Practice English Speaking&Listening with: BBC Building the Ancient City Athens and Rome 1of2

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Every morning, these soldiers raise the Greek flag

above their ancient citadel, the Acropolis of Athens.

It harks back 2,500 years, to a time

when Athens gave birth to the idea of a city run by free citizens.

Athens is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

And in many ways, it's Athens that gave us our ideal of a city,

our ideal of a citizen.

We live in a modern world full of great cities.

Modern Athens is a far larger than Athens was in antiquity.

And yet, the Athens of antiquity is an extraordinary achievement.

It wasn't a place where inhabitants were clustered around

the palace of a king, but a seat of open government.

Every aspect of daily life from defence to waste disposal

was run by its citizens.

Ultimately, this system would define a way of life.

Athenian citizens would give it a name.

They called it people power - "Democratia".


This is the story of how the Greeks transformed

the idea of the city into a model which lives on to this day.

The colonists arrived here and said, "This is it!

"And then we'll build everything around it."

The grid is coming into view.

How they created an urban way of life.

I love the fact that you know the names of the stonemasons,

like the guys who carved the fluting!

The first constitution that laid down the rights of its citizens

and built a city that was the envy of the world.

The Athenians were fighting for an ideal.

And that's the ideal that we articulate today.

'I'll then travel to Rome where, 500 years later,

'they created what we could call the first ancient mega-city,

'complete with high-rise housing...'

What I love is that this isn't just a bit of archaeology,

it is a bit of a living history!

'..Underground complexes...

'..And incredible infrastructure.'

There's a famous passage in a guidebook

written in the second century AD by a Greek called Pausanias

and it's guidebook to all of Greece.

And he comes across a little place in Boeotia called Penapis

and he says, "The city, the polis of Penapis!"

And then he pauses and says, "If you can really call this place a polis".

And what worries him about Penapis is,

and I give the quote,

"It has no magistrates' buildings, no gymnasium,

"no theatre, no agora, not even a water supply leading to a fountain."

'Public space, public buildings, theatres,

'eventually, even public libraries like this one.

'These were the elements which Athenians understood,

'transformed a place of mass habitation into a true city.

'They were taken as given in Athens, which set a benchmark for all

'ancient Mediterranean cities and for the cities of today.

'These high expectations were the products of a system

'of government which Athens gave the world,

'a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

'And this is how it happened.'

'Many people think of England's Magna Carter of 1215

'as the earliest constitution.

'But the document I'm going to show you records one

'from the sixth century BC, nearly 2,000 years earlier.

'The Athenaion Politeia was written by

'the great Greek thinker, Aristotle.

'Yet unlike the Magna Carta, it has never been filmed before.'

- Just through here. - Is this it? - Yes. - Oh, wow.

Isn't this fantastic!

I've so often seen pictures of this,

but this is the first time I've seen this in the flesh.

It's a papyrus that is, well, it's 2,000 years old.

But it's the only surviving copy of Aristotle's Constitution Of Athens.

It was discovered back in 1890, it came to the British Museum

and the very, very young Frederic Kenyon, 27 years old,

he set about reading it.

The Greek is incredibly hard to read.

This is just a bit of it. This is half the papyrus.

The full thing would go down to here, it's seven foot in all.

And there were four of those scrolls!

And this initial bit is where he tells the first chapter,

which is about the reform of Solon.

Here, for instance, there's Solon himself. Solon.

Athenians regarded Solon as the founder of their democracy.

They appointed him their lawgiver and he was invited to draw up

a new legal code to rescue Athens from bitter internal conflict

between rich and poor.

This document was at least as important to the

ancient Athenians as the Magna Carta is for us.

Yet his constitution was far more advanced.

He wasn't just a lawgiver, he was also a poet,

defending his reforms and here he is saying that,

"I freed the land. The black earth, the greatest of the gods!" he calls it.

Extraordinary expression.

"The greatest of gods used to be enslaved.

"He gives freedom to the people who work the earth.

"And I freed the land of Attica."

Attica, the land of Athens.

It is the longest papyrus text we have of Greek literature.

And that is what changed our understanding

of the birth of Greek democracy.

Democratic freedom and the new world of the Greek city went hand-in-hand.

To understand how radical a departure this was,

you need to see what had gone before.

