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Extra History

All Episodes 2014 - 2021

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  • 2018-01-13T16:00:00Zs at 2018-01-13T16:00:00Z on YouTube
  • 2013-09-06T15:00:00Z
  • 10 mins
  • 2 days, 7 hours, 6 mins (333 episodes)
  • United States
  • English
  • Extra Credits
  • Animation, Documentary, History
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418 episodes

The search for truth in history is always a matter of blazing a path through multiple sources, each with a different perspective. We hope this series about the events that lead to World War I not only taught you new things, but encouraged you to ask new questions. Our writer, James Portnow, sits down to talk about what he learned from researching and writing this series - as well as the mistakes we made along the way. Did the world really hinge on Gavrilo Princip's sandwich? How do we know so much about Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov's day? We answer these questions and more, but above all, we encourage you to do more research on your own!

James Portnow, our writer, takes some time out from traveling in Europe to talk about the historiography of Extra History and the Sengoku Jidai series. Although of course we are simplifying matters for the sake of a ten minute show, we mix both the "Marxist" or "people's" history approach (where broad social patterns drive change) and the "great man" theory of history (where individuals drive change) because we believe the reality lies somewhere in between. During this episode, we examine the mistakes and ommissions made during the Sengoku Jidai series and tell some of the stories we didn't have time for during these six episodes. We hope that it piques your curiosity enough to look into the sources on your own and decide for yourself how you would tell and analyze the story of Japan's Warring States Period!

Special 3 England - South Sea Bubble - Lies

  • 2015-05-09T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

No historian is perfect, so it's important we acknowledge our mistakes where we find them (with the help of our viewers, no less)! After we clear up some discrepancies that emerged during the South Sea Bubble series, we turn to answering some common questions that came up during this series on economic history. In a period where financial masterminds like John Blunt engaged in trickery meant to confuse other people and hide his real activities, it's no wonder that many viewers had questions about what insider trading is and how Blunt could endlessly inflate stock prices for his unprofitable company. This is a history show, but we do our best to explain! As a bonus, James also reads Robert Knight's letter to Parliament on the eve of his illegal flight and tells some cool stories about Robert "It was Me" Walpole.

Special 4 Zulu Empire - Lies

  • 2015-06-13T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

From pronunciation issues to flag errors (but at least we did it on purpose this time!), it's important to take a moment to look back over the series and remind ourselves that no historian is perfect, and you should always question what you are told. James answers some questions that kept cropping up in the comments, from how the Zulus obtained maize (European important during the 16th century) to the effect of the slave trade on Zulu history (minimal, since most of the slave trade occurred in West Africa). While some question the use of the word "empire" to describe the Zulu nation, the fact remains that they conquered other independent tribes and became their rulers, which qualifies the Zulus as an empire. Their conquests also explain another aspect of Zulu history: why was the basic flanking strategy of Shaka Zulu's bullhorn formation not already a common part of South African warfare? Previously, there had been plenty of land to go around, but the introduction of maize suddenly required lots of territory for fields and also caused a population boom. That excess population could now be dedicated to military training, and having so many people also meant that human lives had comparatively less value, so strategic innovations and more violent warfare suddenly came into play.

We take a rest in the middle of our Justinian and Theodora series to look back at the story so far and correct a few things! But the errors we made (minarets on the Hagia Sophia!) and the questions viewers have asked us give us the opportunity to expand on many parts of the story that we had to leave out of the series, and we encourage you to perform a full dive into this history to learn about the Hagia Sophia's construction, early doctrines of Christianity, and many more details about the life of Belisarius. Plus, James can't resist the temptation to play Five Degrees of Walpole to see how our infamous meddler from the South Sea Bubble series can be connected to the history of Justinian and Theodora!

Special 6 Europe - The First Crusade - Lies

  • 2015-09-19T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Time to look back on the First Crusade and talk about errors and stories that didn't make the final cut! The religious nature of the First Crusade meant that many of the primary sources for it (certainly on the Christian side) had a vested interest in reinforcing the idea that the crusaders had the blessing of God. Untangling the truth from their stories reminds us that there is no such thing as "the real story" when it comes to history: our modern perspective cannot help but shape the way we see these events also, and even to the extent that we try to set aside our bias, the conflicting accounts mean we still have to conjecture about what's most correct. This episode also features answers to questions posed by our supporters on Patreon!

This was a short series, but we still want to set the record straight: correct our mistakes, elaborate on stories we left out, and reflect on what we've learned! One of the recurring themes of the Broad Street Pump series was people's continued resistance to John Snow's theories, even when he collected evidence to back them. But in the end, the truth won out: the march of progress can be very slow, since individual people cling to what they know and what feels most comfortable to them, but in the course of time, we do come to accept the truth. What seemed so unbelievable back then is common knowledge now. John Snow's struggles may have seemed futile at the time, and he watched himself dismissed at every turn, but his efforts added up to the foundation of epidemiology and contributed to the acceptance of germ theory.

♫ Music by Sean and Dean Kiner (Special Thanks: Wang Hong): http://bit.ly/1LBy9zh

James explains why World War II series on Extra History won't use the swastika of Nazi Germany.

