In Our Time: History

In Our Time: History Podcast

Historical themes, events and key individuals from Akhenaten to Xenophon.

Cave Art
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss ideas about the Stone Age people who created the extraordinary images found in caves around the world, from hand outlines to abstract symbols to the multicoloured paintings of prey animals at Chauvet and, as shown above, at Lascaux. In the 19th Century, it was assumed that only humans could have made these, as Neanderthals would have lacked the skills or imagination, but new tests suggest otherwise. How were the images created, were they meant to be for private viewing or pub...

Pericles
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Pericles (495-429BC), the statesman who dominated the politics of Athens for thirty years, the so-called Age of Pericles, when the city’s cultural life flowered, its democracy strengthened as its empire grew, and the Acropolis was adorned with the Parthenon. In 431 BC he gave a funeral oration for those Athenians who had already died in the new war with Sparta which has been celebrated as one of the greatest speeches of all time, yet within two years he was dead from a plag...

The Gin Craze (repeat)
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the craze for gin in Britain in the mid-18th Century and the attempts to control it. With the arrival of William of Orange, it became an act of loyalty to drink Protestant, Dutch gin rather than Catholic brandy, and changes in tariffs made everyday beer less affordable. Within a short time, production increased and large sections of the population that had rarely or never drunk spirits before were consuming two pints of gin a week. As Hogarth indicated in his print Beer Stree...


The Covenanters
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the bonds that Scottish Presbyterians made between themselves and their monarchs in the 16th and 17th Centuries, to maintain their form of worship. These covenants bound James VI of Scotland to support Presbyterians yet when he became James I he was also expected to support episcopacy. That tension came to a head under Charles I who found himself on the losing side of a war with the Covenanters, who later supported Parliament before backing the future Charles II after he had ...

The Valladolid Debate
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the debate in Valladolid, Spain in 1550, over Spanish rights to enslave the native peoples in the newly conquered lands. Bartolomé de Las Casas (pictured above), the Bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, was trying to end the encomienda system in which those who now owned the land could also take the people in forced labour. Juan Gines Sepulveda, a philosopher, argued for the colonists' property rights over people, asserting that some native Americans were 'natural slaves' as defined by...

Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great Roman military disaster of 9 AD when Germanic tribes under Arminius ambushed and destroyed three legions under Varus. According to Suetonius, emperor Augustus hit his head against the wall when he heard the news, calling on Varus to give him back his legions. The defeat ended Roman expansion east of the Rhine. Victory changed the development of the Germanic peoples, both in the centuries that followed and in the nineteenth century when Arminius, by then known as Her...


Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great Roman military disaster of 9 AD when Germanic tribes under Arminius ambushed and destroyed three legions under Varus. According to Suetonius, emperor Augustus hit his head against the wall when he heard the news, calling on Varus to give him back his legions. The defeat ended Roman expansion east of the Rhine. Victory changed the development of the Germanic peoples, both in the centuries that followed and in the nineteenth century when Arminius, by then known as Her...

Alcuin
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alcuin of York, c735-804AD, who promoted education as a goal in itself, and had a fundamental role in the renaissance at Charlemagne's court. He wrote poetry and many letters, hundreds of which survive and provide insight into his life and times. He was born in or near York and spent most of his life in Northumbria before accepting an invitation to Charlemagne's court in Aachen. To this he brought Anglo-Saxon humanism, encouraging a broad liberal education for itself and the ...

The Siege of Paris 1870-71
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian war and the social unrest that followed, as the French capital was cut off from the rest of the country and food was scarce. When the French government surrendered Paris to the Prussians, power gravitated to the National Guard in the city and to radical socialists, and a Commune established in March 1871 with the red flag replacing the trilcoleur. The French government sent in the army and, after bloody fighting, the Communards ...


Tutankhamun
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the discovery in 1922 of Tutankhamun's 3000 year old tomb and its impact on the understanding of ancient Egypt, both academic and popular. The riches, such as the death mask above, were spectacular and made the reputation of Howard Carter who led the excavation. And if the astonishing contents of the tomb were not enough, the drama of the find and the control of how it was reported led to a craze for 'King Tut' that has rarely subsided and has enthused and sometimes confused...

Coffee
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history and social impact of coffee. From its origins in Ethiopia, coffea arabica spread through the Ottoman Empire before reaching Western Europe where, in the 17th century, coffee houses were becoming established. There, caffeinated customers stayed awake for longer and were more animated, and this helped to spread ideas and influence culture. Coffee became a colonial product, grown by slaves or indentured labour, with coffea robusta replacing arabica where disease...

Lawrence of Arabia
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss T.E. Lawrence (1888 – 1935), better known as Lawrence of Arabia, a topic drawn from over 1200 suggestions for our Listener Week 2019. Although Lawrence started as an archaeologist in the Middle East, when World War I broke out he joined the British army and became an intelligence officer. His contact with a prominent Arab leader, Sharif Hussein, made him sympathetic to Hussein’s cause and during the Arab Revolt of 1916 he not only served the British but also the interests of...


Li Shizhen
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Li Shizhen (1518-1593) whose compendium of natural medicines is celebrated in China as the most complete survey of natural remedies of its time. He trained as a doctor and worked at the Ming court before spending almost 30 years travelling in China, inspecting local plants and animals for their properties, trying them out on himself and then describing his findings in his Compendium of Materia Medica or Bencao Gangmu, in 53 volumes. He's been called the ...

Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the most powerful woman in the Crusader states in the century after the First Crusade. Melisende (1105-61) was born and raised after the mainly Frankish crusaders had taken Jerusalem from the Fatimids, and her father was King of Jerusalem. She was married to Fulk from Anjou, on the understanding they would rule together, and for 30 years she vied with him and then their son as they struggled to consolidate their Frankish state in the Holy Land. The image above is of the cor...

Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the most powerful woman in the Crusader states in the century after the First Crusade. Melisende (1105-61) was born and raised after the mainly Frankish crusaders had taken Jerusalem from the Fatimids, and her father was King of Jerusalem. She was married to Fulk from Anjou, on the understanding they would rule together, and for 30 years she vied with him and then their son as they struggled to consolidate their Frankish state in the Holy Land. The image above is of the cor...


The Treaty of Limerick
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 1691 peace treaty that ended the Williamite War in Ireland, between supporters of the deposed King James II and the forces of William III and his allies. It followed the battles at Aughrim and the Boyne and sieges at Limerick, and led to the disbanding of the Jacobite army in Ireland, with troops free to follow James to France for his Irish Brigade. The Catholic landed gentry were guaranteed rights on condition of swearing loyalty to William and Mary yet, while some Prot...

Napoleon's Retreat from Moscow
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, in September 1812, Napoleon captured Moscow and waited a month for the Russians to meet him, to surrender and why, to his dismay, no-one came. Soon his triumph was revealed as a great defeat; winter was coming, supplies were low; he ordered his Grande Armée of six hundred thousand to retreat and, by the time he crossed back over the border, desertion, disease, capture, Cossacks and cold had reduced that to twenty thousand. Napoleon had shown his weakness; his Prussian al...

Doggerland
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the people, plants and animals once living on land now under the North Sea, now called Doggerland after Dogger Bank, inhabited up to c7000BC or roughly 3000 years before the beginnings of Stonehenge. There are traces of this landscape at low tide, such as the tree stumps at Redcar (above); yet more is being learned from diving and seismic surveys which are building a picture of an ideal environment for humans to hunt and gather, with rivers and wooded hills. Rising seas sub...


The Mytilenaean Debate
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why Athenians decided to send a fast ship to Lesbos in 427BC, rowing through the night to catch one they sent the day before. That earlier ship had instructions to kill all adult men in Mytilene, after their unsuccessul revolt against Athens, as a warning to others. The later ship had orders to save them, as news of their killing would make others fight to the death rather than surrender. Thucydides retells this in his History of the Peloponnesian War as an example of Athe...

The Inca
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how the people of Cusco, in modern Peru, established an empire along the Andes down to the Pacific under their supreme leader Pachacuti. Before him, their control grew slowly from C13th and was at its peak after him when Pizarro arrived with his Conquistadors and captured their empire for Spain in 1533. The image, above, is of Machu Picchu which was built for emperor Pachacuti as an estate in C15th. With Frank Meddens Visiting Scholar at the University of Reading Helen...

President Ulysses S Grant
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of Grant's presidency on Americans in the years after the Civil War in which he, with Lincoln, had led the Union Army to victory. His predecessor, Andrew Johnson, was prepared to let the Southern States decide for themselves which rights to allow freed slaves; Grant supported equal rights, and he used troops and Enforcement Acts to defeat the Ku klux Klan which was violently suppressing African Americans. In later years Grant was remembered mainly for the corrupt...


The Gordon Riots
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the most destructive riots in London's history, which reached their peak on 7th June 1780 as troops fired on the crowd outside the Bank of England. The leader was Lord George Gordon, head of the Protestant Association, who objected to the relaxing of laws against Catholics. At first the protest outside Parliament was peaceful but, when Gordon's petition failed to persuade the Commons, rioting continued for days until the military started to shoot suspects in the street. It ca...

Nero
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life of Nero (37-68 AD) who became Emperor at the age of 16. At first he was largely praised for his generosity yet became known for his debauched lifestyle, with allegations he started the Fire of Rome, watching the flames as he played the lyre. Christians saw him as their persecutor, an anti-Christ, and the number of the Beast in the Book of Revelation was thought to indicate Nero. He had confidence in his own artistry, took up acting (which then had a very low status)...

The Great Irish Famine
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why the potato crop failures in the 1840s had such a catastrophic impact in Ireland. It is estimated that one million people died from disease or starvation after the blight and another two million left the country within the decade. There had been famines before, but not on this scale. What was it about the laws, attitudes and responses that made this one so devastating? The image above is from The Illustrated London News, Dec. 29, 1849, showing a scalp or shelter, "a hole...


The Danelaw
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the effective partition of England in the 880s after a century of Viking raids, invasions and settlements. Alfred of Wessex, the surviving Anglo-Saxon king and Guthrum, a Danish ruler, had fought each other to a stalemate and came to terms, with Guthrum controlling the land to the east (once he had agreed to convert to Christianity). The key strategic advantage the invaders had was the Viking ships which were far superior and enabled them to raid from the sea and up rivers ...

William Cecil
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact on the British Isles of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, the most poweful man in the court of Elizabeth I. He was both praised and attacked for his flexibility, adapting to the reigns of Protestant and Catholic monarchs and, under Elizabeth, his goal was to make England strong, stable and secure from attack from its neighbours. He sought control over Ireland and persuaded Elizabeth that Mary Queen of Scots must die, yet often counselled peace rather than war in ...

Antarah ibn Shaddad
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, works, context and legacy of Antarah (525-608AD), the great poet and warrior. According to legend, he was born a slave; his mother was an Ethiopian slave, his father an elite Arab cavalryman. Antarah won his freedom in battle and loved a woman called Abla who refused him, and they were later celebrated in the saga of Antar and Abla. One of Antarah's poems was so esteemed in pre-Islamic Arabia that it is believed it was hung up on the wall of the Kaaba in Mecca. ...


Owain Glyndwr
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life of the Welsh nobleman, also known as Owen Glendower, who began a revolt against Henry IV in 1400 which was at first very successful. Glyndwr (c1359-c1415) adopted the title Prince of Wales and established a parliament and his own foreign policy, until he was defeated by the future Henry V. Owain Glyndwr escaped and led guerilla attacks for several years but was never betrayed to the English, disappearing without trace. With Huw Pryce Professor of Welsh History a...

The Poor Laws
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, from 1834, poor people across England and Wales faced new obstacles when they could no longer feed or clothe themselves, or find shelter. Parliament, in line with the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Malthus, feared hand-outs had become so attractive, they stopped people working to support themselves, and encouraged families to have more children than they could afford. To correct this, under the New Poor Laws it became harder to get any relief outside a workhouse, whe...

The Thirty Years War
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the war in Europe which begain in 1618 and continued on such a scale and with such devastation that its like was not seen for another three hundred years. It pitched Catholics against Protestants, Lutherans against Calvinists and Catholics against Catholics across the Holy Roman Empire, drawing in their neighbours and it lasted for thirty gruelling years, from the Defenestration of Prague to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. Many more civilians died than soldiers, and famine ...


The Long March
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss a foundation story for China as it was reshaped under Mao Zedong. In October 1934, around ninety thousand soldiers of the Red Army broke out of a siege in Jiangxi in the south east of the country, hoping to find a place to regroup and rebuild. They were joined by other armies, and this turned into a very long march to the west and then north, covering thousands of miles of harsh and hostile territory, marshes and mountains, pursued by forces of the ruling Kuomintang for a y...

Horace
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Horace (65-8BC), who flourished under the Emperor Augustus. He was one of the greatest poets of his age and is one of the most quoted of any age. Carpe diem, nil desperandum, nunc est bibendum – that’s Horace. He was the son of a freedman from southern Italy and, thanks to his talent, achieved high status in Rome despite fighting on the losing side in the civil wars. His Odes are widely thought his most enduring works, yet he also wrote his scurrilous Epodes, some philosophic...

Marie Antoinette
In a programme first broadcast in November 2018, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Austrian princess Maria Antonia, child bride of the future French King Louis XVI. Their marriage was an attempt to bring about a major change in the balance of power in Europe and to undermine the influence of Prussia and Great Britain, but she had no say in the matter and was the pawn of her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa. She fulfilled her allotted role of supplying an heir, but was sent to the guillotine in 1793 in t...


The Fable of the Bees
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) and his critique of the economy as he found it in London, where private vices were condemned without acknowledging their public benefit. In his poem The Grumbling Hive (1705), he presented an allegory in which the economy collapsed once knavish bees turned honest. When republished with a commentary, The Fable of the Bees was seen as a scandalous attack on Christian values and Mandeville was recommended for prosecution for his tendency to corru...

Is Shakespeare History? The Romans
In the second of two programmes marking In Our Time's 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare's versions of history, continuing with the Roman plays. Rome was the setting for Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and parts of Antony and Cleopatra and these plays gave Shakespeare the chance to explore ideas too controversial for English histories. How was Shakespeare reimagining Roman history, and what impact has that had on how we see Rome today? The image abo...

Is Shakespeare History? The Plantagenets
In the first of two programmes marking In Our Time's 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare's versions of history, starting with the English Plantagenets. His eight plays from Richard II to Richard III were written out of order, in the Elizabethan era, and have had a significant impact on the way we see those histories today. In the second programme, Melvyn discusses the Roman plays. The image above is of Richard Burton (1925 - 1984) as Henry V in the Shakespeare pla...


The Mexican-American War
Melvyn and guests discuss the 1846-48 conflict after which the United States of Mexico lost half its territory to the United States of America. The US gained land covered by the states of Texas, Utah, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and part of Colorado. The outcome had a profound impact on Native Americans and led to civil war in defeated Mexico. It also raised the question of whether slavery would be legal in this acquired territory - something that would only be resolved in the US Civil War, whic...

Montesquieu
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas of Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689-1755) whose works on liberty, monarchism, despotism, republicanism and the separation of powers were devoured by intellectuals across Europe and New England in the eighteenth century, transforming political philosophy and influencing the American Constitution. He argued that an individual's liberty needed protection from the arm of power, checking that by another power; where judicial, executive...