In the centuries leading up to the Athens of Solon,

that had been large urban settlements in ancient Greece,

just as in China and Ancient Egypt.

Though none of them were cities as we would understand them.

The most famous flourished in what was once

thought to be a world of myth.

This is Mycenae, 75 miles from Athens.

The land of Agamemnon, Helen of Troy and the Trojan War.

The Greeks of the classical period were brought up on the Homeric epics

and their stories of kings of fabulous wealth and power.

It was always assumed that those Homeric epics were mere legend,

fantasies about a heroic age.

That was the assumption.

Until archaeology demonstrated that there is a historical

basis in Mycenaean civilisation.

This, for the world of 3,500 years ago, was a major urban centre.

There were enough homes here to house

a significant number of people.

But this was the walled stronghold of a single ruler,

rather than a community of citizens.

That's not to say it wasn't advanced.

The huge walls, built high over the landscape,

were so big that later Greeks thought they were put up

by the one-eyed monsters made famous by Odysseus - the Cyclops!

In fact, they were a real feat of engineering.

The highlight was the oldest domed roof in the ancient world.

Yet some of the key ingredients

associated later with cities like Athens -

shared public amenities, public space and public buildings -

were missing.

Ultimately, this was a large settlement,

with streets and homes crammed around the great hall,

or "megaron", of a king.

By 1,000 BC, Mycenae and the other palace centres had collapsed.

Slowly, a new type of Greek settlement was beginning to develop.

In the course of the ninth and eighth centuries BC,

Greeks began to experiment with communities

run by the citizens themselves.

This model became known as the Polis.

Greek settlers took the Polis

way beyond the borders of their homeland.

Because when they built their colonies, they were starting

from scratch, they could afford to be even bolder in their thinking.

It became a spectacular experiment in city building.

This beautiful site is known today

by its Roman name of "Paestum".

But before it was a Roman city, it was a Greek one.

Founded by Greek colonists around 600 BC,

they gave it the name of "Poseidonia" - Poseidon City.

Now, it may seem a bit weird to look for a Greek city in Italy,

but the south of Italy and Sicily are full of new cities

founded by the Greeks in that period in the seventh, sixth century BC,

when they were experimenting with new ideas

of what a city-state, a Polis, might be.

And it's maybe, in this site, better than anywhere else

that you can see the elements that go to make up a Polis.

To find out what was so revolutionary

about the way this place was planned,

I've come here with my colleague from Cambridge, Tiziana D'Angelo,

Tiziana, can you give me an idea of how formal

was it to creating a new Greek colony? A new Greek city?

Well, it was a gradual process, but the colonists arrived here

and they had a clear idea what they needed to build their city.

And they had a set of priorities

and so they were starting what was the main priority.

The main priority was public space.

Known to Greeks as the "Agora",

this was the leap of imagination that, more than anything else,

differentiated the new Greek settlements from Mycenae.

At the heart of the Polis was not a palace for a king,

but an open meeting space for the citizens.

We are basically entering the southern border of the Agora.

And the Agora was huge, so it extended there for ten hectares.

Oh, wow, so...not just this.

Ten hectares is absolutely gigantic.

So, public space is really important in the city.

- It was the first thing that they were very concerned about. - Yeah?

So they arrived here and they sort of saved this large square.

They said, "OK, this is it and then we'll build everything around it."

Yeah. So, this is for the "demos". This is for the people,

and then individuals can have their houses further away.

Yes. West and East of the Agora, but we don't touch this space.

In total, the public space here, including the sanctuaries,

was the equivalent of nearly eight football pitches.

That's a quarter of the town's surface area.

The Agora of the Polis put the inhabitants at the centre

of a new kind of settlement. One run by the citizens themselves.

The city as we begin to know it.

It was here that the citizens, the "Politeia",

met to exchange goods and ideas,

to buy and sell. Also just to talk to each other.

Agora comes from the Greek word for to talk, "agoreuo".

The idea of public space as a place to talk may seem innocuous,

but out of talk came political discussion,

and out of political discussion came politics.

The Agora and the approach to politics that came with it became

as popular on the Hellenic mainland

as it did in colonies like Poseidonia, or Paestum.

In 900 BC, there hadn't been a single Polis in Greece.

By 600 BC, there were hundreds.

