copied by hand, at huge expense. Now hundreds of copies could be made. By 1500, more than 15 million books were in circulation in Europe. One in every three books sold in Germany was written by Martin Luther, every single one of them a blow to the Church’s authority. Now the Pope struck back. He damned Luther as a heretic and excommunicated him from the Church, which meant not only that he could be burned at the stake as a heretic but, more importantly, that he could burn in hell forever. Luther never walked away from a fight, so here in Wittenberg, underneath an oak tree and in front of a cheering crowd, he took the document from the Pope, damning him – it was called a Papal Bull – and he set fire to it. CROWD CHEER And then, just in case the Pope hadn’t got the message, he described him as “the Antichrist”. On April the 16th, 1521, Luther was put on trial for his life. He faced Europe’s German-speaking leaders of Church and State, led by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, by far the most powerful monarch in Europe. Sind Sie Martin Luther aus Wittenberg? – Ja. – Und haben Sie… Luther was asked to confirm he was the author of the offending books. Ja. This is a genuinely dangerous moment. When he’s asked to recant, he replies, if I deny these books, all that I do is to add strength to tyranny. That’s the tyranny of the Pope. He is saying to the German princes, “Come on, we can do this together.” Gott hilfen mir. Amen. SHOUTING AND ARGUING Some of the north German princes joined his revolt as a way to break free from Rome’s grip on power. They became known as the Protestants. One of them, Frederick of Saxony, saved Luther from being burned at the stake. Luther found himself here, at the Castle of die Wartburg, where he spent a year in hiding. He grew his hair and grew a beard and called himself Junker Jorg. While he was here, he translated the Bible into German, so that everyone could hear and understand it. And he gave the Germans an extraordinary treasure chest of biting phrases and unforgettable words. In a sense, he was also their Shakespeare. But while Luther was in hiding, the protest he inspired was spinning way out of his control. In 1524, violent revolts erupted amongst impoverished peasants across central Europe. Luther was horrified. A protest against Church corruption had turned into a social revolution. Despite attempted treaties and compromises, Protestants and Catholics went to war for 125 years. Protestant prince would fight Catholic prince. Dynasty would fight dynasty. Families fought each other. In Europe’s wars of religion, 11 million people would die. More Europeans fled from their homes than at any time, from the collapse of the Roman Empire until the horrors of the 20th century. But the cost of these religious wars would also be paid by other people around the world. Catholic Spain funded her religious wars in Europe with gold from the Americas. By 1532, Spain had entered America’s greatest empire. Tawantinsuyu – the 3,000-mile long land of the Incas. Saturday, November the 16th, 1532. The central square of Cajamarca, in what is now Peru. Francisco Pizarro and 168 Spanish soldiers were hiding in buildings around the square. They’d set a desperate trap to capture the Inca emperor, Atahualpa. The Inca emperor was curious about these foreigners who’d asked to see him. Atahualpa’s scouts had been tracking Pizarro’s progress, and reporting back on these poor, incompetent creatures encased in metal shells and riding large llamas. Clearly no kind of threat, but Atahualpa thought they might be worth a look. 80,000 of Atahualpa’s crack troops were camped around the town. The Spanish were outnumbered by more than 400 to 1. Behind their walls, crouching down, many of the Spanish, as they confessed afterwards, were wetting themselves in sheer terror. HORSE WHINNIES Their only chance was an ambush. Pizarro gambled on having weapons unknown in the Inca world – steel swords, guns, horses and cannon. And luckily for the Spanish, none of Atahualpa’s entourage was armed. The Incas felt no threat, no need for weapons on a purely ceremonial occasion. At four o’clock, Friar Vicente de Valverde came out of hiding. Este libro… Through an interpreter, the friar told Atahualpa that his book contained the holy words of God. It meant nothing to the Inca. There was no such thing as a book in his world. The Pope had decreed that the people of the New World were human and were worthy of respect… unless they rejected Christianity. Salid! Salid Cristianos! Come out, Christians! Come out, Christians! Pizarro used Atahualpa’s rejection of the Bible as his excuse to launch the attack. SHOUTING In two hours of carnage and confusion, at least 2,000 Incas died. Most were trampled to death in their attempts to escape. Not a single Spaniard died. And Pizarro took Atahualpa hostage. Atahualpa was outraged to find himself imprisoned. In his eyes, he was the ruler of the world. But he soon realised what Pizarro wanted. SPEAKS IN QUECHUA Atahualpa raised his hand, as high as he could, in the room where he was being held. It’s thought to be this room. And he said he would fill the room to that height with gold. And then he would fill it to that height in silver twice over. Now, we don’t know what Pizarro said in response. I suspect he was simply grinning. It took eight months to collect the ransom. 13,000 pounds of gold and 26,000 pounds of silver. Once the Spanish had the gold, they’d no more use for Atahualpa. They brought the emperor to the square in Cajamarca. He was given a choice – convert to Christianity and be garrotted, or refuse and be burned alive. Atahualpa converted. His last words were to Pizarro. He asked him to take care of his children. Pizarro agreed. GROANING CHOKING SNAPPING Atahualpa’s empire crumbled. Civil war and European diseases now cleared the way for the Spanish to take over the Inca empire. In the century that followed, more than £100 million of silver and gold were shipped to Spain. In today’s money, Spain’s plunder would be worth 10 trillion dollars. Only 40 years after Columbus first set sail, Spain was rich beyond imagination. But what did Spain do with its plunder? It gilded its churches and palaces and spent the rest of the fortune on religious war, which Spain lost. Within 60 years, Spain was glittering… but bankrupt. This is a story in which nobody sees what’s right in front of them. Atahualpa was blind to the threat the Spanish offered to him. Pizarro thought that, by conquering the Incas, he would become rich and happy. In fact, the gold mania so infected his own soldiers, they ended up murdering Pizarro. And the Spanish never even saw the real wealth of Peru all around them… ..the humble potato. New World crops, like potato and maize and tomatoes, have given billions of people all over the planet a cheap and hardy source of nourishment for centuries. They’ve made a greater contribution to the world’s prosperity than all the gold and all the silver that was ever ripped out of Peru. Natural resources would be more important than gold in transforming the world’s economy. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this is Russia. In 1570, it was an impoverished outpost on the edge of Europe. Today, Russia is by far the biggest country in the world. Most of that is Siberia, the vast stretch of forests and mountains once known as “Sib Ir” – “the sleeping land”. The man who woke up Siberia was the man who made modern Russia. SPEAKS IN RUSSIAN Ivan Grozny. Ivan the Terrible. SHOUTS IN RUSSIAN Tsar Ivan faced a dilemma. How could he make his country an important power on the European stage when it only had basic agriculture and a few natural resources. The answer was hidden in the forests. Fur. From the 1550s onwards, temperatures around the world began to drop dramatically. We call this the Little Ice Age. It’s the time when the Thames started to freeze hard, when Iceland was cut off from the rest of the world from time to time by sea ice, there were huge snowfalls in Spain and Portugal. And before modern fabrics, wearing fur was one of the few ways you could stay warm. And the richer you were, the better the quality of the fur you could afford. Ivan turned to private enterprise. He called in a family of trading tycoons, the Stroganovs. Ivan gave them a charter to exploit the forests north and east of Moscow. GASPS The Stroganovs then hired some “private contractors”. Mercenaries, led by a Cossack called Yermak. The fastest way for Yermak to get fur was simply to take it from the native hunters. Yermak pushed further east, into lands ruled by Kuchum, the Khan of Sibir. A direct descendant of Genghis Khan. Most of his men still carried bows and arrows, spears and swords. Yermak’s men had modern muskets. Some of Kuchum’s men had never seen a gun before. One of them described their horror. There’s a flash of fire… ..a great smoke and thunder. It’s impossible to shield yourself from them. Guns gave the Europeans victory as surely as they had in South America. But the Khan of Sibir escaped into the forest. Yermak claimed the land for Russia… ..and sent a tribute to Ivan the Terrible – 5,200 of the finest Siberian furs. When Ivan saw these furs, he must have realised that everything had changed. All the furry animals near Moscow were long gone. But Siberia offered a bonanza of fur. A black fox fur, for instance, was worth more than its weight in gold, and Siberia’s furs were limitless. Limitless trading wealth… meant limitless power. To thank Yermak, Ivan made him a gift of a suit of armour and dubbed him the Prince of Siberia. Yermak pushed deeper into the wilderness for two more years. By then, the Russians were exhausted and out of food. On the night of August the 5th, 1584, Yermak made camp by the Irtysh River. But Kuchum had been tracking the Russians every step of the way. YELLING It’s said Yermak ran into the river to escape. But his armour weighed him down. Yermak was drowned by Ivan’s gift to him. ROARS Kuchum’s victory would be short-lived. An unstoppable flood of Russian settlers and raiders would follow Yermak into Siberia. It took the Russians only 60 years to push 4,000 miles across Asia, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Siberia was now Russian. It’s impossible to imagine modern Russia without Siberia. It would be just another Eastern European country. And as for the wealth, 80% of Russia’s gas and coal and 90% of its oil reserves are found in Siberia – the basis of its modern power. But when Europeans hit other advanced cultures, they had a much rougher time. Japan had the chance to open up and then to spread her power around the world, just like any European country. But Japan said no. And, strangely, we can thank European religion for that. The Japanese had been turning Christian, ever since Jesuit priests arrived from Portugal in 1549. By the early 1600s, at least a quarter of a million Japanese were Catholic. The Jesuits must have thought they were close to making Japan a Catholic country. And, as go-betweens in trade, their influence was huge. April, 1600. Osaka Castle. A shipwrecked Englishman called William Adams was brought before Japan’s most powerful warlord, Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Jesuits were watching. They did not welcome the arrival of an English Protestant heretic. They had some good, Christian advice for the Japanese. Crucify him. Luckily for Adams, Ieyasu ignored their advice. Ieyasu was a man of great intellectual openness and curiosity about the outside world. Adams’ hair-raising tales about his two-year voyage to Japan intrigued and amused Ieyasu. LAUGHS SPEAKS IN JAPANESE Ieyasu soon had Adams teaching him maths and geometry. He badly wanted an ocean-going fleet of his own, and Adams, who’d served with Drake against the Armada, had the skills he needed. Under Adams, the Japanese built two perfect replicas of the kind of European ships that were travelling the world. Soon, Ieyasu was depending on Adams very heavily. So much so, he told him, he could never again leave Japan. In 1603, Ieyasu became Shogun, the military leader of all Japan. And he honoured Adams in a way no other foreigner had ever been before or since. Adams was made a samurai. SPEAKS IN JAPANESE “William Adams, the navigator, is dead.” “Samurai Miura Anjin is born.” Despite the mutual respect shown by Adams and Ieyasu, Japanese tolerance of Christians was about to be tested to the limit. The Jesuits helped to build a trading empire for Portugal and Spain. But their deeper goal was a religious empire for the Catholic Church. In 1615, Japanese Catholics supported a rival to Ieyasu. In the siege of Osaka Castle, the furious shogun massacred 40,000 of them. And the Jesuits were driven from Japan. Christianity was banned, foreigners were expelled, and all Japanese were prohibited from leaving their own country on pain of death. Japanese ships from now on were built with a special hole in the stern, so that if they went too far out to sea, the ocean swell would capsize them. These were ships built to stay close to the land. The curiosity about the outside world that William Adams had discussed with Ieyasu was now replaced by sakoku – the closed or “locked country” policy. Japan remained closed for more than 200 years. Europeans had destroyed any chance of trade with Japan… ..because of their obsession with religion. Many people have portrayed the Japanese decision to slam the doors on the outside world as one of the great historical mistakes. How ridiculous! The British at the same time went off and created a worldwide empire. But there is another way to think about this. The closed-country policy gave the Japanese 250 years of peace. Guns virtually disappeared. There were none of the terrible epidemics that ravaged other countries, and, above all, the intensity of Japanese culture, the “Japaneseness” of Japan, its buildings, its food, its taste, its art, really derive from this period above all. So, if this is one of the great historical mistakes, there have been worse ones. The first Englishman to embrace Japanese culture, William Adams, is still fondly remembered in Japan. This memorial to him is in an area of Tokyo called Anjin-Cho, in memory of Anjin-san, Mr Navigator. But the setback in Japan couldn’t stop the growth of world trade. Europe’s entrepreneurs created a powerful new way to make money – companies. Their rivalry would only increase the competition for rare and exotic goods. Ginger, cloves, cinnamon travelled around the world, making merchants fortunes. And there was one spice, fabulously expensive from Europe to India, which was prized above all, rumoured to be a cure for the plague… nutmeg. But nutmegs grew only in a few tiny islands, sandwiched between Borneo and New Guinea… ..the Banda Islands. The Dutch controlled nine of the ten islands, with forts, ships and thousands of men. The English controlled just one – their very first colony – the island of Run. It still looks much as it did in 1600, just a two-mile strip of steep hills and nutmeg trees. But in those days, a single sack of nutmeg could buy you a town house in London. Run was held by the world’s first multinational corporation, the East India Company of London. In January 1617, Nathaniel Courthope’s job was to keep the island from the Dutch competition. He trained his cannon on a gap in the reefs. He had two ships – the rival Dutch East India Company had a dozen. This looks like a traditional naval battle. It’s really a hostile corporate takeover. The Dutch East India Company had a stranglehold on the world trade in nutmeg and other spices. The future was Dutch. As for the British, they were, frankly, comparative tiddlers. Amsterdam was the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company, the VOC. The Dutch had overtaken the Portuguese and the Spanish in the Asian spice trade, for a good reason. Unlike the Spanish kings, who spent their wealth, the Dutch merchants joined together in companies and reinvested their earnings in more ships, more expeditions, until soon, they had the biggest navy on earth. With nothing but rainwater to drink on Run, an English ship tried to run the blockade to get fresh water. But it was captured. Finally, some of Courthope’s own men deserted, taking the last ship. The only means of escape was now gone. Months of stalemate followed. Then a deserter from the Dutch navy appeared out of nowhere and asked for protection. Stand down. Courthope took him in… ..though his men were wary. The English survived on rainwater and scraps for three more years. All the while, the Dutch deserter lived quietly amongst them, until Courthope received a message. It was from native Banda islanders offering to fight the Dutch. On the night of October the 18th, 1620, Courthope went to meet the rebels. But the deserter finally succeeded in his act of corporate espionage. The Dutch were waiting for Courthope. GUNSHOTS Nathaniel Courthope was never seen again. With their leader gone, the English surrendered. The English trade in nutmeg was over. The Dutch East India Company was on its way to becoming the largest commercial power in the world. But there was one final consequence of Nathaniel Courthope’s heroic last stand on Britain’s very first colony. When the British and Dutch finally agreed a peace treaty, the British were able to ask for something back, in return for handing over the rights to Run. And what they got was the rights to another diddly little island on the other side of the world – it was called Manhattan. And a certain amount of capitalism carries on there, even today. In Holland, new wealth from the spice trade produced a new class of people – the middle class. And with the money came the search for status symbols… fashion… paintings… porcelain. On February the 1st, 1637, a Dutch textile merchant called Pieter Wynants had invited his extended family to Sunday lunch at his Haarlem home. The subject of conversation that day was the latest craze, tulips. THEY SPEAK IN DUTCH This had started with a few super-rich connoisseurs, who delighted in the splodges and dribbles of colour on the petals of a flower which had been admired for centuries. The rarest and most expensive were wildly coloured and striped, the result of a virus in the bulbs. You never knew when you’d get a beautiful aberration, worth a great deal of money. The Dutch started buying tulip bulbs like lottery tickets. They knew all about speculation. Dutch merchants had created the world’s first stock exchange in Amsterdam in 1607. But the booming market in tulip bulbs meant anyone could make a fortune. During the meal, Hendrick Jan Wynants suggested to Geertruyt Schoudt that she should buy a pound of tulip bulbs from him for 1,400 florins, about the price of a house. THEY SPEAK IN DUTCH Geertruyt was reluctant, but she was tempted. All round Europe, the Dutch were famous for their love of gambling, and tulips seemed a sure bet. Prices were rising every day. Tulip sales usually happened in the back rooms of taverns, like The Golden Grape in Haarlem. Each round of selling began with a round of wine, paid for by the seller. BUZZ OF CONVERSATION Many buyers didn’t have the money to pay for the bulbs. They just gave one another IOUs. And the more they drank, the faster the prices rose. This was the world’s first great speculative bubble. A pound of tulips were now changing hands for the price of a house, a farm, a pair of ships. These people might look sane, but they were in the grip of a disorder of the brain. They had caught “tulip mania”. Geertruyt was still hesitating until another guest, Jacob de Block, offered to be her guarantor for eight days while she got the money together. THEY SPEAK IN DUTCH Finally, with this no-risk arrangement in place… THEY SPEAK IN DUTCH Then another guest offered Geertruyt 100 florins profit on the spot if she’d sell the bulbs straight to him. THEY SPEAK IN DUTCH But her backer, Jacob de Block, and his wife, convinced her to hold on to the bulbs. They knew that if she didn’t pay them back in time, the tulips would become theirs for an eight-day-old price. And with the price of tulips now rising by the hour… THEY SPEAK IN DUTCH ..the de Blocks could make quite a profit. Two days later, bulb sales were still rocketing. The money and wine were flowing as ever… until the auctioneer tried to sell a pound of Witte Croonen, white crown bulbs, for the going rate of 1,250 florins. Then something mysterious happened – there were no buyers. He tried 1,200 florins. 1,150? 1,100. 1,000 florins? The fever had broken. The patient had woken up. Few people ever wanted all of those bulbs – they were only buying them to sell them on again. And so, the minute that confidence slipped, that that great drunkenness of optimism was over, everybody was desperately trying to get rid of them. Sell! Sell! Sell! That’s what happens in all of the speculative bubbles, whether it’s the Wall Street Crash or the bubble – they all end the same way… pop! The tulip market had collapsed in just four days. ANIMATED CHATTER IN DUTCH The Wynants family soon called in a lawyer. They’re all giving their version of who’d promised what during that Sunday lunch. Jacob de Block and his wife reneged on their offer to help Geertruyt. She was left holding the bulbs. It’s not known if she ever saw them bloom. But tulip mania didn’t destroy the Dutch system – the stock exchange and the companies and the trading and the willingness to speculate. We call it capitalism. And it’s lasted far longer than the European empires and it’s been worth infinitely more than all the gold and silver that Europe plundered. It started here. And the tulips? Well, the Dutch turned them into an export trade, which they dominate to this day. In less than a century and a half, Europeans had gone from piracy to private enterprise. They’d rebelled against a church… ..dominated world trade… ..and some had grown rich. Now these changes would have unexpected consequences right around the world. In the next chapter of this history of the world, monarchies topple… ..slaves rebel… ..medicine and technology make life better for millions. The Age of Enlightenment. The Age of Revolution. 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 0845 366 0255 or go to and follow the links to the Open University. Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd


In the 18th century, most people in the world, from France to India, from Russia to China, lived in the long shadow of an absolute ruler. Few would ever see their ruler’s face or hear their ruler’s voice. There were no rights to heckle, no talking back. Then, on January the 21st, 1793, there was a decisive break in human history. HE SCREAMS CROWD CHEER The guillotine had ended the life of King Louis XVI of France and the age of absolute power. A new way of thinking had bubbled up from northern Europe. We call it the Enlightenment, an age of reason, in which the bright, clear light of science and learning flushed away the shadows of superstition. An age where people stood up straight and called for freedom and equality. But for some, the Enlightenment also suggested mankind could simply throw away everything that had gone before and start again. And that would prove to be a tragic mistake. During this time, there were two great nations leading the Enlightenment. Both expected to dominate humanity, and they were bitter enemies – Britain and France. Their influence around the world would be huge. Not always for the good, and certainly not quite what they expected. And so the Age of Reason, so calm, so cool, would become the hot and bloody Age of Revolution. In the early 17th century, Italy was a land teeming with new money, thinkers, experimenters and inventors. The land where the Renaissance had begun. You might have thought that the Enlightenment would shine here first. And indeed, in 1609, a loud-mouthed mathematician from Pisa launched a scientific revolution. Galileo Galilei dragged the ruler of Venice, the Doge, to the highest point in the city. Guardi da questa parte, Sua Eccellenza. Guardi, guardi. He was showing off his new invention. Assolutamente straordinario! Galileo had invented the telescope. Except that the idea wasn’t Galileo’s at all. He’d nicked it from a Dutch inventor who’d just arrived in town. But within a couple of days, Galileo was making his own lenses and experimenting and hugely improving on the original. And so, with his magic tube, Galileo was able to double his income and turn himself into a kind of scientific star. But Galileo’s telescope would also bring about his downfall. What he saw overturned one of man’s central beliefs about the Earth and its place in the universe. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle had taught that the Earth was the centre of the universe, around which the sun, the moon and the planets rotated. But 60 years earlier, the Polish astronomer Copernicus had put forward a wild-seeming theory – that the sun was the centre of the universe. Galileo’s telescope allowed him to test this theory with his own eyes. First, he observed four moons revolving around Jupiter and not the Earth. Then he calculated that Venus was moving around the sun. Galileo could now confirm that Copernicus was right. The sun, not the Earth, was the centre of the universe. Now, this overturned nearly 2,000 years of belief. The Church had accepted Aristotle’s argument. The Bible said that the Earth was fixed and cannot be moved, and taught that man was God’s greatest creation, so it followed, obviously, that the Earth was at the centre of everything. Now Galileo was claiming that the obvious wasn’t true. In fact, things were worse than that. He had proof. Galileo began writing about his discovery. His fame spread throughout Europe. He was compared to Christopher Columbus, as a discoverer of new worlds. But he knew he was playing a dangerous game. The problem was that this was the height of the Counter-Reformation, the decades of the fighting popes, determined to crush Protestant dissent and impose absolute orthodoxy. Pursue a thought too far, and you could be in dead trouble. In 1600, the friar Giordano Bruno had proposed that the sun was a star and the universe was infinite. The Church’s ultimate loose cannon, Bruno was burned at the stake for various heresies. Any last words? No. They rammed a steel spike through his tongue. In 1633, the Church finally lost patience with Galileo, too. He was arrested by the Catholic Inquisition. The case against Galileo was really more about the Church’s authority than astronomy. If the Church could be wrong about the stars, what else might it be wrong about? Dressed in the white robes of a penitent, Galileo knelt to hear his sentence. Diciamo, prononciamo, sententiamo e dischiaramo… He was judged “vehemently suspect of heresy”. His books were to be destroyed, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Dedotte in processo… But worst of all, he was told to publicly abjure, curse and detest his own opinions, and deny that the Earth moved. Io Galileo Galilei, con cuor sincere e fede non tinta… His life’s work was stuffed back down his throat. Di me…simil sospittione. And yet at the end, he spat just a little bit of it back. Eppur si muove. “Eppur si muove.” “And yet it moves.” Galileo had been silenced in Europe’s Catholic south. His work remained on the Church’s list of banned books for 200 years. But Galileo’s ideas spread north to Protestant countries, like Holland and Britain, where freedom of thought allowed scientists such as Isaac Newton to flourish. An enlightened Age of Reason was never going to blossom under the censorship of the Church. But even beyond the reach of the Catholic Church, thinkers did have to be concerned about a different kind of authority, because this was the age of royal absolutism, when monarchs claiming complete power ruled from Paris to Prussia, from St Petersburg to Vienna. The best of them thought of themselves as modern, built magnificent palaces, and drew in Enlightenment thinkers, like Voltaire. But as even Europeans understood, the greatest of the absolute monarchs weren’t in Europe at all. India was dominated by the all-powerful Muslim Moghul emperors. Under Shah Jahan, the Moghul empire grew to more than 100 million people. They called him “king of the world”. When his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died in childbirth, he built her a giant marble tomb. The Taj Mahal is the world’s most extravagant and beautiful monument to love. But it’s also a symbol of absolute power. Like the absolute monarchs who ruled in Europe, the Moghul emperors used stone to display their power. But Shah Jahan also ruled a more open-minded court than any in Europe at the time. Shah Jahan’s grandfather, Akbar the Great, began the extraordinary tradition of Moghul liberalism. He brought together, for instance, people of all faiths – Sunni and Shia Muslim, Hindus and Christians – and got them to argue in front of him so he could see whether there were fundamental truths around which mankind might unite. He was also a great patron of the arts, and what he reminds us is that absolutism, when it’s successful, can create great breakthroughs and not only in stone. But the weakness of the system is that it depends absolutely on the character of whoever happens to have made it to the top. And a struggle at the top was about to begin. It would annihilate any thought of an Indian Age of Reason. In September, 1657, Shah Jahan fell seriously ill. His eldest son Dara was his favoured heir. Dara was another in the line of essentially tolerant and open-minded Moghuls. But his brother, Aurangzeb, was very different. He was a harsh military man who wanted to impose his strict version of Islam on all of India. To do that, he’d have to get rid of his brother. But this was much more than a struggle between two brothers. This was a struggle for the future of the empire and everybody living in it. In May 1658, Aurangzeb marched on Agra, proclaimed himself Emperor… ..and imprisoned his father, Shah Jahan. DOOR SLAMS Aurangzeb captured Dara and paraded him and his son through the streets of Delhi. He accused him of heresy and condemned him to death. So far, so grisly. But it’s not untypical of the problems faced by absolute dynasties around the world. Assassination and wars of succession were also routine amongst the ruling families of Europe. The only thing that really singles out Aurangzeb’s case was his taste for takeaways. Aurangzeb would rule for 50 years, a half-century when he imprinted his harsh and fanatical personality on the country. Aurangzeb’s version of Islam involved the destruction of Hindu temples, setting up a system of censorship and a great deal of banning. He banned alcohol, of course. He ended the great tradition of beautiful paintings, but he also banned dancing, he banned writing historical documents. He even, inside his own court, banned the playing of music. A MAN SINGS When Aurangzeb saw his musicians carrying their silent instruments and was told that since he’d killed music, they were off to bury it, he replied contemptuously he hoped they buried it deep. In the end, absolute rulers tend to turn tyrant. The temptation to shut people up, to ban things, is irresistible. Aurangzeb plunged India into a 26-year battle to destroy any rivals in the Hindu south. He built the most extensive empire so far in Indian history. But it came at a terrible cost. Aurangzeb brought the Moghul empire to the very edge of bankruptcy, so weakening it, that soon afterwards, the British were able to kick down the door and take over India. Absolute regimes tend to collapse for the same reason – that eventually somebody is in charge who leads the empire on a disastrous path. And to give him his credit, perhaps Aurangzeb in the end understood this. On his deathbed, he said to his son, “I came alone and I go as a stranger. “I do not know who I am or what I have been doing.” The British seizure of India would be remarkably fast. But at just the same time, they’d get a terrible shock of their own. By now, the idea of a British absolute monarch had long gone. A civil war, and then a peaceful revolution, had brought in something new – party politics. Votes and liberties protected by Parliament, which in those days sat on this spot. The British began to pride themselves on liberty and freedom of speech. One tiny flaw in the system was that as they colonised the rest of the world, it seemed that this great British invention wasn’t for export. In 1773, what would become the United States of America consisted of 13 British colonies. People here thought of themselves as British, and they were ruled by courts using British laws, suffused by British Enlightenment ideas of liberty. But the Americans were governed by a parliament in London in which they had no political representation. And many were angry about it. Things came to a head in Boston, Massachusetts, in a row about taxes and tea. Tea was by far the most popular drink of the day. And the British imposed a tax on all the tea coming into the 13 colonies. Now, it wasn’t a very big tax, and actually the price of tea was going down. But for Americans being raised on the new Enlightenment ideas about the freedom of the individual, this was a matter of principle. Why should the London Parliament, which was six to eight weeks’ dangerous sailing time away, where they had no voice and no vote, be able to impose any taxes on the people here? In Boston, this was about something even more important than tea. Liberty. Protesting against British taxes had become a major American hobby. And nobody was more dedicated to it than the local politician, Samuel Adams. No taxation without representation. No to British tea taxes! When he heard that 94,000 pounds of tea were en route to Boston, Adams resolved that not an ounce should land. No taxation without representation! No to British tea taxes! Neither side was prepared to back down. No to British tea taxes. No to British tea taxes! On November the 28th, 1773, the first of three British ships, the Dartmouth, sailed into Boston harbour. She was filled to the brim with tea from China, brought via Britain. Boston braced itself. For 20 days, the ship was tied up at the dock, while Adams tried to persuade its captain to turn round and take the tea back to Britain. But the pro-British governor of Boston refused to allow the ship permission to leave. Stalemate. The governor has refused permission for the ships to leave. – Rebellion was in the air. – BOOING AND SHOUTING Adams didn’t have to say much to incite the crowd. This meeting can do nothing more to save the country. CHANTING A mob! A mob. The crowd were crying out for mob action. CHANTING: Mob! Mob! Mob! Across Boston, the rebels poured onto the streets and headed for the harbour. Many were dressed as Mohawk Indians. So why were they dressed up as Mohawks? It may simply have been a disguise, but it’s also been suggested that this was supposed to symbolise freeborn Americans standing up against tyranny. If so, this was a bitter irony, because the real Mohawks were the original hunters, whose culture and whose land was being seized and destroyed by colonial America. So this was a great struggle for liberty – for European immigrants. For Native Americans, it was disaster. That night, 342 chests were tipped into the water. 46 tonnes of tea were destroyed, worth more than a million pounds today. The Boston Tea Party set the stage for the American Revolutionary War. That war would go on for eight years. But finally, in 1783, the 13 colonies won their independence from Britain. The United States of America was now free to create a new kind of society and politics. The Declaration of Independence said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident – “that all men are created equal, “that they are endowed by their Creator “with certain inalienable rights. “Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Here, in one document, was everything essential the Enlightenment stood for. For the first time in history, liberty and equality were claimed as the basis of a political system. Of course, not everyone would be equal or free. Not native people, not blacks and not women of any colour. But still, these are remarkable words and certainly one of the foundation stones of the modern world. When the United States came to create its own system of government, it chose an essentially parliamentary system of elected representatives. Powers were beginning to be transferred to the people. And although there was some chatter about an American monarch, they went for elected presidents. Some of whom have done perfectly well! Back in Europe, France’s Louis XVI, not perhaps the brightest candle in the candelabra, had paid a fortune to help the Americans win their revolution against his old enemy, the British. The result? The financial collapse of Louis’s already tottering regime. And it seems not to have occurred to him that ideas of liberty might boomerang back from America to Paris. France was almost bankrupt. But the people who mostly had the money – the nobility and the Church – mostly didn’t pay tax. And so, in desperation, Louis summoned representatives of the common people of France to help him. Big mistake. Because for the first time, the seething and put-upon majority had a voice. In the summer of 1789, simmering anger and resentment exploded into full-blown class war on the streets of Paris. Ou allez-vous? A la Bastille! A la Bastille! On the 14th of July, hundreds marched on a hated symbol of royal power – a fortress and prison called the Bastille. The Bastille had just seven prisoners inside, none political. The crowd really wanted its store of gunpowder. The besiegers cut off the governor’s head with a pocket knife and paraded it through the streets. This was much more than simply a mob. The French Revolution would be led by shopkeepers, journalists and lawyers. And they were armed with something much more dangerous than gunpowder or pikes – the ideas of the Enlightenment. The leaders of this popular revolt had genuinely revolutionary ideas. Very quickly, they abolished all the privileges of the aristocracy. They insisted on fair taxes, and they took on the incredibly wealthy and powerful Catholic Church. Above all, they declared the rights of man – the equality of all citizens, their right to an elected government, free speech and fair courts. These were the ideals of the early French Revolution. Liberte, egalite, fraternite. Louis XVI was now in full retreat. But his position wasn’t hopeless. France was surrounded by other absolute rulers with armies who might come to his rescue. Louis decided to escape with his spectacularly unpopular queen, Marie Antoinette. On the night of 21st of June 1791, the royal family sneaked away from Paris, disguised, not very well, as servants, and they fled for the border. It should have been easy. This was a world where few faces were recognisable. Bonsoir. Vos papiers, monsieur. Merci. But just 40 miles from the border, a local postmaster who’d served in the Royal Cavalry recognised the Queen. Attendez un instant. Mais…c’est la Reine. C’est la Reine! C’est la Reine! Et regardez, c’est