Engineering An Empire: Egypt (Mon., Oct. 9)
It was 5,000 years ago-nearly two millennia before the Romans built their first mud huts-when ancient Egyptians began creating edifices so vast and architecturally sophisticated they remain to this day among the most impressive structures ever built. For thousands of years, without the benefit of computers, cranes, trucks or power tools, Egypt's mighty pharaohs commissioned the construction of monumental masterpieces-pyramids, temples, fortresses, harbors and canals-whose scale, beauty and craftsmanship still boggle the mind. But Egypt's road to architectural and imperial glory was paved with blood, betrayal and outright disaster.
Egypt's massive pyramids, lavish burial temples, impenetrable forts and towering obelisks were the result of unparalleled architectural genius, unrivaled technology and millions of man-hours of backbreaking labor. As Egypt's succession of pharaohs alternately conquered and ceded vast expanses of what is today the Middle East, they pushed their royal architects to stretch the boundaries of imagination and human potential, essentially inventing the science of structural engineering as they went along. Using cutting-edge computer graphics and interviews with noted Egyptologists, and shot in high-definition, Engineering An Empire: Egypt explores the timeless engineering feats, and brings to life an astonishing ancient world through the prism of each pharaoh's indomitable personality. It covers the extraordinary period from the First Dynasty in 3000 B.C. to the end of the reign of Ramesses the Great in 1212 B.C., chronicling the great pharaohs and the startling accomplishments that helped make Egypt the world's first empire.
Highlights of Egypt include:
Menes, the founding king of the First Dynasty and the first pharaoh to unify Upper and Lower Egypt into one kingdom, oversaw the construction of the world's first dam, a massive, 50-foot-high wall that protected Egypt's capital Memphis from the Nile's ravaging flood waters.
An enterprising young pharaoh named Djoser, in 2668 B.C. commissioned a colossal burial tomb which would become the first stone building ever erected on Earth, and the first of Egypt's 100 pyramids.
Pharaoh Snefru, who married his half-sister in an effort to solidify his claim to the throne, was a benevolent leader but a brutal warrior who looted neighboring kingdoms to finance his architectural ambitions. Through a series of trials and catastrophic errors, he elevated the art of pyramid building to a new level.
Snefru's son Khufu built on his father's engineering experience to create the biggest and most perfect pyramid ever constructed: the Great Pyramid at Giza. Each of the building's four 700-foot sides was almost perfectly symmetrical, and each corner of the pyramid was level within fractions of an inch.
Essentially inventing military architecture, Pharaoh Sesostris III, the great warrior, conquered gold-rich Nubia with the help of a network of 17 vast and sophisticated fortresses stretching hundreds of miles into enemy territory.
The rebel pharaoh Akhenaten (father of Tutankhamen) who, based on a religious vision, moved Egypt's capital to a barren patch of desert virtually overnight-requiring his engineers to develop far faster building techniques. Within two years, the bustling city housed 20,000 people.
Ramesses II, who fathered more than 100 children, combined engineering and ego on an unprecedented scale to build two temples at Abu Simbel, one for himself and one for his beloved queen, Nefertari. Carved out of the face of a virgin cliff, Ramesses' monument was adorned by 69-foot solid rock statues and a lavishly decorated sanctuary built 200 feet inside the mountain.
Engineering An Empire
Executive Producer for The History Channel is Dolores Gavin. Host is Peter Weller. Engineering An Empire is produced for The History Channel by KPI. Christopher Cassel is Producer, Writer, Director of EGYPT and Creative Consultant on the Engineering An Empire series. Executive Producers are Vincent Kralyevich, William Hunt, and Kristine Sabat. Narrator is Michael Carroll.
Each of the programs in the series will use the society's engineering accomplishments as a prism through which to view its history and culture.
Topics to be covered in the Engineering An Empire series include:
- EGYPT (Oct. 9)
- GREECE (Oct. 16)
- GREECE: AGE OF ALEXANDER (Oct. 23)
- THE AZTECS (Oct. 30)
- CARTHAGE (Nov. 6)
- CHINA (Nov. 13)
- RUSSIA (Nov. 20)
- GREAT BRITAIN (Nov. 27)
- THE PERSIANS (Dec. 4)
- THE MAYA (Dec. 11)
- NAPOLEON AND BEYOND (Dec. 18)
- THE BYZANTINES (Dec. 25)
- AGE OF ARCHITECTS (TBD)
SHOW 1: ENGINEERING AN EMPIRE: GREECE
Western Civilization has been influenced by many cultures, from Rome to America, but it was born in Ancient Greece. Centuries before Julius Caesar conquered much of the known world, the Ancient Greeks were laying a foundation that has supported nearly 3000 years of European history. Ancient Greece brings to mind philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates, Olympian gods, the beginnings of democracy, great conquering armies like those of Alexander the Great, and savage internecine battles, none more famous than the duel to the death between Athens and Sparta.