At the time when Paestum was established,

Athens was just another Polis in central Greece.

But it was developing fast.

Above all, it's Agora began to evolve,

not just in size, but also in role.

Just after 600 BC, politics in the Agora was revolutionised.

The agent of change was the reform of government by Solon,

described by Aristotle.

What you saw in the British Library is only a section of the Politeia.

An entire scroll, like this copy I put together,

was even longer.

Laid end-to-end, the complete text is a staggering 5.7 metres,

nearly 20 feet long.

It tells us in detail not only about Solon's reforms,

but also what life was like in Athens before he arrived.

It says all the land was in the hands of the rich,

and the poor, women, children

were effectively their slaves.

And then it talks about how Solon had his great revolution,

his "seisachtheia" - his shaking up of everything.

And here we have Solon talking about

how he gives freedom to the people of Attica.

He liberates them from shameful slavery,

"doulien aeikea", and makes them free citizens.

The laws say no-one who is born in Attica can be turned into a slave.

There is no more slavery for debt.

And the constitution then gives them political rights.

And without that, there is no such thing as democracy.

Solon, back in 594 BC,

legislated the instrument to create freedom and democracy.

He gave them an "Ecclesia", an assembly

where they had a vote and where they had the freedom to speak.

That freedom of speech is fundamental for democracy.

Solon's reforms weren't perfect.

They excluded women and foreign slaves from citizenship.

But they launched the idea of people power,

which came to its peak in the fifth century Athens,

as male citizens voted on almost every decision.

These were thrashed out in sight of the Acropolis,

at the heart of the Athenian democracy,

On the hill of The Pnyx.

One of those who knows best how this place worked

is my old friend John Papadopoulos,

who has been studying here for 30 years.

We get a great view of the Acropolis from this spot, don't we?

And I guess down there we've got the Agora.

And that's where so much of democracy happens.

And yet, this is an even more important spot for democracy,

- isn't it? - This is the iconic spot.

This is where the assembly of male citizens,

that constitute the Athenian democracy, this is where they met,

this is where they made all of their decisions.

And it's just here that we have the orators' platform.

- Mm-hm. - And this is very important. This is where the orators stood.

And in order to make your voice heard,

you had to shout above a quorum

of a minimum of 6,000 citizens.

6,000 is an enormous number.

You're filling this entire space, aren't you?

And they sent people down into the Agora with ropes,

literally to rope them in.

They had red paint on the ropes

so you could see who was, you know, loitering around.

You fill the place till it's full.

By definition, you've got a lot of poor people there.

You couldn't ignore the will of the poorest people in this society.

And that is, of course, one major reason why the democracy expanded.

And over time, it didn't just expand in Athens but across the world.

Do you think the numbers we have in Barnet and Camden are adequate?

- You've got more police... - Straightforward question.

- Answer the question. - Yes!

- Answer the question. - Ask a sensible question, Dumbo. Yes.

- Ooh, here we go again! - Order! - Here we go again.

Democracy is alive and well in modern cities today,

and one place that's proud to have inherited the mantle is London.

Yes or no? Did you say it was going to be free?

I urge you to get up on the cable car and...

I've been on the cable car, Mr Mayor, but I...

It's a system where politicians have to take the rough with the smooth.

Ancient Athens' greatest champion in this capital, Boris Johnson,

is no exception.

But the Athenians would have considered this version

of democracy tame by comparison.

The citizens delegated little to their politicians,

and had the right to do more than just vote them from power.


I want you to imagine you're in The Pnyx,

- that you're an orator on the Bema. - Yes.

- You haven't got a mic at all. - I know, I know.

- What would it have been like? - It would have been very difficult.

And, of course, the Athenians have the inexpressible pleasure

of being able, when they were fed up with people,

to vote to ostracise them.

- Absolutely. - Can you imagine the impact on you

as the humble person of Athens, you're never going to be one of

these guys, but you can send them to Bulgaria.

Or wherever. For a long time.

And it must have been a fantastically powerful thing.

I think we should bring it back.

I'm not going to say anything and comment on that!

But none of this was a joke to the ancient Athenians.

They didn't just have the right to expel those

who threatened their democracy...

So, what's going on here?

We've got a stele, a long piece of marble,

with a long inscription down the bottom,

and then an image up above

of a woman crowning a seated man.