Persepolis
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the role of the great 'City of the Persians' founded by Darius I as the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire that stretched from the Indus Valley to Egypt and the coast of the Black Sea. It was known as the richest city under the sun and was a centre at which the Empire's subject peoples paid tribute to a succession of Achaemenid leaders, until the arrival of Alexander III of Macedon who destroyed it by fire supposedly in revenge for the burning of the Acropolis in Ath...


Margaret of Anjou
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most remarkable queens of the Middle Ages who took control when her husband, Henry VI, was incapable. Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482) wanted Henry to stay in power for the sake of their son, the heir to the throne, and her refusal to back down was seen by her enemies as a cause of the great dynastic struggle of the Wars of the Roses. The image above is from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, showing John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, presenting Margaret with that book o...

The Emancipation of the Serfs
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 1861 declaration by Tsar Alexander II that serfs were now legally free of their landlords. Until then, over a third of Russians were tied to the land on which they lived and worked and in practice there was little to distinguish their condition from slavery. Russia had lost the Crimean War in 1855 and there had been hundreds of uprisings, prompting the Tsar to tell the nobles, "The existing condition of owning souls cannot remain unchanged. It is better to begin to destro...

The Almoravid Empire
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Berber people who grew to dominate the western Maghreb, founded Marrakesh and took control of Al-Andalus. They were desert people, wearing veils over their faces to keep out the sand, and they wanted a simpler form of Islam. They called themselves the Murabitun, the people who gathered together to fight the holy war, and they were tough fighters; the Spanish knight El Cid fought them and lost, and the legend that built around him said the Almoravids were terrible and had ...


Roman Slavery
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the role of slavery in the Roman world, from its early conquests to the fall of the Western Empire. The system became so entrenched that no-one appeared to question it, following Aristotle's view that slavery was a natural state. Whole populations could be marched into slavery after military conquests, and the freedom that Roman citizens prized for themselves, even in poverty, was partly defined by how it contrasted with enslavement. Slaves could be killed or tortured with ...

Tocqueville: Democracy in America
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) and his examination of the American democratic system. He wrote De La Démocratie en Amérique in two parts, published in 1835 and 1840, when France was ruled by the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe. Tocqueville was interested in how aspects of American democracy, in the age of President Andrew Jackson, could be applied to Europe as it moved away from rule by monarchs and aristocrats. His work has been revisited by politicians ever since, partic...

The Highland Clearances
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how and why Highlanders and Islanders were cleared from their homes in waves in C18th and C19th, following the break up of the Clans after the Battle of Culloden. Initially, landlords tried to keep people on their estates for money-making schemes, but the end of the Napoleonic Wars brought convulsive changes. Some of the evictions were notorious, with the sudden and fatal burning of townships, to make way for sheep and deer farming. For many, migration brought a new start els...


Sun Tzu and The Art of War
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas attributed to Sun Tzu (544-496BC, according to tradition), a legendary figure from the beginning of the Iron Age in China, around the time of Confucius. He may have been the historical figure Sun Wu, a military adviser at the court of King Helu of Wu (who reigned between about 514 and 496 BC), one of the kings in power in the Warring States period of Chinese history (6th - 5th century BC). Sun Tzu was credited as the author of The Art of War, a work on military stra...

Frederick Douglass
In a programme first broadcast in 2018, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Frederick Douglass, who was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818 and, once he had escaped, became one of that century's most prominent abolitionists. He was such a good orator, his opponents doubted his story, but he told it in grim detail in 1845 in his book 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.' He went on to address huge audiences in Great Britain and Ireland and there some of his sup...

The Siege of Malta, 1565
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the event of which Voltaire, two hundred years later, said 'nothing was more well known'. In 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman leader, sent a great fleet west to lay siege to Malta and capture it for his empire. Victory would mean control of trade across the Mediterranean and a base for attacks on Spain, Sicily and southern Italy, even Rome. It would also mean elimination of Malta's defenders, the Knights Hospitaller, driven by the Ottomans from their base in Rhodes...


Thomas Becket
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the man who was Henry II's Chancellor and then Archbishop of Canterbury and who was murdered by knights in Canterbury Cathedral (depicted by Matthew Paris, above). Henry believed that Becket owed him loyalty as he had raised him to the highest offices, and that he should agree to Henry's courts having jurisdiction over 'criminous clerics'. They fell out when Becket agreed to this jurisdiction verbally but would not put his seal on the agreement, the Constitutions of Clarendon...

Thebes
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the myths and history of the ancient Greek city of Thebes and its depiction in Athenian drama. In myths it was said to be home to Heracles, Dionysus, Oedipus and Cadmus among others and, in history, was infamous for supporting Xerxes in the Persian War. Its prominence led to a struggle with the rising force of Macedon in which the Thebans were defeated at Chaironea in 338 BC, one of the most important battles in ancient history. The position of Thebes in Greek culture was eno...

The Picts
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Picts and, to mark our twentieth season, that discussion takes place in front of a student audience at the University of Glasgow, many of them studying this topic. According to Bede writing c731AD, the Picts, with the English, Britons, Scots and Latins, formed one of the five nations of Britain, 'an island in the ocean formerly called Albion'. The Picts is now a label given to the people who lived in Scotland north of the Forth-Clyde line from about 300 AD to 900 AD, from...


Picasso's Guernica
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the context and impact of Pablo Picasso's iconic work, created soon after the bombing on 26th April 1937 that obliterated much of the Basque town of Guernica, and its people. The attack was carried out by warplanes of the German Condor Legion, joined by the Italian air force, on behalf of Franco's Nationalists. At first the Nationalists denied responsibility, blaming their opponents for creating the destruction themselves for propaganda purposes, but the accounts of journalis...

The Congress of Vienna
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the conference convened by the victorious powers of the Napoleonic Wars and the earlier French Revolutionary Wars, which had devastated so much of Europe over the last 25 years. The powers aimed to create a long lasting peace, partly by redrawing the map to restore old boundaries and partly by balancing the powers so that none would risk war again. It has since been seen as a very conservative outcome, reasserting the old monarchical and imperial orders over the growth of lib...

Constantine the Great
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, reputation and impact of Constantine I, known as Constantine the Great (c280s -337AD). Born in modern day Serbia and proclaimed Emperor by his army in York in 306AD, Constantine became the first Roman Emperor to profess Christianity. He legalised Christianity and its followers achieved privileges that became lost to traditional religions, leading to the steady Christianisation of the Empire. He built a new palace in Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople, as part of ...


The American Populists
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what, in C19th America's Gilded Age, was one of the most significant protest movements since the Civil War with repercussions well into C20th. Farmers in the South and Midwest felt ignored by the urban and industrial elites who were thriving as the farmers suffered droughts and low prices. The farmers were politically and physically isolated. As one man wrote on his abandoned farm, 'two hundred and fifty miles to the nearest post office, one hundred miles to wood, twenty mile...

The Battle of Lincoln 1217
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Battle of Lincoln on 20th May 1217, when two armies fought to keep, or to win, the English crown. This was a struggle between the Angevin and Capetian dynasties, one that followed Capetian successes over the Angevins in France. The forces of the new boy-king, Henry III, attacked those of Louis of France, the claimant backed by rebel Barons. Henry's regent, William Marshal, was almost seventy when he led the charge on Lincoln that day, and his victory confirmed his reputat...

The Egyptian Book of the Dead
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the text and context of The Book of the Dead, also known as the Book of Coming Forth by Day, the ancient Egyptian collections of spells which were intended to help the recently deceased navigate the underworld. They flourished under the New Kingdom from C16th BC until the end of the Ptolemaic era in C1st BC, and drew on much earlier traditions from the walls of pyramids and on coffin cases. Almost 200 spells survive, though no one collection contains all of them, and one of t...


Roger Bacon
The 13th-century English philosopher Roger Bacon is perhaps best known for his major work the Opus Maius. Commissioned by Pope Clement IV, this extensive text covered a multitude of topics from mathematics and optics to religion and moral philosophy. He is also regarded by some as an early pioneer of the modern scientific method. Bacon's erudition was so highly regarded that he came to be known as 'Doctor Mirabilis' or 'wonderful doctor'. However, he is a man shrouded in mystery. Little is known about much ...

Rosa Luxemburg
Melvyn Bragg discusses the life and times of Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919), 'Red Rosa', who was born in Poland under the Russian Empire and became one of the leading revolutionaries in an age of revolution. She was jailed for agitation and for her campaign against the Great War which, she argued, pitted workers against each other for the sake of capitalism. With Karl Liebknecht and other radicals, she founded the Spartacus League in the hope of ending the war through revolution. She founded the German Communis...

The Battle of Salamis
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what is often called one of the most significant battles in history. In 480BC in the Saronic Gulf near Athens, between the mainland and the island of Salamis, a fleet of Greek allies decisively defeated a larger Persian-led fleet. This halted the further Persian conquest of Greece and, at Plataea and Mycale the next year, further Greek victories brought Persian withdrawal and the immediate threat of conquest to an end. To the Greeks, this enabled a flourishing of a culture th...


Seneca the Younger
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Seneca the Younger, who was one of the first great writers to live his entire life in the world of the new Roman empire, after the fall of the Republic. He was a Stoic philosopher, he wrote blood-soaked tragedies, he was an orator, and he navigated his way through the reigns of Caligula, Claudius and Nero, sometimes exercising power at the highest level and at others spending years in exile. Agrippina the Younger was the one who called for him to tutor Nero, and it is thought...

Mary, Queen of Scots
In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of Mary, Queen of Scots, who had potential to be one of the most powerful rulers in Europe, yet she was also one of the most vulnerable. In France, when she was the teenage bride to their future king, she was seen as rightful heir to the thrones of England and Ireland, as well as Queen of Scotland and one day of France, which would have been an extraordinary union. She was widowed too young, though and, a Catholic returning ...

Johannes Kepler
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630). Although he is overshadowed today by Isaac Newton and Galileo, he is considered by many to be one of the greatest scientists in history. The three laws of planetary motion Kepler developed transformed people's understanding of the Solar System and laid the foundations for the revolutionary ideas Isaac Newton produced later. Kepler is also thought to have written one of the first works of science fiction. However, he faced a...


The Gin Craze
In a programme first broadcast in December 2016, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the craze for gin in Britain in the mid-18th century and the attempts to control it. With the arrival of William of Orange, it became an act of loyalty to drink Protestant, Dutch gin rather than Catholic brandy, and changes in tariffs made everyday beer less affordable. Within a short time, production increased and large sections of the population that had rarely or never drunk spirits before were consuming two pints of gin a...

Harriet Martineau
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Harriet Martineau who, from a non-conformist background in Norwich, became one of the best known writers in the C19th. She had a wide range of interests and used a new, sociological method to observe the world around her, from religion in Egypt to slavery in America and the rights of women everywhere. She popularised writing about economics for those outside the elite and, for her own popularity, was invited to the coronation of Queen Victoria, one of her readers. With Val...

Garibaldi and the Risorgimento
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Italian Risorgimento. According to the historian AJP Taylor, Garibaldi was the only wholly admirable figure in modern history. Born in Nice in 1807, one of Garibaldi's aims in life was the unification of Italy and, in large part thanks to him, Italy was indeed united substantially in 1861 and entirely in 1870. With his distinctive red shirt and poncho, he was a hero of Romantic revolutionaries around the world. His fame was secured when, with a thou...


Baltic Crusades
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Baltic Crusades, the name given to a series of overlapping attempts to convert the pagans of North East Europe to Christianity at the point of the sword. From the 12th Century, Papal Bulls endorsed those who fought on the side of the Church, the best known now being the Teutonic Order which, thwarted in Jerusalem, founded a state on the edge of the Baltic, in Prussia. Some of the peoples in the region disappeared, either killed or assimilated, and the consequences for Eur...

Justinian's Legal Code
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas brought together under Justinian I, Byzantine emperor in the 6th century AD, which were rediscovered in Western Europe in the Middle Ages and became very influential in the development of laws in many European nations and elsewhere. With Caroline Humfress Professor of Medieval History at the University of St Andrews Simon Corcoran Lecturer in Ancient History at Newcastle University and Paul du Plessis Senior Lecturer in Civil law and European legal history at ...

The Fighting Temeraire
This image: Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire, 1839 (c) The National Gallery, London Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss "The Fighting Temeraire", one of Turner's greatest works and the one he called his 'darling'. It shows one of the most famous ships of the age, a hero of Trafalgar, being towed up the Thames to the breakers' yard, sail giving way to steam. Turner displayed this masterpiece to a public which, at the time, was deep in celebration of the Temeraire era, with work on Nelson's ...


Epic of Gilgamesh
"He who saw the Deep" are the first words of the standard version of The Epic of Gilgamesh, the subject of this discussion between Melvyn Bragg and his guests. Gilgamesh is often said to be the oldest surviving great work of literature, with origins in the third millennium BC, and it passed through thousands of years on cuneiform tablets. Unlike epics of Greece and Rome, the intact story of Gilgamesh became lost to later generations until tablets were discovered by Hormuzd Rassam in 1853 near Mosul and late...

John Dalton
The scientist John Dalton was born in North England in 1766. Although he came from a relatively poor Quaker family, he managed to become one of the most celebrated scientists of his age. Through his work, he helped to establish Manchester as a place where not only products were made but ideas were born. His reputation during his lifetime was so high that unusually a statue was erected to him before he died. Among his interests were meteorology, gasses and colour blindness. However, he is most remembered tod...

The 12th Century Renaissance
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the changes in the intellectual world of Western Europe in the 12th Century, and their origins. This was a time of Crusades, the formation of states, the start of Gothic architecture, a reconnection with Roman and Greek learning and their Arabic development and the start of the European universities, and has become known as The 12th Century Renaissance. The image above is part of Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière, Chartres Cathedral, from 1180. With Laura Ashe Associate Prof...


The Bronze Age Collapse
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Bronze Age Collapse, the name given by many historians to what appears to have been a sudden, uncontrolled destruction of dominant civilizations around 1200 BC in the Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean and Anatolia. Among other areas, there were great changes in Minoan Crete, Egypt, the Hittite Empire, Mycenaean Greece and Syria. The reasons for the changes, and the extent of those changes, are open to debate and include droughts, rebellions, the breakdown of trade as copper b...

Margery Kempe and English Mysticism
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the English mystic Margery Kempe (1373-1438) whose extraordinary life is recorded in a book she dictated, The Book of Margery Kempe. She went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to Rome and Santiago de Compostela, purchasing indulgences on her way, met with the anchoress Julian of Norwich and is honoured by the Church of England each 9th November. She sometimes doubted the authenticity of her mystical conversations with God, as did the authorities who saw her devotional sobbing, wail...

The Gettysburg Address
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, ten sentences long, delivered at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg after the Union forces had won an important battle with the Confederates. Opening with " Four score and seven years ago," it became one of the most influential statements of national purpose, asserting that America was "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" and "that this nation, under God, shal...


Titus Oates and his 'Popish Plot'
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Titus Oates (1649-1705) who, with Israel Tonge, spread rumours of a Catholic plot to assassinate Charles II. From 1678, they went to great lengths to support their scheme, forging evidence and identifying the supposed conspirators. Fearing a second Gunpowder Plot, Oates' supposed revelations caused uproar in London and across the British Isles, with many Catholics, particularly Jesuit priests, wrongly implicated by Oates and then executed. Anyone who doubted him had to keep q...