le Roi! He checked his money, and there was the King’s face on a banknote. C’est la Reine. Et le Roi, et la Reine. The King and his family were taken back to Paris in disgrace. The shift from absolute power to absolute irrelevance was complete. From now on, the King was a pathetic figure. In September 1792, France declared herself a republic, and that winter, Louis was put on trial for treason. As to the result, there was never any doubt. On January 21st, 1793, at nine o’clock in the morning, Louis XVI was driven through the streets of Paris… meet his sharpest critic so far. The guillotine had only been at work here for nine months. It was itself a product of the ideals of the revolution – humane, efficient and fast. It was promoted, not invented, by Dr Joseph Guillotin. “Now, with my machine,” he said, “I can cut off your head in the twinkling of an eye, “and you’ll never feel it.” It was also supremely democratic, killing both commoners and nobility in just the same way. Now this democratic killing machine was about to slice away 1,000 years of French monarchy. Louis announced his innocence and forgave his enemies. – But he could have saved his breath. – Et je prie Dieu que le sang que vous allez verser ne retombe pas sur la France! HE SHOUTS CHEERING The execution of Louis XVI horrified the monarchies of Europe, and soon France was encircled by hostile armies. At home, food prices soared, the mob rioted, and in the Assembly, the factions fought each other. The moderates sat on the right-hand side of the chamber and the extremists on the left, which is where today we get our words for left and right from in politics. Finally, in the summer of 1793, the extreme Jacobin faction seized control. The revolution descended into terror. It was driven by a naive idea that mankind could start again… ..and slice its way to a better world. The extremists turned the high ideals of the revolution into a weapon to destroy their enemies. One lot of revolutionaries denounced the next. Instead of the reign of reason, it felt like the reign of hysteria and paranoia. All around Paris, people were waiting for the knock on the door, and the streets of the city ran with blood. It’s thought that 40,000 people died in what became known simply as The Terror. Finally, in 1799, the army seized control of the country. The leader was an upstart general called Napoleon Bonaparte. His ambition, limitless. In 1804, he invited the Pope to anoint him Emperor of France in an extravagant ceremony in Notre Dame Cathedral. Napoleon left the Pope waiting in the cold for several hours… ..before crowning himself. CHEERING In history, the arrival of a small man in a big hat is rarely good news. Absolute power was back. With the crowning of Napoleon, the revolution was over. The world’s seen many revolutions since then, and they have often followed just the same pattern – idealism, then extremism, the revolution starts to eat its own children, until finally, in exhaustion, power lands in the hands of a military hardman. And yet, despite that ghastly cycle, the revolutions keep coming, often driven by just the same ideals as that first revolution, made and then killed by the people of Paris. Across the Channel, Britain’s political rulers were horrified by the French Revolution. The British had very different ideas about liberty, and would fight long wars at sea and on land against Napoleon to defend them. But the highest ideals of the British Enlightenment would also fail to measure up as they explored the world and encountered new peoples. The Australian Aborigines were nomadic hunter-gatherers. In the 18th century, there were up to a million of them, with around 250 different languages. They’d lived here for perhaps 50,000 years. The rest of human history wasn’t even a rumour. Then strange white creatures turned up. In 1770, Captain James Cook had discovered New South Wales and claimed it for Britain. A brilliant navigator, Cook came from a humble background and he greatly admired the natives for their lack of material greed. “They have no need of magnificent houses and household stuff,” he wrote, and with a wonderful climate, they had no need of clothing. Noble savages. But Cook was a servant of the British Crown, and after the loss of her American colonies, Britain desperately needed somewhere else to dump her convicts. The first European settlement in Australia was a prison camp. It was named after the British Home Secretary, Viscount Sydney. But this was also an Enlightenment project. Britain had some 200 crimes punishable by death. The hanging of hundreds of people, including women and children, was making an enlightened society queasy. Sending convicts overseas seemed more humane. And so there came to Australia people like Elizabeth Powley, who’d stolen a few shillings’ worth of bacon and raisins. And James Grace, who’d taken ten yards of ribbon and a pair of silk stockings. He was 11-years-old. Captain Arthur Phillip was the first governor of Australia. He ran a tough regime for the convicts. – How are they doing this morning? – Hard at work. But his attitude towards the Aborigines was more benevolent. You see that up there? Native peoples were to be respected, studied and understood. Governor Phillip was an Enlightenment man, who was determined there should be no slavery in this new land and that the natives would be treated with respect. In fact, he had personal instructions from King George III himself, who wanted “all our subjects “to live in amity and kindness” with the natives. Unable to persuade the Aborigines to make contact with him, Phillip tried something which wasn’t perhaps so kind. The kidnapped man was a 26-year-old called Bennelong. Phillip wanted to teach him English so he could communicate directly with the Aborigines. Bennelong became a go-between, linking two different worlds. He entertained the British with his sense of humour and his singing and his dancing, and he introduced Governor Phillip to the language and the customs of his people. And in return, Phillip taught him English and polite manners. And something perhaps rather unexpected happened between these two very different men. They became genuine friends. To the King! To…the…King! Good! Excellent. Cheers! On Christmas Day, 1789, Bennelong dressed up in the official uniform of the British Navy and enjoyed a Christmas dinner of turtle with Captain Phillip. Merry Christmas, Bennelong! Chin-chin. Tuck in before it swims away, what? But after six months, Bennelong went missing. It took Phillip four months to track him down. Bennelong? We have come to ask you to come back. Bennelong agreed to return, but first, Aboriginal custom demanded an act of revenge against his kidnapper. Quite remarkably, Governor Phillip did not retaliate. Oh, my goodness. He understood why he’d been attacked, and his friendship with Bennelong resumed. Bennelong rejoined him in Sydney. The British even built Bennelong his own house. It stood in the same site that Sydney Opera House now occupies. Bennelong was the first Aboriginal man to voluntarily enter the British settlement. But he’d be followed by many more. It’s remembered as the Coming In, and to start with, it seemed like a great Enlightenment triumph. The British colony kept on growing. Some 165,000 convicts were sent before the system ended in 1850. But this was disastrous for the Aborigines. Many became hooked on alcohol and tobacco. An estimated 20,000 Aborigines were killed in battles over land. Tens of thousands more were killed by European diseases. Wherever Enlightenment Europeans came across hunter-gatherers, they moved remarkably quickly from regarding them with curiosity and awe to seeing them as human clutter. As soon as greed and patriotism kicked in, they were simply to be marginalised, pushed aside, even exterminated. It’s very hard to understand somebody else’s culture when you’re busy taking away their land. The British had at least been determined there would be no slavery in Australia. But what of the great enemies, the French? Their revolutionary version of the Enlightenment, the equality of man, was also spreading beyond Europe. But these ideas now collided with the dirtiest stain on Europe’s conscience. By the end of the 18th century, the African slave trade was an entrenched part of the world’s economic system. 12.5 million Africans were ripped from their families and transported in appalling conditions across the Atlantic. The slaves were put to work on the plantations of the Americas and the Caribbean. SHOUTS Vite! Vite! Allez! Vite! There, the death rate was terrible. Branding, whipping and unspeakable tortures were routine. Slavery is almost as old and widespread as civilisation itself. What made the Atlantic slave trade different was simply its size. Here in the Americas, you had limitless quantities of cheap land, and in Europe, you had an insatiable desire for sugar, coffee and tobacco. But to put the two together, you needed very cheap labour. You needed African slaves. And the rotting remains of the great slave plantations are still dotted along the Atlantic coast. Slavery produced an increasing moral problem for European countries which liked to think of themselves as enlightened. But the system was fabulously profitable, reshaping cities in Europe and building awesome fortunes. It seemed too powerful to overthrow, too big to fail. But the news of the French Revolution had an incendiary effect on the slaves of the French colony of Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of slaves had died here. Slave leaders used voodoo ceremonies as a cover for plotting a revolution of their own. DRUMMING AND SHOUTING On the night of 14th August, 1791, a group of slaves met with the voodoo high priest, Boukman Dutty. He was called “Boukman” because he knew how to read. Now he was mixing French revolutionary thinking with African religion and he urged the slaves, “Listen to the voice of liberty in your hearts.” HE SHOUTS To seal what was a desperate and dangerous plan, Boukman drank the blood of a slaughtered pig. Haiti’s slave rebellion had begun. Within weeks, 100,000 slaves had risen up in revolt. 4,000 white planters were killed. Hundreds of plantations were burned to the ground. The French plantation owners fought back. In November, Boukman Dutty was captured and killed. But the revolt only spread. In France, a ferocious row broke out between those who argued that slavery was a stain on the ideals of the Revolution and those who said, “Hold on, France needs the money.” Guess whose argument won. The slave revolution – ever more bitter, ever more complicated – dragged on. The man who finally won the slaves their freedom was himself a former slave and a military genius. His name was Toussaint L’Ouverture. Haiti was still formally a French colony, but Toussaint ran it with his own constitution, which was liberal and optimistic. “I am too much a believer in the rights of man,” he said, “to think that in nature there is one colour superior to another. “For me, a man is only a man!” Toussaint’s Haiti was the glimpse of a better way of living together. It was only a brief glimpse, because Napoleon then sent the largest army that has ever left France by ship to crush the slave rebellion. Toussaint was tricked into giving himself up, abducted and died shivering of cold in a French prison. But in Haiti, the fighting went on until 1804, when the colony finally won independence from France and established the world’s first black republic. The revolt had rubbed European noses in the horrors of slavery. Three years after Haiti’s independence, the British abolished the slave trade. Most of the world followed soon after. The end of the Atlantic slave trade was a great victory for enlightened values, but Haiti’s fate was rather grimmer. Great white nations, such as the United States, with its noble new constitution, and republican France, shunned the young black republic. Her economy collapsed, and appalling tyrannies followed. Today, Toussaint’s noble dream republic is one of the poorest and most miserable places on the planet. The Enlightenment had taught that all men and women were brothers and sisters – noble ideals. But they were outpaced by the more immediate demands of money, power and luxury. Wherever we look, the purest political ideals of the Enlightenment seem to be corrupted, by greed for land and profits or a drive to bloody extremism. You could conclude that the Age of Reason was so much hypocrisy. Luckily, there was much more to the Enlightenment than power politics. In the summer of 1757, in Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire, an eight-year-old boy called Edward Jenner was taken to a place known as a pest house. He faced a horrific medical ordeal. For four weeks, he was starved and bled with leeches. Then the doctor got to work. He pressed dried smallpox scabs into the wound. This was a dangerous procedure. Smallpox caused as many as one in seven deaths worldwide. Blisters erupted all over the body, including the mouth and throat, making it impossible to swallow. Huge numbers of people were marked for life. But the doctor was trying to help Jenner. Since ancient times, all round the world, doctors had known that by infecting patients with a very small amount of smallpox, they could protect them against the full-blown disease, and it mostly worked. But there was a problem. It MOSTLY worked! In some cases, apart from the fact that this was a very unpleasant process, the patient would get full-blown smallpox and all the scars, and go blind or even die. So, with the best possible intentions, the doctors were gambling with young Jenner’s life. And Edward Jenner was one of the lucky ones. He grew up to be an Enlightenment man, a country doctor with an inquiring mind. He was fascinated by all the sciences. In his own way, as ready as Galileo to challenge received ideas and travel into the unknown. And it became his obsession to find a cure for smallpox that was reliable and safe. One day, a local milkmaid told him that because she’d suffered from the harmless disease cowpox, she could now never catch smallpox. Jenner began to wonder whether this local country legend might hold the key. And so Jenner started to travel around, trying to find anyone who’d been infected with cowpox, and sure enough, they all confirmed that none of them then got smallpox. And so he was pretty convinced that there was something in cowpox that would defend you against smallpox. But how to test this out? He had to find somebody, infect them with cowpox, then infect them with smallpox. Interesting stuff! Dangerous stuff. The opportunity to test his theory came in the summer of 1796, when a local milkmaid came down with cowpox. Jenner took some pus from the blisters on her hand. He then took his gardener’s son, James Phipps… Are you ready? Just like that. ..and infected him with cowpox. I just need to put some of this in here. Phipps went down with the mild disease. There we are. Jenner allowed him to recover… And then we can bandage you up. ..and then he deliberately infected the boy with smallpox. Now, these days, there are ferocious arguments about the ethics of using animals for medical experiments. In Jenner’s time, simply snaffling a working-class boy and using him seems to have caused no comment at all. Luckily, young James recovered. He had achieved immunity. And so, in this house, there had taken place the world’s first vaccination. Vaccination comes from the Latin for cow, “vacca”. MOOING Unlike Galileo, Edward Jenner lived in a society where ideas were free to whirl around. His book explaining vaccination was a huge bestseller. The good news spread everywhere. Napoleon vaccinated his whole army and gave Jenner a medal. In America, President Jefferson vaccinated his household. And Jenner’s discovery was soon saving lives all around the world. Almost 200 years later, in 1980, the World Health Organization announced the complete eradication of smallpox. It’s still the only human disease to have been wiped off the face of the Earth. During Jenner’s lifetime, politicians were declaring the rights of man. It was a period of extreme political violence, where on the continent, tens of thousands died in the name of liberty. And yet Edward Jenner, a true child of the Enlightenment, using nothing more than his own powers of observation and the freedom to publish and discuss and test ideas, did more for human happiness than all the politicians put together. No human being who has ever lived has saved more lives in history than the simple country doctor from Gloucestershire. In the next programme: The triumph of industry, the scramble for Africa… ..and the world stumbles into war. 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 the website and follow the links to the Open University. Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd


The 23rd of September, 1877. A band of rebel samurai warriors was dug in on a hillside in southern Japan. The samurai had been the elite warrior class for more than 700 years. Now they faced oblivion at the hands of the Japanese army. Japan’s government was modernising fast, rushing to embrace the Industrial Revolution. The revolution that has shaped today’s world. The samurai would rather die than accept this new way of life. This was a battle between the rural, traditional past and the urban, industrial future. And in the 19th century, it was raging all round the world. From America… Russia. From China… to Japan. The old world of kings and landowners was crumbling under the force of the Industrial Revolution. The world was accelerating, and the modern age of superpowers was being born. But this is not the simple-minded story of progress. It’s also the story of all of those who said no. 300 years ago, something new appeared above the surface of the planet. A thick, oily spectre, hanging in the air. For longer than the cooking smoke from any town or city, and larger than a forest fire or a volcano. The Industrial Revolution was the biggest story to happen to mankind since we invented farming. And that dirty smear of smoke spread across North America, much of Europe, China, Japan. But it first billowed into the air over a modestly sized little island which called itself, rather immodestly, Great Britain. The engine for all of this was…the engine. Steam engines burned up the buried energy of millennia, captured in coal, and used it to create immediate power. What a moment! Through all of history, one thing had never changed – there was a fixed limit on the amount of power that humans could use. The own muscles, a few animals, the odd windmill and water wheel. But soon, steam engines would be doing as much work in Britain as 40 million people flat-out. Why did this happen in Britain? Was it because the British were uniquely clever? No. Was it because the country seemed to be half built on coal? Not really. It was because the British had developed a new political system which limited monarchy, gave everybody legal rights, allowed the free flow of ideas, and ensured that British geniuses owned their ideas, so they could make a buck. Enough liberty for free ideas, enough law for profit. Allowing the emergence of new men, far from the haunts of the rich and powerful. Men like George Stephenson, who in 1825 was busy connecting two towns in the north of England… ..Stockton and Darlington. A man who’d been illiterate until he was 18, driving his own invention, an awkward-looking mash-up of pipes and fire he called simply “Locomotion”. ENGINE GROWLS PEOPLE GASP Stephenson’s machine was the biggest news of the age. “Locomotion” had been built to carry coal, but on its maiden voyage, people clambered into the coal carts. There was even an experimental passenger carriage called…”Experiment”. Never before had so many people been carried so far… so fast. Now railways would start to knit together nations. First Britain… but soon the United States, Germany and the rest of Europe. Restless change, restless revolution. Like most revolutions, the Industrial Revolution would have many casualties. Men and women and children as young as eight or nine worked 12-hour days in vast factories. Many were maimed or even killed by the new machinery, and they were working by artificial light and the factory clock, not the rhythms of nature. Protests were widespread and angry. Every great new technology produces changes in society and politics, and these new engines didn’t just push pistons and locomotives, they pushed ahead trade unionism, town planning, political reform, new schools, democracy. Quite powerful things, steam engines. Britain went through the fastest social transformation in history. People flooded from the countryside to work in urban factories. Within a century, Britain went from a country with just two cities with more than 50,000 people to a country with 29 cities of this size. It’s very similar to what’s happening in China right now – a world of peasant farmers becomes a world of factories, villages empty, and tall, angular buildings spring up. HORN BLOWS By 1860, Britain was tied together by more than 10,000 miles of railways. Production of coal and steel and iron skyrocketed. The cities sprawled, and new inventions – from steamships and iron bridges to brilliantly lit streets – tumbled out of these damp and smoky islands. And it was really this energy, this restless search for raw materials, new markets and bigger profits, that drove the British as they threw together the biggest empire in the history of the world. There have always been powerful empires and weaker peoples, rich countries and poor ones. What was new about the Industrial Revolution was that it brought a great steel barrier crashing down between the nations with the new power and the rest without it. Which, in 1839, included China. Britain wanted to do business with this Eastern giant. Her 400 million people were a vast and lucrative market for British goods. And Britain’s new industrial middle class were eager to buy luxuries from China. But there was a problem. For 300 years, China had been closed off. It was self-sufficient. It didn’t need British goods. There was only one place that merchants from outside could come to get what they wanted, which was here, what they called Canton in those days. And what British merchants wanted most of all was tea. Tea had become the national drink. But it was a lot more than that. A tenth of all the British government’s revenues came from taxes on tea. That was enough to pay for half of the Royal Navy. So we had an nation of tea addicts and a government that had become addicted to tea taxes. And the Chinese didn’t want to buy any British goods in return. All they’d accept as payment for tea was silver. Silver reserves were pouring out of Britain into China’s coffers. There must surely be something else that the British could trade in return for tea? There was. Opium. The Chinese had a taste for this highly addictive and illegal drug. And the British grew it in their imperial possession, India. So there was a deal. We could smuggle in the dangerous drug, opium, and use it to pay for our benign drug, tea. By the 1830s, the most successful drug pushers in the world weren’t Mexican bandits or Afghan warlords, but the British. By March 1839, there were an estimated 12 million opium addicts in China. The emperor sent one of his most trusted officials, the famously incorruptible High Commissioner Lin, to Canton. He began a thorough search of the trading district, where the British merchants were smuggling opium into China. HE SPEAKS CANTONESE All pushers were to be sentenced to death. Foreigners by beheading, Chinese by strangling. HE SPEAKS CANTONESE HE GIVES ORDERS IN CANTONESE HE SHOUTS Lin demanded that the British hand over all their opium supplies. When they refused, he locked down the trading district. Lin was ruthless. No food was allowed in. 500 troops were drilled up and down outside the windows, and huge gongs were sounded all night. After 24 hours of sleep deprivation, the British surrendered. The merchants handed over 20,000 chests of opium, worth more than £160 million in today’s money. Lin destroyed it all. Lin was triumphant, but he’d fatally misunderstood his enemy. He had no idea how important this trade was. Selling Indian opium for Chinese tea was one of the most lucrative deals Britain’s Empire traders had. They weren’t going to let it slip through their fingers. Two great empires were now on collision course. The Chinese fleet of wooden-built junks was confronted by Britain’s new weapon of the industrial age, the world’s first ironclad battleship. The Nemesis. The British blockaded the Pearl River and then sailed up the coast bombarding and seizing the major towns. On land, a Chinese army with bows and arrows and spears and muskets were mown down. Over two years, China was bludgeoned into submission. The Chinese had no choice but to open up to British trade. The terms were humiliating. China was forced to pay the equivalent of £2 billion in today’s money for the lost opium, and to pay for the war against them. Five Chinese ports were forced to open to British traders. Oh, and Hong Kong was thrown in as part of the deal – a British colony on China’s doorstep. China had been forced at gunpoint to open herself up to the modern global economy. The message was clear – industrialisation could transform a tiny country like Britain into a world superpower. To ignore this was to be doomed to the status of second-class nation. All around the world, traditional rural societies took note. 19th-century Russia thought of herself as a European power, but she was, in her way, just as trapped in the past as China. 22 million Russians were serfs, owned by aristocratic landlords. Like slaves, serfs were property and could be ordered to do any kind of work. Many suffered physical and sexual abuse. The system created a stagnant economy based on old-fashioned agriculture. But now, this huge, proud nation came up against industrialised Britain and her ally, France, in the Crimean War. And, fighting right on her doorstep, lost. But change was in the air. After the humiliating defeat of the Crimean War, the new tsar, the reforming Alexander II, realised that if Russia was going to compete against the industrial powers in the West, she’d have to sweep away the serf economy. Easier said than done. Russia’s nobility and landowners were going to fight hard to hang on to their power and their property. In many ways, Russia’s fate was now in the hands of its nobility. And in the spring of 1853, one young aristocratic landowner was gambling with his fellow army officers. The stakes were high. The young count had already gambled away entire villages he owned and the serfs who lived in them. HE SPEAKS RUSSIAN Now he’d lost the house where he’d been born. His name was Leo Tolstoy. He’d go on to become a titan of Russian literature, the author of War And Peace. But he’d also become a key player in the political drama gripping Russia – the fight to throw off serfdom. Tolstoy was only 18 when he inherited the estate of Yasnaya Polyana, which means “bright meadow”. It was vast and included 11 villages and 200 serfs. This was a world in which entire villages and the people who lived in them could be won or lost on the toss of a coin. But Tolstoy was different. The guilt so tore him apart that he came to believe that not only he had to change, so did Russia. Was there a different path between brutal industrialisation and rural tyranny? Finding one became Tolstoy’s mission. He returned to what was left of his estate and, dressed as a peasant, worked alongside his serfs. In truth, he was a pretty rotten farmer, and to start with, there must have been a bit of rural sniggering behind his Lordship’s back. But Tolstoy was a dedicated, even reckless reformer. Tolstoy decided to free his serfs, which meant giving them or selling them land as well, because the land was worth nothing without the serfs, and the serfs would starve without the land. So he offered them very generous terms – 12 acres apiece, some of it free, some of it very cheap. Noble, generous Count Tolstoy. The serfs didn’t see it like that. They’d already heard rumours that the Tsar was going to give them their land and liberty for nothing. The count must be trying to swindle them. So they looked at his offer and, to his amazement and horror, said, “No, thanks.” But Tolstoy wasn’t easily discouraged. He believed that Russia was never going to move forward while most of its people couldn’t read or write. So, in October 1859, he set up a school on his estate to educate young serfs. Quite a few of whom, it has to be said, were his own illegitimate children. Within three years, Tolstoy had opened 21 schools in the local area. HE SPEAKS RUSSIAN Tolstoy was shunned by infuriated local landowners. All round the world, it was the landowning class with their privileges and traditions who’d be the most threatened by change. And in Russia, they fought a formidable rearguard action against the Tsar’s reforms. It was one successful enough to sabotage them. When, on the 3rd of March, 1861, the detailed plan was finally announced, it turned out the serfs would be free in name, but burdened by debts and many rules. It was a tragic missed opportunity. Had the Tsar had pulled this off, Russian history would have been very different. And surely happier. There was a great wave of anger and disappointment. There were nearly 2,000 serf revolts, some of which had to be put down by troops. Tolstoy himself freed all his serfs and asked for no payment, but across Russia, most peasants, though now technically free, still had to pay for their land, they had to ask permission to travel and they could still be beaten. Alexander’s reforms had failed. Eventually many of the serfs drifted to the cities, where they would eventually become the foot soldiers for a revolution which would sweep away old Russia. At exactly the same time, a remarkably similar problem was tearing America apart. Here, too, a rural underclass lived alongside the modern industrial world. The nation that had been built on the ideals of liberty and equality was polluted by a system even worse than serfdom… slavery. In the mid-1800s, there were around 4 million slaves in the United States, almost all of them in the South, working on plantations like this, growing cotton and tobacco and much else. Economically, slavery was a dynamic and efficient system, and as America started to spread towards the West, the Southern states wanted to see slavery spreading too. But in the North, where many states had banned slavery, they thought very differently. They were determined that slavery would not grow. America was split down the middle. Things came to a head in 1860, when the Northerner Abraham Lincoln became president. But can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow slavery to spread into the Northern Territories? Lincoln believed that slavery was wrong, but he also said that he had no intention of abolishing it, hoping instead it would die out over time. But Southern politicians realised that Lincoln’s arrival in the White House meant slavery would not now spread further, as they had hoped. 11 Southern states decided to break away from the union and establish an independent government – the Confederacy. Lincoln had no choice but to declare war on the South to defend the union. This was a struggle between two different ways of life. In the South, it was an agricultural society – traditional, conservative, many people living on plantations which were virtually self-sufficient, cut off from the rest of the world. “Yes,” said the North, “but all your wealth depends on slavery.” In the North – urban, industrial America, based on steel and railroads and a rising middle class. “Ah, yes,” said the South, “whose prosperity is based on wage slaves.” So, two Americas, now no longer able to properly speak to each other. On April the 12th, 1861, these two Americas duly went to war. Lincoln mobilised the North’s industrial might, using railways to transport men and munitions. But to start with, it went badly for him. The South had better generals and a bolder fighting spirit. SCREAMING After 18 months, Lincoln was desperate. He decided to destroy the foundation on which the South was built. He’d free the slaves. “We must free the slaves,” he said, “or be ourselves subdued.” He hoped this would destroy the Southern economy and demoralise the people. And so, on New Year’s Day, 1863, just two years after the Russians had announced the emancipation of the serfs, Lincoln announced his Emancipation Proclamation – that all the slaves in the rebel states would immediately be free. Liberated slaves flocked to fight with the Northern forces… ..while the South struggled with shortages and inflation. The tide of war turned in the North’s favour. On April the 9th, 1865, after a devastating invasion, the South surrendered. 