Well, it's a celebration of democracy.

What we see here is a woman

who was the personification of democracy,

crowning a seated gentleman

who is a representation of the demos, of the people.

So we have the story both in image and in word.

The long inscription, says that anyone who attempts

to overthrow the democracy,

anybody who wants may murder them.

They may kill them with impunity and there will be no prosecution.

Athens guarded its democratic status with pride.

Even in today's Athens, you can still find clues

to how the visionary government, created by ancient Athenians,

took the lead over its rivals.

- Kalimera! - How are you? Good morning! - Good morning. Good morning.

Do you have ancient coins? Archaa nomismata?

- Yes, yes, we have. - Here. Oh, terrific!

Oh, brilliant. Brilliant.

- And here, how much? - Two Euro.

- Two Euro? - Yes. - You've made me a happy man.

I have to say, I really am pleased to have my own Athenian owl here.

Two Euros is a small price to pay for this beauty.

Of course, it's not an original Athenian owl,

it's just a modern copy but, symbolically,

this is what the wealth of Athens was all about.

They made these coins which they always stamped with

the owl of Athena, the goddess of wisdom,

with the silver from the mines at Laurium.

And it's the Lucky strike of one particular year - 493 BC,

when the state makes a profit of 100 talents.

What to do with this?

Their first idea, split it up between the citizens of Athens.

It would have worked out at ten drachma a head.

And the great politician Themistocles says, "no, no, no.

"Invest, invest, invest.

"With those 100 talents, we can build 100 ships."

Themistocles was a statesman of Churchillian importance

in Democratic Athens.

He realised he had to persuade his citizens of the need to build

up the Navy, to defend both the Athenian democracy

and its strategic interests.

Like Churchill, Themistocles was a great orator.

It was no small feat to get the Athenian voters to forego

a cash hand-out, and invest instead in naval power.

Control of the sea and the trade brought with it

would stimulate the growth of the most populated city

in the Mediterranean.

This is a replica Trireme, or Athenian battleship.

Its design is based on original stone carvings.

It's 35 metres long with three banks of oars.

This was the pinnacle of naval technology in its day.

With 170 oarsmen, a ship like this needed to outmanoeuvre the enemy.

It required a high degree of training

and skill to achieve the synchronisation for all the rowers.

They could complete a full turn of the boat in fewer than 70 metres.

That's only two ship lengths.

It's battering ram was its lethal weapon.

As the ship's current Honorary Commander,

Captain Panos of the modern Greek Navy, explains.

They used all the oarsmen during the battles in order to give

strength when the ram was hitting the other vessel.

So, the ram is a really important part of the ship?

- This is the true weapon of the ship, isn't it? - Correct.

And what you want to do is get up the maximum speed

- so that that bronze ram goes right into the side. - Correct.

The oarsmen, they were free men,

something that a lot of people don't know.

Because, of course, historically,

rowing ships have often been rowed by slaves.

Often chained to the oars.

It was a brutal and horrible thing to do.

And it must have been, actually, quite unpleasant,

rowing in a ship like this.

It was unpleasant but the fact that those men were free citizens,

they were not slaves, and that's why they gave their best.

The Athenian navy, the future growth of the city of Athens

and the freedom of its citizens became inextricably linked.

The investment of the profits of the silver mines at Laurium

in building up a new Navy had enormous consequences

for the development of Athens.

On the one hand, it made Athens a great naval power

and led to victories,

but it also had deep political implications.

The people who pulled the orders were Athenian citizens.

But, above all, they were the poor citizens of Athens,

and that meant that their voice really mattered in politics.

They voted to send themselves into battle.

In 480 BC, Persia invaded Greece.

Now, the ability of a citizen-state

to stand up to a great empire would be put to the test.

Their Athenian leader decided to take a huge risk.

An Oracle had told the Athenians to trust in their wooden walls.

Themistocles interpreted this to be the Athenian Navy.

Instead of defending the city with soldiers, he would instead abandon

Athens and withdraw his troops to ships moored off Salamis.

According to the Greek historian Heroditus,

the Persians outnumbered the Greeks by more than four to one.

But as night fell,

the master tactician Themistocles sent messages to the Persians,

hinting that he was ready to change sides.

The Persians, in order to maintain their position, as negotiations

continued through the night, were forced to backpaddle as dawn broke.