1816, the Year Without a Summer
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of the eruption of Mt Tambora, in 1815, on the Indonesian island of Sambawa. This was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history and it had the highest death toll, devastating people living in the immediate area. Tambora has been linked with drastic weather changes in North America and Europe the following year, with frosts in June and heavy rains throughout the summer in many areas. This led to food shortages, which may have prompted westward migration in A...

The Sikh Empire
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rise of the Sikh Empire at the end of the 18th Century under Ranjit Singh, pictured above, who unified most of the Sikh kingdoms following the decline of the Mughal Empire. He became Maharaja of the Punjab at Lahore in 1801, capturing Amritsar the following year. His empire flourished until 1839, after which a decade of unrest ended with the British annexation. At its peak, the Empire covered the Punjab and stretched from the Khyber Pass in the west to the edge of Tibet i...


Agrippina the Younger
Agrippina the Younger was one of the most notorious and influential of the Roman empresses in the 1st century AD. She was the sister of the Emperor Caligula, a wife of the Emperor Claudius and mother of the Emperor Nero. Through careful political manoeuvres, she acquired a dominant position for herself in Rome. In 39 AD she was exiled for allegedly participating in a plot against Caligula and later it was widely thought that she killed Claudius with poison. When Nero came to the throne, he was only 16 so Ag...

Bedlam
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the early years of Bedlam, the name commonly used for the London hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem outside Bishopsgate, described in 1450 by the Lord Mayor of London as a place where may "be found many men that be fallen out of their wit. And full honestly they be kept in that place; and some be restored onto their wit and health again. And some be abiding therein for ever." As Bethlem, or Bedlam, it became a tourist attraction in the 17th Century at its new site in Moorfields...

The Maya Civilization
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Maya Civilization, developed by the Maya people, which flourished in central America from around 250 AD in great cities such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal with advances in mathematics, architecture and astronomy. Long before the Spanish Conquest in the 16th Century, major cities had been abandoned for reasons unknown, although there are many theories including overpopulation and changing climate. The hundreds of Maya sites across Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and M...


The Dutch East India Company
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC, known in English as the Dutch East India Company. The VOC dominated the spice trade between Asia and Europe for two hundred years, with the British East India Company a distant second. At its peak, the VOC had a virtual monopoly on nutmeg, mace, cloves and cinnamon, displacing the Portuguese and excluding the British, and were the only European traders allowed access to Japan. With Anne Goldgar Reader in Early Modern European ...

Eleanor of Aquitaine
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, times and influence of Eleanor of Aquitaine (c1122-1204) who was one of the most powerful women in Twelfth Century Europe, possibly in the entire Middle Ages. She inherited land from the Loire down to the Pyrenees, about a third of modern France. She married first the King of France, Louis VII, joining him on the Second Crusade. She became stronger still after their marriage was annulled, as her next husband, Henry Plantagenet became Henry II of England. Two of thei...

Thomas Paine's Common Sense
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Thomas Paine and his pamphlet "Common Sense" which was published in Philadelphia in January 1776 and promoted the argument for American independence from Britain. Addressed to The Inhabitants of America, it sold one hundred and fifty thousand copies in the first few months and is said, proportionately, to be the best-selling book in American history. Paine had arrived from England barely a year before. He vigorously attacked monarchy generally and George the Third in particul...


The Salem Witch Trials
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the outbreak of witch trials in Massachusetts in 1692-3, centred on Salem, which led to the execution of twenty people, with more dying in prison before or after trial. Some were men, including Giles Corey who died after being pressed with heavy rocks, but the majority were women. At its peak, around 150 people were suspected of witchcraft, including the wife of the governor who had established the trials. Many of the claims of witchcraft arose from personal rivalries in an a...

The Battle of Lepanto
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Battle of Lepanto, 1571, the last great sea battle between galleys, in which the Catholic fleet of the Holy League of principally Venice, Spain, the Papal States, Malta, Genoa, and Savoy defeated the Ottoman forces of Selim II. When much of Europe was divided over the Reformation, this was the first major victory of a Christian force over a Turkish fleet. The battle followed the Ottoman invasion of Venetian Cyprus and decades in which the Venetians had been trying to stop...

The Empire of Mali
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Empire of Mali which flourished from 1200 to 1600 and was famous in the wider world for the wealth of rulers such as Mansa Musa. Mali was the largest empire in west Africa and for almost 400 years controlled the flow of gold from mines in the south up to the Mediterranean coast and across to the Middle East. These gold mines were the richest known deposits in the 14th Century and produced around half of the world's gold. When Mansa Musa journeyed to Cairo in 1324 as part ...


Holbein at the Tudor Court
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) during his two extended stays in England, when he worked at the Tudor Court and became the King's painter. Holbein created some of the most significant portraits of his age, including an image of Henry VIII, looking straight at the viewer, hands on hips, that has dominated perceptions of him since. The original at Whitehall Palace was said to make visitors tremble at its majesty. Holbein was later sent to Europe to pai...

Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great is one of the most celebrated military commanders in history. Born into the Macedonian royal family in 356 BC, he gained control of Greece and went on to conquer the Persian Empire, defeating its powerful king, Darius III. At its peak, Alexander's empire covered modern Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and part of India. As a result, Greek culture and language was spread into regions it had not penetrated before, and he is also remembered for founding a number of ci...

Frederick the Great
Frederick the Great ruled Prussia from 1740 until his death in 1786. Born in 1712, he increased the power of the state, he made Prussia the leading military power in Europe and his bold campaigns had great implications for the European political landscape. An absolute monarch in the age of enlightenment, he was a prolific writer, attracted figures such as Voltaire to his court, fostered education and put Berlin firmly on the cultural map. He was much admired by Napoleon and was often romanticised by German ...


Prester John
In the Middle Ages, Prester John was seen as the great hope for Crusaders struggling to hold on to, then regain, Jerusalem. He was thought to rule a lost Christian kingdom somewhere in the East and was ready to attack Muslim opponents with his enormous armies. There was apparent proof of Prester John's existence, in letters purportedly from him and in stories from travelers who claimed they had met, if not him, then people who had news of him. Most pointed to a home in the earthly paradise in the Indies, ou...

Josephus
It is said that, in Britain from the 18th Century, copies of Josephus' works were as widespread and as well read as The Bible. Christians valued "The Antiquities of the Jews" in particular, for the retelling of parts of the Old Testament and apparently corroborating the historical existence of Jesus. Born Joseph son of Matthias, in Jerusalem, in 37AD, he fought the Romans in Galilee in the First Jewish-Roman War. He was captured by Vespasian's troops and became a Roman citizen, later describing the siege an...

The Lancashire Cotton Famine
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Cotton Famine in Lancashire from 1861-65. The Famine followed the blockade of Confederate Southern ports during the American Civil War which stopped the flow of cotton into mills in Britain and Europe. Reports at the time told of starvation, mass unemployment and migration. Abraham Lincoln wrote, "I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the working-men of Manchester, and in all Europe, are called to endure in this crisis." While the full cause and extent of the Fam...


Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize for Literature. He has been called one of the outstanding thinkers of the 20th century and the greatest poet India has ever produced. His Nobel followed publication of Gitanjali, his English version of some of his Bengali poems. WB Yeats and Ezra Pound were great supporters. Tagore was born in Calcutta in 1861 and educated partly in Britain; King George V knighted him, but Tagore renounced this in 1919 following the Amritsar Massacre. A key...

Matteo Ricci and the Ming Dynasty
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life of Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit priest who in the 16th century led a Christian mission to China. An accomplished scholar, Ricci travelled extensively and came into contact with senior officials of the Ming Dynasty administration. His story is one of the most important encounters between Renaissance Europe and a China which was still virtually closed to outsiders. With Mary Laven Reader in Early Modern History at the University of Cambridge Craig Clunas Professor of...

The California Gold Rush
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the California Gold Rush. In 1849 the recent discovery of gold at Coloma, near Sacramento in California, led to a massive influx of prospectors seeking to make their fortunes. Within a couple of years the tiny settlement of San Francisco had become a major city, with tens of thousands of immigrants, the so-called Forty-Niners, arriving by boat and over land. The gold rush transformed the west coast of America and its economy, but also uprooted local populations of Native ...


The Curies
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the scientific achievements of the Curie family. In 1903 Marie and Pierre Curie shared a Nobel Prize in Physics with Henri Becquerel for their work on radioactivity, a term which Marie coined. Marie went on to win a Nobel in Chemistry eight years later; remarkably, her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie would later share a Nobel with her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie for their discovery that it was possible to create radioactive materials in the laboratory. The work of the Curie...

The Eunuch
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history and significance of eunuchs, castrated men who were a common feature of many civilisations for at least three thousand years. Eunuchs were typically employed as servants in royal households in the ancient Middle East, China and classical antiquity. In some civilisations they were used as administrators or senior military commanders, sometimes achieving high office. The tradition lingered until surprisingly recently, with castrated singers remaining a feature o...

The Wealth of Nations
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Adam Smith's celebrated economic treatise The Wealth of Nations. Smith was one of Scotland's greatest thinkers, a moral philosopher and pioneer of economic theory whose 1776 masterpiece has come to define classical economics. Based on his careful consideration of the transformation wrought on the British economy by the Industrial Revolution, and how it contrasted with marketplaces elsewhere in the world, the book outlined a theory of wealth and how it is accumulated that ...


Ashoka the Great
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Indian Emperor Ashoka. Active in the 3rd century BC, Ashoka conquered almost all of the landmass covered by modern-day India, creating the largest empire South Asia had ever known. After his campaign of conquest he converted to Buddhism, and spread the religion throughout his domain. His edicts were inscribed on the sides of an extraordinary collection of stone pillars spread far and wide across his empire, many of which survive today. Our knowledge of ancient India a...

Thucydides
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. In the fifth century BC Thucydides wrote The History of the Peloponnesian War, an account of a conflict in which he had himself taken part. This work is now seen as one of the first great masterpieces of history writing, a book which influenced writers for centuries afterwards. Thucydides was arguably the first historian to make a conscious attempt to be objective, bringing a rational and impartial approach to his scholarship. Today...

Brunel
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the Victorian engineer responsible for bridges, tunnels and railways still in use today more than 150 years after they were built. Brunel represented the cutting edge of technological innovation in Victorian Britain, and his life gives us a window onto the social changes that accompanied the Industrial Revolution. Yet his work was not always successful, and his innovative approach to engineering projects was often greeted with suspicion from investors...


Hatshepsut
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut, whose name means 'foremost of noble ladies'. She ruled Egypt from about 1479 - 1458 BC and some scholars argue that she was one of the most successful and influential pharaohs. When she came to the throne, Egypt was still recovering from a period of turbulence known as the Second Intermediate Period a few generations earlier. Hatshepsut reasserted Egyptian power by building up international trade and commissioned buildings considered masterpie...

The Haitian Revolution
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Haitian Revolution. In 1791 an uprising began in the French colonial territory of St Domingue. Partly a consequence of the French Revolution and partly a backlash against the brutality of slave owners, it turned into a complex struggle involving not just the residents of the island but French, English and Spanish forces. By 1804 the former slaves had won, establishing the first independent state in Latin America and the first nation to be created as a result of a succ...

The Battle of Talas
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of Talas, a significant encounter between Arab and Chinese forces which took place in central Asia in 751 AD. It brought together two mighty empires, the Abbasid Caliphate and the Tang Dynasty, and although not well known today the battle had profound consequences for the future of both civilisations. The Arabs won the confrontation, but the battle marks the point where the Islamic Empire halted its march eastwards, and the Chinese stopped their expansion to th...


Julius Caesar
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life, work and reputation of Julius Caesar. Famously assassinated as he entered the Roman senate on the Ides of March, 44 BC, Caesar was an inspirational general who conquered much of Europe. He was a ruthless and canny politician who became dictator of Rome, and wrote The Gallic Wars, one of the most admired and studied works of Latin literature. Shakespeare is one of many later writers to have been fascinated by the figure of Julius Caesar. With: Christopher Pelli...

Hildegard of Bingen
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss one of the most remarkable figures of the Middle Ages, Hildegard of Bingen. The abbess of a Benedictine convent, Hildegard experienced a series of mystical visions which she documented in her writings. She was an influential person in the religious world and much of her extensive correspondence with popes, monarchs and other important figures survives. Hildegard was also celebrated for her wide-ranging scholarship, which as well as theology covered the natural world, scie...

The Bluestockings
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Bluestockings. Around the middle of the eighteenth century a small group of intellectual women began to meet regularly to discuss literature and other matters, inviting some of the leading thinkers of the day to take part in informal salons. In an age when women were not expected to be highly educated, the Bluestockings were sometimes regarded with suspicion or even hostility. But prominent members such as Elizabeth Montagu - known as 'the Queen of the Bluestockings',...


The Sino-Japanese War
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-45. After several years of rising tension, and the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, full-scale war between Japan and China broke out in the summer of 1937. The Japanese captured many major Chinese ports and cities, but met with fierce resistance, despite internal political divisions on the Chinese side. When the Americans entered the war following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese found themselves fighting on several fronts simultane...

The Domesday Book
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Domesday Book, a vast survey of the land and property of much of England and Wales completed in 1086. Twenty years after the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror sent officials to most of his new territories to compile a list of land holdings and to gather information about settlements, the people who lived there and even their farm animals. Almost without parallel in European history, the resulting document was of immense importance for many centuries, and remai...

Strabo's Geographica
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Strabo's Geographica. Written almost exactly two thousand years ago by a Greek scholar living in Rome, the Geographica is an ambitious attempt to describe the entire world known to the Romans and Greeks at that time. Strabo seems to have based his book on accounts of distant lands given to him by contemporary travellers and imperial administrators, and on earlier works of scholarship by other Greek writers. One of the earliest systematic works of geography, Strabo's book ...


Weber's The Protestant Ethic
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Max Weber's book the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Published in 1905, Weber's essay proposed that Protestantism had been a significant factor in the emergence of capitalism, making an explicit connection between religious ideas and economic systems. Weber suggested that Calvinism, with its emphasis on personal asceticism and the merits of hard work, had created an ethic which had enabled the success of capitalism in Protestant countries. Weber's essay has...

Spartacus
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life of Spartacus, the gladiator who led a major slave rebellion against the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC. He was an accomplished military leader, and the campaign he led contributed significantly to the instability of the Roman state in this period. Spartacus was celebrated by some ancient historians and reviled by others, and became a hero to revolutionaries in 19th-century Europe. Modern perceptions of his character have been influenced by Stanley Kubrick's...

Chivalry
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss chivalry, the moral code observed by knights of the Middle Ages. Chivalry originated in the military practices of aristocratic French and German soldiers, but developed into an elaborate system governing many different aspects of knightly behaviour. It influenced the conduct of medieval military campaigns and also had important religious and literary dimensions. It gave rise to the phenomenon of courtly love, the subject of much romance literature, as well as to the pract...


The Phoenicians
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Phoenicians. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote about a people from the Levant who were accomplished sailors and traders, and who taught the Greeks their alphabet. He called them the Phoenicians, the Greek word for purple, although it is not known what they called themselves. By about 700 BC they were trading all over the Mediterranean, taking Egyptian and Syrian goods as far as Spain and North Africa. Although they were hugely influential in the ancient world, they ...