Special 11 Justinian and Theodora - Lies 2

  • 2016-03-05T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

By the time Narses was sent to join him Italy, Belisarius had been away from Constantinople for a very long time. The royal family wasn't sure if they could still trust him, or if his repeated victories had gone to his head, so they sent Narses (who had been in Constantinople and earned their trust) to keep an eye on him. But this laid the groundwork for disputes that would unravel the military effort there. John looked down on the "barbarian" Ostrogoths and did not consider them a threat, so he viewed the war in Italy as a political battlefield between his friend Narses and his commander Belisarius. Although Procopius defends John's courage and capability as a cavalry commander, John did not see the bigger picture in Italy and his actions interfered with Belisarius's overall strategy even though Narses and his family connection to the previous emperor helped keep him safe from repercussions. Belisarius wound up doing the same thing when he refused Justinian's orders to leave Italy immediately. And in the end, the arrival of the plague - Bubonic Plague, the Black Death - interfered with all their plans. Although we believe Theodora's actions helped hold the empire together, historians like Procopius take a much darker view: he thought she went power-mad and ruined everything. It's also worth taking a moment to point out that Theodora was a miaphysite Christian, not a monophysite as we described her in this series. We'll clarify the difference in a future series on Early Christian Heresies, but for right now we decided to simplify. And there was one thing we left out of this series, a story we love about how Justinian succeeded (where so many had failed) in getting silk worms out of China by bribing monks to smuggle silk worm eggs away in their canes. He helped found a silk industry that brought a lot of money to the empire, and helped it survive longer than it might have otherwise.

♫ Music by Sean and Dean Kiner: http://www.kinerbrothersmusic.com/extra-history/

Special 13 Korea: Admiral Yi - Lies

  • 2015-11-07T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Yi's life has been turned into a Confucian parable: a highly competent person who bore betrayal stoically and stayed loyal to the king. Since there was no record of his early life, that pattern is reflected in the way his early life is described. That pattern of thinking clearly influenced the historians who did cover Yi's life, but while it stands out as unusual to those of us who aren't familiar with that tradition, it has a subconscious impact on the people who were raised with Confucian thinking and wrote this history from it. If we looked at Western history from a foreign perspective, we would likely notice similar patterns being overlaid onto Western ways of telling history as well.

Special 15 Suleiman the Magnificent - Lies

  • 2016-04-23T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Suleiman lost faith in those who surrounded him, fearing that they schemed to replace him. Why do we so rarely see such destructive suspicion in our governments today? We also need to talk about what made the West dub Suleiman "Magnificent," and the flourishing of arts and education which took place under his reign. Towards the end of his reign, Suleiman saw his once trusted advisor, Ibrahim Pasha, and his own son, Mustafa, as enemies rather than allies. He feared that they would displace him to put Mustafa on the throne. Why don't we see such distrust turn into murder in our governments today, when it was such a common trope in the ancient world? Perhaps it's because our modern governments provide a regular means of succession, so that anyone with ambition is usually better served waiting for their turn rather than trying to take on the entire government. The series was too short to allow us to give Suleiman's reign the coverage it really deserved, but we want to take advantage of this opportunity to talk about why the West dubbed him "Suleiman the Magnificent" and his people called him "The Lawgiver." The laws he put so much effort into rewriting improved equality in the society, including creating additional protections for Christians and Jews within his Muslim empire. He was also a patron of the arts, and even a poet himself, under whose reign a distinctive Ottoman style developed and many beautiful buildings were constructed. Finally, as a leader of armies, he took many cities that were considered the bulwark of European defense against the Ottomans, and though he had huge armies to do it, many huge armies had failed at those tasks before since the cities were heavily fortified and actually had the odds stacked in their own favor.

Special 16 Early Christian Schisms - Lies

  • 2016-05-28T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

We hope this series will serve as a primer to the Christian faith, specifically how it interacted with the Roman Empire - even though we had to simplify many complex theological concepts to fit an introductory series. James wanted this series to be the primer he always wished he'd had when studying the later history of Rome. Since it was focused on the impact of Christianity upon the Roman Empire, we left out the Gnostic movement which had a greater impact on the Persian Empire. Our history begins with Paul the Apostle, whose fundamental belief was that the sacrifice of Christ erased the sins of mankind and freed them from having to follow the old laws, specifically the Mosaic Laws which Judaism believed were the path to salvation. In abolishing these laws, he emphasized that circumcision would no longer be necessary because Roman men, while perfectly willing to give their lives for a noble cause (and Christianity at the time often required sacrifice), were pretty hesitant to let anyone cut off parts of their penises. Not until Constantine, though, would Christianity be embraced in large numbers - but was Constantine really Christian? Many scholars have suggested otherwise, and it may be hard to say given our current sources, but he did originate as a monotheistic Sol Invictus worshipper and probably saw the political advantage of ruling a people united under one God instead of thousands of cults. He may not have realized the difficulty of that, however, until the Council of Nicaea which brought together many bishops who had been actively persecuted for their faith - hence the eyepatches and missing limbs! - and felt very strongly about how it should be practiced. Even Saint Nicholas, who is the foundation for Santa Claus, supposedly punched Arius during this council over his heretical statements. And they were none too tolerant of each other's opposing beliefs. Although there were many different beliefs that evolved from monophysitism, miaphysitism being the mos

Special 17 First Opium War - Lies

  • 2016-07-23T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

James talks about our mistakes, and adds additional stories, for Federico da Montefeltro and the First Opium War!

