What are some must-see ancient history documentaries?

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In summary, the series is interesting and provides a good overview of the rise and fall of civilizations.
  • #1
I just finished watching a documentary "The Spartans" which I found pretty interesting. Funny bunch they were, casually oiling themselves up and combing each others hair before facing almost certain death at the hands of the Persians at Thermopylae. I am looking for suggestions of documentaries about aspects of ancient history (Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Aztecs, China, Japan, etc!) which you have especially enjoyed.
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  • #2
ergospherical said:
I just finished watching a documentary "The Spartans" which I found pretty interesting. Funny bunch they were, casually oiling themselves up and combing each others hair before facing almost certain death at the hands of the Persians at Thermopylae. I am looking for suggestions of documentaries about aspects of ancient history (Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Aztecs, China, Japan, etc!) which you have especially enjoyed.
There is some (British) guy on youtube who does "slice of life" pieces on the worst jobs in history particularly the middle ages.


I find them entertaining yet thought provoking. How easilly we don the trappings of modern technology as a God-given right without a second thought. I do love youtube

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  • #3
Oh yeah, Tony Robison! That guy's done a lot; the last thing I recall seeing by him was a series about the Thames. He was also in Blackadder...
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  • #4
Do you need visuals? If not, then BBC's 'In our time' podcast is excellent. It's not limited to history, let alone ancient, so you'd have to comb through the episodes for whatever interests you.
The format consists of the presenter grilling two or three experts on any given subject with really well prepared, incisive questions. The episodes are invariably very dense with information, with little love for rambling or filler.
The podcast is on BBC's website as well as on youtube.
Here's one on Sparta:
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  • #5
While historical fiction, Akira Kurosawa's film "Seven Samurai" provides a fascinating glimpse of feudal Japan transitioning to the modern era. Unallied 'ronin' warriors wander the countryside searching for employment in 'the next battle'. The strongest skilled swordsman falls prey to barely trained musket soldiers.

Best line in the movie translates as "War is running".
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  • #6
Try podcasts.
The History of Rome (179 episodes)
The History of Byzantium (242 episodes and going)
12 Byzantine Rulers (17 episodes)
The Hellenistic Age (69 episodes and going)
Casting Through Ancient Greece (48 episodes and going)
Norman Centuries (20 episodes)
History of Egypt (159 episodes and going)
The Ancient World (ongoing)
Spartan History Podcast (32 episodes and going)

There are also several an ancient history themed Hardcore History podcast episodes.
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  • #7
Uh...executive summary?
  • #8
Hornbein said:
Uh...executive summary?
History documentaries alright.
History podcasts great.
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  • #9
ergospherical said:
I am looking for suggestions of documentaries about aspects of ancient history (Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Aztecs, China, Japan, etc!) which you have especially enjoyed.

Try the series Fall of Civilizations


There is at least 12 episodes. Edit/update: the first three episodes were just over 1 hours, then about 1.5 hrs, then gradually increased to just over 3 hours.

Episode 1, Roman Britain - The Work of Giants Crumbled


Two new episodes are available:

13. The Assyrians - Empire of Iron​

14. Vijayanagara - The Last Emperors of South India​

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  • #10
I've posted a bunch in this thread before (and there are also other suggestions in the thread from other PF members):

E.g. these:

Ancient history and various documentaries:

Enjoy! :smile:
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  • #11
The Late Bronze Age collapse was a time of societal collapse between c.1200 and 1150 BCE, preceding the Greek Dark Ages. The collapse affected a large area covering much of Southeast Europe, West Asia and North Africa, comprising the overlapping regions of the Near East and Eastern Mediterranean, with Egypt, eastern Libya, the Balkans, the Aegean, Anatolia, and the Caucasus. It was a transition which historians believe was violent, sudden, and culturally disruptive for some Bronze Age civilizations during the 12th century BCE, along with a sharp economic decline of regional powers.


Dr. Norrie provides a summary of the fifteen currently accepted causes for the end of the Bronze Age in the Near East and then goes on to discuss the sixteenth reason—infectious disease epidemics. These are the real reason that the end of the Bronze Age in the Near East was called either the “catastrophe” or the “collapse” due to its short time frame of 50 years, the mass migration of the general population and the “Sea Peoples” plus the abandonment of cities such as Hattusa, the capital of the Hittite Empire c.1200 bce. The diseases most likely to cause this collapse are smallpox, bubonic plague and tularemia.

History Time is another series of ancient history by author Peter Kelly


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  • #12
Pardon me if this is well known but I was fascinated by the assessment of AD 536 being the worst year in history:
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  • #13
Just wanted to share this Egypt has always piqued my curiosity, in fact, since I was a small child! This is quite intriguing!