620,000 soldiers had been killed. Nearly as many as in every other war the United States has fought put together. In the final days of the war, Lincoln did something extraordinary. He simply turned up at the Confederate rebel capital of Richmond, Virginia, not very far from Washington. His troops had just taken it, it was still burning. No-one had any idea what to expect when he arrived here by boat at Rocketts Landing. There was a huge crowd, entirely black. Lincoln had the most recognisable face in America and he was spotted immediately. There were cries of “Our Messiah!” and “Jesus Christ!” One man knelt to him, and Lincoln said, “No, no, you only kneel to your God.” And then the group started to walk the two miles into the centre of Richmond, and gradually there were more and more white faces in the crowd. Sullen, silent, staring back from windows and the tops of buildings. The people that he had just defeated. And Lincoln’s group were expecting shouts of abuse, possibly even shots. Nothing. And at that moment, it seemed as if Abraham Lincoln had won all of America back. I can see one means at least of keeping the Ravensdale estate in the family. What is it? By marrying your daughter to the mortgagee. To you?! LAUGHTER Ten days after Richmond, Lincoln went to the theatre in Washington. He hadn’t been keen, but his wife had begged him to come. A night off for the hero. Did you see him? No, but I see him! AUDIENCE GASPS CHEERING But the defeated South would inflict one last act of bloodshed. A second-rate actor and Southern Confederate supporter called John Wilkes Booth saw Lincoln as a tyrant. The actor Booth was about to make his final appearance. And he knew the reviews would be mixed. Well, I know enough to turn you inside out, you sockdologizing old man-trap! LAUGHTER GUNSHOT GASPS SCREAMING Booth cried out the Latin motto of the state of Virginia. Sic semper tyrannis! “Thus always to tyrants.” Help me! Help! The North mourned an immortal political hero. In the South, they celebrated. One Texan newspaper professed itself “thrilled by the death of our oppressor”. The American Civil War left a bitter legacy. In the South, burned and devastated, the whites remained very angry about what had happened, and black Americans faced many, many decades of grinding rural poverty, segregation laws and lynchings for those who stepped out of line. But the union was preserved. And in the North, this extraordinarily industrious, vigorous economy, now linked together by railroads, stormed ahead – the American colossus striding towards the 20th century. Freed of its slave economy, the United States rushed to modernise. For the first time, Americans began to impose themselves around the world. Already, they were looking west, across the Pacific. Japan had deliberately cut herself off from the rest of the world for more than 200 years, uninterested in the industrial West. When Japan closed her doors, the United States didn’t even exist. So when, in 1853, the American Navy turned up under Commodore Matthew Perry, it all came as a bit of a surprise. The Japanese had never seen anything like the American steamships. Some thought they were “giant dragons, puffing smoke”. Commodore Matthew Perry handed over a letter from the US President insisting that Japan open her doors. In effect, free trade or we shoot. Remembering what had happened to the Chinese at the hands of the British, Japan’s rulers gave way to the Americans. Realising they needed to strengthen Japan against any further Western threats, the Japanese government rushed to modernise and industrialise. I’d like to show you our plans. Their slogan was, “Catch up, overtake.” They invited thousands of Westerners to teach and give advice. They built railroads, telegraph lines and factories. Out went kimonos, in came business suits and top hats. But one class of society was devastated by the arrival of the Industrial Revolution. The samurai. For hundreds of years, this hereditary warrior class had dominated Japanese society. They had special privileges – the only people allowed to fight, the only men allowed to carry their two swords in public, they were exempt from taxation. But Japan had been at peace for more than 200 years. It was 1870. Who needed mediaeval warriors any more? And so, piece by piece, their privileges were stripped away – their right to carry swords went, their income was taxed, and the army was opened up to conscripts – peasants! By 1876, the samurai class faced abolition. Some decided to fight back… ..and turned to one of the country’s leading samurai, Saigo Takamori. Saigo was an unlikely rebel. To start with, he backed the reforms, including the modernisation of the army. This was a man torn between his deep samurai ideals and his country’s need to modernise. And it was only when his back was against the wall that Saigo decided to fight for the past against the future. HE SPEAKS JAPANESE A poet and a dreamer, as well as a politician, Saigo led a rebel army of 30,000 samurai to overthrow the modernisers in Tokyo. And so, old Japan took on new Japan. Saigo’s rebel army was composed of traditional samurai warriors. The government’s was a modern conscript army with the latest rifles and artillery supplied by steamships and railways. This was only ever going to end one way. After seven months, Saigo’s thousands were reduced to just a few hundred warriors. And now they were surrounded. 60 to 1. HE SPEAKS JAPANESE Saigo told his warriors to face death with honour. This was a tragic moment in Japanese history, tearing the nation apart. The soldiers waiting to attack Saigo’s samurai hated what they were about to do. SCREAMING Within two hours, the Japanese army had reduced Saigo’s force to just 40 samurai. At dawn, armed only with their swords, the last samurai walked out to face certain death. GUNSHOTS Halfway down the hill, Saigo was shot in the right hip. Badly injured, Saigo died after a botched act of ritual Samurai suicide. Japan forged ahead with its programme of modernisation… ..becoming known as “the workshop of Asia”. No country modernised as fast and successfully as Japan. In 1905, their new navy would astonish the world by sending the Russian high fleet to the bottom of the sea – the first time that an Eastern country had defeated a Western nation since the Middle Ages. And yet Japan could never quite shake Saigo off. After his death, he was pardoned and became a national hero. A tragic symbol of the old Japan, of honour and self-sacrifice. The samurai soul that was still there below the Western uniforms and the business suits. Japan had saved herself from becoming a victim of the new age of industry and empire. Other parts of the world wouldn’t be so lucky. Africa was one of the least developed areas of the planet. But it was rich with natural resources. And it had remained almost untouched by the West. But in the late 19th century, the industrialised empires of Europe were on the hunt for new territories to explore and exploit. In 1877, the explorer Henry Morton Stanley, a bit of a rogue who’d fought on both sides during the American Civil War, became the first Westerner to chart the entire 3,000-mile course of the Congo River. The journey took him 999 days and cost the lives of 242 men. But it would change the way the West saw the continent. “This river,” said Stanley, “is and will be the great highway of commerce to the heart of Africa.” News of Stanley’s great discovery soon reached Europe. And nobody was more fascinated than Leopold II, King of the Belgians. The problem with Belgium, he grumbled, was that it was a small country with small people. Leopold II was in the market. He wanted to rise in the world. He wanted to be an emperor, so he needed a colony. And he’d gone almost everywhere trying to buy one – the Pacific, South America, the Far East, China… the Faroe Islands! Nothing doing. So, when he heard of the great wealth of Central Africa, he could barely contain his excitement. “We mustn’t lose an opportunity,” he said, “to gain for ourselves a slice of this magnificent African cake.” Leopold persuaded Stanley to work for him in the Congo. His job was to negotiate with the Africans and establish a network of trading stations along the length of the river. Leopold called his project the International Association of the Congo, and he sold it as a kind of benign crusade, bringing religion to the Africans and freeing them from the evil Arab slave-traders. He built this monstrous great museum in Brussels to sell his idea to the Belgian people. But Leopold was – how shall we put this? – lying. He was a cynical and slippery operator. All he wanted was money and power for himself. And he wrote to Stanley that these treaties with the Africans “must give us everything”. And they did. I bring you gifts from my kingdom. From King Leopold. African chiefs had no idea they were signing away their land in return for European clothing, jewellery and gin. To prosperity. And to King Leopold. By May 1885, Leopold was in control of an area 76 times larger than Belgium itself. His new land had vast natural resources, including ivory, rubber, timber and copper. We have a deal. He began to strip them out and export them back to Europe. Leopold now ditched the pretence of a charity and declared himself King Sovereign of the Congo Free State. “Free”? This was in fact the most extreme example of how industrial technology could allow small numbers of Europeans to seize other parts of the world. A truth which led to a general rush for African land. The main players were France, Germany and Britain. But Italy and Portugal were there, too. This became known as “the scramble for Africa”. Leopold sat back and watched the money pour in, but his dirty little secret was about to be rumbled. In 1901, a young shipping clerk at Antwerp noticed something odd. The ivory and the rubber and the profits were pouring in, but nothing was going back out again. Nothing except guns and ammunition. CHATTERING The horrible truth began to emerge. Leopold’s Congo was a military regime of terror. Africans were forced, at pain of death, to work on Leopold’s plantations. If a village refused, the military were sent in. GUNSHOTS Africans who resisted – and many did – were systematically murdered. Women and children were taken as hostages, the men were used for rifle practice, hanged and sometimes beaten to death. The population of the Congo halved. It seems almost impossible to believe, but it’s now thought that 10 million people died. The word is genocide. Leopold denied everything. But in March 1908, the Belgian government finally intervened and forced him to hand over the Congo to them. By then, it had made him a billionaire in today’s money. The worst excesses of the Belgian Congo ended after a campaign by Christian groups, by newspapers and outraged individuals, which was really the first ever international human rights campaign. But the land grab went on. And the later Africa of failed states can be traced back, literally, to the lines drawn on the map by the Italians, Germans, French, British and other Europeans. Some of the worst things that happened in modern Africa, from the use of amputation as a punishment, or child soldiers, also go back to this European scramble, this European frenzy. National competition is part of life, but frantic competition, driven by intoxicating industrial power, now turned violent. In 1914, the European tribes trained their guns not on unarmed natives but on each other. Britain, France and Russia against Germany and Austria. The leaders may have expected a traditional war of cavalry and glitter. What they got was unprecedented horror. An industrial war. But at least it wasn’t yet a world war. America’s President Woodrow Wilson was determined to keep his country out of the fighting. But in 1917, Germany’s new Foreign Secretary was about to change America’s mind. Arthur Zimmermann had risen fast through the Foreign Service to become the only non-aristocrat in the German cabinet. He was good-natured, honest and loyal. HG SPEAKS GERMAN He was also a firm believer in world war. He’d helped fund Irish rebellion against Britain and he’d tried his hand at fomenting Islamic jihad in the Middle East. Her, Junger. Prost! But his biggest tricks were still to come. Zimmermann’s pen never stopped scratching. His secretary’s typewriter never stopped clacking. He had a finger in every pie. This was the golden age of the bureaucrat. And Arthur Zimmermann was a near-perfect example of the type. The American ambassador in Berlin described him as “a very jolly, large sort of German”. Zimmermann dreamed of changing the world. And he would. Only not quite in the way he intended. Indeed, there is a case to be made that Arthur Zimmermann was one of the most destructive individuals of the 20th century. Zimmermann’s opportunity to change the world came in January 1917, when the German military elite announced a new plan for victory. Unrestricted submarine warfare, to destroy all merchant shipping coming to Britain. They hoped this would starve the British into submission. This was incredibly dangerous. Why? Because it meant sinking American ships and almost certainly bringing the United States into the war. And once the Americans reached Europe, Germany couldn’t win. And yet the German high command decided it was a risk worth taking. And on February the 1st, 1917, they announced the start of unrestricted submarine warfare. Arthur Zimmermann set about finding a way to distract America. He came up with quite a distraction. HE SPEAKS GERMAN Zimmermann’s plan was to persuade Mexico to invade America with German help, seizing back Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. HE SPEAKS GERMAN That would distract Washington, all right. If Arthur pulled this off, he’d become a German national hero. Eine gute Idee. Danke sehr, mein Herr. Danke schoen. Zimmermann drafted a telegram outlining his plan to the German ambassador in Mexico. He sent it on a secure line from Berlin. BELL RINGS Except that the line wasn’t quite as secure as Zimmermann thought. In Room 40 at the Admiralty in London, British Naval Intelligence intercepted and decoded Zimmermann’s telegram. By 1pm on the 24th of February, 1917, the contents of the telegram were being presented to the President of the United States. President Woodrow Wilson, who’d fought so hard to keep America out of the war, rubbed his eyes in disbelief. Then he released the news, first to the American congressmen and then to the press, and all hell broke loose. Yet even then, many Americans simply didn’t believe it. It was incredible that the Germans were up to something like this. It must be a sneaky British plot to lure America into the war. And they weren’t that gullible, they weren’t going to fall for that. Re-enter Arthur Zimmermann. Zimmermann was invited to deny the story about his telegram. HE ASKS QUESTION IN GERMAN But Arthur couldn’t tell a lie. HE REPLIES IN GERMAN Oh, yes, he said, it was all true. Well done, Zimmermann(!) His surprise confession finally drove America to declare war on Germany. This was now undoubtedly a world war. But Zimmermann didn’t stop plotting. He now turned his attention to Germany’s enemy in the East, Russia. How could he undermine them? Zimmermann’s opportunity came in February 1917, when the desperate, downtrodden people of Russia finally revolted against the Tsar. Zimmermann wanted to pour oil on the fire. He needed an anti-war Russian extremist to seize power and withdraw Russia from the war. Zimmermann’s agents knew of just such a man. He was living quietly and modestly in exile, amid writers and artists, in Zurich in Switzerland. Zimmermann’s plan, what he called his revolutionising plan, meant using this man to undermine Russia’s will to fight. His name was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov. We know him better as Lenin. In 1917, Lenin was leader of the Bolsheviks, a revolutionary communist faction who wanted Russia out of the war. Lenin was described variously as being like a plague bacillus or poison gas. He was so desperate to get back to Russia and try to seize power that he took the German money and the German offer. If he succeeded, he’d sue for peace. And so Zimmermann organised a sealed train to take Lenin and the rest of the Bolsheviks right the way across Germany to Petrograd in Russia. It was like a syringe full of poison being squirted halfway across a continent. In October 1917, Lenin led a successful Bolshevik revolution. In just eight months, he had been transformed from a nobody in exile to a man on his way to leading 160 million people in the world’s first communist state. This time, Zimmermann got exactly what he wanted. Soviet Russia withdrew from the First World War in March 1918. But by then, the Americans were helping the Allies to defeat Germany. When the war came to an end in November 1918, two new powers had been firmly established on the world stage. One capitalist… communist. The modern world would be dominated not by empires, but by these two mass ideologies and the new superpowers wielding them. So, one fairly ordinary German civil servant had acted as midwife to the birth of the 20th century’s two great superpowers. America, innocent no longer, plunged into the quarrels of the rest of the world. And for the Russians, the Bolshevik revolution ushered in a terrible age of mass famine, civil war, slave labour camps and terror. Arthur Zimmermann. He was sacked in 1917 and never held office again. And he died in 1940, just as it was starting all over again. In the next programme, Power Age – the world at war. Cultural revolution… and the triumph of clever machines. 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. Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd


In the 20th century – our age – our brilliance and our foolishness collided to produce one of the greatest moral dilemmas humankind has faced. For three years, Robert Oppenheimer had led a top-secret mission to end the deadliest war in the history of the world. But to do that, his team were building a weapon which would soon also threaten to end human life on earth. PHONE RINGS Oppenheimer. Mankind’s greatest intellectual achievement. Modern science had now unlocked the secrets of atomic power. In our age, democracy confronted two great enemies – communism and fascism. Their leaders believed that if you killed enough people, some kind of human paradise would follow. Instead, as these ideas were tested to destruction, they planted little pockets of hell on ordinary earth. With this handful of salt… But new freedoms were won. Science brought us machines of awesome speed and power, and we reached beyond the limits of our planet. – FLIGHT DIRECTOR: – ‘CapCom, we are go for landing.’ – CAPCOM: – ‘Eagle, Houston. You are go for landing. Over.’ In the 20th century, our failures were greater than ever before and our achievements astonishing. Mankind found itself in a race, a sprint between its technological brilliance and the risks of its political idiocy. SHOUTING IN GERMAN Welcome to the age of extremes. November 1918. The first global war had ended. The emperors and the top-hatted politicians had failed. They’d shattered the optimism of the modern world. For many, especially on the losing side, it seemed that a new order must rise from the ruins, a new kind of politics which needed a ruthlessness the older generation had flinched from. Among the soldiers straggling home from the trenches of the Western Front was an angry and embittered 29-year-old corporal… Tag. ..Adolf Hitler. Danke schoen. Like many others, Hitler was looking for someone to blame for Germany’s humiliation. Dies ist der Grund unseres langjaehrigen Zustandes. This is the story of the revenge of the nobody. When Adolf Hitler arrived in Munich, he was a nothing. He’d won a medal in the war, but his fellow soldiers described him as a bit peculiar, a loner, and he’d never been promoted, because the German officers realised that he lacked leadership qualities. Das wissen Sie doch. Er kannte das! This is also the most extreme example in human history of how one individual can unlock hell. HITLER ADDRESSING RALLY CROWD CHEERING But how did this chaotic loser harness a big idea, fascism, and goose-step Germany into another world war? In a single word, fear. We are all of us susceptible to being scared by events, and then feeling anger, so when people’s savings and jobs are destroyed, which happened in the early 1920s in Germany, they panic, then they want revenge. Hitler’s great good luck was that he offered up his recipe about who to blame at just the moment when rampant inflation had brought Germany to its knees. A loaf of bread for a billion marks. But for many the spectre of communism seemed even more frightening than capitalism’s collapse. In southern Germany, Munich had been shaken by a communist uprising put down by troops. Into all of this stepped Adolf Hitler. He joined and took control of a tiny right-wing party. He even redesigned its curious emblem, based on an ancient symbol for good fortune, the swastika. In this grey defeated city of small angry parties and big angry meetings, Hitler stood out as a star speaker, because he simply went further. He said the unsayable. The Jewish problem would be solved with brute force. Germany would carve a new empire for herself in Eastern Europe, a greater Germany rising to be a world power, and the people listening to him were soon comparing him to Martin Luther, Mussolini, even Napoleon. Right at the beginning there was this leader cult. Yet Hitler came across as crazily optimistic. He thought that, by pushing Munich right-wingers into revolt, he could get them to march on Berlin and seize control of all democratic Germany. AUDIENCE APPLAUD CHEERING Die Roten gedeihen im Chaos. On the night of November the 8th, 1923, a political meeting was being held in one of the city’s beer halls. SHOUTING Hitler hijacked the meeting, declaring, “The national revolution has begun.” Die Reichsregierung wurde gebildet. But few in the hall were impressed by the jumped-up extremist, and the meeting ended in confusion. The next morning Hitler led armed supporters onto the streets. But when police fired on them, this revolution by sheer bluff collapsed with embarrassing speed. Two days later, Hitler was arrested. The beer-hall revolution was a political shambles. It ended in humiliating failure. But it made Adolf Hitler a hero far beyond Munich, because he realised that he could use his trial as a much bigger platform than any that he’d get in a beer hall. He was defiant, completely unapologetic, and he was heard all across Germany. Sympathetic judges gave Hitler a soft sentence for treason. He was imprisoned in the nearby town of Landsberg. Hitler’s rooms were soon crammed with unrestricted visitors and parcels and messages. One particularly gushing letter came from a student in Heidelberg called Joseph Goebbels, and as for the parcels, it was like a delicatessen. One visitor said you could have opened a flower, fruit and wine shop with all the stuff stacked up in there, and Hitler began to become rather fat from all the chocolates and the cake. Eventually he had to usher the visitors out so that he could settle down and dictate his memoirs to a man called Rudolf Hess. TYPING The Fuehrer was emerging. Der Jude ist und bleibt… But he had a truly terrible title for his book… Four And A Half Years Of Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity And Cowardice… ..shortened by his shrewder publisher into My Struggle or Mein Kampf, and in it he said exactly what he thought. – TRANSLATOR: – “The Jews are a pestilence worse than the Black Death. “The day will come when a nation will arise “which will be welded together “that shall be invincible and indestructible forever.” Mein Kampf argued that capitalism and communism were equally dangerous and that Jews were behind both, pulling the strings from Wall Street and Red Square. In other times and places, few would have listened to such a crackpot theory, but by the early 1930s, the Great Depression starting in America had thrown people out of work across the world, while the looming menace of Stalin’s communist state haunted millions. There are times when the politics of fear become irresistible and nonsense seems common sense. Eventually, the Nazi Party did very well in elections. Hitler came to power not as a tyrant but entirely legally. – CROWD: – Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil! During the 1930s, no other major political leader had his level of popular support. It was support based on the violent creation of a new German empire in Europe, the destruction of Europe’s Jews, which was all laid out in black-and-white. – CROWD: – Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil! History is full of nasty surprises. Adolf Hitler did his very best not to be a surprise. Whilst Hitler was fighting for power in Germany, in America, the greatest democracy, women were fighting a rather different battle. They’d won the vote in 1920, and now a new form of politics had arrived, sexual politics. Margaret Sanger was a tiny redheaded radical from the backstreets. Her name isn’t very well known, but she did more to shape today’s world than most politicians. In the early 20th century, Manhattan was a divided island. Uptown was swinging, brash and booming, the most fashionable place on the planet. Downtown was very different, a place of old-fashioned poverty. In the overcrowded tenement blocks teeming with new immigrants, women were desperate to avoid unwanted pregnancies. These women were caught in a dilemma, either dangerous self-induced abortions or the backstreet abortionist, who could be just as dangerous. Margaret Sanger was a nurse. She saw the worst and she thought all women had the right to safe contraception, birth control. You’re going to get through this. “I shuddered with horror,” said Margaret Sanger. “I resolved to do something to change the destiny of these mothers, “whose miseries were as vast as the sky.” But contraceptives were taboo. Those who sold them were condemned as purveyors of vice and sin. In 1916, Margaret Sanger opened America’s first birth-control clinic here in a poor district of Brooklyn. On the opening day, more than 100 women queued up for help and advice. (17.) I haven’t seen you before. What’s your name? But the pamphlets she was giving out were classed as obscene literature. Get out of here, now! – You’re under arrest! – No, you listen to me! Get these men out of here. Get off of me! Will you get them off of me?! Sanger was charged under America’s very strong anti-obscenity laws. The clinic was shut down. So much for women’s rights. But private individuals, if they had enough guts and could lay hands on some money, could fight back. Contraceptives couldn’t be imported into America, but Margaret Sanger had a friend, a friend who could help, a friend with a picture-book chateau by Lake Geneva. This was the summer home of a rich American heiress, Katharine McCormick. She was a glamorous society lady who liked the latest fashions, but she was also a rarity. She’d studied biology at university and campaigned for votes for women. Very good. Once American women had the vote, like their Scandinavian and British sisters, she was looking for a new cause and she alighted on birth control, which is why an unlikely friendship was formed between the heiress and the agitator. In Europe, contraceptives were easy to get hold of. Katharine McCormick went around buying up posh frocks and then had hundreds of diaphragms sewn into the hems, before boldly smuggling the clothing in trunks back to New York where Sanger had opened a new clinic, which flourished. This was a great victory for private enterprise politics, and the campaigner and wealthy rebel kept in touch. Margaret Sanger always wanted an easier contraceptive, a fail-safe one, and when, decades on, scientists thought this might be possible, she turned again to Katharine McCormick, who bankrolled the research. It had been a long road from those New York tenement blocks, but in 1960, the pill went on the market. It revolutionised birth control for women. Half a century on, the pill has become the contraceptive of choice for way over 100 million women all around the world. Its social impact has been huge. It’s allowed women to make choices about education and their careers, to delay having children or to have no children at all. Along with votes for women, it has been one of the biggest social changes of the 20th century – indeed, many women would say the biggest change of all. Not all revolutions were won by men with tanks. Like the women behind the pill, others used ingenuity and moral force. It’s been said that, in 1930, three people had achieved instant global recognition – Charlie Chaplin, Adolf Hitler… ..and a skinny fellow who dressed to impress… ..Mohandas Gandhi. The British liked to think that, in India, they were the good imperialists… parents, really. But after famines and repression, many Indians didn’t see it that way. In March 1930, Gandhi, leader of the Indian Independence Movement, sent a letter to the headquarters of the British Raj in New Delhi. It was a direct challenge posted through the front door. KNOCK AT DOOR – VICEROY: – Come in. The letter was addressed to Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, the Lord Irwin, Viceroy and Governor General of India, the jewel in the crown of the British Empire. Gandhi explained politely but firmly that he was intending to start a campaign of civil disobedience through which he would win India’s independence. “I do not seek to harm your people. “My ambition is no less than to convert the British through non-violence “and thus make them see the wrong they have done to India. Gandhi finished his letter by promising to call off his planned campaign, if the British would agree to talks about freedom for India. In the 1920s, on the surface, the British Empire seemed as self-confident as ever. Some sense of its swagger is given by the Viceroy’s new house in Delhi. A British architect working on a Mogul scale. It makes Buckingham Palace seem poky. But this was confronted by the determination of the wiry little man from Gujarat, who understood that the British weakness was a determination to be thought decent rulers. So, his campaign of non-violent disobedience was a kind of political torture. Gandhi said, “There are many causes I’m prepared to die for “but none that I am prepared to kill for.” Answer that. Hmm! The Viceroy chose not to answer Gandhi’s letter, so the troublemaker embarked on his campaign of polite, smiling civil disobedience. Gandhi set out to walk the 240 miles from his home to the coast in a protest about salt. Along the way, the crowds welcoming him grew day by day. When he arrived at the seashore, 50,000 supporters, newsmen among them, were waiting to greet him. Gandhi walked down to the water’s edge and he scooped up some salty mud. With this handful of salt, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire. Focusing on salt was a stroke of genius any spin doctor would envy. Indian salt production was a British monopoly and it was taxed. Gandhi encouraged all Indians to break the law by panning their own salt and refusing to pay the salt tax. It was an echo of the Boston Tea Party. Gandhi was engaged in a propaganda campaign and refusing to pay tax on salt would remind the Americans of their refusal to pay tax on tea when they broke away from the British Empire. So, by collecting the salt and refusing to pay tax on it, Gandhi was challenging the British to make themselves look both brutal and ridiculous. As mass protests rippled across India, the British authorities decided to arrest Gandhi and throw him into jail. Perfect! Just what he wanted. His arrest spurred even more people to come onto the streets. Demonstrations were ruthlessly put down. Britain was humiliated and condemned around the world. By the end of 1930, 60,000 peaceful protesters had been imprisoned. The agonised Viceroy gave in. He had Gandhi released from prison and invited him in for talks. Mr Gandhi. Lord Irwin. – Would you care for some tea? – Tea would be perfect. This meeting was the turning point. They agreed a pact which would lead, in stages, to India’s independence. Sugar, Mr Gandhi? No, thank you. As the two men celebrated with a cup of tea, Gandhi had one final surprise. I am putting some salt into my tea… remind us of the historic Boston Tea Party. Very good, Mr Gandhi. But in Britain, not everybody was impressed. Back in London, Winston Churchill was appalled to see Gandhi posing as a fakir, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, to parlay on equal terms with the representative of the King Emperor. This is just the beginning. It took 16 years and a world war, but already the greatest empire the world had ever seen was lying, rather grandly, on its deathbed. But in an age of so much political horror and failure, Gandhi’s legacy reached further than independence for India. His philosophy of non-violent resistance has been an inspiration all around the world. “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. “It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction “devised by the ingenuity of man. “Non-violence is a weapon for the brave.” Adolf Hitler could never understand Britain’s queasy response to Gandhi. “All you have to do,” he told Lord Irwin, “is shoot Gandhi. “You’d be surprised how quickly the trouble will die down.” During the Second World War, the capitalist democracies of Britain and America allied themselves with communist Russia against fascism. This was a necessary pact but a diabolical one as well. Both the Nazis and the Soviets believed in the power of science, racial science in Germany and the science of class war in Russia, pseudo-science. Both thought that if you could get rid of whole classes of people, Jews, Gypsies, rich peasants and the bourgeoisie, you could build a new world. And in the heartlands of central Europe they put their theories into action. On the 29th of September, 1941, here, at a ravine outside Kiev, 33,761 Ukrainian Jews, who had turned up on time, as they’d been asked, carrying their suitcases, their children warmly dressed, were stripped naked and shot in batches of ten by the Germans. It took 36 hours. Babi Yar. Nothing was worse than what the Nazis did, but their job here had been made easier by what the Russian communists had already done. Eight years before, they too had rounded up whole classes of enemies and overseen a famine which left the villages and the streets of Kiev littered with the dead and dying, so bad that families ate their own children. Reds and Nazis. Sadly…not ogres. Human beings with a big idea. No leaders emerged morally untouched from the Second World War, and, to end that war, the great democracy, America, had to confront a hideous moral dilemma of its own. The top-secret American operation to build and use the atom bomb would challenge the humanitarian values on which democracy is built. It was led by one of the most intriguing minds of the 20th century. J Robert Oppenheimer was a curious mix of a man. He was fascinated by other cultures and the religions of the east, and, in politics, a man of the left. In fact, he even flirted with communism before the war, and so you might think a strange choice to head a project like this. But he was a brilliant theoretical physicist and a charismatic leader. By the summer of 1945, Oppenheimer’s bomb, codenamed Little Boy, was ready. The target, Hiroshima. After Germany’s defeat, Japan had fought on. Now Japanese civilians would pay for their leaders’ refusal to surrender. CLOCK TICKS CHILDREN SHOUT The strike was set for Monday, the 6th of August. CLOCK TICKS CHILDREN SHOUT There were American scientists who didn’t believe in deploying the bomb, but Oppenheimer argued strongly that it had to be used. There was a chance that the bomb would end all war, but, for that to happen, the whole world had to see its full horrific potential. And so this man, with his cultured sophisticated mind and his humanitarian values, spent a great deal of time calculating the exact height at which to detonate the bomb so that it would kill the maximum number of people. CLOCK TICKS CLOCK TICKS TICKING TICKING PHONE RINGS PHONE RINGS Oppenheimer. Thank you. This morning, at 8.16, Japanese time, a B-29 bomber was successfully deployed above Hiroshima. APPLAUSE Hiroshima is a big word. This is a big story. Let’s try and bring it down in scale a bit. This is a woman’s watch, hands fused to the time of the blast. Around 400 young children were here with their ten teachers when the bomb went off, and all but one was burned to death immediately. In a three-mile radius of the blast, almost everybody suffered fatal burns, and, beyond that, there were mass blindings from the flash, and then of course came the radiation sickness, killing many thousands in the days and weeks and years that followed. Stubbornly, incomprehensibly, Japan still refused to surrender, so, three days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped, this time on Nagasaki. In the two attacks, up to a third of a million people died. Now Japan finally admitted defeat. On the evening of the 14th of August, 1945, the Second World War came to an end. There are plenty of places around the world where terrible things happened. What makes this one different is the thought that what happened to Hiroshima could happen almost anywhere else. I certainly grew up in the 1960s and ’70s thinking that my home town in Scotland and the people I loved could be nuclear victims, and people were thinking just the same all across America and in Russia and France and Germany and many other places. “We shall not repeat this evil,” says the monument behind me. But was this the end of something or was it the beginning? We still cannot be sure. Dropping the atom bomb changed the world forever, and nobody felt the ambiguity of this more than its creator. A few weeks afterwards, Oppenheimer resigned his post on the nuclear programme. Later he reflected openly on his…achievement. We have made a thing, a most terrible weapon, that has altered abruptly and profoundly the nature of the world. A thing that by all standards of the world that we grew up in is an evil thing. And so by doing, we have raised the question of whether science is good for man. In later life, Oppenheimer described on television how he was haunted by a line he had once read in an ancient Hindu scripture. “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that one way or another. The nuclear arms race between communists and capitalists terrified the world. But the horrific promise of mutually assured destruction did preserve a fragile peace between the superpowers. # Doo-doo-doo-doot, sh-boom # Life could be a dream if I could take you up… # It allowed the rival systems to test their own economic power, and in the West, the sheer energy of capitalism was unleashed as never before, producing a gushing abundance of goods, a colourful gloss of material plenty. # Life could be a dream if only all my precious dreams… # It was a time when everything seemed possible. – MISSION CONTROL: – ‘This is Apollo Launch Control.’ ‘Five, four, three, two… ‘’ ‘OK, all flight controllers. Go/no-go for landing. – ‘Retro. FIDO. Guidance. Control.’ – OTHERS: – Go. – ‘TelCom. GNC. EECOM. Surgeon.’ – OTHERS: – Go. ‘CapCom, we are go for landing.’ ‘Eagle, Houston. You’re go for landing. Over.’ ‘OK, Neil, we can see you coming down the ladder now.’ ‘It’s, er, different, but it’s very pretty out here.’ But as the West went moony, on the other side of the earth’s great divide, daily life was descending into another political nightmare. SHOUTING IN MANDARIN The People’s Republic of China, July 1967. Fanatical gangs, known as the Red Guards, were hunting down anyone suspected of betraying the ideas of the Chinese communist leader, Chairman Mao Ze Dong. SHOUTING IN MANDARIN The name of this victim, Deng Xiaoping. SHOUTING IN MANDARIN One day, he’d become the most powerful man in China, the leader who would turn the country into the economic powerhouse that it is today. SPEAKING MANDARIN Deng was one of the original Chinese communists. He’d been a guerrilla fighter, he’d led armies for Mao from the early days right through to the final victory, and Mao liked him a lot. He called him “the little man” and he’d drawn Deng into the tight group of people who really ran China, but now Deng was on his knees being screamed at by the Red Guards, the fanatical foot soldiers of the wildest social experiment ever to hit modern China, the Cultural Revolution. (CHANTING) The Cultural Revolution meant a vast purge of anyone thought to stand in the way of Chairman Mao’s long march towards a communist utopia. Once again, innocent individuals were being sacrificed to the big idea of a deluded tyrant. Mao called for a war against the Four Olds – old thinking, old culture, old customs, old habits. CHANTING It’s estimated that millions of people died in the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese government itself says that 100 million people suffered. Mao had quite deliberately unleashed social anarchy, a war against the past, a war against moderation… ..a war against common sense. Mao’s warped economic reforms had led to famines in which up to 45 million people died. Deng Xiaoping fell foul of Mao’s Red Guards for daring to suggest there might be a better way of running the economy. At the 1961 party conference, Deng argued that economic growth mattered more than communist theory and he quoted an old peasant saying, “It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white. “If it catches mice, it’s a good cat.” Now, this was dangerous stuff. It suggested that he thought there was an alternative way for China to modernise, not necessarily Chairman Mao’s way. BIRDSONG After his public denunciation, Deng Xiaoping was exiled to work in a tractor factory. Then the Red Guards came looking for his son, Pufang, a brilliant student at Beijing University. HE GROANS He was ordered to confess to his father’s treason. HE GROANS AND GASPS HE GROANS HE SPEAKS MANDARIN The guards told him, “The window is your only exit.” BIRDSONG HE GASPS HE SCREAMS THUD Pufang was paralysed but was refused proper care in hospital. Deng desperately begged for news of his son. Eventually, Pufang was sent to join him in exile, where the old communist became a good father, trying, unsuccessfully, to massage his boy back to health. In time, Mao relented, and Deng was welcomed back to Beijing as if nothing had happened. When Mao died in 1976, the great survivor seized the chance of a political comeback. Within two years, Deng was the most powerful man in China. Deng’s moment had come, and what a moment! He took China right round towards roaring full-throttle capitalism. Under Deng, China’s repressive state continued, but he began welding together the two big ideas that had divided the world in the 20th century. For him, capitalism in a communist country wasn’t a contradiction. It was a pragmatic solution. Since Deng’s reforms were introduced, China’s economy has been growing at an average of nearly 10% a year every year. It’s on track to become the world’s biggest economy by 2016. But there’s a twist to this story, because Deng Xiaoping wasn’t the only survivor. From his wheelchair, his son, Deng Pufang, is today one of the most influential voices in China for humanitarianism and, in 2008, he was part of the team behind the Beijing Olympics. The father’s message was all about economic growth, and that is very important. But the son’s message is about the importance of compassion, and, in the end, that may matter more. CHATTER, WHOOPS AND WHISTLING The great standoff between dynamic capitalism and tottering communism came to a dramatic end with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. With the Cold War over, there was wild talk about the end of history. Mao, Stalin and Hitler had all attempted to reshape humanity using political terror. But now it seemed there was only one way forward – capitalism. But history didn’t stop. Other people were trying to reshape the merely human and they included scientists working in the beating heart of capitalism, New York. In 1997, a game of chess began. The defender, the reigning world chess champion, Garry Kasparov. The challenger, a supercomputer built by IBM. It had a name. Deep Blue. – NEWSCASTER: – ‘The world of chess is bracing itself ‘for what they’re calling the match of the century.’ The match between man and machine was dubbed “the brain’s last stand”. Chess has always been seen as one of the ultimate tests of human memory and concentration and planning and intuition. There are said to be more possible moves in a game of chess than there are atoms in the universe. Human chess players deal with this extraordinary complexity by seeing patterns, using their imagination and their intuition. Computers can only grind the numbers. They have no intuition. Or so people thought. Kasparov opened the first game with a classic attack. An IBM expert was carrying out the moves dictated by the computer. A chess genius like Kasparov could calculate three moves a second. But in that same second, his electronic opponent could process 200 million possible moves. The world champion played an aggressive first game. After four hours, he’d gained the upper hand. If this was the brain’s last stand, the brain seemed to be doing pretty well. CLICKS TIMER Deep Blue conceded defeat. AUDIENCE APPLAUDS – NEWSCASTER: – ‘And Gary Kasparov has won the first game against Deep Blue ‘in fantastic style.’ The second game was the turning point in the match between man and machine. Kasparov tried to lure Deep Blue into a trap. But the computer didn’t take the bait. It went quiet. It processed its options… ..for a full 15 minutes. Then it ignored the trap and made a brilliant strategic move of its own. This was the decisive moment. It almost seemed as if the computer had been thinking. The great master was being outsmarted by a circuit board. Kasparov tried to escape… ..but every manoeuvre was futile. There was no way out. The machine had beaten the man. AUDIENCE APPLAUD – NEWSCASTER: – ‘And Kasparov has resigned.’ Kasparov said later, “Deep Blue sees so deeply, it plays like God.” VEHICLES SOUND HORNS The idea of machines waking up and becoming cleverer than we are is something that has long haunted science fiction and Hollywood, but it is the cold belief of many scientists that this will happen and in the lifetime of many of the people watching this. If so, it would be the greatest achievement of humanity since the invention of agriculture, but it would be one which challenged the very idea of what it is to be human. We are now, all of us, living in an age of acceleration, a frothing torrent of invention, devices, interconnectedness and smart everything. More of us on earth live longer, healthier and wealthier lives than our ancestors would have imagined possible. But all this consumption hasn’t come free. We’ve ripped through rainforests like the Amazon. We’ve caused the extinction of other creatures and we’ve affected the climate. It’s hard to imagine the shock early humans would have felt if they were suddenly confronted by modern humanity. Except that, at the end of the 20th century, that is exactly what happened to a small group of Indians who’d lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle for thousands of years in South America. Parojnai, Ibore and their five children were members of the Ayoreo tribe. ‘We thought that the beast with the metal skin could see us. ‘We thought that it had seen our garden and came to eat the fruit ‘and to eat us too.’ And of course they were quite right. The bulldozer had come to eat their land and their way of life. ‘Parojnai asked me if I was scared of the stranger. ‘I said I’m not scared. ‘So we went to get a closer look.’ BANGING ON DOOR > SHE SPEAKS IN OWN LANGUAGE Ibore tried to reassure the stranger. “There’s no reason to run,” she said. “We are good people.” HE SPEAKS IN OWN LANGUAGE Fernando. Hey? They may have been separated by thousands of years of human development, but on both sides, their tastes, their needs, proved humanly familiar. Decoration, nice things, a shared humanity. LAUGHTER Barcelona, Barcelona! Yeah, Barcelona. You know football. Under the layers of experience that we call progress, we’re still driven by the same instincts and desires that ruled us right at the beginning of the human story. Today we’re armed with gadgets, computers, phones, and what do we do with them? The same shopping, gossiping, consuming and sometimes protesting that we’ve always done. Only now there are seven billion of us and rising rapidly. Either we manage differently, no longer devouring quite so much so fast of the earth’s natural resources, or we’ll have to shrink our numbers. So, the decisions we make in the next 50 years may well decide our fate. I’m in what’s said to be the largest shantytown in South America, and yet it’s also got a dynamic vibrant democracy, producing growth. This is a shantytown on the way up. It’s got a bit of law and order. It’s got some businesses. Now, Brazil is going to be one of the most important countries in the world in the century ahead. If they can get the balance between a better life and democracy without destroying the environment… Big if, but if they can get that balance right here in Brazil, then perhaps mankind can get it right. But getting it right must mean drawing on our past experience. What else have we got to learn from but our history, all of our history? The history of the world. Homo sapiens means “wise man”. Really? Clever, certainly. Our technical accomplishments, awesome. We understand our planet, the origins of our universe, even ourselves, as we’ve never done before, and we live in societies much less violent than most of those you’ve seen in this series. But we are still deadly dangerous, very greedy and bad at looking ahead. I’d say we’re a clever ape in a spot of bother. Societies have faced catastrophe before and found ways through them, and there’s no reason why we can’t do the same. But at the end of this series, the only absolutely clear and safe prediction that I can give you is that the most interesting part of human history lies just ahead. 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. Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