Sources of Early Chinese History
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the sources for early Chinese history. The first attempts to make a record of historical events in China date from the Shang dynasty of the second millennium BC. The earliest surviving records were inscribed on bones or tortoise shells; in later centuries, chroniclers left detailed accounts on paper or silk. In the last hundred years, archaeologists have discovered a wealth of new materials, including a cache of previously unknown texts which were found in a sealed cave o...

The Battle of Tours
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of Tours. In 732 a large Arab army invaded Gaul from northern Spain, and travelled as far north as Poitiers. There they were defeated by Charles Martel, whose Frankish and Burgundian forces repelled the invaders. The result confirmed the regional supremacy of Charles, who went on to establish a strong Frankish dynasty. The Battle of Tours was the last major incursion of Muslim armies into northern Europe; some historians, including Edward Gibbon, have seen it a...


Plato's Symposium
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Plato's Symposium, one of the Greek philosopher's most celebrated works. Written in the 4th century BC, it is a dialogue set at a dinner party attended by a number of prominent ancient Athenians, including the philosopher Socrates and the playwright Aristophanes. Each of the guests speaks of Eros, or erotic love. This fictional discussion of the nature of love, how and why it arises and what it means to be in love, has had a significant influence on later thinkers, and is...

The Medici
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Medici family, who dominated Florence's political and cultural life for three centuries. The House of Medici came to prominence in Italy in the fifteenth century as a result of the wealth they had built up through banking. With the rise of Cosimo de' Medici, they became Florence's most powerful and influential dynasty, effectively controlling the city's government. Their patronage of the arts turned Florence into a leading centre of the Renaissance and the Medici Bank...

Pliny the Younger
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Pliny the Younger, famous for his letters. A prominent lawyer in Rome in the first century AD, Pliny later became governor of the province of Bithynia, on the Black Sea coast of modern Turkey. Throughout his career he was a prolific letter-writer, sharing his thoughts with great contemporaries including the historian Tacitus, and asking the advice of the Emperor Trajan. Pliny's letters offer fascinating insights into life in ancient Rome and its empir...


Pocahontas
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life of Pocahontas, the Native American woman who to English eyes became a symbol of the New World. During the colonisation of Virginia in the first years of the seventeenth century, Pocahontas famously saved the life of an English prisoner, John Smith. Later captured, she converted to Christianity, married a settler and travelled to England where she was regarded as a curiosity. She died in 1617 at the age of 22 and was buried in Gravesend; her story has fascinated g...

The Berlin Conference
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Berlin Conference of 1884. In the 1880s, as colonial powers attempted to increase their spheres of influence in Africa, tensions began to grow between European nations including Britain, Belgium and France. In 1884 the German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, brought together many of Europe's leading statesmen to discuss trade and colonial activities in Africa. Although the original purpose of the summit was to settle the question of territorial rights in West Africa, ne...

The Corn Laws
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Corn Laws. In 1815 the British Government passed legislation which artificially inflated the price of corn. The measure was supported by landowners but strongly opposed by manufacturers and the urban working class. In the 1830s the Anti-Corn Law League was founded to campaign for their repeal, led by the Radical Richard Cobden. The Conservative government of Sir Robert Peel finally repealed the laws in 1846, splitting his party in the process, and the resulting debate...


The Mamluks
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Mamluks, who ruled Egypt and Syria from about 1250 to 1517. Originally slave soldiers who managed to depose their masters, they went on to repel the Mongols and the Crusaders to become the dominant force in the medieval Islamic Middle Eastern world. Although the Mamluks were renowned as warriors, under their rule art, crafts and architecture blossomed. Little known by many in the West today, the Mamluks remained in power for almost 300 years until they were eventually...

The Physiocrats
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Physiocrats, an important group of economic thinkers in eighteenth-century France. The Physiocrats believed that the land was the ultimate source of all wealth, and crucially that markets should not be constrained by governments. Their ideas were important not just to economists but to the course of politics in France. Later they influenced the work of Adam Smith, who called Physiocracy "perhaps the nearest approximation to the truth that has yet been published upon t...

Queen Zenobia
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Queen Zenobia, a famous military leader of the ancient world. Born in around 240 AD, Zenobia was Empress of the Palmyrene Empire in the Middle East. A highly educated, intelligent and militarily accomplished leader, she claimed descent from Dido and Cleopatra and spoke many languages, including Egyptian. Zenobia led a rebellion against the Roman Empire and conquered Egypt before being finally defeated by the Emperor Aurelian. Her story captured the imagination of many Ren...


The Putney Debates
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Putney Debates. For several weeks in late 1647, after the defeat of King Charles I in the first hostilities of the Civil War, representatives of the New Model Army and the radical Levellers met in a church in Putney to debate the future of England. There was much to discuss: who should be allowed to vote, civil liberties and religious freedom. The debates were inconclusive, but the ideas aired in Putney had a considerable influence on centuries of political thought. ...

Alfred Russel Wallace
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of Alfred Russel Wallace, a pioneer of evolutionary theory. Born in 1823, Wallace travelled extensively, charting the distribution of animal species throughout the world. This fieldwork in the Amazon and later the Malay Archipelago led him to formulate a theory of evolution through natural selection. In 1858 he sent the paper he wrote on the subject to Charles Darwin, who was spurred into the writing and publication of his own masterpiece On the Origin of Species...

Ice Ages
Jane Francis, Richard Corfield and Carrie Lear join Melvyn Bragg to discuss ice ages, periods when a reduction in the surface temperature of the Earth has resulted in ice sheets at the Poles. Although the term 'ice age' is commonly associated with prehistoric eras when much of northern Europe was covered in ice, we are in fact currently in an ice age which began up to 40 million years ago. Geological evidence indicates that there have been several in the Earth's history, although their precise cause is not ...


The War of 1812
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the War of 1812, the conflict between America and the British Empire sometimes referred to as the second American War of Independence. In June 1812, President James Madison declared war on Britain, angered by the restrictions Britain had imposed on American trade, the Royal Navy's capture of American sailors and British support for Native Americans. After three years of largely inconclusive fighting, the conflict finally came to an end with the Treaty of Ghent which, amon...

The South Sea Bubble
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss The South Sea Bubble, the speculation mania in early 18th-century England which ended in the financial ruin of many of its investors. The South Sea Company was founded in 1711 with a view to restructuring government debt and restoring public credit. The company would ostensibly trade with South America, hence its name; and indeed, it did trade in slaves for the Spanish market even after the Bubble burst in 1720. People from all walks of life bought shares in the South S...

The Borgias
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Borgias, the most notorious family in Renaissance Italy. Famed for their treachery and corruption, the Borgias produced two popes during their time of dominance in Rome in the late 15th century. The most well-known of these two popes is Alexander VI, previously Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia. He was accused of buying votes to elect him to the papacy and openly promoted his children in positions of power. Rodrigo's daughter, Lucrezia, is widely remembered as a ruthless poison...


Hannibal
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and achievements of Hannibal. One of the most celebrated military leaders in history, Hannibal was the Carthaginian general who led an entire army, complete with elephants, across the Alps in order to attack the Roman Republic. He lived at a time of prolonged hostility between the two great Mediterranean powers, Rome and Carthage, and was the Carthaginians' inspirational leader during the Second Punic War which unfolded between 218 and 202 BC. His career ended in...

Gerald of Wales
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the medieval scholar Gerald of Wales. Born around the middle of the twelfth century, Gerald was a cleric and courtier. For much of his life he was close to Henry II and the Church hierarchy, and wrote accounts of official journeys he made around Wales and Ireland in their service. Both Anglo-Norman and Welsh by parentage, he had a unique perspective on the political strife of his age. Gerald's Journey Around Wales and Description of Ireland are among the most colourful an...

The Druids
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Druids, the priests of ancient Europe. Active in Ireland, Britain and Gaul, the Druids were first written about by Roman authors including Julius Caesar and Pliny, who described them as wearing white robes and cutting mistletoe with golden sickles. They were suspected of leading resistance to the Romans, a fact which eventually led to their eradication from ancient Britain. In the early modern era, however, interest in the Druids revived, and later writers reinvented ...


Hadrian's Wall
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Hadrian's Wall, the largest Roman structure and one of the most important archaeological monuments in Britain. Stretching for eighty miles from the mouth of the River Tyne to the Solway Firth and classified today as a World Heritage Site, it has been a source of fascination ever since it came into existence. It was built in about 122 AD by the Emperor Hadrian, and a substantial part of it still survives today. Although its construction must have entailed huge cost and lab...

Annie Besant
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life of the prominent 19th-century social reformer Annie Besant. Born in 1847, Annie Besant espoused a range of causes including secularism, women's rights, Socialism, Irish Home Rule, birth control and better conditions for workers. Described by Beatrice Webb as having "the voice of a beautiful soul", Besant became an eloquent public speaker as well as writing numerous campaigning articles and pamphlets. She is perhaps most famous for the key role she played in the s...

The An Lushan Rebellion
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the An Lushan Rebellion, a major uprising against the imperial rule of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. In 755 AD a senior general, An Lushan, orchestrated a plot against Emperor Xuanzong, taking the regime's capital city before declaring a rival dynasty in northern China. The rebellion lasted eight years but was eventually put down by Tang forces. Although the dynasty's authority was restored, it never regained the prosperity of previous generations. The An Lushan Rebellion dis...


1848: Year of Revolution
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss 1848, the year that saw Europe engulfed in revolution. Across the continent, from Paris to Palermo, liberals rose against conservative governments. The first stirrings of rebellion came in January, in Sicily; in February the French monarchy fell; and within a few months Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy had all been overtaken by revolutionary fervour. Only a few countries, notably Britain and Russia, were spared.The rebels were fighting for nationalism, social justice a...

The Ming Voyages
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Ming Voyages. In 1405 a Chinese admiral, Zheng He, set sail with an enormous fleet of ships carrying more than 27,000 people. This was the first of seven voyages of discovery which took Zheng and his ships all over the known world, from India to the Gulf of Persia and as far as East Africa. They took Chinese goods, evidence of the might of the Ming Empire, to the people they visited; and they also returned to China with treasure from the places they visited, and exoti...

The Minoan Civilisation
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Minoan Civilisation.In 1900 the British archaeologist Arthur Evans began excavating some ancient ruins at Knossos on the island of Crete. He uncovered an enormous palace complex which reminded him of the mythical labyrinth of King Minos. Evans had in fact discovered the remnants of a Bronze Age society; in honour of Crete's legendary king he named it the Minoan Civilisation.The Minoans flourished for twelve centuries, and their civilisation was at its height around th...


The Battle of Stamford Bridge
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of Stamford Bridge.In the first week of 1066 the English king, Edward the Confessor, died. A young nobleman, Harold Godwinson, claimed that Edward had nominated him his successor, and seized the throne. But he was not the only claimant: in France the powerful Duke of Normandy, William, believed that he was the rightful king, and prepared to invade England.As William amassed his forces on the other side of the Channel, however, an army led by the Norwegian king ...

Xenophon
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Xenophon.Xenophon, an aristocratic Athenian, was one of the most celebrated writers of the ancient world. Born in around 430 BC, he was a friend and pupil of the great philosopher Socrates. In his twenties he took part in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Persian king Artaxerxes II, and played a key role in guiding the surviving Greek troops - known as the Ten Thousand - back to safety. It was a dangerous journey from deep inside hostile territ...

Custer's Last Stand
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's Last Stand.In 1876 a dispute between the American federal government and Native Americans over land rights led to an armed conflict now known as the Great Sioux War. An expeditionary federal force was sent out to coerce the Native Americans into reservations, and away from the gold reserves recently discovered in their traditional homelands.One of the officers in this expeditionary force was a Civil War hero, George...


Octavia Hill
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Victorian social reformer Octavia Hill.From the 1850s until her death in 1912, Octavia Hill was an energetic campaigner who did much to improve the lot of impoverished city dwellers. She was a pioneer of social housing who believed that there were better and more humane ways of arranging accommodation for the poor than through the state. Aided at first by her friend John Ruskin, the essayist and art critic, she bought houses and let them to the urban dispossessed. Oct...

The Iron Age
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the dawn of the European Iron Age.In around 3000 BC European metalworkers started to make tools and weapons out of bronze. A complex trading network evolved to convey this valuable metal and other goods around the continent. But two millennia later, a new skill arrived from the Middle East: iron smelting. This harder, more versatile metal represented a huge technological breakthrough.The arrival of the European Iron Age, in around 1000 BC, was a time of huge social as wel...

The Medieval University
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the medieval universities.In the 11th and 12th centuries a new type of institution started to appear in the major cities of Europe. The first universities were those of Bologna and Paris; within a hundred years similar educational organisations were springing up all over the continent. The first universities based their studies on the liberal arts curriculum, a mix of seven separate disciplines derived from the educational theories of Ancient Greece. The universities prov...


The Taiping Rebellion
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Taiping Rebellion.In 1850 a Chinese Christian convert, Hong Xiuquan, proclaimed himself leader of a new dynasty, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. He and his followers marched against the ruling Qing dynasty, gathering huge support as they went. The ensuing civil war lasted fourteen years; around twenty million people lost their lives in a conflict which eventually involved European as well as Chinese soldiers. The Taiping Rebellion was arguably the most important event t...

The Battle of Bannockburn
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of Bannockburn.On June 23rd 1314, Scottish forces under their king Robert the Bruce confronted a larger army commanded by the English monarch Edward II at Bannockburn. It was the culmination of a war of independence which had been going on since the English had invaded Scotland in 1296. After eighteen years of intermittent fighting the English had been all but expelled from Scotland: their last stronghold was the castle at Stirling.The Scots won a decisive vict...

The Mexican Revolution
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Mexican Revolution.In 1908 the President of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, gave an interview to an American journalist. He was 77 and had ruled the country in autocratic fashion for over thirty years. He discussed the country's economic development and spoke of his intention to retire to his country estate after overseeing a transition to multiparty democracy.Things did not turn out quite like that. Two years later Diaz was toppled by a popular uprising. It was the beginning ...


Consequences of the Industrial Revolution
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the far-reaching consequences of the Industrial Revolution. After more than a century of rapid technological change, and the massive growth of its urban centres, Britain was changed forever. Lifestyles changed as workers moved from agricultural settlements to factory towns: health, housing and labour relations were all affected. But the effects were both social and intellectual, as thinkers originated theories to deal with the new realities of urban living, mass productio...

The Industrial Revolution
In the first of two programmes, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Industrial Revolution.Between the middle of the eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth, Britain was transformed. This was a revolution, but not a political one: over the course of a few generations industrialisation swept the nation. Inventions such as the machine loom and the steam engine changed the face of manufacturing; cheap iron and steel became widely available; and vast new cities grew up around factory towns.A...

Cleopatra
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Cleopatra. The last pharaoh to rule Egypt, Cleopatra was a woman of intelligence and charisma, later celebrated as a great beauty. During an eventful life she was ousted from her throne and later restored to it with the help of her lover Julius Caesar. A later relationship with another Roman statesman, Mark Antony - and Cleopatra's subsequent death at her own hands - provided Shakespeare with the raw material for one of his greatest plays. Today Cleopatra is still an obje...