Special 20 The Brothers Gracchi - Lies

  • 2016-09-24T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

James talks about our mistakes, and adds additional stories, for the Brothers Gracchi!

James talks about our mistakes and adds additional stories and explanations for the History of Paper Money!

Special 24 Simón Bolívar - Lies

  • 2017-01-21T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

James talks about our mistakes, and adds additional stories, for the Simón Bolívar series!

Special 26 Catherine the Great - Lies

  • 2017-03-11T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Catherine the Great ruled for many years - too many for a six episode show to cover completely. James talks about the mistakes we made and the stories we left out!

Listen to "Ascension in C," the theme song of our series on Catherine the Great! Music by Sean and Dean Kiner: http://bit.ly/23isQfx

Special 28 Ned Kelly - Lies

  • 2017-04-29T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

We know so much about Ned Kelly's life through documents recorded at the time, and yet disputes over those details remind us how much different people's perspectives shapes our understanding of events. James Portnow interviews series writer Soraya Een Hajji about Ned Kelly!

Listen to "Farewell to Greta," the theme song of our series on Ned Kelly! Lyrics below. Music by Sean and Dean Kiner: http://bit.ly/23isQfx

The Articles of Confederation gave the United States their name, but even beyond that, they exposed many of the issues that would underlie this new nation for the rest of its history. James Portnow interviews series writer Soraya Een Hajji about the Articles of Confederation!

Listen to "Article 11," the theme song of our series on the Articles of Confederation! Music by Sean and Dean Kiner: http://bit.ly/23isQfx

Special 32 D-Day - Lies

  • 2017-08-01T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

D-Day is too vast and important a topic to be completely covered by four short videos, but we hope our series offered some new insights into the massive effort that went into the Normandy beach landings. James Portnow and Richard Cutland, Wargaming's Head of Military Relations, take some time to chat about some more important D-Day stories.

Special 33 The Bronze Age Collapse - Lies

  • 2017-08-12T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

How did the Bronze Age Collapse affect civilizations other than the four discussed in our series? When trade fell apart, why didn't those who relied on bronze switch to forging with other metals? James and Soraya look back on these questions on Lies!

Listen to "Collapse," the theme song of our series on the Bronze Age Collapse! Music by Sean and Dean Kiner: http://bit.ly/23isQfx

Special 35 Great Northern War - Lies

  • 2017-10-07T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Could Sweden have won the Great Northern War? Was Charles XII actually assassinated? James answers questions from our Patreon supporters in this special edition of Lies!

Listen to "Song of Gunfire," the theme song of our series on the Great Northern War! Music by Sean and Dean Kiner: http://bit.ly/23isQfx

Special 37 Otto von Bismarck - Lies

  • 2017-12-02T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

We've wrapped up our series on Otto von Bismarck, but we've only touched on the first half of his life! Maybe someday we'll get to come back. Until then, James answers questions and discusses errors in this episode of Lies!

Listen to "Art of the Possible," the theme song of our series on Otto von Bismarck! Music by Sean and Dean Kiner: http://bit.ly/23isQfx

Special 39 Khosrau Anushirawan - Lies

  • 2018-02-03T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Why did we refer to Khosrau's empire as Iran, not Persia? Did Mazdak really exist, or was his proto-communist movement pure propaganda? Dan (narrator) and Soraya (writer) tackle these questions and address the large issue of how perspective can shape one's idea of the truth.

Listen to "Immortal Soul," the theme song of our series on Khosrau Anushirawan! Music by Sean and Dean Kiner: http://bit.ly/23isQfx

You gently corrected out our math mistakes and artistic slip-ups, and we're here to tell you it was all part of Bismarck's plans--er, it's Euclid's fault. Time for another episode of Lies!

Listen to "Postulate 5," the theme song of our series on the history of Non-Euclidean Geometry! Music by Sean and Dean Kiner: http://bit.ly/23isQfx

Special 47 1918 Flu Pandemic - Lies

  • 2018-08-18T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Series writer Rob Rath is here to tell us about all the moving pieces and complex storylines he researched to write our Flu Pandemic episodes.

Listen to "The Cytokine Storm," the theme song of our series on the history of the 1918 Flu Pandemic!

Special 49 Kingdom of Majapahit - Lies

  • 2018-10-20T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Our fantastic writer Rob Rath reviews the mispronunciations we made, the sources we used, and the extra stories we ran out of room to fit into our series on the Kingdom of Majapahit.

Listen to "Candhi Ayu," the theme track of our series on Majapahit!

Listen to "Subatomic Fugue," the theme track of our series on the history of Quantum Computing!

Listen to "March of the Northmen," the theme track of our series on the Viking Expansion!

Special 53 Viking Expansion - Lies

  • 2018-12-08T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Writer Rob Rath talks about all the cool stories and facts we didn't get to cover in the already expansive Viking Expansion series.

Special 54 Sun Yat-sen - Lies

  • 2019-02-09T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Writer Rob Rath talks about all the cool stories and facts we didn't get to cover in the Sun Yat-sen series.