With the Persians exhausted, Themistocles attacked,

annihilating his enemy.

Though Athens itself had been razed to the ground,

and the old Acropolis destroyed, the Athenian people

and the revolutionary system of government had triumphed in war.

They were now in a position to win the peace

and transform their home from just another Greek Polis

to the most glittering city in the ancient world.

To understand Salamis as a turning point,

you need to see the landscape from the top of the Hill of the Muses.

So we're looking out here on the heart of Athenian naval power?

This is the most magic spot for Athenian history and topography.

Right in front of us, we have that crescent moon-shaped harbour,

and that is Phaleron, and it was there that the harbour was

during the battle of Salamis.

But because Phaleron was too open and too exposed,

at or shortly after 480,

under the inspired leadership of Themistocles,

in order to protect the harbour,

decided to move the main harbour from Phaleron

to the three different harbours of Piraeus.

And there's that one modern skyscraper in the middle,

one harbour is to the left of that,

one harbour is more or less there,

and the main harbour, Kantharos, is to the right.

The wooden walls of Athens, its legendary fleet,

were now reinforced by these famous long walls,

formidable fortifications of stone,

20 metres high and six kilometres in length.

They effectively enclosed the route from Athens to Phaleron

and the Piraeus, protecting the link to the sea,

and the future greatness of democratic Athens as a maritime power.

They transformed Athens into a city of unprecedented size,

integrated with a system of ports

that made it the trading hub of the Aegean.

The modern Piraeus is an enormous ferry port,

but it's in exactly the position of the ancient Piraeus,

and it's this gigantic port that is the secret of the commercial success of ancient Athens.

With its hard-won political freedom came economic freedom.

Athens' naval power meant the Athenian merchant fleet

was free to trade with whoever they wished, bringing in vast wealth

and goods from all over the Mediterranean and beyond.

Parts of the ancient sea fortifications of Athens survive today.

And more remarkable still,

an archaeological team from the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities

and the Danish Institute at Athens

has discovered one key element of the city's supreme maritime status in the fifth century BC.

The foundations of the ship sheds in Zea harbour.

What we have here is an artistic reconstruction of the Zea harbour,

and this is exactly the point that we are standing right now.

And this is one of the two fortifications towers that would

block the entrance of the harbour.

So right here, going across?


One tower would have been here, the other one, the other side,

and by using a chain, they would block the entrance.

Because they wouldn't like anybody coming in

and having access to their triremes.

This harbour complex would have been almost 110,000 square feet.

You would have space for 196 ship sheds.

Themistocles didn't just inspire a great navy,

he also persuaded the citizens to begin a public infrastructure

project which was without parallel in the ancient world.

When Themistocles developed this area

and created his new system of ports,

he built a great wall around it, linked it up to the Acropolis,

you can see the trace of the long walls

which are followed by modern streets.

But he also created a residential quarter,

and he brought in a famous architect,

a certain Hippodamus of Miletus,

to lay out this new residential quarter for him.

Hippodamus was famous for his radical ideas

about how people should live in his new cities.

Sometimes regarded as the father of modern town planning,

he disliked the confusion of the older settlements of antiquity

and sought to impose a new order in the planning of Greece.

His was a utopian vision and a democratic one.

In modern Athens, it's hard to get a feel

of what Hippodamus' city would have looked like.

However, there is one place you can really get the idea.

In northern Greece, 125 miles from the Bulgarian border,

are the remains of the ancient city of Olynthos.

It's the best surviving example of the layout of a Greek city of the classical period.

At the south of the site,

there is an earlier development from the sixth century BC,

with clusters of houses strewn here and there.

Then, in the 430s BC,

we can see the scale of the revolution that took place.

The new settlement is laid out with pinpoint mathematical precision.

Long, straight streets, dividing equally sized blocks.

In each, are ten houses. All of them of the same dimensions.

The clear boundaries of the grid helped avoid disputes between neighbours,

because this was a society where the law reigned supreme,

and the equal sized houses symbolised the equality between citizens.

Themistocles' development of Piraeus after the battle of Salamis

had created not only a mechanism for economic expansion,

but also one which would energise the young democracy.

The grid at Piraeus stretched out towards the old town

and Athens was entering a new phase.

The golden age of the city.