The Volga Vikings
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Volga Vikings. Between the 8th and the 10th centuries AD, fierce Scandinavian warriors raided and then settled large swathes of Europe, particularly Britain, Ireland and parts of northern France. These were the Vikings, and their story is well known today. Far fewer people realise that groups of Norsemen also travelled east.These Volga Vikings, also known as the Rus, crossed the Baltic into present-day Russia and the Ukraine and founded settlements there. They traded ...

The Spanish Armada
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Spanish Armada. On May 28th, 1588, a fleet of a hundred and fifty-one Spanish ships set out from Lisbon, bound for England. Its mission was to transport a huge invasion force across the Channel: the Spanish King, Philip II, was determined to remove Elizabeth from the throne and return the English to the Catholic fold. Two months later the mighty Spanish Armada was sighted off the coast of Cornwall. Bad weather, poor planning and spirited English resistance defeated th...

The Delphic Oracle
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Delphic Oracle, the most important source of prophecies in the ancient world. In central Greece, on the flank of Mount Parnassus, lies the ruined city of Delphi. For over a thousand years, between approximately 800 BC and 400 AD, this was the most sacred place in the ancient world. Its chief attraction was the Delphic Oracle, which predicted the future and offered petitioners advice.Travellers journeyed for weeks for a chance to ask the oracle a question. The answers,...


Pliny's Natural History
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Pliny's Natural History.Some time in the first century AD, the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder published his Naturalis Historia, or Natural History, an enormous reference work which attempted to bring together knowledge on every subject under the sun. The Natural History contains information on zoology, astronomy, geography, minerals and mining and - unusually for a work of this period - a detailed treatise on the history of classical art. It's a fascinating snapshot of the...

Athelstan
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the reign of King Athelstan.Athelstan, the grandson of Alfred the Great, came to the throne of Wessex in 925. A few years later he unified the kingdoms of England, and a decade after that defeated the Scots and styled himself King of all Britain. As well as being a brilliant military commander, Athelstan was a legal reformer whose new laws forever changed the way crime was dealt with in England. Unlike his predecessors, he pursued a foreign policy, seeking alliances with ...

The Neanderthals
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Neanderthals.In 1856, quarry workers in Germany found bones in a cave which seemed to belong to a bear or other large mammal. They were later identified as being from a previously unknown species of hominid similar to a human. The specimen was named Homo neanderthalis after the valley in which the bones were found.This was the first identified remains of a Neanderthal, a species which inhabited parts of Europe and Central Asia from around 400,000 years ago. Often depi...


Edmund Burke
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of the eighteenth-century philosopher, politician and writer Edmund Burke.Born in Dublin, Burke began his career in London as a journalist and made his name with two works of philosophy before entering Parliament. There he quickly established a reputation as one of the most formidable orators of an age which also included Pitt the Younger.When unrest began in America in the 1760s, Burke was quick to defend the American colonists in their uprising. But it was his ...

The Great Wall of China
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Great Wall of China.The Great Wall is not a single Wall. It is not visible from space, contrary to popular belief, as it is much too thin. But it remains a spectacular architectural and historical phenomenon.The Great Wall's military importance, and its symbolic power, have varied widely in its long existence, as its place in Chinese life has shifted with the country's history. It was initially constructed at the command of the first Emperor, from 221 BC, and was a combin...

The Zulu Nation's Rise and Fall
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rise and fall of the Zulu Nation.At the beginning of the 19th century, the Zulus were a small pastoral community of a bare few thousand people in the eastern part of what is now South Africa. Their territory was limited to about ten square miles.But within a decade, led by their warrior king, Shaka, they had managed to carve out an empire with a population of many tens of thousands.Shaka was a skilled politician, successfully co-opting many neighbouring peoples into his k...


The City - a history, part 2
Melvyn Bragg presents the second of a two part discussion about the history of the city. George Stephenson invented rail transport in the north-east of England in the 1820s, but it was not until over twenty years later that rail networks began to spring up to ferry workers in and out of the centre of British cities. When they did, this had a vast, transforming effect on the whole nature of cities - taking the pressure off dense, overcrowded central areas, but helping cities like London explode outwards.Vict...

The City - a history, part 1
Melvyn Bragg presents the first of a two-part discussion about the history of the city. With Peter Hall, Julia Merritt and Greg Woolf.The story of cities is widely held to begin in the 8th millennium BC in Mesopotamia. By 4000 BC, there were cities in the Indus Valley, by 3000 BC in Egypt, and by 2000 BC in China. What happened in the west was the furthest ripple of that phenomenon. In 1000 BC Athens still only had a population of one thousand. At its height, Athens' position as a powerful Mediterranean tr...

Boudica
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and mythologisation of Boudica.On the eve of battle with the Roman Empire, an East Anglian leader roused her forces by declaring: 'It is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom'. Her name was Boudica, warrior Queen of the Iceni.In 60AD, Boudica's husband Prasutagus died and Roman troops tried to incorporate his lands into their Empire. Soldiers publicly flogged Boudica and raped her daughters. In retali...


The Indian Mutiny
Melvyn Bragg and guests Faisal Devji, Shruti Kapila and Chandrika Kaul discuss the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the rebellion which followed.On 10th May 1857 Indian soldiers from the Bengal section of the East India Company's army rose up and shot their British officers. By nightfall the troops had marched on Delhi and the aged Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II had been nominally restored to power. Nearly 15 months later, after great violence on both sides, the revolt was suppressed, but it left British rule in I...

Ibn Khaldun
Melvyn Bragg and guests Robert Hoyland, Robert Irwin and Hugh Kennedy discuss the life and ideas of the 14th-century Arab philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun.Ibn Khaldun was a North African statesman who retreated into the desert in 1375. He emerged having written one of the most important ever studies of the workings of history.Khaldun was born in Tunis in 1332. He received a supremely good education, but at 16 lost many of his family to the Black Death. His adult life was similarly characterised by sharp t...

The Glencoe Massacre
Melvyn Bragg and guests Karin Bowie, Murray Pittock and Daniel Szechi discuss the Glencoe Massacre of 1692, why it happened, and its lasting repercussions.On a winter night in 1692, a company of soldiers quartered with the MacDonalds of Glencoe rose early and slaughtered their hosts. About 38 men, women and children were killed. Their homes were torched and many survivors died as they fled into the snow. This mass killing was branded by a Scottish Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry as 'murder under trust'....


Mary Wollstonecraft
Melvyn Bragg and guests John Mullan, Karen O'Brien and Barbara Taylor discuss the life and ideas of the pioneering British Enlightenment thinker Mary Wollstonecraft.Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759 into a middle-class family whose status steadily sank as her inept, brutal, drunken father frittered away the family fortune. She did what she could to protect her mother from his aggression; meanwhile, her brother was slated to inherit much of the remaining fortune, while she was to receive nothing.From this...

The Samurai
Melvyn Bragg and guests Gregory Irvine, Nicola Liscutin and Angus Lockyer discuss the history of the Samurai and the role of their myth in Japanese national identity.The Samurai have a fearsome historical reputation as a suicidally brave caste of Japanese warriors. During World War Two, kamikaze pilots were photographed climbing into their cockpits with Samurai swords, encapsulating the way the myth of the Samurai's martial ethos kept its power long after their heyday. But the Samurai's role in Japanese cul...

The Silk Road
Melvyn Bragg and guests Tim Barrett, Naomi Standen and Frances Wood discuss the Silk Road, the trade routes which spanned Asia for over a thousand years, carrying Buddhism to China and paper-making and gunpowder westwards.In 1900, a Taoist monk came upon a cave near the Chinese town of Dunhuang. Inside, he found thousands of ancient manuscripts. They revealed a vast amount of evidence about the so-called Silk Road: the great trade routes which had stretched from Central Asia, through desert oases, to China,...


Sparta
Melvyn Bragg and guests Paul Cartledge, Edith Hall and Angie Hobbs discuss Sparta, the militaristic Ancient Greek city-state, and the political ideas it spawned.The isolated Ancient Greek city-state of Sparta was a ferocious opposite to the cosmopolitan port of Athens. Spartans were hostile to outsiders and rhetoric, to philosophy and change. Two and a half thousand years on, Sparta remains famous for its brutally rigorous culture of military discipline, as inculcated in its young men through communal livin...

The Siege of Munster
Melvyn Bragg and guests Diarmaid MacCulloch, Lucy Wooding and Charlotte Methuen discuss the Siege of Munster in 1534-35.In the early 16th century, the Protestant Reformation revolutionised Christian belief. But one radical group of believers stood out. The Anabaptists rejected infant baptism and formal clergy, and believed that all goods should be held in common. They were also convinced that the Second Coming was imminent.In 1534, in the north-western German city of Munster, a group of Anabaptists attempte...

The Death of Elizabeth I
Melvyn Bragg and guests John Guy, Clare Jackson and Helen Hackett discuss the death of Queen Elizabeth I and its immediate impact, as a foreign monarch became King in the face of plots and plague.By the spring of 1603, Elizabeth had been Queen for 44 years, and it was clear that she would leave no heir. Many feared that her death would spark insurrection, led perhaps by Puritans, perhaps by Catholics, possibly with the support of Spain. As it became clear that she was dying, Elizabeth's chief minister, Sir ...


The Dreyfus Affair
Melvyn Bragg and guests Robert Gildea, Ruth Harris and Robert Tombs discuss the Dreyfus Affair, the 1890s scandal which divided opinion in France for a generation.In 1894, a high-flying Jewish staff officer in the French Army, one Alfred Dreyfus, was convicted of spying for the Prussians. He was publicly humiliated: before a large Paris crowd, he was stripped of his badges of rank and his sword was ceremonially broken. Some of those watching shouted 'Down with Judas!' Then he was dispatched to Devil's Islan...

Akhenaten
Melvyn Bragg and guests Elizabeth Frood, Richard Parkinson and Kate Spence discuss the Pharaoh Akhenaten, the ruler who brought revolutionary change to ancient Egypt. During his reign, Akhenaten embarked on a profoundly radical project: he set out to transform his people's deepest religious beliefs, moving from a polytheistic tradition to the elevation of a single solar god, Aten. The changes in art and architecture that followed have led some to call him 'history's first individual'. Despite his successors...

The Augustan Age
Melvyn Bragg and guests Mary Beard, Catharine Edwards and Duncan Kennedy discuss the political regime and cultural influence of the Roman Emperor Augustus. Called the Augustan Age, it was a golden age of literature with Virgil's Aeneid and Ovid's Metamorphosis among its treasures. But they were forged amidst creeping tyranny and the demands of literary propaganda. Augustus tightened public morals, funded architectural renewal and prosecuted adultery. Ovid was exiled for his saucy love poems but Virgil's Aen...


The Trial of Charles I
Melvyn Bragg and guests Justin Champion, Diane Purkiss and David Wootton discuss the trial of Charles I, recounting the high drama in Westminster Hall and the ideas that led to the execution.Begun on 20th January 1649, the trial culminated in the epoch-making execution of an English monarch. But on the way it was a drama of ideas about kingly authority, tax, parliamentary power and religion, all suffused with personal vendettas, political confusion and individual courage. It was also a forum in which the ne...

The Siege of Vienna
Melvyn Bragg and guests Andrew Wheatcroft, Claire Norton and Jeremy Black discuss the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683, when the Ottoman Empire tried to capture the capital city of the Hapsburg monarchs. The ensuing tale of blood and drama helped define the boundaries of Europe. In June 1683, a man called Kara Mustafa made a journey to Vienna. That a Muslim Turk should come to a Catholic city was not unusual, but Kara Mustafa did so at the head of the Ottoman Army. Vienna was the capital of the Hapsburg Empi...

The Magna Carta
Melvyn Bragg and guests Nicholas Vincent, David Carpenter and Michael Clanchy discuss the Magna Carta, the oft-proclaimed foundation of English liberties.The Magna Carta has been cited ever since its issue in 1215 as a foundation stone of English liberties. It includes clauses of universal justice, some of which are still on the statute book, but also sorted out the fishing rights in the upper Thames. Whether Magna Carta is a genuine proclamation of universal liberty or a hotchpotch of baronial self-interes...


The Building of St Petersburg
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the building of St Petersburg, Peter the Great's showcase city for a modern, European Russia. It is a city of ideas. of progress and the Baroque, of Russian identity and Tsarist power. The building of St Petersburg is a testament to Tsarist power but it is also a city of ideas; of progress, of the Baroque and Russian identity. Beset by fire and flood, the city was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 to symbolise a new Russia, one that faced away from the Slavic East and towar...

Suffragism
Melvyn Bragg and guests Krista Cowman, June Purvis and Julia Bush discuss suffragism, a name for the various movements to get the vote for women in the 19th and early-20th century. On the 4th June 1913 the Epsom Derby was underway. King George V was there watching his horse Anmer, ridden by Herbert Jones. Also watching was a young woman called Emily Davison. As the horses thundered towards the finish line, Emily Davison stepped through the barrier and threw herself in front of the King's horse and died of h...

The Boxer Rebellion
In the hot summer of 1900, Peking, the capital of China, was under heavy siege. But the surrounding forces were not foreign, they were Chinese. This was the Boxer Rebellion, the moment when the 'Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists', known as the boxers, purged China of foreign merchants and missionaries. The Boxers had came out of the northern provinces, they claimed their fists were stronger than fire and they were invincible to bullets. But they were also desperate and starving and they blamed fore...


The Library of Alexandria
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Library at Alexandria. Founded by King Ptolemy in the 3rd century BC the library was the first attempt to collect all the knowledge of the ancient world in one place. Scholars including Archimedes and Euclid came to study its grand array of papyri. the legacy of the library is with us today, not just in the ideas it stored and the ideas it seeded but also in the way it organised knowledge and the tools developed for dealing with it. It still influences the things we know ...

Carthage's Destruction
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Destruction of Carthage. The North African city of Carthage was rich and powerful, but in the second century BC it suffered a terrible fate. The Greek historian Appian wrote about it: “Then came new scenes of horror. As the fire spread and carried everything down, the soldiers did not wait to destroy the buildings little by little, but all in a heap. So the crashing grew louder, and many corpses fell with the stones into the midst. Others were seen still living, especiall...

History of History
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how the writing of history has changed over time, from ancient epics to medieval hagiographies and modern deconstructions. In the 6th century AD, the bishop of Tours began his history of the world with a simple observation that “A great many things keep happening, some of them good, some of them bad”. For a phrase that captures the whole of history it’s among the best, but in writing about the past we are rarely so economical. From ancient epics – Thucydides’ History of the P...


Thoreau and the American Idyll
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 19th century American writer and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau. Anti-slavery activist and passionate environmentalist, Thoreau was above all a champion of self-reliance and individualism. He was also a champion of the simple life, a lover of nature and an enemy of the modern who lived alone in a log cabin in the woods away from society. In his seminal work, Walden, published in 1854, he wrote: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only t...

The Great Reform Act
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Great Reform Act of 1832. The Act redrew the map of British politics in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and is a landmark in British political history.“We must get the suffrage, we must get votes, that we may send the men to Parliament who will do our work for us; …and we must have the country divided so that the little kings of the counties can't do as they like, but must be shaken up in one bag with us.” So declares a working class reformist in George Eliot’s nov...

The Fire of London
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Great Fire of London which destroyed up to a third of the city in 1666. Samuel Pepys described the scene in his diary:“all over the Thames, with one's face in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of firedrops…and in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the City, we saw the fire …It made me weep to see it.”The London that rose from the ashes was a visible manifestation of ideas; of the politics, religi...