Listen to "Across the Pacific," the theme track of our series on Sun Yat-sen! Music by Tiffany Román

Special 56 Irish Potato Famine - Lies

  • 2019-03-30T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Writer Rob Rath talks about all the cool stories and facts we didn't get to cover in the Irish Potato Famine series.

Listen to "A Warmer Place - Rowan's Jig," the theme track of our series on the Irish Potato Famine!

Writer Rob Rath talks about all the cool stories and facts we didn't get to cover in our two special short series on the Siege of Vienna, and the life of Queen Nzinga.

Special 61 Joan of Arc - Lies

  • 2019-08-17T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Writer Rob Rath talks about all the cool stories and facts we didn't get to cover in our recent series on the hated and beloved Joan of Arc.

Listen to "Visions of a Martyr," the theme track of our series on the life of Joan of Arc!

Special 63 Inca Empire - Lies

  • 2019-10-05T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

From the quipu to the conquistadors, writer Rob Rath talks about cool stories we couldn't quite squeeze into the series, as well as some of the mistakes we made (like the impossibly fast runners) in our series on the Inca Empire.

Special 64 ♫ Inca Empire: City of Cuzco

  • 2019-10-05T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Listen to "City of Cuzco" the theme track of our series on the rise and fall of the Inca Empire!

Special 65 Angkor Wat - Lies

  • 2019-11-23T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Where was the metric system?! What's the real deal with the dinosaur carving? And what is an axis mundi? We answer your questions from the comments, and Rob talks about all the cool things that we couldn't fit into the regular episodes.

Listen to "Nokor Thom" the theme track of our series on the building of the great temple city, Angkor Wat!

Special 67 Policing London - Lies

  • 2020-01-11T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Here are answers to the first two episodes as well as a whole lot of fun facts from Rob's favorite subject!

Listen to "Alleyways and Truncheons" the theme track of our series on how the modern professional police force came into existence!

With coronavirus in the news, we've seen a resurgence of interest in our 1918 Flu Pandemic series. Given that, Head Writer Robert Rath (who lives in Hong Kong) provides a short video retrospective on the series in light of recent events, describes the quirks of life under voluntary self-quarantine, and shows us his castle of toilet paper and hand soap. Please note that this video was filmed on February 18th, and conditions may have changed since then.

Listen to "Crête-à-Pierrot" the theme track of our series on the slave revolt that blossomed into becoming a full-on nation, the Haitian Revolution.

Special 71 The Haitian Revolution - Lies

  • 2020-02-29T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

We answer your questions, correct small hiccups we made, and expand on the stories that were too wild, weird, or complicated to fit into the main series. Welcome to this episode of Lies! What about the Polish troops that helped the revolution? Where did we get our numbers from? How does Walpole fit into all of this???

Special 72 ♫ Ibn Battuta - Battuta's Voyage

  • 2020-04-18T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Listen to "Battuta's Voyage" the theme track of our series on the extraordinary travels of Ibn Battuta and his accounts of the medieval world

Special 73 Ibn Battuta - Lies

  • 2020-04-18T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

We answer your questions, correct small hiccups we made, and expand on the stories that were too wild, weird, or complicated to fit into the main series. Welcome to this episode of Lies! Frightening bells, stretched truths, and too many kids to count.

Special 74 Dividing the Middle East - Lies

  • 2020-06-13T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

We answer your questions, correct small hiccups we made, and expand on the stories that were too wild, weird, or complicated to fit into the main series. Welcome to this episode of Lies! LARPing the crusades, Civil War vs Independence, and illegal hats.

Listen to "Thread of War" the theme track of our series on how the Middle East was divided and how maps were drawn after World War One.

Special 76 Exploring the Pacific - Lies

  • 2020-08-01T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Welcome Extra Historians to Lies, where we talk about the mistakes we made and the details we couldn't quite squeeze into the episode proper. There were a few hiccups in this series, like Taiwan becoming Japan, and New Zealand with a new origin story. But we also get to talk about the interesting differences between Polynesian cultures, such as cosmetic dental work and the famous unique tattoo art.

Listen to "Pasifika" the theme track of our series on the exploration and expansion of human cultures and civilizations into the vast Pacific Ocean.

Special 79 Third Century Crisis - Lies

  • 2020-09-19T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Welcome Extra Historians to Lies, where we talk about the mistakes we made and the details we couldn't quite squeeze into the episode proper. We Franced some Germanies, slighted Caesar, and are here to provide you with all the emperor names from the first episode and more.

Special 80 Cleopatra - Lies

  • 2020-11-07T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Welcome Extra Historians to Lies, where we talk about the mistakes we made and the details we couldn't quite squeeze into the episode proper. What was up with that first episode? Can you make a grody pearl cocktail in under 36 hrs? And what does it mean to look at historical memory?

Special 82 End of the Samurai - Lies

  • 2020-12-26T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Welcome Extra Historians to Lies, where we talk about the mistakes we made and the details we couldn't quite squeeze into the episode proper. Why did the French offer so much help to the traditionalists? The relatively in relatively bloodless is doing a LOT of work. And most importantly, how does Rob feel about The Last Samurai?

Listen to "The Streets of Kyoto" the theme track of our series on Japan's borders opening and the radical change that came to an end.

