Posted: 03/22/2010


Legacy: The Origins of Civilization

by Katherine Montalto

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How do we define civilization? What are the key elements needed to create a civilization? Historian Michael Wood searches for the answers by looking back through history at the defining civilizations of the world. This series of British documentaries first aired in 1991 in the UK and on American PBS channels. Michael Wood, the writer and presenter of each episode is a historian and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society who has written and created dozens of acclaimed documentaries on ancient societies.

Athena Learning, a division of Acorn Media, recently released a boxed DVD set of all six 51 minute episodes in the series on three disks totaling 304 minutes. The box set includes a small viewer’s guide booklet. Each disk features two episodes.

The first disk contains episode 1 Iraq: Cradle of Creation, which covers the first cities in the world founded over 6,000 yrs ago and the legacy of literature, astronomy, and mathematics they left behind and episode 2 India: Empire of the Spirit about the traditions of non-violence and a focus of one’s inner life started over 5,000 years ago that still survive despite the vestiges of western colonialism.

Disk two moves further through history to episode 3 China: The Mandate of Heaven to showcase an ancient culture largely still intact sustained by civic and social virtue, ritual, and honoring ancestors and episode 4 Egypt: The Habit of Civilization, The story of the world’s first great nation and how it was influenced directly by the environment of the fertile Nile valley.

Disk three discusses the two opposing views of the west in episode 5 Central America: The Burden of Time, a great civilization formed independent of the trade and influence of the old eastern world yet shared so many of its core values and episode 6 Europe: The Barbarian West, about the youngest of the ancient civilizations now adopted by nearly the whole world, focusing on the individual, and property influenced by its roots in Christianity, Greco-roman humanism, and Germanic social values.

This series doesn’t start at the usual place of most historical documentaries, from the point of view of the west as it interacts with the rest of the world, but at the beginning with the cradle of civilization and how it shaped and eventually influenced the west. Legacy: The Origins of Civilization is well a organized series that sets out through history to try to find the answer to the question “what is civilization?” in an informative but entertaining way. Host, Michael Wood’s enthusiasm for history is infectious. He takes information that has the potential to be very boring and instead presents as a spectacular journey through history. I highly recommend this series to anyone with an interest in history and civilization.

Katherine Montalto is a freelance writer but works various odd jobs to pay the bills such as a chef, candy maker and dog walker. Cake is one of her favorite indulgences. She will travel anywhere at any distance to get it, once even crashing a dinosaur’s birthday party. More of Katherine’s work can be found at

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