The key to success was an alliance of cities, each of them unique

and diverse, with Athens at the helm.

Athens' victory over the Persians led to an explosion of growth.

The Persians may have been defeated

but they were still a real menace to the Greeks and what Athens does

is to form an alliance of all the cities threatened by the Persians,

a couple of hundred cities sign up to a great naval alliance.

The Athenians led the alliance, but they also set it up

in a way that proved very advantageous to themselves.

They said to their allies, "Well,

"either you provide ships to add to our Navy or you give us cash."

And progressively, as the cash came in, the Navy got bigger

and stronger and it became harder and harder for the other allies

to do anything but pay tribute to Athens.

By 460, the Persians had been driven right out of the Aegean,

there wasn't a single Greek city left threatened by the Persians.

And at that point it becomes slightly less important

to the Athenians to put their navy out

and they find other ways of spending their money.

The city of Athens flourishes on its naval victory and naval power.

Almost immediately, they start building,

and the Acropolis is built on the profits

coming in from this great naval alliance.

The city was now free to make real its urban ideal.

And in the 440s BC, under its new and dynamic leader Pericles,

this lavish building programme began in earnest.

Although he was born into a noble family, Pericles was a populist

who would take Athenian democracy into an even more radical direction.

Under his leadership, the poor would not only be allowed

to sit on the juries, but be paid handsomely for it.

He even introduced subsidies to enable them to attend the theatre.

The monuments on the Acropolis were designed to make ordinary Athenians

feel proud of the achievements of their grassroots democracy.

Although the Parthenon is the most famous of those buildings,

by looking a little closer, you can decipher the clues

left by the ancient Athenians themselves

about what they thought had made their city great.

It's interesting, isn't it, how all of these tourists

come flooding through and they've got eyes only for the Parthenon?

They all know that this is the monument to see on the Acropolis.

And they don't even pause to look at this one down here.

The Propylaea may seem just an entrance to the Acropolis,

but John has a striking new theory.

If he's right, the tourists are missing something monumental.

What's really remarkable,

and this has been an enigma for a long time,

was why did architect, Mnesicles,

in 437 BC change the orientation by almost 40 degrees?

- What, thataway? - Out there.

- It used to point out towards the Hill of the Muses and towards Phaleron. - Yeah.

Whereas now he changed it

and nobody could quite figure out what that was all about.

It's so elegantly simple

and it typifies what the Athenians were all about.

Upon exiting the Acropolis,

- upon exiting the Propylaea... - Yes.

Salamis is in your face.

Mnesicles captured for eternity

the watershed event that defined Athens.

Elsewhere on the Acropolis

there are the signs of the human story behind these monuments.

They reveal the spirit of openness

which would make Athens the centre of the Mediterranean world.

Of course, the big names involved in putting up these wonderful temples,

people like Phidias or Mnesicles,

they were probably Athenian citizens,

but what about the workmen who did all the detailed work?

Well, this is in fact very interesting,

because we actually have inscriptions that give accounts,

a list of all the workmen and what exactly they did.

This amazing historical document,

now on display in the Acropolis Museum,

lists the names of all the workmen who built the Erechtheion,

giving their jobs, their place of origin,

and in many cases even their social status.

I love the fact that you know the names of each and every carpenter who worked here, the stonemasons,

the guys who carved the fluting, it's quite specific,

not who made the columns, but who did the little channels down.

And there's this guy called Simias, who he has a group of four slaves,

and they were working explicitly on the fourth column,

which must be one, two, three, four.

That's Simias at work. Brilliant fluting!

Look at the Erechtheion, one of the great buildings of Ancient Athens,

of the 86 builders, sculptors of the Erechtheion who we've identified.

40 were metics, resident aliens,

I think 26 were slaves,

and the rest were free workers.

So, in other words, the overwhelming majority

were either slaves or... And the biggest category were foreigners.

It was built by the Poles, as it were.

It was built by the immigrant labour from what was then the equivalent of Albania,

or wherever it happened to be.

What the Erechtheion documents

is a willingness to welcome energy and talent

if it could be turned to advantage of the city as a whole.

It was an openness that went hand-in-hand with democracy.

As the prosperity of the Piraeus with its metic traders grew,

so the road system was transformed to accommodate the rising number

of goods needed to supply the increasing population.