  • #14
Not a documentary per se, but relevant to ancient history.

From 2018 - Extinct Babylonian Langauge is Back and in a Movie – Listen to it Here

A story from 701 BC has been brought to life in a 20-minute-long film that uses the extinct Babylonian language.
. . .
The film, titled The Poor Man of Nippur, is filmed exclusively in the language, telling the story of a young man who sought revenge on a mayor who cheated him out of his goat, which is his prized possession.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akkadian_Empire (c. 2334 – 2154 BC (180 years))
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achaemenid_Empire (550 BC–330 BC).
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  • #15
There are some good series on the Bible lands regarding history and archaeology. Francesca Stavrakopoulou did a series which was fascinating.
Obviously religions come into it but this is more history, ancient literature and archaeology than theology. Just to make sure I will put @berkeman as an alert incase it is not suitable.
Another great YouTube channel is Digital Hammurabi I won't put a link but the site is run by two scholars / Assyriologists and produces good quality discussion and content.
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  • #16
Kings and Generals, which covers ancient history, has a recent video on the early history of what has become Ukraine. It is controversial given the current situation in Ukraine and the Russian aggression. There are disputes about the accuracy of the early history and participants.

In researching ancient history, what texts or resources are available to document the history, or verify published historical narratives?

Years ago, at my request, a colleague found a history book from Bulgaria and was sending it to me. The book was stolen, ostensibly by someone in the postal system.
  • #17
To paraphrase actor Ronald Reagan, "There I go again.", suggesting historically accurate drama when the OP requested documentaries.

The HBO Anglo-Italian series "Rome" provides fascinating glimpses into Roman politics and daily life during the reign of Gaius Julius Caesar following his final campaign in Gaul and his chosen successor and great-nephew Octavius Caesar Augustus. Apparently certain Italian collaborators and critics objected to the choice of UK actors in key roles despite exemplary performances and nuanced use of English language to suggest social status, education, and background.

I would prefer some spoken Latin and Greek to augment the written language even under the hoary proviso that few scholars agree on how Roman Latin sounded. We would also lose some of the subtle distinction of spoken English accents reinforcing caste among the social classes.

The dramatic narrative revolves around two legionnaires mentioned by name in Julius Ceasar's 'Chronicles' and Roman census documents, fleshed out and brought to life by the screenwriters. One of the most popular female characters 'Attia of the Julii', mother to Octavius and lover to Marc Antony, represents a composite of documented Julii matrons including JC's sister and niece.

Egyptologists will enjoy the role of Cleopatra, her family, servants, lovers and advisors. Introduced in Season 1 during a visit to Rome, Cleo blossoms during Season 2 until her ultimate demise to elude Octavian's legions intent on her capture and humiliation.

After our heroes escape Egypt at the end of Season 2 on the road to Israel, financiers regrettably canceled Season 3 while in pre-production, leaving 4 and 5 stillborn . Still, the two extant seasons of "Rome" provide a wealth of cultural references and encouraged this viewer to read several recent history books illuminating this important period.

"More dormouse, anyone?"

Related to What are some must-see ancient history documentaries?

1. What is the purpose of ancient history documentaries?

Ancient history documentaries serve the purpose of educating viewers about the history, culture, and events of past civilizations. They often use a combination of expert interviews, historical reenactments, and archival footage to bring the past to life and make it more accessible to a modern audience.

2. How accurate are ancient history documentaries?

The accuracy of ancient history documentaries can vary greatly depending on the specific documentary and its sources. It is important to critically evaluate the information presented and consider any biases or agendas that may be present. Some documentaries may also include dramatizations or speculative theories, which should be taken with a grain of salt.

3. Who creates ancient history documentaries?

Ancient history documentaries are typically created by a team of experts, including historians, archaeologists, researchers, and filmmakers. They may also collaborate with experts from specific fields, such as art historians for documentaries about ancient art or military historians for documentaries about ancient battles.

4. What makes a good ancient history documentary?

A good ancient history documentary should be well-researched and based on reliable sources. It should also be engaging and visually appealing, using a variety of storytelling techniques to keep the audience interested. Additionally, a good documentary should present multiple perspectives and avoid oversimplifying complex historical events.

5. Are ancient history documentaries biased?

Like any form of media, ancient history documentaries can be biased. It is important to consider the perspective and background of the creators and to critically evaluate the information presented. Some documentaries may have a specific agenda or may only present one side of a historical event, so it is important to seek out multiple sources and perspectives when learning about ancient history.

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