Special 84 Saladin & the 3rd Crusade - Lies

  • 2021-02-13T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Welcome Extra Historians to Lies, where we talk about the mistakes we made and the details we couldn't quite squeeze into the episode proper. What's the deal with Baldwin V's leprosy? How holy is a city really? And did Richard benefit from absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Listen to "The Boy from Tikrit" the theme track of our series on Saladin and the struggle to hold onto Jerusalem.

1x01 Rome: The Punic Wars - The First Punic War

  • Series Premiere

    2013-09-06T15:00:00Z — 9 mins

Most of the research for these videos comes from: Polybius' The Histories http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0234 Livy's History of Rome http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0026 ...but if you just want an overview, here's a wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punic_Wars

Most of the research for these videos comes from: Polybius' The Histories http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0234 Livy's History of Rome http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0026 ...but if you just want an overview, here's a wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punic_Wars

Most of the research for these videos comes from: Polybius' The Histories http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0234 Livy's History of Rome http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0026 ...but if you just want an overview, here's a wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punic_Wars

Most of the research for these videos comes from: Polybius' The Histories http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0234 Livy's History of Rome http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0026 ...but if you just want an overview, here's a wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punic_Wars

2x01 World War I: The Seminal Tragedy - The Concert of Europe

  • Season Premiere

    2014-08-30T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

The Concert of Europe held the continent together for years after the Napoleonic Wars, but as the leadership of great nations weakened over time, the stage was set for a colossal tragedy.

When Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria decided to visit Serbia on a day of national pride, he angered young nationalists like Gavrilo Princip and touched off the series of events that tumbled the world into war.

In the wake of Franz Ferdinand's assassination, the great powers of Europe scramble to find an answer to the looming threat of war. While Germany urges Austria-Hungary to resolve the matter quickly, Russia begins to mobilize its forces to defend the slavic state of Serbia. A handful of people across the nations recognize the danger and do their best to stop it.

Serbia responds to Austria-Hungary's ultimatum after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the pretext for war grows thinner and thinner. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Austrian Foreign Minister Leopold Berchtold makes a desperate decision to declare war. Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and Czar Nicholas II of Russia call upon their family ties to each other in a last ditch effort to avert the war, but their previous inattention has left their prime ministers Bethmann-Hollweg and Sazonov in impossible positions. With their forces mobilized, unable to back down, Russia must accept Germany's declaration of war from ambassador Pourtalès - and as our series ends, the Seminal Catastrophe begins.

3x01 Warring States Japan: Sengoku Jidai - Battle of Okehazama

  • Season Premiere

    2014-11-08T16:00:00Z — 9 mins

The Onin War tore Japan apart, but also kicked off the Sengoku Jidai or Warring States Period that's a seminal part of Japanese history. The power of the shogun dissolved and regional clan leaders or daimyo fought for control of the country. In the mid 16th century, near Kyoto, a clan called the Matsudaira found itself pinched between two great rivals: the Oda and the Imagawa. Abducted as a hostage by the Oda, the scion of the Matsudaira clan (the young Tokugawa Ieyasu) grew up to fight alongside of the Imagawa when he was released. Their combined forces threatened to destroy the entire Oda clan, but Oda Nobunaga had a different idea. They clashed at the Battle of Okehazama.

With his western borders secure, Oda Nobunaga turns his attention east in the direction of the Shogun. When diplomacy fails to subdue the Saito clan that stands between him and Kyoto, Nobunaga enlists the aid of his brilliant diplomat and engineer, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Toyotomi turns the Saito's vassals against them and constructs a fort for Nobunaga's samurai to siege Inabayama Castle. After his crushing victory, Nobunaga allies with the former Shogun's brother and uses him as a political shield to take Kyoto.

Now that he holds Kyoto, Oda Nobunaga finds himself the focus of enemies on all sides. Even the Shogun, who no longer needs his military assistance, turns against him. Oda marches north to quell the Asakura clan, only to be betrayed by the Azai clan leader, his own brother-in-law, who allies with his enemy and embroils Oda and his remaining true ally, Tokugawa Ieyasu, in the Battle of Anegawa. No sooner has he won a narrow victory than Oda launches into in an eleven year siege with the Ikko-ikki warrior monks at their mountain temple of Hongan-ji. Unable at first to turn that siege in his favor, he learns from it when facing a second group of Enryaku-ji warrior monks at Mount Hiei. Oda shows his true brutality by setting fire to the temple and ordering his troops to massacre all 20,000 inhabitants - men, women, and children.

Oda Nobunaga's control of Japan grows shakier by the day as more rivals emerge to challenge his hold on Kyoto. Egged on by the puppet shogun, Ashikaga Yoshiaki, the powerful daimyo Takeda Shingen brings his army down upon Oda's closest ally, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and destroys them, Tokugawa escapes with his life and the aid of a ninja, Hattori Hanzo, whose subterfuge succeeds in turning back the Takeda forces. They return under Takeda's heir, however, to besiege Nagashino Castle. Tokugawa's forces hold out until a lowly footman named Torii Suneemon gives his life to bring Oda and Tokugawa reinforcements back to the troops at Nagashino. Oda's innovative strategy with his arquebusiers defeats the famous Takeda cavalry charge and wins the day, but his military victories do nothing for him in the end. His own general, Akechi Mitsuhide, leads his army against him in a surprise attack at the temple of Honno-ji. Rather than be captured, Oda Nobunaga commits seppuku.