Indentured Labor: Slavery after Slavery was abolished

After the British abolished slavery in 1833 by which time, over Twenty Million slaves had been affected by the Transatlantic Slave Trade, there was a dire need for labor in British Colonies in the Caribbean aka West Indies and Africa.

It was then that the British came up with the idea of Indentured Labor, a form of Bonded Labor, whereby they promised people in South East Asia, India and China to sign 5 yr bonds to go work in the cotton, sugar and tea plantations of the British Colonies abroad in exchange for Income, Land, Return Fare and other promises that never materialized.

Over 2 Million Indians went abroad, most of them tricked into it because they were illiterate, and suffered in conditions as worse as slavery until 1917 when the British finally abolished Indentured Labor. Over twenty percent lost their lives in transit and once there, more died of diseases they couldn’t acclimate to and bad working conditions. Those that tried to run away had their bonds doubled to ten years or worse.

After 1917, they were free and some decided to stay back and make a life in these counties. Consequently, South Africa is home to largest Indian community outside India. But they had to fight for their rights and even Gandhi fought with them in his time in South Africa where he experienced the racism first hand.

Looking into reasons for Partition

  • In Viceroy’s House it’s shown that Churchill promised Pakistan to Jinnah back in 1945 in exchange for Pakistan’s favor of British Oil interests in Gulf of Oman and their access to the Karachi port and to cut off Soviet Union’s access to the region.
  • Winston saw that Pakistan would be easier to influence than an unruly India with its socialist leanings. The movie claims Mountbatten was an unwitting pawn, manipulated by Winston Churchill as part of a secret plan drawn up years earlier.
  • The border in fact was made by Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India October 1943-March 1947, in 1945 (Breakdown Plan) which was later given to Radcliffe to present as his impartial assessment of the partition line.
  • Churchill deliberately misled our American allies as to the proportion of Muslims in the Indian army when the US were lobbying for Indian independence. Playing on American self-interest, he stressed the need to keep the Muslims ‘on side’ in the war against Japan; something it would be harder to do if they felt they were fighting for a Hindu-ruled India.
  • the role of British strategic interests in the region; a continuation of the ‘Great Game’ of keeping Russia out of the subcontinent, in order to safeguard the oil fields of the Middle East, the ‘wells of power’. Thus the Viceroy, Lord Wavell, put forward a plan as early as February 1946 for the creation of a Pakistan which would accept British military requirements when it was uncertain whether a new India under the Congress Party would even be in the Commonwealth.
  • Churchill worried that if he handed India back as promised they were handing the whole of Asia to the Soviet Union. Stalin had already said he was going to create the biggest country in the world. He had huge manpower and natural resources, but Russia’s two ports both froze over in winter. He wanted a warm water port he could use 365 days a year and the British feared he had his eye on Karachi, which was strategically placed by the Suez Canal and the oil supplies in the Persian gulf
  • the riots and growing violence between different religious groups in India was orchestrated by the British to convince Mountbatten that the only option was to divide the country.
  • Mountbatten remained in India for 18 months after Indian independence, visiting many of the refugee camps with his wife Edwina, a devoted member of the Red Cross rumoured to be having an affair with Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Indian prime minister.
  • The rush to split the country into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan on August 15, 1947, left millions stranded on the wrong side of the new border and sparked the largest migration in history. Nearly 14 million refugees fled their homes as entire villages were butchered. One million died. And 70 years later, the two countries still struggle for control of disputed regions like Kashmir, where more than 50,000 people have been killed by extremists on both sides in the last 20 years.
  • ref:

The History Of Comedy S01E04


  • Comedians want to get to the real truth. That’s what comedy is
  • Comedy is about anger, fear, insecurity and self denigration
  • The jokes that work are racial and that don’t are racist
  • Diversity in comedy is a reflection of the diversity in the country
  • Comedians look at society from outside. They’re racial referees.
  • Comedy comes from pain and the darkest times of one’s life.
  • Any time you’re upset, there’s a joke there. So, the more frustrating something is, the more rife its for humor.
  • A comedian’s intention is to present something that you’re going to think about and laugh at, at the same time.
  • Comedians show you your ideologies.
  • If you can take a prejudice to the most ridiculous degree and make somebody laugh with it, then it’s not a prejudice anymore and eventually you wipe it out
  • When you’re fighting a power/ideology that you cannot defeat, you’ll find other outlets, one of them being humor
  • Comedians feel an urge to make people laugh so that they stop talking about him.
  • The more of an outsider a comic is, the more perspective he gains
  • The more fearless/raw/real a comedian is, the more powerful he is
  • Laughter is a way to deal with the pretentiousnss of the society and temporarily bust the stress that arises from keeping on the face that one does in society
  • A comedian uses people’s biases against them to make the comedy work
  • Any comedic situation has to be about problem solving
  • Racism comes from the fear of the unknown, and with the comedian presenting the “other” via jokes, making the “others” familiar, they aren’t very scary anymore.
  • Not everybody can be moved by a rousing speech, but everybody is moved by something that makes them laugh
  • Humor is a way to diffuse things, to take the air out of a tense situation

Crash Course Big History





The Big Bang: Crash Course Big History #1


  • All but a billionth of the matter created by the big bang instantly interacted with antimatter and was annihilated. All the matter we see in the universe is hence one billionth of the matter created by the big bang


Exploring the Universe: Crash Course Big History #2

  • When stars run out of fuel (H and He), their outer edges swell up causing fusion of heavier elements occurs causing higher and higher temp. creating heavier and heavier elements recursively (fusion is literally adding up the nucleus of fusing elements hence creating a heavier element ie one with more protons in its nucleus) as temp rises, all the way upto Iron ie upto 26 elements (Fe is 26 on periodic table)
  • When giant stars, 8-60 times our sun, exhaust their fuel, unlike sun which expands, they collapse.This is followed by huge explosion called supernova and this has super high temp and hence is responsible for creating elements heavier than iron in the periodic table
  • Hence we and everything else around us is literally star stuff.


The Sun & The Earth: Crash Course Big History #3

  • Our sun is not a first generation star, but instead was formed from matter ejected from a nearby supernova blast 4.5 billion yrs ago.
  • In early days of the Sun, the heat form it blasted lots of gassy materials away pushing it beyond where Mars is. This is why Venus and beyond are not rocky planets but instead gas giants.
  • Electrostatic forces allowed the dust (.01% of matter left after formation of sun that took 99.99% of the matter in our solar system) to coalesce to form minerals. These objects were upto 10 km in diameter
  • After a million yrs of sun, it contained few dozen protoplanets of mars size.
  • Then over next 100 million yrs, these collided as well leading to 9 today and asteroid belt and khyber belt and ort cloud (a light year away)
  • Then in period of differentiation, heavy metals sank to center of Earth and lighter on top and gases were ejected out forming our atmosphere
  • Water Vapor was brought by comets
  • Methane was converted to CO2 in atmosphere
  • Then mars size object Thea collided with Earth and the ejected matter formed the moon
  • As earth cooled, water vapor in atmosphere rained down on earth for millions of yrs creating the oceans 4 billion yrs ago


Life Begins: Crash Course Big History #4

  • Life Defined:  a regime that contains a hereditary program for defining and directing molecular mechanisms that actively extract matter and energy from the environment with the aid of which matter and energy are converted into building blocks for its own maintenance and if 02:39 possible reproduction
  • For first 2 billion yrs in the 3.5 billion yr history of life, there were only procaryotes.
  • Then came procaryotes and they invented sex 1.5 billion yrs ago.
  • Through the evolutionary epic of complex multicellular life between the start of complex multicellular life and today there have been five mass extinction events in nature species compete in niches. Niche is an area of the environment that requires a special set of skills and traits to extract food and reproduce when niches are full competition is heavy traits become finely tuned and evolution generally slows down a little but when a disastrous extinction event wipes out the majority of the animals living in a niche the surviving species have room in a lack of competitors to evolve new traits very fast to fill the niche again in what we call an adaptive radiation the evolutionary epic is dotted with periods of niches filling up being swept clean by disaster and filling again by new rapidly evolving species example for the longest time dinosaurs ruled the earth and mammals were a puny timid race of small shrew-like creatures that stayed out of their way sometimes we burrowed in the ground or only came out at night or confined our diet tiny bugs we could not compete with dinosaurs in their niches then the dinosaurs were wiped out and mammals were able to rapidly fill all the empty niches creating Apes and elephants and horses and even whales
  • At the end of the Permian era we have extinction often referred to as the Great dying it was the single largest extinction event of the past half billion years its cause is still debated but the most dominant theory is an environmental disaster caused by volcanoes in Siberia all told over ninety percent of marine life and seventy percent of terrestrial life maybe more died out leaving space for a huge adaptive radiation of giant reptiles
  • The giant reptile period in the subsequent Triassic period the Earth’s climate was ludicrously dry with many deserts and then near the North and South Poles it was warm and wet again dry climates were a big win for reptiles and our mammalian ancestors got a bit of the short end of the stick because there was so much reptilian competition in many niches so we hit on the fringes meanwhile there were many kinds of giant reptiles in the Triassic of which the dinosaurs were just one kind until the extinction the Triassic extinction possibly due to volcanic super eruptions or an asteroid impact emptied a lot of niches of competition and allowed one particular group of giant reptiles the dinosaurs to reign supreme and that finally led to those periods that are what most people think of when they hear the word paleontology or the word fossil the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
  • Dinosaurs were the dominant animals on this planet for a whopping 135 million years that’s 540 times longer than our species has even existed. humans and t-rex are separated by less time  than t-rex and Stegosaurus (88 million yrs).
  • Aproximately 65 million years ago the reign of the dinosaurs ends. A rock roughly 10 kilometers across crashed into the present-day Yucatan Peninsula with a million times more force than all the nuclear arsenals of the world combined bad for the dinosaurs but it opened up a lot of niches previously occupied by the many small mammals were able to survive by burrowing or simply requiring less food they were then in a position for another adaptive radiation small mammals quickly evolved into an immense variety of larger forms and so was the story of complex life on Earth during the evolutionary epic


The Evolutionary Epic: Crash Course Big History #5


Human Evolution: Crash Course Big History #6

  • As impressive as homo habilis stone-working abilities are, we see very little sign of technological improvement over the thousands and thousands of years that habilis existed.
  • Same goes for homo ergaster erectus, who was around 1.9 million years ago. Homo ergaster erectus had an even bigger brain, was taller, and they even seemed intelligent and adaptable enough to move into different environments across the old world. They may have even begun our first clumsy attempts at fire, which is vital for cooking meat and vegetables, opening up opportunities for more energy and even more brain growth. But still, there’s not much sign of technological improvement, their tools got the job done, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  • Yet 1.78 million years ago, we do see homo ergaster creating a wide new range of teardrop hand axes in Kenya. By one-point-five 1.5 million years ago, these teardrop axes had rapidly become common, and had improved in quality and were shaped with a flat edge into multi-purpose picks, cleavers, and so forth.
  • Archaeologists see this as the first possible sign of tinkering and improvement of technology that may have been transmitted by social learning. A faint glimmer of something new, the coming of the homo sapiens 250K yrs ago.


Migrations and Intensification: Crash Course Big History #7

  • Humans were foragers and there were around 6 million on the planet.
  • a bottleneck of the human population occurred 70,000 years ago, proposing that the human population was reduced to perhaps 10,000–30,000 individuals[8] when the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia erupted and triggered a major environmental change.
  • Then with the advent of Agriculture 11k yrs ago and then States, the population rose to 50 million some 5K yrs ago and 120 million by 1k BC, 3K yrs ago.
  • Due to poop contaminated water, humans invented alcohol and were drinking that instead.
  • Agriculture lets one species us harness more of that energy we either eat it or we use it to feed animals that we eat or we use it to feed animals like horses and oxen that pull carts and carry burdens providing 500 to 750 watts of power about 10 times more than what a human being could do
  • Essentially agriculture is the act of harnessing more energy from the Sun way more than we could as foragers
  • Given what we know of energy and complexity consider the following if we want to prevent our bodily complexity as well as the complexity that we have created from descending into chaos we must keep harvesting matter and energy flows on a regular basis this is the bottom line of human history I will therefore argue that during most if not all of human history the quest for sufficient matter and energy to survive and reproduce has been the overriding theme.
  • That doesn’t mean that the bottom line is all there is to human history you’ve got political history in the history of warfare in gender history class history art history environmental history oral traditions creation myths and much much more but none of those would matter if we were all dead if you don’t eat if you don’t drink you die much of the collective learning inventions shifts in social structure have been geared toward coping with the problem of energy flows as the population continued to expand by leaps and bounds from a tiny thousand people seventy four thousand years ago to over seven billion people today so the beautiful thing about being able to remember and accumulate the ideas of your ancestors is that some of their ideas are great for agriculture also other things but mostly food whether it’s new forms of irrigation invented in ancient Mesopotamia or the for crop rotation that gradually proliferated across Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries these innovations increase the number of potential innovators who could exist in a social order without starving
  • there were also great innovative leaps in connectivity for instance the invention of writing in ancient States about 5000 years ago like starting from a bureaucratic form of accounting mostly to count livestock to an art largely enjoyed by the elite writing gradually communicated more abstract and complex ideas and those ideas became available to more and more people as more people could read until eventually writing became so popular that these days everyone writes books because it made it less likely that things we’d learned would be forgotten like when people started to write down what they knew that knowledge became set in stone sometimes literally
  • Then with the invention of printing in China and later Korea and the printing press in Europe more writing could be produced and circulated more quickly and often more cheaply than books copied out by hand all of this turned into a beneficial feedback cycle potential innovators raised the carrying capacity of the population more people go on to produce more ideas which raises the carrying capacity of the population which in turn produces more potential innovators
  • So throughout the agrarian period collective learning continued to raise the carrying capacity of the world populations grew from 6 million 10,000 years ago to 50 million by the dawn of States to 120 million by 1000 BCE in the midst of classical civilizations by the end of the agrarian era in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution 954 million people lived on the earth but while collective learning gradually raised the carrying capacity in the agrarian era it did not keep pace with population growth and this is a significant problem with human just like any other animals in nature we breed until we strain the resources of our environment so we are prone toward unsustainable levels of overpopulation so every 2 or 3 centuries humans would hit the carrying capacity and then the population would recoil resulting in famine disease periods of infighting and population decline in every agrarian civilization from civil wars between Caesar and Pompey the English War of the Roses to the revolt of the Janissaries in the Ottoman Empire and similar events all across the world the cycles of prosperity strain crisis and civil in fighting repeated themselves and I do worry a little bit that when we talk about traditional history we don’t do it enough in the context of carrying capacity we are after all organisms and we behave a lot like other animals on this planet we want there to be more of us and we want more resources for that more of us to enjoy so that broad big history take on the agrarian era takes us to the age of exploration explorers including Christopher Columbus but also many others United the previously isolated world zones of afro-eurasia the americas australasia and the pacific eventually this combination of world zones into one unified global network although not that unified would produce an even more astounding rise in complexity the modern revolution