It's no accident that the modern railway link from the old Agora to Piraeus today

traces the road linking Athens to the port in ancient times.

The technology has changed, but the infrastructure blueprint

laid down by 5th-century Athenians remains the same.

The new transport links meant that then as now Athenians could buy

from an international shopping list in the Agora.

An open city meant global trade

as Pericles boasted in the 5th century BC.

"Because of the importance that our city,

"the products of the whole world flow in here.

"And it is our good fortune to enjoy with the same familiar pleasure

"both our home produce goods and those of other people."

But we know from contemporary descriptions just how rich the Agora was

and just what a wide range of goods you could buy there.

There's a lovely passage here that I'm going to quote to you from a comic poet.

And he says you can buy pretty well anything in Athens.

"It comes from all over the world.

"Syracuse gives us choose and well-fed pigs.

"Sails come from Egypt and this paper too.

"Incense from Syria.

"In Paphlagonia grows the almond grove.

"The elephant sends its teeth from Africa's sands.

"Venetia sends us dates across the billows.

"And Carthage, carpets rich and well-stuffed pillows."

With so much trade going on in and around the city,

the Athenian government imposed a strict system of weights and measures

to ensure that no-one got cheated buying the city's produce.

In a democracy the rule of law mattered

and public officials were appointed to ensure that all aspects of daily life

were managed freely, fairly and cleanly.

- So this drain, John, is this an original feature? - Oh, very much so.

This is actually one of the most important parts of the Agora.

This is the Great Drain.

In order for the Agora to become an Agora,

you had to have water management.

Fountains brought drinking water into Athens,

the Great Drain channelled the excess out,

preventing flooding and removing waste.

So the Athenians really cared about keeping their city clean.

It's not just having drains,

but, of course, they have a board of officials who are responsible for it.

Oh, yes indeed, the so-called "astynomi".

And these were the people responsible for keeping the city clean

and "asty" the first part of the word is the word for the city,

"nomi" being rules, laws etc.

So these were the people who kept the drains flowing,

who kept the city clean,

and they were also responsible for the koprologoi.

- The koprologoi would mean literally "shit carriers"? - Exactly.

And there were very clear prescribed rules and regulations

as to where and how far from the city walls you could take the human waste.

It's all part and parcel of managing this great city.

- That's wonderful. The City of hygiene. - The City of Hygiene.

The democratic government of Athens had done more than create the institutions

which could make a great city work,

it had set a benchmark of what a polis increase should be.

And that standard had been set by public demand,

the power of the people, democracy.

It was a standard not just for Ancient Athens,

but for the cities of the future.

Summed up by one of the greatest Athenian leaders, Pericles,

his words continue to inspire our leaders of today.

"A spirit of freedom governs our conduct not only in public affairs

"but also in managing the small tensions of everyday life

"where we show no animosity at our neighbour's choice of pleasures,

"nor cast aspersions that may hurt even if they do not harm."

Now, that is what we're all about, that's London.

That's the idea that you let people get on with their lives.

That you don't have any prejudices on grounds of race or gender or sexuality or whatever.

And you welcome and you tolerate.

And that's what they believed in and that's the ideal we articulate today.

And it was that tolerance that led arguably to Athens' greatest legacy.

For Athens political freedom and freedom of trade went hand in hand.

But Pericles understood for a city really to take off,

it needed ideas, freedom of thought.

This is the modern Academy of Athens,

but it recalls the great philosophical schools of Ancient Athens,

like Plato's Academy.

Athens' spirit of freedom meant that it became a magnet for the greatest thinkers in the known world,

following the lead of Socrates and Plato.

And, indeed, it was Plato's star pupil, Aristotle,

who recorded the Constitution of Athens, its politeia,

a document which has given us our unique insight

into the workings of Ancient Athens.

It was Solon's law code which had drawn the link between freedom

and the city

and established the rights of citizens for the first time.

And just how unique Athens was would quickly become apparent

because success brought rivalry.

As the Persian threat subsided, there was

a protracted series of wars with another Greek state.


These wonderful pieces are copies of sculptures from the Acropolis

in Athens.

Athens was full of sculptures, images, works of art, monuments.

That's what Athens was about.

Here we've got the tyrant slayers, Harmodios and Aristogeiton,

the originals stood in the Agora as symbols of democracy.