Bolivar
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and times of Simon Bolivar, hero of the revolutionary wars that liberated Spanish America from Spain. In 1804 Bolivar stood on a small hill in Rome and made a grand declaration. He said, “I swear before you, I swear before the God of my fathers, I swear by my fathers, I swear by my honour, I swear by my country that I will not rest, body or soul, until I have broken the chains with which Spanish power oppresses us.” Unlike most teeenage declarations, Bolivar made goo...

Tacitus and the Decadence of Rome
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Roman historian Tacitus who chronicled some of Rome’s most notorious emperors, including Nero and Caligula, and whose portrayal of Roman decadence influences the way we see Rome today. “The story I now commence is rich in vicissitudes, grim with warfare, torn by civil strife, a tale of horror even during times of peace”. So reads page one of The Histories by the Roman historian Tacitus and it doesn’t disappoint. Convinced that Rome was going to the dogs, Tacitus depicts...

The Arab Conquests
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Arab conquests - an extraordinary period in the 7th and 8th centuries when the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula conquered the Middle East, Persia, North Africa and Southern Europe and spread the ideas of the Islamic religion. In 632 the prophet Muhammad died and left behind the nascent religion of Islam among a few tribes in the Arabian Desert. They were relatively small in number, they were divided among themselves and they were surrounded by vast and powerful empires. Ye...


The Riddle of the Sands
Melvyn Bragg and guests discusses the prescient thriller ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ about the decline Anglo-German relations before the First World War. In 1903 an Englishman called Charles Caruthers went sailing in the North Sea and stumbled upon a German military plot. The cunning plan was to invade the British Isles from the Frisian Islands using special barges. The plucky Caruthers foiled the plot and returned to his sailing holiday.This is not history but fiction, an immensely popular book called ‘The R...

The Black Death
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how the Black Death influenced the structure and ideas of Medieval Europe. In October 1347, a Genoese trading ship arrived at the busy port of Messina in Sicily and docked among many similar ships doing similar things. But this ship was special because this ship had rats and the rats had fleas and the fleas had plague. This was the Black Death and its terrible progress was captured by the Florentine writer Giovanni Boccaccio who declared “in those years a dead man was then of...

The Enclosures of the 18th Century
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the enclosure movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. In the early 19th century, the Northamptonshire poet John Clare took a good look at the countryside and didn’t like what he saw. He wrote: "Fence meeting fence in owners little boundsOf field and meadow, large as garden-grounds,In little parcels little minds to please,With men and flocks imprisoned, ill at ease."Enclosure means literally enclosing a field with a fence or a hedge to prevent others using it. This seemingly...


The Norman Yoke
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss ‘the Norman Yoke’ – the idea that the Battle of Hastings sparked years of cruel oppression for the Anglo Saxons by a Norman ruling class. ‘Norman saw on English oak,On English neck a Norman yoke;Norman spoon in English dish,And England ruled as Normans wish.’Taken from Sir Walter Scott’s novel ‘Ivanhoe’, these words encapsulate the idea of ‘the Norman Yoke’ – that the Battle of Hastings sparked the cruel oppression of Anglo-Saxon liberties by a foreign ruling class. Certainly...

The Dissolution of the Monasteries
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Was Henry’s decision to destroy monastic culture in this country a tyrannical act of grand larceny or the pious destruction of a corrupt institution? When he was an old man, Michael Sherbrook remembered the momentous events of his youth: “All things of price were either spoiled, plucked away or defaced to the uttermost…it seemed that every person bent himself to filch and spoil what he could. Nothing was spared but the ox-hou...

The Statue of Liberty
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Statue of Liberty."Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. With these words, inscribed inside her pedestal, the Statue of Liberty has welcomed immigrants to America since 1903. But the Statue of Liberty is herself an immigrant, born in Paris she was shipped across the Atlantic in 214 separate crates, a present to the Americans from the French. She is a token of friendship forged in the fire of twin revolutions, finessed by thinkers li...


Rudolph II
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the coterie of brilliant thinkers gathered in 16th century Prague by the melancholic emperor Rudolph II. In 1606 the Archdukes of Vienna declared: “His majesty is interested only in wizards, alchemists, Kabbalists and the like, sparing no expense to find all kinds of treasures, learn secrets and use scandalous ways of harming his enemies…He also has a whole library of magic books. He strives all the time to eliminate God completely so that he may in future serve a different ...

The Charge of the Light Brigade
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Charge of the Light - an event of no military significance that has become iconic in the British historical imagination. On November 14th 1854 The Times newspaper reported on a minor cavalry skirmish in the Crimean War: “They swept proudly past, glittering in the morning sun in all the pride and splendour of war... At the distance of 1200 yards the whole line of the enemy belched forth, from thirty iron mouths, a flood of smoke and flame through which hissed the deadly ba...

The Sassanid Empire
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Sassanian Empire. Founded around 226 AD, in Persia, the Sassanian Empire lasted over 400 years as a grand imperial rival to Rome. In modern day Iran, just down the road from the ancient Persian capital of Persepolis, there is a picture carved into a rock. It depicts a king, triumphant on horseback, facing two defeated enemies. This is no pair of petty princes, they are Roman Emperors - Philip and Valerian - and the king towering above them is Shapur I of the Sassanian Emp...


The Divine Right of Kings
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Divine Right of Kings. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the character Malcolm describes the magical healing powers of the king: “How he solicits heaven, Himself best knows; but strangely-visited people, All swoln and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye, The mere despair of surgery, he cures; Hanging a golden stamp about their necks, Put on with holy prayers...”The idea that a monarch could heal with his touch flowed from the idea that a king was sacred, appointed by God and above the j...

The Pilgrim Fathers
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Pilgrim Fathers and their 1620 voyage to the New World on the Mayflower. Every year on the fourth Thursday in November, Americans go home to their families and sit down to a meal. It’s called Thanksgiving and it echoes a meal that took place nearly 400 years ago, when a group of religious exiles from Lincolnshire sat down, after a brutal winter, to celebrate their first harvest in the New World. They celebrated it in company with the American Indians who had helped them t...

The Siege of Orléans
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Siege of Orléans, when Joan of Arc came to the rescue of France and routed the English army with the help of God. The perfidious English then burnt her as a heretic in Rouen marketplace. At least that's the story we're told but the truth involves the murky world of French court politics, labyrinthine dynastic claims, mass religious hysteria and English military and political incompetenceLooking back on the events that followed, the Duke of Bedford wrote to King Henry VI ...


The Opium Wars
Melvyn Bragg discusses the Opium Wars, a series of conflicts in the 19th Century which had a profound effect on British Chinese relations for generations. Thomas De Quincey describes the pleasures of opium like this: “Thou hast the keys of Paradise, O just, subtle and mighty opium”. The Chinese had banned opium in its various forms several times, citing concern for public morals, but private British traders continued to smuggle large quantities of opium into China from India. In this way, the opium trade be...

Bismarck
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the original Iron Chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck. One of Europe's leading statesmen in the 19th Century he is credited with unifying Germany under the military might of his home state of Prussia. An enthusiastic expansionist, Bismarck undertook a war against Denmark that has become a by-word for incomprehensible conflict. The British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, said: “The Schleswig-Holstein question is so complicated, only three men in Europe have ever understood it. One ...

Genghis Khan
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Genghis Khan. Born Temujin in the 12th Century, he was cast out by his tribe when just a child and left to struggle for survival on the harsh Steppes of what is now Mongolia. From these beginnings he went on to become Genghis Khan, leader of the greatest continuous land-based empire the world has ever seen. His conquered territories stretched from the Caspian Sea to the borders of Manchuria, from the Siberian forest to what is now Afghanistan.He was a charismatic commander an...


Constantinople Siege and Fall
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the siege of Constantinople in 1453. When Sultan Mehmet the Second rode into the city of Constantinople on a white horse in 1453, it marked the end of a thousand years of the Byzantine Empire. After holding out for 53 days, the city had fallen. And as one contemporary witness described it: “The blood flowed in the city like rainwater in the gutters after a sudden storm”. It was the end of the classical world and the crowning of an Ottoman Empire that would last until 1922.Con...

The Peasants’ Revolt
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the Gentleman?" these are the opening words of a rousing sermon, said to be by John Ball, which fires a broadside at the deeply hierarchical nature of fourteenth century England. Ball, along with Wat Tyler, was one of the principal leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt – his sermon ends: "I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yo...

The Needham Question
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Needham Question; why Europe and not China developed modern technology. What do these things have in common? Fireworks, wood-block printing, canal lock-gates, kites, the wheelbarrow, chain suspension bridges and the magnetic compass. The answer is that they were all invented in China, a country that, right through the Middle Ages, maintained a cultural and technological sophistication that made foreign dignitaries flock to its imperial courts for trade and favour. But the...


The Diet of Worms
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Diet of Worms, an event that helped trigger the European Reformation. Nestled on a bend of the River Rhine, in the South West corner of Germany, is the City of Worms. It’s one of the oldest cities in central Europe; it still has its early city walls, its 11th century Romanesque cathedral and a 500-year-old printing industry, but in its centre is a statue of the monk, heretic and founder of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. In 1521 Luther came to Worms to explain ...

The Spanish Inquisition
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Spanish Inquisition, the defenders of medieval orthodoxy. The word ‘Inquisition’ has its roots in the Latin word 'inquisito' which means inquiry. The Romans used the inquisitorial process as a form of legal procedure employed in the search for evidence. Once Rome's religion changed to Christianity under Constantine, it retained the inquisitorial trial method but also developed brutal means of dealing with heretics who went against the doctrines of the new religion. Effort...

Astronomy and Empire
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the relationship between astronomy and the British Empire. The 18th century explorer and astronomer James Cook wrote: 'Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go'. Cook's ambition took him to the far reaches of the Pacific and led to astronomical observations which measured the distance of Venus to the Sun with unprecedented accuracy. Cook's ambition was not just personal and astronomical. It repre...


The Great Exhibition of 1851
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 1851 Great Exhibition. “Its grandeur does not consist in one thing, but in the unique assemblage of all things. Whatever human industry has created you find there. It seems as if only magic could have gathered this mass of wealth from all the ends of the earth.” So wrote Charlotte Bronte in 1851 after visiting the Great Exhibition set in the vast Crystal Palace in London's Hyde Park. By the time the exhibition closed, one quarter of the entire British population had visit...

The Carolingian Renaissance
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance. In 800 AD on Christmas Day in Rome, Pope Leo III proclaimed Charlemagne Emperor. According to the Frankish historian Einhard, Charlemagne would never have set foot in St Peter's that day if he had known that the Pope intended to crown him. But Charlemagne accepted his coronation with magnanimity. Regarded as the first of the Holy Roman Emperors, Charlemagne became a touchstone for legitimacy until the institu...

Catherine the Great
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Catherine the Great. In Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery hangs perhaps the most well-known picture of Russia's most well-known ruler. Dimitri Levitsky's 1780 'Portrait of Catherine the Great in the Justice Temple' depicts Catherine in the temple burning poppies at an altar, symbolising her sacrifice of self-interest for Russia. Law books and the scales of justice are at her feet, highlighting her respectful promotion of the rule of law. But menacingly, in the background an eagle cr...


The Abbasid Caliphs
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Abbasid Caliphs, dynastic rulers of the Islamic world from the mid eighth to the tenth century. They headed a Muslim empire that extended from Tunisia through Egypt, Syria, Arabia, and Persia to Uzbekistan and the frontiers of India. But unlike previous conquerors, the Abbasid Caliphs presided over a multicultural empire where conversion was a relatively peaceful business. As Vikings raided the shores of Britain, the Abbasids were developing sophisticated systems of gover...

The Oath
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the importance of the oath in ancient Greece and Rome, The importance of oaths in the Classical world cannot be overstated. Kings, citizens, soldiers, litigants all swore oaths, inviting divine retribution if they proved false to their word. Oaths cemented peace treaties, they obliged the Athenian citizenry to protect their democracy, they guaranteed the loyalty of the Roman army to its Emperor and they underpinned the legal systems of Athens and Rome. And in Homer's epic poe...

The Peterloo Massacre
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, a defining moment of its age. In 1819 Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote: 'I met Murder on the way He had a mask like Castlereagh Very smooth he looked, yet grim; Seven blood-hounds followed him: All were fat; and well they might Be in admirable plight, For one by one, and two by two, He tossed them human hearts to chew Which from his wide cloak he drew.' As Foreign Secretary, Castlereagh had successfully co-ordinated European opposition to Napoleon, bu...


Greyfriars and Blackfriars
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the religious orders of the Dominicans and the Franciscans, known as the Blackfriars and Greyfriars. "Just as it is better to light up others than to shine alone, it is better to share the fruits of one's contemplation with others than to contemplate in solitude". Thus St Thomas Aquinas described his vocation, not only as a teacher, but also as a Dominican friar and philosopher at the University of Paris. In the 13th century, the religious orders of the Dominicans and the Fra...

The Field of the Cloth of Gold
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Field of the Cloth of Gold, an extraordinary international party. In the spring of 1520 six thousand Englishmen and women packed their bags and followed their King across the sea to France. They weren't part of an invasion force but were attendants to King Henry VIII and travelling to take part in the greatest and most conspicuous display of wealth and culture that Europe had ever seen. They were met by Francis I of France and six thousand French noblemen and servants on ...

The French Revolution's reign of terror
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the reign of terror during the French Revolution. On Monday September 10th 1792 The Times of London carried a story covering events in revolutionary France: "The streets of Paris, strewed with the carcases of the mangled victims, are become so familiar to the sight, that they are passed by and trod on without any particular notice. The mob think no more of killing a fellow-creature, who is not even an object of suspicion, than wanton boys would of killing a cat or a dog". The...


Archaeology and Imperialism
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the link between archaeology and imperialism. In 1842 a young English adventurer called Austen Henry Layard set out to excavate what he hoped were the remains of the biblical city of Nineveh in Mesopotamia. On arrival he discovered that the local French consul, Paul Emile Botta, was already hard at work. Across the Middle East and in Egypt, archaeologists, antiquarians and adventurers were exploring cities older than the Bible and shipping spectacular monuments down the Nile ...

Alfred and the Battle of Edington
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss King Alfred and the defeat of the Vikings at Battle of Edington. At the end of the 9th century the Vikings controlled almost all of what we now call England. Mercia had fallen and its king had fled, Northumbria had fallen and so had Essex. The only independent kingdom left standing against the rampaging Danes was Wessex, and Alfred the Great; then he was overrun, his treasury, palaces and castles taken whilst he and his most loyal followers were left to wander the moors. Yet ...

Tsar Alexander II's assassination
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. On 1st March 1881, the Russian Tsar, Alexander II, was travelling through the snow to the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. An armed Cossack sat with the coach driver, another six Cossacks followed on horseback and behind them came a group of police officers in sledges. It was the day that the Tsar, known for his liberal reforms, had signed a document granting the first ever constitution to the Russian people.But his journey was being wat...