The Modern Revolution: Crash Course Big History #8

  • Collective Learning, which relies on population numbers and connectivity to produce new ideas, grew by leaps and bounds with the introduction of agriculture. By the year 1400, the human population had advanced magnificently, but the world was still divided into four isolated world zones: The Americas, Australasia, the Pacific, and Afro-Eurasia. From a Big History perspective, what makes the European explorations worthy of a place in an episode called “Modern Revolution” is that they eventually united all four world zones into a global system. An increasingly connected network of potential innovators was great for collective learning. But why did the Europeans feel so motivated to expand? Well, a lot of reasons. One, Ottoman dominance of overland trade routes with Asia, particularly after the conquests of Constantinople in 1453, made Europeans seek alternative routes to the populous and rich lands of the East. Two, European states were fairly small compared to some of the vast empires of Asia, and needed to compete for more resources to fuel their almost constant wars. And three, the fruits of exploration undoubtedly had positive effects. Whether it be the many advanced inventions and consumer goods imported from China, or the spices of India and Indonesia, or crops from the Americas. That last one should not be underestimated. Crops like the potato, which earned the nickname Ready Made Bread” because it was easy to prepare combined with maize, and squashes, and tomatoes, and various yams allowed farms in Europe to support more people. This was also good for Asia where these crops were introduced in the 17th century. And, let us not forget about the vast amounts of silver that the Spanish “acquired” from the Americas, or the many cotton, tobacco, and sugar farms that Europeans bolstered their economies with. The unification of world zones also had many, many negative effects. For instance, it was terrible for people who worked on those cotton, and tobacco, and sugar farms. Europeans increasingly relied on African slaves, the first of whom were granted to the Portuguese by African rulers, and then you know, several centuries of horror ensued with an incomprehensible number of African slaves dying in the appalling conditions of the Atlantic crossing. Life was also pretty miserable for the slaves that survived the journey, and generations of their descendants. Also, because Afro-Eurasia was a modestly connected, thriving cesspool of disease, Europeans had developed many immunities. When they started arriving in the previously isolated Americas in the late 1400’s and 1500’s, the indigenous inhabitants had no immunity to those diseases. This resulted in one of the most horrific events in human history. A cocktail of various European diseases — most notably smallpox — killed off an estimated 50 million people in the Americas in little over a century. A similar tragedy played itself out in Australia when Europeans started arriving there in the 18th century. Now, along with all this horrific stuff, the unification of the world zones was, nevertheless, a good thing for collective learning — which would eventually prove our salvation in many ways. And this global system continues to increase in complexity and connectivity today. Which is why people can now look at THIS on their smartphone. Anyway, the unification of the world zones did not in itself lead to a breakthrough in the way humans harvested matter and energy. The last major shift happened with the arrival of agriculture ten thousand years prior. The colonizing European societies of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries remained agrarian. But the explorations did allow for a network of exchange that eventually did lead to a major breakthrough in how humans harnessed more energy and produced more and more cultural complexity, The Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain, as they’ll be happy to tell you, in the 18th century, but it was a global revolution involving collective learning shared across the global system. But a number of innovations that kick-started industry originated in Britain, like the more intensified use of steam engines, or the use of coke to refine metals. Not that Coke, yeah, that coke. Also, they invented many textile machines, and Britain had lots of coal and it was relatively easy to mine. Thank you trees that died hundreds of millions of years ago, we’re going to turn you into industry, and smog. But all those British breakthroughs wouldn’t have been possible without a huge global network of trade that supplied raw materials, like cotton, and that opened new markets where Britain could sell its goods. And it wouldn’t have possible to expand that network of trade in the first place without gunpowder, and the compass, which both came from China. The methods of porcelain manufacture that were important to the industrial revolution in Britain also came from China via Germany, and the improved methods of farming which freed up many British farm workers for industrial wage labour in the cities came from Flanders, in the Netherlands. Early designs for steam engines came from 18th century France, and much of the designs for these machines depended on mathematics preserved and transmitted by Islamic and Hindu civilizations. So up until the end of the 18th century virtually all production in human history was propelled by human or animal muscle power, or else, by wind and water power. But it turned out that coal and oil had stored energy from the sun that had built up over hundreds of millions of years, and using those resources dramatically increased the energy that humans could harness. Huge numbers of goods could be produced by factories at relatively low prices which meant that over many decades goods that had previously been seen as luxuries by common people, were suddenly viewed as necessities. By the 1900s most Europeans enjoyed a standard of living higher than the kings of the middle ages. Coal and oil also allowed mechanization of agriculture, which raised the carrying capacity, increasing the population. And new modes of connectivity beginning with the telegraph and then later the telephone increasingly bound the human species together allowing for swift and rapid exchange of ideas.
    A new skill or trait open up new ways or ‘niches’ to extract energy
    from the environment, evolutionary change can proceed very quickly. In the Cambrian Explosion that evolutionary change was biological. In The Industrial Revolution that increased pace of change was cultural
    Because a slight tweak in modes of production (coal aka dead trees) in the 18th century and the adoption of fossil fuels led to an explosion of productivity and invention in the 1800’s and 1900’s
    In the beginning of innovations for bicycles a huge number of designs filled all of the available niches. Eventually those designs started competing with each other and a few forms won out. You got the road bike and the mountain bike and the BMX bike. Just a little bit different variations of the same thing. Another example is the adaptive radiation of electronics. Take a look at all the stuff you needed in the 1980’s to do what your average cellphone can do today. And that was only a few decades ago. Many new ideas sparked an increase in the human standard of living, in the complexity of societies, in tons of different ways.
    The explosion of cultural evolution that started 200 years ago has yet to cease. The Cambrian Explosion went on for millions of years. The Agricultural Revolution proceeded for thousands of years. We’re still right in the middle of the Modern Revolution; maybe only at the beginning. The huge shift in human activity and a rise in complexity may continue long after our grandchildren’s lifetimes. That is, so long as we don’t do something stupid, which, you know with homo sapiens is always a distinct possibility. And let’s not forget about the rise in complexity that’s been happening since the beginning of the universe 13.8 billion years ago. A star is essentially a pile of hydrogen and helium. It’s extremely simple. By comparison, a brain that arose via biological evolution is an intricate network of billions of connections and building blocks. Industrial society is an immense whirring global network of millions upon millions of brains, more closely connected than ever before. The products of this society raised complexity even further. Bottom line is this: if the first part of this series, which looked at the vastness of the universe, made you feel insignificant, just remember that now at the tremendous heights of technological progress humanity is, in terms of networks and building blocks, the most complex system that we know of in the universe. And there’s currently no end to the potential for rising complexity in sight. This brings us to a longstanding historical question: “Why did The Industrial Revolution happen in Britain?” Great Britain was certainly uncommonly well-positioned. That said, so was China. So why didn’t The Industrial Revolution happen in, say, Song Dynasty China, between the 10th and 13th centuries? So we know the two main drivers of collective learning are population numbers and connectivity, and China has had both for a long time. The medieval Chinese had much more advanced agricultural methods than Europe; they paid attention to weeding and growing crops in rows, and frequently used tools like the seed drill. And they were doing it all centuries before that stuff was even heard of in Europe. In the 900’s, the spread of wet rice farming in Southern China raised the carrying capacity even further because rice fields simply produce more food. They are more efficient. Also, rice is easier to prepare than the laborious European process of turning wheat into bread. So, during the 10th and 11th centuries, the Chinese population increased from about 50 or 60 million to about 120 million. That’s a lot of new innovators. So many, in fact, that Song China came close to having a modern revolution of its own. I mean, coal was used to manufacture iron, production increased from 19,000 metric tons per year around 900 CE to 113,000 metric tons by 1200 CE. The Song Dynasty was the first to invent and harness the power of gunpowder, and then later, in the 15th century, Zheng He conducted overseas explorations decades before Columbus. Textile production showed the first ever signs of mechanization in ways similar to the European Spinning Jenny. But. China had dry coal, while the British needed to pump water out of their coal mines in order to mine coal, which led the British to build steam engines. So, why didn’t the modern revolution start in China around 1000 CE? Well, it might have been the cultural and political climate, and a shift away from innovation and commerce at the end of Song China in 1279. Possibly because they hadn’t united the world zones in a network of trade and unified collective learning. And possibly because the right combination of cultural innovations required to launch a Cambrian style explosion of growth just didn’t happen. The point is that collective learning is such a powerful force that from the explosion of the world population from only 6 million people 10,000 years ago to 954 million by the end of the Agrarian era, the right combination of ideas that led to the industrial explosion might have happened almost anywhere. So long as there are brains to think and exchange ideas, so long as there are energy flows on the earth, humanity has a tremendous potential for rising complexity. The modern revolution was accompanied by explosive growth in human population. It took 250,000 years for humanity to achieve its first billion people. By 1900, the world’s population was billion. Today, there are over 7 billion potential innovators who are now connected by the lightning speed of the internet, and collective learning is more powerful than ever. Humans now have unprecedented control and power over the Earth’s biosphere, which has prompted some scientists and scholars to claim that the Holocene is over and we now stand on the threshold of a new era: the Anthropocene. During this age, we may continue to raise complexity in our little pocket of the universe to wondrous new levels, hopefully to the growing benefit of all humans rather than just a privileged few. Thanks to collective learning, our potential is awesome. Unless, that is, we hit a wall like agrarian societies did every few centuries when their population growth outstripped their rates of agricultural innovation. We are now in an era of immense danger, where the modern global system of humanity might exhaust the resources of the Earth, in the same way that agricultural societies often exhausted the resources of the field. More on that next time. English

The Anthropocene and the Near Future: Crash Course Big History #9


The Deep Future: Crash Course Big History #10


Why the Evolutionary Epic Matters: Crash Course Big History #203

What it means to be human and a part of an ancient and fragile biosphere the history of life on Earth is a tale that spans from 3.8 billion years ago with the first appearance of single-celled organisms it starts with a very young Earth charts the rides complexity in the biosphere and links our story to the rocks and flames of the anatomy cosmos the evolutionary epic is a story of fascinating beasts and dramatic changes it’s pieced together similar to human history by the hunt for evidence in order to construct a timeline of events much like historians it’s the job of paleontologists to interpret that evidence and a lot of the timeline remains a mystery presently we’re at a stage comparable to the early Renaissance scholars rediscovering the history of the Roman Empire from long lost documents except we’re using fossils and evolutionary biology to explore the depths of an obscure past humans have only been around for 250,000 years or zero point zero zero zero zero six percent of the evolutionary epic what’s more we’re descended from ancestral species that lived millions and millions of years ago right back to the origin of life and their story is our story and it’s one that can teach us a lot about our lives today and the many pitfalls and perils of our future Music] since the Cambrian explosion of multicellular species 541 million years ago there have been five major mass extinctions the first the Ordovician extinction 455 million years ago was caused by a rapid freezing period followed in quick succession by a warming period killing off many inhabitants of the earth that couldn’t adapt fast enough then the Devonian extinction 375 million years ago was caused either by an asteroid impact nutrient pollution from evolving plants a decrease in carbon dioxide due to plant dominance volcanic activity or all of the above the Permian extinction 252 million years ago we have been caused by an asteroid in fact a natural increase in carbon dioxide or the prevailing theory supervolcano is blocking out sunlight the Permian is called the Great dying because it was the worst extinction of species in the past 541 million years the Triassic extinction million years ago was also likely due to volcanic super eruptions or an asteroid impact and the Cretaceous extinction 65 million years ago which wiped out most dinosaurs and led the way for an explosion of mammals was caused by an asteroid we are now in the middle of the sixth mass extinction it’s a disaster caused by us out of all the mass extinctions that have happened since the Cambrian explosion the sixth mass extinction is the first that has been caused by a single species and it’s our fault but it’s not because we’re evil or diabolically powerful but it’s because we share the lessons of each generation to future generations in exquisite detail and those lessons stack up and we get better and better at exploiting our ecosystems the sixth extinction event isn’t a recent thing either humans started the uptick in extinctions almost immediately when we emigrated out of Africa 64 thousand years ago away from the African megafauna that had evolved alongside us we begin an evolutionary slaughter of non African species that wiped out the majority of megafauna on every continent we visited easy pickings for human hunters fell before us in Europe Asia North America and especially Australia everything from woolly mammoths in Eurasia to giant kangaroos in Australia seemed to have gone extinct shortly after humans arrived there this was not out of any malice or extraordinary strength but because our skills were highly adaptive and we were talented at getting what we needed to survive we can hardly blame our ancestors for not worrying about biodiversity or studies of animal populations 60,000 years ago when talking about the sixth mass extinction you’re going to hear a lot about how this is the first one caused by a single species and by contrast with the Ordovician Devonian Permian Triassic and Cretaceous that’s more or less correct but there’s another extinction event that we don’t talk about enough allow me to take you back in time before the Cambrian explosion well before multicellular species ever existed about three billion years ago single-cell organisms were the only life on Earth dwelling in the oceans and evolving for hundreds of millions of years very slowly over millions upon millions of years bacteria rose nearer to the ocean surface they evolved to convert sunlight water and carbon dioxide into energy it was photosynthesis and the waste product of this process was highly reactive oxygen over the next billion years photosynthesizing bacteria slowly increased to the level of oxygen in the atmosphere and not all single-cell life was capable of withstanding the harmful effects of oxygen in many different species all potential ancestors for more complex life died off in the process well a mass extinction of bacteria may not appear as dramatic as an asteroid wiping out dinosaurs it is significant because these highly successful generous we’ve killed many other species by simply being well equipped to extract energy and resources from the environment humans through the use of our collective learning are very similar we’re so adept at getting what we need out of the environment that we’re leaving very little room for other species at the core of this is scarcity and the limited amount of energy in the universe upon which all complexity depends very often the success of one species must come at the expense of another however that’s not all there is to the equation since there are also many interdependencies in an ecosystem that can easily be upset for instance those photosynthesizing bacteria in the oceans are still there capturing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen and if human induced acidification of the oceans were to kill off much of this bacteria carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would rise even faster than they are now frustrating our attempts at combating climate change that is why the prospect of a sixth mass extinction is so scary while extinctions happen all of the time and are an essential part of evolution if certain species are removed from an ecosystem the entire house of cards can come crashing down threatening even humans well great oxygenation took hundreds of millions of years of slow and gradual change human led extinctions are happening in a much smaller fraction of time about two hundred and fifty thousand years that might seem like a long time but the rate seems to be accelerating with each rise of human complexity as devastating as human activity was too many megafauna species once humans created agriculture we started changing entire ecosystems to suit our needs human population numbers and density began to rise dramatically meaning more resources were consumed forests were cut down to make way for crops and pasture and predators that were a threat to humans and livestock were hunted down and over hunting and overfishing by are exploding populations became a growing concern but if we can assign a date to when these extinctions became a mass extinction the Year 1500 is a pretty good candidate around this time the age of Western explorations had begun you ain’t travelled the world started colonizing new areas and building farms and began hunting new species to extinction with improving technology we introduced new invasive species and diseases that disrupted entire ecosystem we started a global homogenize a ssin of flora and fauna introducing our domestic hits and offshoots like rats and rabbits into environments where they still compete with native species that had evolved there for millions of years let’s go to the thought-bubble after the next rise of complexity industrialization things skyrocketed even further human populations have continued to climb for just shy of a billion people around the year 1800s to seven billion today and with projections that the human population will reach nine point five to ten billion by 2050 with increased populations and increased industrialization the drop of biodiversity continues since 1500 we are aware of somewhere between 330 and six hundred and twenty major vertebrate species that have gone extinct and it isn’t just extinctions that are worrying since 1960 the wild vertebrate population that still exists has been cut in half with fewer numbers comes a greater risk of extinction in the near future as genetic diversity decreases in populations weaken today we use about of the total land area of the world for human purposes and only 15% of the land is preserved for environmental protection the remaining 45% is still eligible for further human development this is not enough to protect many threatened species habitat loss is the primary problem for 85% of the speed he’s considered in danger today and the oceans aren’t faring any better unsustainable and unregulated fishing and pollution kills off animals like sharks tuna whales sea turtles and thousands upon thousands of species that are dependent on coral reefs this doesn’t even count the vast expanses of unexplored oceans and the untold number of yet undescribed species that may be affected if this trend continues perhaps of all multicellular species could go extinct and in a thousand years the majority of life on Earth will be our domestic animals dogs cats cows sheep crops and animals that adapt to the environments we’ve created soon raccoons may rule the earth thanks thought-bubble the biosphere is a complex tangle and it’s true that our global history is full of extinctions and in fact is driven by them it might seem like we ought to just preserve the species we need for our own survival and forget the rest but if one species which seems to have no direct importance to us we’re allowed to go extinct it could potentially set off a domino effect that brings down an entire ecosystem one’s ecosystems start collapsing a ballooning human population of billions and billions of people might suffer more than just a little inconvenience our human population especially the poorest of us would experience some real threats to our food supplies health and our own livelihood it’s not quite so easy to recover from these mistakes either after a major extinction event it usually takes the biosphere about 10 to 15 million years to fully recover damage can be done within a few centuries that would take millions of years to undo and you might expect one thing that makes the sixth mass extinction even worse is carbon emissions which has a planetary boundary of 350 parts per million before it starts causing permanent problems if the boundary we have already crossed today we’re hovering around 400 parts per million the average global surface temperature will increase affecting every ecosystem on the planet but with continued emissions the question is how high will it get the best-case scenario or our goal at any rate is two degrees this century even that slight increase in so short a time could lead to the extinction of an estimated 33 percent of all species it will result in increased water shortages recurrent dust bowls like the ones we saw North America in the 1930s an uptick in climate refugees particularly from the and skyrocketing food prices that will afflict the world’s poor while their populations continue expanding if the average global temperature gets any higher the effects are even worse at four degrees which less optimistic forecasters think will reach by the end of the century it may become impossible to grow crops in some regions of the world and fresh water will become critically scarce for billions of people bubbles of carbon and methane currently trapped in frozen soil like in Siberia and on the ocean floor could escape from the sign ground and start a runaway greenhouse effect that even are cutting back on emissions couldn’t stop at 6 degrees hotter in the long run we may be looking at an extinction of Cretaceous or even Permian proportions another great dying does history repeat itself with humanity history is certainly not repeating itself given our uniqueness but the outcome of our activities might be the same as the Permian extinction a similar disaster today can not only sell the rise of complexity but destroy all complexity humans have created in the past 250 thousand years or worse silence the rise complexity on earth forever looking at the entire evolutionary epic it’s just as well to think about what our legacy will be I would hate to be classed by our struggling descendants and our geological record to be on par with an asteroid a super volcanic eruption or even photosynthesizing bacteria and that’s because we have something that asteroids volcanoes and bacteria do not we have the ability to reflect and to change our behavior and if we fail and cause just as much disaster as those apocalyptic scenarios our failure is doubled because at the end of the day for one brief and shining moment we had the power to stop it see