With Oda Nobunaga dead, Japan hangs in the balance. His old retainer, Tokugawa Ieyasu, must flee for his life from the usurper Akechi Mitsuhide. He narrowly escapes with the help of his ninja ally Hattori Hanzo, but Oda's heir is not so lucky: Akechi assassinates him. With power up for grabs, Toyotomi Hideyoshi sweeps into Kyoto and destroys the usurper, then appoints a puppet heir to replace Oda Nobunaga while he truly rules Japan. Toyotomi, today known as a great unifier whose reign is called the Momoyama Period, enacts three policies to reinstate taxes, eliminate banditry, and instill a rigid social caste system. He succeeds in restoring national civil government to Japan, signalling the beginning of the end for the Sengoku Jidai. But Tokugawa Ieyasu waits in the wings...

After Toyotomi Hideyoshi passes from old age, control of Japan passes to his young son - or more accurately, to his council of advisors. Tokugawa Ieyasu, the most powerful among them, looks poised to seize power for himself, but a rival named Ishida Mitsunari plots against him. After his first treacherous plot is discovered and foiled, Ishida joins with Uesugi Kagekatsu to mount a campaign against Tokugawa. An old friend, Torii Mototada, gives his life to counter the campaign and buys Tokugawa enough time to defend himself. The defection of the Kobayakawa clan from Ishida broke this opposition once and for all, leaving Tokugawa in uncontested control of Japan. Though he became shogun, Tokugawa ruled for only two years before passing succession to his son, establishing for the first time not only a stable shogun but a stable chain of succession, and bringing Sengoku Jidai period to an end in Japan.

4x01 England: South Sea Bubble - The Sharp Mind of John Blunt

  • Season Premiere

    2015-02-28T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

When Robert Harley steps in as England's new Chancellor of the Exchequer, he discovers that not only is the government deeply in debt, but no one knows quite how much debt it owes. Because vicious political infighting between the Tory and Whig politic parties made it difficult to pass new tax laws, Harley turned to a private financier named John Blunt to help find enough money for England to keep up with its expenses for the year. Using Harley's government resources, Blunt instigated a series of get-rich schemes that drove artificial demand for unsustainable land and lottery investments with tremendous short term gains. Before the year was done, Blunt had successfully covered the shortfall for the government that year - albeit at the cost of driving England's already outrageous debt even higher.

Frustrated at every turn by the Whig-controlled Bank of England, Harley and Blunt decide to start their own instution: a trading company that will exchange government debt for stock shares. This new South Sea Company will have a monopoly on trade in the rich new lands of South America, but all the ports there are controlled by Spain, with whom Britain is at war. So Blunt pushes the country into a premature and unfavorable peace with Spain, enlisting famous authors to write his propaganda and convincing Queen Anne herself to tip the balance of Parliament in his favor. After the queen dies and the government changes hands, Blunt kicks Harley and his Tory leaders out of the company. He manages to bring King George I himself on board as a ceremonial leader, linking the success of the South Sea Company with the reputation of the monarchy. But while his maneuvering inflates the value of his company's stock, it's never produced anything close to the amount of money he's convinced people to invest in it.

The time has come for Blunt to enact the final act of his scheme: taking on the 31 million pound British debt. When Parliament initially balks at transferring responsibility for that much money to Blunt's insolvent South Sea Company, he bribes them with special deals on his own stock. Despite a legal clause that should have locked the stock price until the company began paying off the debt, Blunt keeps introducing new plans to inflate the stock price and pocket the money for himself. He does everything from selling stocks on layaway to loaning people money so they could buy more stocks from him, creating an artificial demand for South Sea Company stock that drives the company's worth up to 300 million pounds: a staggering ten times the initial value of the already stunning debt it had assumed. His success, founded entirely on speculation with no actual revenue from trade, not only starves out other businesses across Britain but exceeds the total amount of money in the country's entire economy. This bubble can not last.

With the South Sea Company's value dangerously inflated, Blunt drives one more scheme to raise stock prices - and it finally backfires on him. Early investors (including the famous politician Robert Walpole) seize the opportunity to sell their stock while the value is high, and the general public finally realizes that the South Sea Company has no actual worth. Everyone who didn't sell their stock in the first round finds themselves suddenly bankrupt as the stock value plummets. Even King George, on vacation when disaster strikes, loses a large amount of the royal fortune. Robert Walpole, however, sees this as an opportunity to make himself a hero of the public. Hiding his own involvement in the South Sea Swindle, he cancels all debts owed for the company's stock to help put its public investors back on their feet. Despite this, the public demands an inquiry and Walpole must walk a thin line between his facade as defender of the people and the reality of his, his party, and the King's blatant corruption.