These were the people who drove out tyrants.

By contrast, Sparta is an almost image-free zone.

One of the rare exceptions is this guy here,

who is supposed to be the Spartan king, Leonidas, the king who

commanded the 300 who met their death at the Gates of Thermopylae.

Sparta was in so many ways the polar opposite of Athens.

It was the opposite of all the ideals which Solon stood for,

that idea that if you were born in the territory,

you should always be free.

In Sparta, by contrast, there was a whole population of serfs,

they called them helots, who were generation after generation

bound to work for the land-holding elite, the Spartiates like Leonidas.

They had no laws, no coinage, not very fond of trade.

They didn't really like immigrants.

In fact, once a year, they ritually drove out all foreigners.

It was called the Xenelasia, the driving out of foreigners.

And as a consequence, Sparta wasn't much to write home about as a city.

At least compared to Athens, Sparta seemed to be just

a collection of villages.

There was one thing these Spartans did better than anyone else

and that was warfare.

From the early stage,

these Spartiates were trained in the arts of war.

They knew better than anyone else in Greece how to defend their land

and how to ravage other people's land and when they did so,

nobody could stand up to them.

If the Spartans invaded,

Athens could survive without the farmland of Attica, as the city

state was already importing much of its food through the Pireaus.

Pericles knew in times of crisis the Athenians could fall

back behind the long walls of the extended city.

But this apparently well-devised defensive strategy

had a fundamental flaw.

The Kerameikos here is the biggest graveyard of ancient Athens

and it was near here, when they were excavating a new metro line

just back there, that they made an extraordinary discovery.

Among the individual burials, there was an enormous pit, full of

skeletons thrown in ram-jam, without any ceremony, over 100 in number.

They must be victims of the Great Plague.

The Great Plague was the great flaw in Pericles' strategy.

Pericles thought he could survive Spartan invasion by gathering

the whole population within the long walls.

It was in fact an effective strategy,

but it had a big downside and the downside was

if you cram people into the same space, they spread disease.

A terrifying plague broke out and we know about it in great detail

because the historian Thucydides was one of its victims.

And he tells us with medical precision how the plague was.

Dr Manolis Papagrigorakis has been analysing new

evidence of how the victims died.

So, Manolis Papagrigorakis has come with one of the skeletons

- he's studying. This is the head of a young girl... - 11 years old.

- Are you certain she suffered from the plague? - Yes.

How do you know?

So, what are the symptoms of typhoid fever? How does someone die?

Tragically, the plague's greatest casualty was the Athenian

leader, Pericles, a victim of his own strategy.

It was the reliance on Athens' naval fortifications

and water supply system, the pride of its civic infrastructure,

which dealt a terrible blow to the city.

But the idea which Pericles and his city had championed lives on.

I think that idea of freedom is something we need to stick up for.

We do in our city, freedom of speech, freedom of association.

These things are contested now.

They are not accepted everywhere in the world.

These are not trivial values.

They are incarnated here in London,

just as they were in ancient Athens and we need to stick up for them.

The democratic values which had been the hallmark of the ancient

city would finally crumble, but in the end, it was neither

the plague nor the Spartans which proved Athens' final downfall.

More than 300 miles north of Athens lay another Greek state.

This is Pella, home of Philip II of Macedon,

and his son, Alexander the Great.

Pella was the new capital of the Macedonian kingdom

that defeated Athens.

The defeat by Sparta knocked Athens back, but did not bring her down.

Her empire briefly revived.

It was the defeat by Philip of Macedon at the Battle

of Chaeronea that ended Athens' chances of being an imperial power.

The Macedonian empire enabled them

to build cities on a scale that dwarfed Athens.

Instead of small streets with egalitarian housing, they built

great avenues and opulent mansions, decorated with extravagant mosaics.

But in terms of making cities work, they followed the Athenian

example of public space, public water supply, and public buildings.

Across the Mediterranean, another city state looked on admiringly.

While the Athenians had set a new standard of urban living,

it would take a much greater empire to create the world's first

mega city, by ancient standards.

And that empire would be launched from a polis not in Greece,

but in Italy.

Its name, in Greek, spelled strength - "rhome". Rome.

The Description of BBC Building the Ancient City Athens and Rome 1of2