Greece is a story about the human drive to explore, to wonder, to be curious. Their ruins now communicate that drive. Over 1000 years, this strong and charismatic people strategically harnessed the materials and people around them to create the most advanced technological feats the world had ever seen.
From The Tunnel of Samos: a mile-long aqueduct dug through a large mountain of solid limestone, to Agamemnon's Tomb, to The Parthenon, this episode will examine the architecture and infrastructure engineered by the Greek Empire.
SHOW 2: ENGINEERING AN EMPIRE: AGE OF ALEXANDER
438 BC. The Parthenon is complete. This masterpiece is the crowning achievement of a remarkable century for the Greek people. They have enjoyed a burst of creativity rarely seen in the history of mankind. Led by Athens, the world's first democracy, the Greeks charged to new and dazzling heights of accomplishment. Art and form combined with engineering to create some of the most incredible structures ever seen.
The brilliance of their ideas had conquered the world's imagination, but Greece's territorial ambitions were stymied by one civil war after another.
It would take one man's desire for conquest and domination to unify Greece and then vanquish the world. Without Alexander the Great, it is possible Greece's Golden Era would have been just a footnote in history, but Alexander's triumph had its price. The Athenian experiment with democracy had ended and tens of thousands would die during Alexander's relentless attacks on Persia and Egypt. Still, his armies carried Greek life, culture and values far abroad and this empire became known as the "Hellenistic" world. Greece's amazing engineering achievements and ideas are still with us today.
From Pergamon, a city that still stands today as testament to the genius of Greek city planning and engineering, to theaters with acoustics that still amaze sound engineers today, to the world's first lighthouse and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, this episode will examine the architecture and infrastructure engineered by the Greek Empire.
SHOW 3: ENGINEERING AN EMPIRE: THE AZTECS
The story of the Aztec empire is one wrapped in myth and legend. In less than 200 years they transformed themselves from a band of wandering nomads to the greatest civilization the New World had ever known. What records remain of this amazing feat indicate they did it through brilliant military campaigns and by ingeniously applying technology to master the harsh environment they faced. They built their capital city where no city should have been possible: in the middle of a lake. They quickly transformed marshes into rich agricultural land surrounding an urban center that rivaled any city in the world at the time. They called it Tenochtitlan. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived there in 1519, and saw its gleaming pyramids, temples and places, grand canals filled with boats, enormous causeways crossing miles of lake from the mainland with aqueducts bringing fresh running water to the massive city, they actually thought they were dreaming.
But they also practiced human sacrifice on an unprecedented scale, at one time dispatching 20,000 victims at a single temple dedication ceremony. They also made many enemies. By the time the Spaniards landed they had no trouble recruiting tribal allies to destroy the Aztecs and that they did just that with amazing speed leveling Tenochtitlan completely to build their colonial capital, Mexico City, on the rubble.
From the remains of the Great Temple in Mexico City, to the construction of their Venice of the New World, this episode will examine the architecture and infrastructure behind the New World's greatest, and last, indigenous society.
SHOW 4: ENGINEERING AN EMPIRE: THE MAYA
At the height of its glory, this mysterious civilization ruled a territory of 125,000 square miles across parts of Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize. What began as a modest population of hunters and gatherers expanded into more than forty flourishing city-states built within lush rainforests and ruled by dynasties of mighty kings. In an extraordinary burst of creativity from 250 AD to 900 AD, without the use of metal, pack animals or even the wheel, the Maya engineered sky-high temple-pyramids, ornate palaces and advanced hydraulic systems - all to appease their gods and support their growing populations.
But the building of the giant Maya world did not come without extreme consequences. As the urban centers grew, so did the political tensions between neighboring kingdoms and the demand for natural resources. By 900 AD, the classic Maya cities collapsed, and the glittering structures that once dominated the horizon were reclaimed by the wild jungles of Central America and hidden for centuries.