Robert Walpole's attempts to use the South Sea Company scandal to enhance his own ambitions are threatened by the appearance of Robert Knight, a former South Sea employee whose records of corporate bribery implicate Walpole and his friends in Parliament. But faced with threats of retribution if he ever shares these records, Knight flees the country rather than face a public inquiry. Although he gets caught and sent to prison in Antwerp, Walpole deftly engineers his release and escape. With Knight finally gone, Walpole teams up with John Blunt to pin the blame for the South Sea stock bubble on his political opponents, conveniently clearing the way for himself to become essentially the first Prime Minister of England. He also makes sure that all of his own supporters get off easy (if not scot free) for their involvement, and even Blunt walks away from the South Sea Bubble with more money than he started with.

5x01 Zulu Empire - Shaka Zulu Becomes King

  • Season Premiere

    2015-05-16T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

With no written records from the Zulus themselves, historians and anthropologists have pieced together their history from a smattering of sources. We first learn of the Zulu as a minor tribe of the Bantu people, living in South Africa. Shaka Zulu, the man who would organize them into an empire, was born the illegitimate son of a Zulu king. He was sent away with his mother Nandi to grow up in her tribe, the Langeni, but he eventually caught the attention of Dingiswayo, the leader of another powerful tribe called the Mtethwa. Appointed as the leader of a squadron called an ibutho, Shaka developed new tactics including a short "iklwa" fighting spear and a simple but effective military maneuever called "the Bull Horn." When his father died, Shaka - now a successful military leader - returned with Dingiswayo's backing to assassinate the rightful heir and assume control of his native tribe. Just a year later, though, the neighboring Ndwandwe tribe murdered Dingiswayo and Shaka vowed revenge on their leader, Zwide. He then launched a bloody war that, combined with the strains created by European colonization, led to the Mefacane, or the Crushing.

5x02 Zulu Empire - The Wrath Of Shaka Zulu

  • 2015-05-23T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Shaka sought vengeance for Dingiswayo on Zwide and the Ndwandwe. He expanded his control over the Mtethwa and other tribes, then launched his assault on the Ndwandwe. Shaka scored two crushing victories over the course of an eighteen month war, although Zwide escaped both times. Shaka invaded the main Ndwandwe village, capturing Zwide's mother and burning her to death in place of her son. Shaka had won the war, but the people he pushed out created a ripple of instability across Africa: the Mfecane or the Crushing. Shaka himself became dangerously disturbed when his mother died and he began to take his grief out on his people. His brothers assassinated him to take the throne, leading to a new king: Dingane. Dingane began to treat with the Dutch colonists in South Africa, but what began as a friendly relationship became a betrayal when he turned on them. Dingane attacked their wagon train at the Battle of Bloody River, but the Dutch with their guns held him off. The Dutch then threw their support behind Dingane's last surviving brother, Mpande, who successfully overthrew him and became the new Zulu king.

Europe had a presence in South Africa dating back to 1652, but the colonies and the native tribes really began to clash in the 1800s. The conquest of the Netherlands by Napoleon had left the Dutch colonists in a state of limbo, with the British claiming authority over them despite their homeland being ruled by the French. Many of these settlers, known as the Boers, moved inland to escape British oversight and pushed into land owned by the Zulus. Mpande, the new Zulu leader, attempted to keep the peace between the British and the Boers, but the treaties he negotiated on both sides only led to further conflict. Eventually, his son Cetshwayo peacefully took power over the Zulus around the same time that the Europeans discovered diamonds in South Africa. The government of Great Britain took an even greater interest in South Africa, stepping in to try to bribe or force the relucant natives to work the diamond mines established by European mining firms. Secretary of State Lord Carnarvon, who was responsible for the unification of colonies in Canada, made it his mission to unify the South African colonies and appointed Henry Bartle Frere as his governor and representative. Bartle Frere removed the local Capetown government, who had been largely sympathetic to the native peoples and opposed his harsh unification policies, then issued harsh and intentionally impossible demands against the Zulu. Cetshwayo refused to accept these demands, and thus began the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.

Lord Chelmsford, the British officer who commanded during the Anglo-Zulu War, vastly underestimated the power and aggression of the Zulu people. He split his army into three separate columns and left one of them stationed at Isandlwana while he searched for Zulu armies on the field. Meanwhile 20,000 Zulus were already flanking his force, but because Lord Chelmsford had not even ordered them to fortify the camp, the Zulu force swept through the ranks and destroyed the British army at Isandlwana. A small group of survivors fled to the hospital at Rorke's Drift where officer James Dalton organized a desperate defense. Cetshwayo's half-brother, ignoring orders to halt his pursuit, stormed the hospital with his small force and lost disastrously. Despite this, the main Zulu army continued to hand defeats to the British army until finally the British government stepped in to reinforce them with artillery and extra soldiers. Finally, Great Britain succeeded in capturing both the Zulu capitol at Ulundi and King Cetshwayo himself. They divided Zulu territory into 12 small kingdoms that quickly fell into civil war. Out of desperation, they returned Cetshwayo to the throne, but too late: a rival attacked and killed him. His son Dinuzulu allied with the Boers in an attempt to regain power and independence, but the British seized this excuse to finally annex Zulu land for good in 1887.