The Roman Republic
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rise and eventual downfall of the Roman Republic which survived for 500 years.Around 550 BC, Lucretia, the daughter of an aristocrat, was raped by the son of Tarquin, the King of Rome. Lucretia told her family what had happened to her and then in front of them, killed herself from shame. The Roman historian Livy describes what was believed to have happened next:"Brutus, while the others were absorbed in grief; drew out the knife from Lucretia's wound, and holding it up, d...

Machiavelli and the Italian City States
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. In The Prince, Machiavelli's great manual of power, he wrote, "since men love as they themselves determine but fear as their ruler determines, a wise prince must rely upon what he and not others can control". He also advised, "One must be a fox in order to recognise traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves. Those who simply act like lions are stupid. So it follows that a prudent ruler cannot, and must not, honour his word when it...

Agincourt
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Battle of Agincourt."Owre kynge went forth to Normandy, With grace and myyt of chivalry; The God for hym wrouyt marvelously, Wherefore Englonde may calle, and cry Deo gratias: Deo gratias redde pro victoria." The great victory was Agincourt as described in the Agincourt Carol, when the 'happy few' of the English army of King Henry V vanquished the French forces on St Crispin's Day 1415. It is a battle that has resounded through the centuries and has been used by so many t...


Washington and the American Revolution
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the first President of the US, George Washington, and the people and ideas that caused the American Revolution. In 1774 a tobacco farmer from Virginia with nice manners and a quiet lifestyle was moved to put himself forward as the military leader of the most massive rebellion the British Empire had ever suffered. George Washington had been a stout upholder of the status quo, regularly lending money to his ne’r-do-well neighbour simply to keep him in the plantation to which he...

Babylon
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the truth about Babylon. Six thousand years ago, between the Tigris and the Euphrates, the first cities were being built. The great empire to spring from the region was Babylon, which held sway for over a thousand years and in that time managed to garner an extraordinarily bad press: it’s associated with the Tower of Babel, with Nineveh where Jonah is sent to preach repentance and, perhaps most famously, with “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations...

Heroism
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what defines a hero and what place they had in classical society. On the fields of Troy a fallen soldier pleaded with Achilles, the great hero of the Greeks, to spare his life. According to Homer, Achilles replied, “Do you not see what a man I am, how huge, how splendid.And born of a great father and the mother who bore me immortal?Yet even I have also my death and strong destiny, And there shall be a dawn or an afternoon or a noontime,When some man in the fighting will take ...


Tea
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss tea, the first truly global commodity. After air and water, tea is the most widely consumed substance on the planet and the British national drink. In this country it helped define class and gender, it funded wars and propped up the economy of the Empire. The trade started in the 1660s with an official import of just 2 ounces, by 1801 24 million pounds of tea were coming in every year and people of all classes were drinking an average two cups a day. It was the first mass com...

China's Warring States period
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the astonishing productivity of the Chinese Golden Age. 400 BC to 200 AD is known as the Axial Age, when great civilisations in Asia and the Mediterranean forged the ideas that dominated the next two thousand years. In China the equivalent to the Golden Age in Greece was the Warring States Period. It was a time of political turmoil, economic change and intellectual ferment that laid the foundations for the first Chinese Empire. Astronomy was systematised, the principles of Yi...

The Norse Gods
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Vikings’ myths. Thor’s huge hammer, the wailing Valkyrie, howling wolves and fierce elemental giants give a rowdy impression of the Norse myths. But at the centre of their cosmos stands a gnarled old Ash tree, from which all distances are measured and under which Valhalla lies. In the first poem of The Poetic Edda, where the stories of the Norse Gods are laid down in verse, the Seeress describes it in her prophesy: “I know that an ash-tree stands called Yggdrasil,a high t...


The Mughal Empire
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Mughal Empire which, at its height, stretched from Bengal in the East to Gujarat in the West, and from Lahore in the North to Madras in the South.  It covered the whole of present day northern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and became famous for the Taj Mahal, the Koh-i-Noor and the Peacock Throne.  In 1631 a Dutch naturalist Johannes de Laet published his account of the vast Empire, “the nobles live in indescribable luxury and extravagance, caring only to i...

Thermopylae
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Battle of Thermopylae. For the historian Herodotus, the Battle of Thermopylae was the defining clash between East and West: “The Persians fell in their scores, for the officers stood behind lashing them forward, forward all the time. Many fell into the sea and were drowned, many more were trampled to death by their comrades ... The Greeks knew they were doomed now the Persians had discovered a way round the hill, and put forth their last ounce of strength, utterly despera...

The Alphabet
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the feat of astonishing intellectual engineering which provides us with millions of words in hundreds of languages. At the start of the twentieth century, in the depths of an ancient Egyptian turquoise mine on the Sinai peninsular, an archaeologist called Sir Flinders Petrie made an exciting discovery. Scratched onto rocks, pots and portable items, he found scribblings of a very unexpected but strangely familiar nature. He had expected to see the complex pictorial hieroglyphi...


St Bartholomew's Day Massacre
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the infamous St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. In Paris, in the high summer of 1572, a very unusual wedding was happening in the cathedral of Notre Dame. Henri, the young Huguenot King of Navarre, was marrying the King of France’s beloved sister, Margot, a Catholic. Theirs was a union designed to bring together the rival factions of France and finally end the French Wars of Religion. Paris was bustling with Huguenots and Catholics and, though the atmosphere was tense, the weddin...

Robin Hood
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the centuries old myth of the most romantic noble outlaw. The first printed version of the Robin Hood story begins like this:“Lithe and Lysten, gentylmen/That be of frebore blodeI shall tell of a good yeman/His name was Robyn Hode/Robyn was a proude outlawe/Whyles he walked on groundeSo curteyse an outlawe as he was one/Was never none yfound”.Robin Hood is described as a ‘yeoman’ – a freeman, and though he is courteous there is not even a hint of the aristocrat he later becam...

The Schism
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss events surrounding the medieval division of the Christian Church. In 1054, Cardinal Humbert stormed into the Cathedral of Constantinople and charged down the aisle. In his hand was a Papal Bull – a deed of excommunication - and he slammed it down onto the altar. As he swept out of the startled church, the Papal Legate and his entourage stopped at the door and symbolically shook the sullied dust of Eastern Christianity from their Catholic boots. The Pope of Rome had decreed th...


The East India Company
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the private trading company that helped forge the British Empire. At its peak, its influence stretched from western India to eastern China via the farthest reaches of the Indonesian archipelago. It had a fleet of 130 twelve hundred tonne ships and commanded an army of 200,000 troops that came to dominate the Indian subcontinent. It funded governments, toppled princes and generated spectacular amounts of money from trading textiles and spices. But this wasn’t an empire, it was...

The Aristocracy
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the British aristocracy. The Greeks gave us the word aristocracy; it takes its root from ‘aristo’, meaning best and ‘kratos’, meaning rule or power. And for more than five hundred years Britain was ruled by a class that was defined, at the time, as the best. They founded their ascendancy on the twin pillars of land and heredity and in terms of privilege, preferment, power, style and wealth, they dominated British society. As the Earl of Chesterfield confidently informed the H...

The Art of War
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history and philosophy of warfare. The British historian Edward Gibbon wrote: “Every age, however destitute of science or virtue, sufficiently abounds with acts of blood and military renown.” War, it seems, is one of mankind’s most constant companions, one that has blighted the lives and troubled the minds of men and women from antiquity onwards. Plato envisaged a society without war, but found it had no arts, no culture and no political system. In our own time the United...


The Jacobite Rebellion
Melvyn Bragg and guests discusses the Jacobite Rebellion. In the summer of 1745, a young man in a small French frigate landed on the West Coast of Scotland. It was Bonnie Prince Charlie who began his campaign to become king of Scotland and England. He had seven followers amongst his shipmates and took to the Highlands to raise an army from the Scottish clans: “The Highland clans with sword in hand Frae John o Groats tae AirlieHae tae a man declared to standOr fa wi Royal Charlie”.Or so the old Jacobite song...

Roman Britain
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Romans in Britain. About 2000 years ago, Tacitus noted that “the climate is wretched”, Herodian said, “the atmosphere in the country is always gloomy”, Dio said “they live in tents unclothed and unshod, and share their women” and the historian Strabo said on no account should the Romans make it part of the Empire because it will never pay its way. But invade they did, and Britain became part of the Roman Empire for almost four hundred years.But what brought Romans to Brit...

The Spanish Civil War
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Spanish Civil War which was a defining war of the twentieth century. It was a brutal conflict that polarised Spain, pitting the Left against the Right, the anti-clericals against the Church, the unions against the landed classes and the Republicans against the Monarchists. It was a bloody war which saw, in the space of just three years, the murder and execution of 350,000 people. It was also a conflict which soon became internationalised, becoming a battleground for the f...


The Aztecs
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Aztec Empire. According to legend, the origins of it lie on a mythical island called Aztlan - "place of the white herons" - in the north of Mexico. From there this nomadic group of Mesoamericans are said to have undertaken a pilgrimage south to the fertile valleys of Central America. In the space of just 200 years, they formed what has been called the largest, and arguably the most ruthless, pre-Hispanic empire in North America which, at its zenith, was to rule over appro...

The Enlightenment in Scotland
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century. In 1696 the Edinburgh student, Thomas Aitkenhead, claimed theology was "a rhapsody of feigned and ill invented nonsense". He was hanged for his trouble - just one victim of a repressive religious society called the Scottish Kirk. Yet within 60 years Scotland was transformed by the ideas sweeping the continent in what we call the Enlightenment. This Scottish Enlightenment emerged on a broad front. From philosophy to farming it ch...

Architecture and Power
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the role which architecture has played in our public life throughout history, whether in homage to an individual or as a monument to an institution or ideology, has always been a potent symbol of wealth, status and power. From castles to cathedrals, from the pyramids to Canary Wharf, architecture has always served to glorify in some way the animating ideal of the time. Why is architecture such a powerful form of expression? Have architects concerned themselves mainly with the...


Slavery and Empire
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss slavery and empire; two themes that run right through this country’s history. Britain’s imperial project dominated at least the last three centuries of our national life. Its advocates claim it was a civilising mission by which Britain spread enlightenment and improvement across the globe. Opponents have long seen it as a brutal business, with Britons cast as cruel oppressors out to exploit a conquered world. Is our imperial history so clear cut? What if Britons were themselv...

Heritage
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the role history and heritage have played in the formation of the British national identity. Historians have often maintained a guarded relationship with the so-called ¨heritage industry¨, believing that it presents a distorted version of national life: a Merrie England that is politically acceptable and economically rewarding. History, in contrast, is held to reveal the truth about the past - objectively and scientifically. Our understanding of history changed since the 19th...

Psychoanalysis and Democracy
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of politics on psychoanalysis. The 20th century saw the birth and rise of psychoanalysis. Sigmund Freud led people to think about how the mind functioned and how our behaviour might be understood through the process of working with a psychoanalyst, either one-to-one or in a group. Freud thought a lot about this process and in 1922 he published Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, in which he pronounced that the group "wants to be ruled and oppressed and to...


Cultural Imperialism
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how a dominant power can exert a cultural influence on its empire. An empire rests on many things: powerful armies, good administration and strong leadership, but perhaps its greatest weapon lies in the domain of culture. Culture governs every aspect of our lives: our dress sense and manners, our art and architecture, our education, law and philosophy. To govern culture, it seems, is to govern the world. But what is cultural imperialism? Can it be distinguished from cultural ...

The American West
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the myths and harsh reality of the 19th century American pioneers. In 1845 the editor of The New York Morning News wrote that it was the "manifest destiny" of the United States "to overspread and to posses the whole of the continent which providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us." With such phrases ringing in their ears the pioneering wagon trains rolled west into the uncharted wilderness of t...

Bohemia
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the medieval kingdom of Bohemia which was at the crossroads of Europe and, during the 15th century, at the heart of the Holy Roman Empire. Under Charles IV, its cosmopolitan capital Prague became a cultural and intellectual centre, attracting scholars and artists from all over Europe. But Prague was awash with religious and political dissent. At its core stood the anarchist philosopher Jan Hus, whose ideas anticipated the Lutheran Reformation by a full century. He was burnt a...


Marriage
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of marriage.‘To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.’ These marriage vows have been recited at church weddings since 1552, whenever two individuals have willingly pledged to enter into a relationship for life. But before the wedding service was written into the Book of Common Prayer, marriages were much more informal: couples could simply promi...

The Celts
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Celts. Around 400 BC a great swathe of Western Europe from Ireland to Southern Russia was dominated by one civilisation. Perched on the North Western fringe of this vast Iron Age culture were the British who shared many of the religious, artistic and social customs of their European neighbours. These customs were Celtic and this civilisation was the Celts.The Greek historians who studied and recorded the Celts' way of life deemed them to be one of the four great Barbarian...

Food
Melvyn Bragg explores the history of food in Modern Europe. The French philosopher of food Brillat-Savarin wrote in his Physiology of Taste, 'The pleasures of the table belong to all times and all ages, to every country and to every day; they go hand in hand with all our other pleasures; outlast them, and remain to console us for their loss' . The story of food is cultural as well as culinary, and what we eat and how we eat has always been linked to who we are or whom we might become, from the great humanis...


Rome and European Civilization
Melvyn Bragg assesses the role Rome has played in European civilization. The myths that surround the foundation of Rome are a potent brew. Romulus and Remus, the sons of Mars, raised by a she-wolf in the woods of Latium, the Sabine women raped by the Latins, Aeneas the Trojan General, wrecked off Carthage, loved by Dido and finally founding a new civilisation on the Tiber’s banks. According to William Shakespeare, after Brutus slayed his friend Caesar he claimed, “Not that I loved Caesar less but that I lo...

Third Crusade
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the highs and lows of the Third Crusade. In 1095 Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade and by the end of the 11th century an army of Franks had driven what they called the ‘infidel arab’ out of Jerusalem. The Crusaders held the city for over eighty years until Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, seized it back in 1187. The Muslim world celebrated as the Christian world shuddered and Pope Gregory VIII issued a Papal Bull for restoring the Holy City to Christian Rule. The K...

The British Empire
Melvyn Bragg examines the British Empire. It was officially created on 1st January 1877 when Disraeli had Queen Victoria proclaimed Empress of India, and it formally dissolved into the ‘Commonwealth’ in 1958. But imperial passions stirred in Britain long before Victoria’s investiture and the ethos of Imperialism lives on.At its height in 1919 the British Empire stretched from East to West, incorporating one quarter of the globe and included such diverse colonies as Canada, Australia, parts of South America...


Confucius
Melvyn Bragg examines the philosophy of Confucius. In the 5th century BC a wise man called Kung Fu Tzu said, 'study the past if you would divine the future'. This powerful maxim helped form the body of ideas, which more than Buddhism, more than Daoism, more even than Communism has defined what it is to be Chinese. It is a philosophy that we call Confucianism, and as well as asserting the importance of learning from the past it embodies a respect for heirachy, ritual and parents.But who was Confucius, what w...

Napoleon and Wellington
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the histories of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington. On the morning of the battle of Waterloo Napoleon told his loyal lieutenants, “I tell you that Wellington is a bad general, that the English are bad troops and ce sera l’affaire d’un dejeuner”...in other words; ‘this, my friends, will be a picnic!’ But did Napoleon really have such little respect for the man who would be his nemesis, or when he dismissed the Iron Duke so lightly was he just trying to raise morale? There ar...