Where did the Maya come from? And what catastrophes had overwhelmed their cities? Many of the answers lie in the Maya hieroglyphs, a cryptic writing system that is taking hundreds of years to decipher. From it, we can begin to understand how the ancient Maya constructed the most innovative civilization of the New World.
From the Temple-Pyramids at Tikal, to the royal tomb at Palenque, to the star observatory at Chichén Itzá, this episode will examine the architecture and infrastructure that enabled the rise and fall of the ancient Maya civilization.
SHOW 5: ENGINEERING AN EMPIRE: CHINA
For over 4000 years, the world's greatest empires have come and gone. Only one has survived the test of time: China.
Century after century, China's regal emperors mobilized immense peasant armies to accomplish engineering feats unparalleled in human history.
Among the groundbreaking innovations of the ancient Chinese were the world's longest canal, its most complex and effective irrigation system, and a naval fleet mightier than all those of Europe combined-but, none can compare to the colossal 4,000-mile wall that stands as the most ambitious construction project ever built.
From such heights came spectacular death spirals, as dynasty after dynasty-consumed by vanity and greed-was stripped of power by the people it had ruled.
SHOW 6: ENGINEERING AN EMPIRE: RUSSIA
At the height of its power this empire stretched across 15 times zones, incorporated nearly 160 different ethnicities, and made up one sixth of the entire world's landmass. An Empire that started as a few small principalities was shaped into an indomitable world power by the sheer force of its larger than life rulers. From the beginning, these visionaries engineered Russia's empire, adapting foreign technologies to seize power, capture territory, increase trade, and build greater and grander symbols of Russia's imperial progress.
But building the infrastructure of this Empire came at an enormous price - Russia's history is littered with the bodies of the serfs and slaves who built her crowning achievements. The bigger the Empire grew the more resources and human life it consumed. For Russia's peasants, constructing a modern Russian Empire didn't mean progress; it meant more tax, more war, more work - and death. As Russia entered the 20th century, her expansion reached critical mass as her iron willed rulers pushed progress at an unsustainable pace and her population reacted in a revolution that changed the history of the world forever.
From the Moscow Kremlin, to the building of St. Petersburg, to the Trans-Siberian railroad, this episode will examine the architecture and infrastructure that enabled the rise and fall of the Russian Empire.
SHOW 7: ENGINEERING AN EMPIRE: CARTHAGE
After its founding at the end of the ninth century B.C., this city soon grew into one of greatest civilizations of the Ancient World - a remarkable city-state that dominated the Mediterranean for over 600 years. Over that span of time, Carthaginian engineers harnessed their extensive resources and manpower to develop some of the ancient world's most groundbreaking technology. Like the Egyptian and Greek masters before them, they built colossal structures able to withstand the ravages of time and man.
Carthage was protected by a massive harbor that held hundreds of war ships - which formed the core of antiquity's most formidable navy. And to protect the capital, an intricate series of defensive walls were erected that stretched for more than 23 miles, and housed a standing army of more than 20,000 men.
For generations, Carthage defined power, strength and ingenuity for the ancient world. But by the third century B.C., the empire's existence was threatened by another emerging superpower across the pond - Rome. The two civilizations clashed in a series of three epic wars; a to-the-death struggle for supremacy that would last 118 years. When all was said and done, it would be the Romans who would inherit unrivalled status as the world's lone superpower, and go on to redefine the meaning of power and ingenuity.
But when the Romans engineered their empire, they were only following the lead of the Carthaginians.
From the city's grand harbor to the rise of one of history's greatest generals, Hannibal Barca, this episode will examine the architecture and infrastructure that enabled the rise and fall of the Carthage Empire.
SHOW 8: ENGINEERING AN EMPIRE: BRITAIN
"The sun never sets on the British Empire" - for years, these words of pride and optimism were used to describe the largest empire in history: Britain. At its pinnacle, the empire spanned every continent and covered one quarter of the Earth's land mass.
Through the centuries, the rulers of this enormous powerhouse used extraordinary engineering feats to become an industrial and military titan, loaded with riches.
Some of their many pioneering accomplishments include the world's first locomotive, a superhighway of underground sewers, the imposing and grand Westminster Palace, and the most powerful and technically advanced navy in the age of sail.
As scandal, violence and drama consumed British royalty at home, the empire surged ahead with these works of engineering innovation that paved the way for the modern world.
