The Top 10 Documentaries on Ancient Greece on YouTube

The ultimate crash course in ancient Greece: the Parthenon, Athenians, Spartans, Alexander the Great and more. These engaging videos cover it all.

In these times of lockdown, what better way to prepare for your next trip to Greece than by grounding yourself in ancient Greek history through YouTube!

Below are our top ten videos on ancient Greek civilization, offering insights into history, philosophy and lots, lots more.

1) Ancient Greece in 18 Minutes

Arzamas Academy, 2017

Humorous, fast-paced, very informative but sometimes glosses over important details and makes gobsmacking generalizations. Excellent graphics that are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny! Reminds you that the Greeks are ultimately behind everything familiar and important in European and Western culture – great architecture, democracy, orthogonal city planning and wine! Narrated by Brian Cox.

2) Secrets of the Parthenon

NOVA, 2008; 53 mins

A classic documentary, with interview clips and on-site information from top specialists, atmospheric music, panoramic views, intriguing reconstructions and fascinating explanations of the hidden details behind the original construction. You will learn about the “optical refinements” as well as the current restoration of the Parthenon, “a majestic ruin, a witness to what we needlessly destroy, and to the beauty and perfection we can create.”

3) A Visit to the Acropolis Museum

Acropolis Museum, 2010; 9 mins

Aerial, exterior and interior views of the Acropolis Museum and its many impressive displays of ancient Greek art and architecture. Strong narration and bold, clean photography that brings details of the sculptures and strikingly modern building into sharp focus, much like the museum’s glossy museum guide brought to life in a film.

4) Phidias, Parthenon Sculptures

Smarthistory, 2015; 14 mins

A guided tour of the Parthenon’s decorative sculpture in the British Museum, with art historical analysis and commentary by art historians Steven Zucker and Beth Harris. Beginning with an introduction to ancient Athens and its Classical acropolis, the presenters’ clear, conversational narrative is richly informative, authoritative and engaging. The graphics are excellent and ultimately you’re left with a deeper appreciation for the exquisite artistry of the sculpted works.

5) Ancient Greece 101

National Geographic, 2018; 4 mins

A bit more pedagogical, but only four minutes long. 1,500+ independent Greek city-states! Who knew? No wonder they were always fighting! This mini “course” focuses on the achievements and legacy of the ancient Greeks’ “legendary civilization,” including its art, architecture, philosophy, democracy, religion, the Olympics, Greek language and “global” military expansionism.

6) Plato’s Best and Worst Ideas

TED-Ed, 2016; 5 mins

Philosophy explained: the world according to Plato, co-founder (with Aristotle) of political science, but who didn’t always get it right. An animated short for older students and adults.

7) Alexander the Great

Epic History TV, 2017; 53 mins

A four-part history of Alexander the Great all in one video. Masterful animation, more like detailed illustrations or a state-of-the-art computer game. Colorful maps and battle diagrams lay out the course and successful strategies of Alexander’s army, covering a decade of trans-Asia campaigning in less than an hour. Follow along through victories at Granicus, Issus, Gaugamela, Jaxartes and the Hydaspes River, as Macedonia’s forces push on into Parthia (Iran), Bactria and Aria (Afghanistan) and Sogdiana (Tajikistan); cross the Hindu Kush Mountains into the Indus River valley; and conquer Assacenian Massaga (Pakistan) and the Punjab (NW India). From Babylon, Alexander’s body was sent home, but hijacked to Egyptian Alexandria.

8) The Spartans

Timeline, 2003; 2h 23 mins)

Part 2: (47:30 mins)

Part 3: (48 mins)

A three-part documentary that relates the saga of the Greek Classical era through the eyes of the Spartans, not the usual Athenians. Historian Bettany Hughes guides you on what feels like a personal tour of numerous archaeological and natural sites, making the past fascinating and impressive, as she hikes, drives, scales, scrambles down into and gallops across Greece and Sicily’s inspiring landscapes. Highlights include “300”-style Spartan clashes and dancing black-figure vase paintings. A memorable quote on Sparta’s decline: “To end up as a purveyor of sado-tourism to a bunch of Romans is a fate even the gloomiest of oracles would not have predicted.”

Part 1: Earliest times, Battle of Thermopylae, Spartan males’ life and rituals; Part 2: Rise of Athens, Spartan women’s life and rituals, Peloponnesian War to Battle of Sphacteria Island; Part 3: Delphic oracles, Sicilian Campaign, Alcibiades, Sparta’s decline, Battle of Leuctra, helots’ founding of Messene.

9) The Greeks, Crucible of Civilization

PBS, 2000; 2h 20 mins

Grand style, cinematic reenactments, rich visuals, dramatic readings from ancient literature, all narrated by Liam Neeson. The Golden Age of Athens of the 5th and 4th centuries BC, ending with Plato and Aristotle. Commentary by a host of British and American scholars. Educational, detailed, refined, sometimes deeply moving in its storytelling (e.g. the death of Socrates). Athens ultimately evolved from a center of military valor to a city of intellectual inquiry, as it began to build a world based on reason.

10) Geography Now! Greece

2017; 14 mins

Not just geography. It’s all here, delivered in a rapid-fire assault of details, images and surprisingly accurate characterizations. This tongue-in-cheek overview is fast, furious and funny, right to the end. The history part goes by so quickly, you can feel your head spinning. Demography, volcanism, economic statistics, inventions, customs, common sights, regional relations, among others, all mixed with archaeological sites and diverse touristic destinations.

Narrated by the engaging “Barby” (“Paul B.”), who cracks himself up; offers good advice (“avoid the offensive Moutsa hands!”) and amusing insights (“You’ll probably hear a lot of lutes, mandolins and tambourines”); deserves an award for the worst pronunciation of Greek names – “Halki-deeki” [Chalkidiki], “Hera-Cleon” [Irakleio], although “peeta with yeeros” [pita-gyros] came out pretty well. And it reminds us that “If you’ve never had Greek food, you’re not allowed to die until you do.”

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