Democracy
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of democracy. In the Gettysburg Address Abraham Lincoln called it “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”, but the word democracy appears nowhere in the American Constitution; the French Revolution was fought for Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité and the most that Churchill claimed for it was that it was “the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” The Athenian city state famously practised...


Byzantium
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the culture, history and legacy of the eastern Byzantine Empire. In 453 with the Barbarians at the gate, through the gate and sacking the city of Rome “the wide arch of the ranged empire” finally began to fall...Or did it? In AD 395 the Emperor Theodosius had divided the vast Roman Empire between his two sons. The Northern and Western Europe provinces were governed from Rome, but the Eastern Empire became based on the Bosphorous in the city of Constantinople. And when Rome c...

The French Revolution's Legacy
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the French Revolution. In 1789 the Bastille was stormed, the King Louis XVI was put under national guard and the calendar was turned back to zero. The French Revolution began its upheavals in the name of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité.On this side of the English Channel there were those who thought it ‘bliss in that dawn to be alive’, but the statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke was not among them. He said, “The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and ...

The Glorious Revolution
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the the Glorious Revolution. In 1688, with a fair wind behind him and no naval opposition in front, William of Orange and his Dutch fleet sailed safely into Torbay on the South coast and thus began a period of history known - in England at least - as The Glorious Revolution. The story goes that the English, fed up with their Catholic King James II and alarmed at the prospect of a Catholic succession, ‘invited’ William to come to England and save Parliament, Protestantism and ...


The Roman Empire's Collapse in the 5th century
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the causes of the fall of the Roman Empire. Edward Gibbon wrote of its decline, "While that great body was invaded by open violence, or undermined by slow decay, a pure and humble religion gently insinuated itself into the minds of men, grew up in silence and obscurity, derived new vigour from opposition, and finally erected the triumphant banner of the cross on the ruins of the Capitol."But how far is the growth of Christianity implicated in the destruction of the great cult...

Money
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the power of Money. In the Bible the Old Testament and the New Testament appear to agree about the power of money: Ecclesiastes says “Money answereth all things” and Timothy says “The love of money is the root of all evil”. It is a theme that seems to echo down the centuries with seemingly everyone from Karl Marx to the cast of Cabaret crying out “Money makes the world go around”. But are economic factors really the invisible hand behind all historical events? Can everything...

The Restoration
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Restoration. On 29th May 1660, on his thirtieth birthday, Charles II rode into London on horseback and was restored to the thrones of England and Wales, of Scotland and of Ireland. A ‘golden age’ descended on a people that had been ravaged by civil war, religious division, Cromwellian tyranny and puritanical laws: suddenly the theatres were re-opened, Christmas was celebrated once again, all Orange-sellers were beautiful and peace and prosperity reigned across the land. ...


Humanism
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Humanism. On the 3rd January 106 BC Marcus Tullius Cicero, lawyer, politician, Roman philosopher and the founding father of Humanism was born. His academy, the Studia Humanitas taught ‘the art of living well and blessedly through learning and instruction in the fine arts’, his version of ‘humanitas’ put man not God at the centre of the world.Centuries later, Cicero’s teachings had been metamorphosed into ‘Classical Humanism’, a faith in the soft arts of the Greek world. But h...

The Enlightenment in Britain
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Enlightenment. In Germany it's called Aufklarung, in France it's the Siecle De Lumieres, and in Britain it's called the Age of Enlightenment. It's the period around the eighteenth century when an intellectual movement committed to science and opposed to superstition, embraced the greatest minds of Europe and America; Descartes, Kant, Leibniz, Montesquie, Diderot, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin. But where are all the British thinkers? According to the Encycl...

The Tudor State
Melvyn Bragg and guests discusses the Tudor State. In 1485 Henry Tudor slew Richard III and routed his army at The Battle of Bosworth Field. It was a decisive victory which founded a bold new dynasty; and this date like 1789 and 1066 has been taken by historians to be one of the great ‘year zeros’ of history: Suddenly the muddled Medieval World with its robber barons, feudal barbarism and bloody Wars of the Roses was banished, and the modern age of centralised government and King’s Justice was ushered in. ...


Hitler in History
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how history has struggled to explain the enormity of the crimes committed in Germany under Adolf Hitler: we have had theories of ‘totalitarianism’, and of ‘distorted modernity’, debates between ‘intentionalists’ and their opponents the ‘structuralists’. The great political philosopher Hannah Arendt said, “Under conditions of tyranny, it is far easier to act than to think”. But somehow none of these explanations has seemed quite enough to explain how a democratic country in th...

London
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of London. To T.S.Eliot it was the “Unreal City”, to Wordsworth “Earth has not anything to show more fair” but to Shelley, “Hell is a city much like London”. At the start of this twenty-first century the capital city covers an area of 625 square miles, is home to 7 million souls, and has an economy which at more than £115 billion is larger than that of Saudi Arabia, Ireland or Singapore. Is this modern metropolis still the place that the poets described? Can the...

Biography
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss biography which sells more books now than ever before; last year people in this country spent 115 million pounds on 12 and a half million copies of biographies. And it’s not just in Britain that life stories are popular; the United States Library of Congress found recently that in the previous six months more people had read a biography than any other kind of book. But what drives this fascination in the lives of others; lives which have often long since passed. Why do the l...


The Wars of the Roses
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Wars of the Roses which have been the scene for many a historical skirmish over the ages: The period in the fifteenth century when the House of Lancaster and the House of York were continually at odds is described by Shakespeare, in the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III as a time of enormous moral, military and political turmoil - the quintessential civil war; but twentieth century historians like K.B. Macfarlane argued the political instability is wildly overstated...

New Wars
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of modern warfare. In the early nineteenth century the Prussian General Karl von Clausewitz seemed to define war for all time when he called it “an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will” and “nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means”. But after the nuclear bomb, the Cold War and the brutal and perplexing recent wars in Africa and Eastern Europe does his definition still hold true? Or are we in a new era ...

History and Understanding the Past
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what can be learnt from history. Many of us were taught that an understanding of the past was essential to a knowledge of the present and, more excitingly, to a view of the future. Dig deep into the pockets of Greece and Rome, the Medievals and the Enlightened, drink deep at the well of history and from that sacred study, as from the Oracle at Delphi, would come prophecies, predictions, a sense of what is to come, based on a belief in the continuity of history. But in the 198...


Materialism and the Consumer
Melvyn Bragg examines materialism and the consumer. Does consumerism - as a cult, a fact, a need, a religion - threaten culture as we have known it, individuality as we desire it, life as we aspire to its best condition? Is the march of Mammon an army of jack-booted businessmen, using the propaganda of advertising and the seduction of the supermarket to trample us into submission, and into the worshipping of the great god - Buy? Or is the consumer the new source of power? A truer, more democratic individu...

Lenin
For some time, in some intellectual quarters in the West, Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov - also known as Lenin - was regarded as an understandable revolutionary, perhaps a necessary revolutionary given the actions of the Tsars, certainly a sympathetic revolutionary compared with his successor - Stalin. He became an icon in Russia - his body unburied, lying in Red Square in a state of permanent, imminent resurrection. The Russian Presidential Elections take place at the end of the month, and the Acting President, Vl...

Republicanism
Melvyn Bragg examines how English republicanism has developed from Cromwell to the present day. Before the French Revolution, before the American Declaration of Independence, before Rousseau, Thomas Paine and Marx there was the English Revolution. In 1649 England executed its King - Charles Stuart - and declared itself a republic.But was republicanism a reaction to the fact of the dead absolutist king, a pragmatic response to an absence of ruler as many historians have thought, or was there republicanism al...


Economic Rights
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss economic rights. Is democracy the truest conduit of capitalism, or do the forces that make us rich run counter to the democratic institutions that safeguard our rights? The economist Milton Friedman once said, “If freedom weren’t so economically efficient it wouldn’t stand a chance”. If that was ever true, is it still the case as we enter the era of the globalised economy? What is the relationship between democracy and capitalism? Is it possible for a country to get rich an...

Childhood
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss childhood. The 20th Century was proclaimed the Century of the Child. It has been much else but in the western world the position, the possibilities, the meaning and the story of childhood have been changed, for many, monumentally. Children join the workforce much later, they are born into smaller, usually more affluent families than a hundred years ago, they tend to spend their parents’ money rather than contributing to the family coffers, they are handed over to the school ...

Progress
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss progress. As man has grown in years and knowledge, has he also progressed in terms of happiness and a true understanding of the human condition? It was the Enlightenment which gave birth to the idea of the possibility of progress. The biblical account of time which had held sway until the eighteenth century was replaced by a conceit which put Man, not God, at the centre of the story of progress. But do we still believe in that story? Have we reached the end of history and the...


Education
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history and the modern purpose of education. Nobody - would argue with the fact that education is of central importance to the people we are. And there seems to be no doubt at all that fine skills, flexible life-long learning and cultivated intelligence are the keys to all our futures. So how do we tackle what was until recently - just two hundred years ago - a unique preserve of the few, the privileged or the plucked out exceptions? Plato made his priorities in educatio...

Atrocity in the 20th Century
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the widespread and chilling atrocities of the 20th century. Just over a hundred years ago, in the ‘Genealogy of Morals’, Nietzsche wrote “there can be no doubt that morality will gradually perish: this is the great spectacle in a hundred acts reserved for the next two centuries in Europe”. What if he is right? Certainly the twentieth century can claim the bitter palm of being the century with the biggest body count, the most advanced savagery, the finest of death delivery sys...

The Individual
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the concept of the individual. The Renaissance gave birth to the concept of the individual. Shakespeare defined this individual in language which accepted the primacy of the male gender: “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a God!” According to Michel Foucault, French philosopher, polar opposite of Shakespeare and backe...


The Nation State
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Nation State. When we speak of our island story which island do we mean? When did England elide with Britain and why does it sit uneasily alongside the United Kingdom? At the end of the 20th century, the identity of one of the most forceful countries of the millennium is subject to scrutiny, doubt and criticism. What is England now? When did it act as England and not Britain, or the UK, or the British Isles? And how does its new role fit in with the idea of the Nation S...

Utopia
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the concept of Utopia. Both the idea of, and the longing for a perfect society have been in our imagination for centuries, even millennia. Utopian dreams have driven fantasy, Fascism and fine feeling.Utopias, by definition, do not exist. The literal meaning of the Greek is “nowhere”. And yet, we are still enthralled by its allure. Why do some of us still believe in it - after the devastation wreaked this century by the utopian ideals that gave rise to Fascism and Communism...

Africa
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Africa. It could be seen as the great test of the West; economically, intellectually, spiritually. The "dark continent" was seen as a source of power for the West through its natural resources, a place of harvest for western religious missionaries, a prize area for anthropologists - a dark continent to be illuminated by our western lights. Now, darker, all but extinguished some think, by the attentions of its invaders, Africa is outside the take-up of the twentieth century it...


Capitalism
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss capitalism throughout the last two centuries. In 1848 Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto described the dynamic force of capitalism as it swept through the 19th century: Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation. ‘All that is solid melts into air’. Was Karl Marx, in criticizing capitalism, actually responsible for defining it? From Marx’s critique of capitalism in the 19th Century throug...

The Great Disruption
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the shift that has gone on through the 20th century from our being an industrial society to what is often called ‘the information society’. Francis Fukuyama’s book, The Great Disruption talks of the third great shift in the whole history of humankind. Along with all the technological and economic changes, in the past thirty years we have seen massive social changes. What has been the cause of this shift and how will we recover the social cohesion that preceded it? With Fran...

The Monarchy
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the British monarchy. In the last two hundred and fifty years, we’ve beheaded one king, exiled another, hired a distant German-speaking dynasty to fill the monarch’s role, and then mocked and ignored them, suffered a mad man and then a lavish sensualist, threatened a young queen, and then, over a century ago, invented a pageantry which brought majesty to a monarchy which is now tilting at the twenty first century against many and mighty odds. How has the monarchy survived s...


Just War
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea of a just war. There were theories about a justified or noble war before the birth of Christ, but it was his reported teachings and a powerful influence, particularly on the Emperor Constantine, which set the standard which had to be kept or bluntly modified. “I say unto you, love your own image,” Matthew writes, “bless them that curse you, be good to them that hate you and persecute you”. In the fifth century, the mighty St Augustus prised the Christian church away ...

History as Science
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the importance of geography and ecology in determining world history since civilisation began. The 18th century historian Thomas Carlyle said that world history was the history of what great men have accomplished, but this understanding of history is being increasingly called into question. Professor Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel, which won the 1998 Rhone Poulenc Prize for Science and the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction, is a re-evaluation of the last 13,000 years...

The British Empire's Legacy
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Britain's colonial legacy. The 18th, 19th and early part of the 20th centuries were times of colonial conquest for this country but the abiding image of empire (true or not) is stuck squarely in the 1850’s when Victoria was on the throne and the world map was liberally sprinkled with red. So what does that mean for us as we go into the next millennium - Catherine Hall, Professor of Modern British Social History at University College London, asks us to 're-remember' our colon...


The American Century
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how legitimate it is to call the 20th century the American century. Just how benevolent has America’s impact on the world been? And how durable has American’s initial idealism proved to be? Have ideals of democracy and freedom been forged across the globe as a result of the American influence, or has American oppression made the bigger impact? Has America ignored its own inequalities whilst advocating democratic capitalism elsewhere? Can America still lay claim to the idealis...

History's relevance in the 20th century
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the study of history this century. One of the debates raging in the practice of history is between the history of facts versus the imagination - a debate raised again by so-called ‘faction’ - fiction based on documentary facts which is so much in our minds today from films and television. But in fact it is a debate which has been going on throughout the century within history. The 19th century historian Thomas Macaulay wrote that History is under the jurisdiction of two hosti...

Work in the 20th Century
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the changing nature of work practices and the work ethic as it pertains at the end of the 20th century. Has our understanding of the nature and function of work really changed so radically since the beginning of the century? How can the past inform the future in the rapidly changing work environment? Has technology usurped craftsmanship, or is this no more than a superficial reading of an increasingly complex scene?With Professor Richard Sennett, visiting professor, London S...


The City in the 20th Century
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the artistic, cultural and innovative developments of the city in the 20th century and is joined by two practitioners of the geographer’s art; Professor Doreen Massey, who was awarded the Vautrin Lud International Geography prize - the geographer’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, and Sir Peter Hall, whose books include The World Cities and Cities Tomorrow. They take a twentieth century perspective on the development of the city. How have cities changed since 1900, and what is ...

Politics in the 20th Century
Melvyn Bragg talks to Gore Vidal and Alan Clarke about the future of the nation-state; is the concept dead and buried? And what is the relationship between politics and morality - have salaciousness and self-righteousness taken over where seriousness of intent and a strong nerve left off, or was it ever thus? With Gore Vidal, American writer, commentator and author of The Smithsonian Institution; Alan Clarke, historian, politician and author of The Tories: Conservatives and the Nation State, 1922-97....

War in the 20th Century
In the first programme of a new series examining ideas and events which have shaped thinking in philosophy, religion, science and the arts, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss warfare and human rights in the 20th century. He talks to Michael Ignatieff about the life of one of the 20th century’s leading philosophers, Isaiah Berlin, and to Sir Michael Howard about the 20th century will be remembered; as a century of progress or as one of the most murderous in history. When we see pictures on television of starvin...