SHOW 9: ENGINEERING AN EMPIRE: PERSIA
The Persian Empire is one of the most mysterious major civilizations in the ancient world.
Persia became an empire under the Achaemenid king, Cyrus the Great, who created a policy of religious and cultural tolerance that became the hallmark of Persian rule.
The empire that Cyrus left behind expanded to India and Greece under the reign of Darius I, who built the capital of Persepolis.
Among the engineering feats of the Persian Empire were an innovative system of water management accomplished with simple tools; a cross-continent paved roadway stretching 1500 miles that made travel safe and communication possible; a canal linking the Nile to the Red Sea, a forerunner of the modern Suez Canal; and the creation of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Mausoleum of Maussollos.
But just as Persia reached its height, another empire across the Mediterranean was rising - the Greek city-states led by Athens.
The rivalry between the soaring Persia and the rising Athens led to a 30-year war known as the Persian Wars, and the outcome of that great conflict helped create the world we live in today.
SHOW 10: ENGINEERING AN EMPIRE: BYZANTINE
Brilliance and brutality. Intellect and intrigue. Christianity and carnage.
As much of the world descended into the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome, one civilization shone brilliantly: the Byzantine Empire. With ruthless might and supreme ingenuity, the Byzantines ruled over vast swaths of Europe and Asia for more than a thousand years. A bridge to antiquity, it was Byzantium that preserved the classical learning and science that would one day give rise to the Renaissance.
Led by rulers who exercised absolute power and architects who pushed beyond Rome's engineering marvels, the Byzantines constructed the ancient world's longest aqueduct, virtually invincible city walls, a massive stadium, and a colossal domed cathedral that defied the laws of nature.
The Byzantine Empire was the dominant civilization during the Dark Ages. But after a millennium of rule, its engineering feats would betray them - as an ancient light was extinguished in the glare of modern warfare.
SHOW 11: ENGINEERING AN EMPIRE: NAPOLEON AND BEYOND
For centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, French kings struggled for control against the church and the aristocracy and for European dominance. Chaos and bloody warfare rampaged inside and outside the country but one thing drove the nation forward: its unquenchable thirst for glory.
Then France stood on the precipice of utter disaster as the French Revolution devolved into a period of brutal repression known as the Reign of Terror. From the ashes emerged one of the greatest military strategists in history, Napoleon, whose desire for glory was just as great as that of the French monarchs he had replaced.
Throughout this history, France built brilliantly innovative, widely influential masterpieces that have given the world some of its greatest feats of engineering.
The include: The massive and majestic Notre Dame de Paris, the greatest of medieval cathedrals that brought the Gothic style to fulfillment and became the model for cathedrals throughout Europe. A system of star shaped fortresses built by the brilliant military engineer Sebastian Vauban that created defenses so impregnable they lasted for centuries. The most beautiful canal in the world, the Canal du Midi, a triumph of engineering innovation and aesthetic design. And, The Arc de Triomphe, an enduring monument to the glory of France under Napoleon. The Eiffel Tower, a landmark in steel engineering that has become the symbol of France around the world.
SHOW 12: ENGINEERING AN EMPIRE: AGE OF ARCHITECTS
After the fall of Rome, Italy slowly fell into a dark sleep. It wasn't until the 11th century when the Holy Roman Empire loosened its grip on Italy, that it reawakened. Autonomous city-states emerged, and though ravaged by waves of the plague, these tiny republics began to revitalize their cities and build on a massive level not witnessed since the rise of the Rome.
In the late 15th and 16th centuries, alliances among various city-states continually shifted as foreign superpowers tried to sink their claws into Italy. France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire fought out their battles with each other on Italian soil, while the threat of the Turks lurked off the shores of Venice. The masters who are most known for creating the works of art and architecture of the Renaissance, were also the greatest military and civil engineers of the time. With a knowledge of the ancients and a thirst for new invention, engineering rose to heights not seen since the Roman Empire - advancing methods in everything from civilian projects, to architecture, and finally - to war.
Some of the epoch's greatest feats of engineering were: The creation of a vast underground aqueduct system in Siena. The Building of the cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore by Brunelleschi
The advancement of fortification and firepower by engineers like Sangallo and di Giorgio. And, the renewal of Rome's glory as a city - from the repairing of the Roman aqueducts to the moving of St. Peters' mammoth obelisk.