Justinian arose from humble roots, the nephew of an illiterate pig farmer named Justin. Justin joined the army and rose to become leader of the palace guard, then took his nephew under his wing and made sure that he was well educated. When Emperor Anastasius died, Justin used his position (and his standing army inside Constantinople) to claim the crown for himself. His nephew guided the early years of his reign, helping Justin secure support both in the capitol and abroad. When Justin died, rule of the Byzantine Empire passed to the young Justinian, who had grand ambitions to restore its waning glory. It also freed him to marry Theodora, a famous actress who was far beneath his social station, and who would also rise from her humble beginnings to become a revered empress.

Justinian wanted to restore the glory of Rome, but many obstacles stood in his way. He brought on talented advisors to help him reform the tax system, the law code, and the military might of the empire. With them he made great strides, but these advisors had very human flaws. His tax collector, John the Cappadocian, centralized tax collection and crushed corruption in his agents, greatly increasing the revenue to the empire - but he also skimmed money off the top to feed his private corruption. Meanwhile, a lawyer named Tribonian took centuries of confusing and even conflicting legal precedents and resolved them into a single code, the Corpis Juris Civilis, which remains the foundation of modern law today. He even made a textbook for students to learn from. But he was also a practicing pagan during an era when Justinian was trying to crack down on pagan rituals. And last, Justinian's chief military commander Belisarius helped the Empire recover its military glory. He defeated the Sassanid Persians in the Battle of Dara, crushing a force of 50,000 men with only 25,000 of his own through clever strategy: he dug a trench to halt their infantry's advance, then baited the Persian cavalry into overextending and sprang a surprise attack on them with Hun mercenaries. Although Belisarius seems to have been an upstanding person, his personal historian Procopius tainted even his clean record. Procopius wrote glowing official histories of the reign of Justinian, but his long lost secret history depicted Justinian as a literal headless demon and Theodora as a debauched monster.

A group of monks declared sanctuary for two hooligans from the demes (Constantinople's fanatical chariot racing factions) who had miraculously survived a hanging. The public wanted them pardoned for their crimes, so when Justinian made his public appearance at the next chariot race, they begged him to have mercy. When Justinian refused, the crowd turned on him and became a rioting mob that tore through the streets of Constantinople. During the Nika Riots, they burned down neighborhoods and even the Hagia Sophia cathedral, rampaging until Justinian agreed to pardon the two men from the demes. Now, however, the mob would not accept that. They demanded that he fire his advisors. Then they decided to appoint their own emperor, a man named Hypatius who was related to the previous emperor Anastasius. Assaulted on all sides, Justinian made plans to flee, only to be confronted by Theodora. She gave a now famous speech asking whether he would rather live a failure or die an emperor, announcing that she would choose the latter. Justinian followed her lead and made new plans to retake his city. He called Belisarius and Mundus, his best generals, to marshal a force. He also sent the eunuch Narses to bribe one faction of the demes and begin dismantling their leadership. Then he ordered his forces to invade the Hippodrome, where they cut down some thirty thousand civilians and executed the false emperor Hypatius. Justinian's reign was once again secure.

Thirty-nine days after the disastrous Nika Riots ended with the slaughter of 30,000 civilians, Justinian directed the city to rebuild the Hagia Sophia. Together, they built an even greater cathedral - but Justinian was not satisfied. He was called a Roman emperor, but he did not rule Rome itself. He resolved to reconquer the west, starting with Carthage in Africa, which had been conquered by Vandal tribes and turned into the seat of their budding empire. When the cousin of the Vandal king overthrew him for being pro-Roman and a follower of Rome's orthodox Christianity, Justinian had his excuse for war. He stirred up rebellion in the Vandal colonies, creating a distraction while he sent his general Belisarius to Carthage with a small army of men. Belisarius landed successfully and moved on Carthage, winning the support of the local people on his way. Gelimer teamed up with his brothers in two separate attempts to crush Belisarius and drive him out of Carthage, but after both of his brothers died, Gelimer lost his will to fight. He broke, and the Vandal resistance broke with him. Justinian awarded Belisarius a triumph, the greatest honor a Roman general could receive, but it would turn out to be the last formal triumph Rome would ever see.

The conquest of Carthage and the North African provinces was just the beginning for Justinian's ambition. He must have Rome. But like Carthage, he must find a reason to attack the Ostrogoths who now hold it. And like Carthage, this reason is given to him when the Ostrogothic Queen Amalsuntha, his ally, is murdered. But unlike Carthage, Belisarius now has only 7500 men, barely half of what he had for North Africa. He sails out anyway, making his first stop at the island of Sicily. All the cities except Panormus surrender to him, and Panormus he takes quickly by seizing their harbor with his ships. Meanwhile, Justinian has bribed the Franks to invade Italy from the north while another his generals marches from the east. But just when the Ostrogothic king is on the verge of surrender, disaster strikes. The other Byzantine general dies, and Belisarius is forced to return to Carthage to quell a revolt. The conquest loses its momentum and the Ostrogothic king imprisons the Roman ambassador. Justinian will not be stopped, and orders Belisarius to return to Italy once North Africa is secure. Alone, Belisarius marches up the coast of Italy until he meets resistance at Neapolis. With his forces too thinned to mount a siege, he engineers a sneak attack by invading through the pipe of a dried, broken aqueduct. Neapolis falls and the way now lies open to Rome.

Belisarius has only just taken Neapolis when the king of the Ostrogoths is overthrown. The new king, Vitiges, withdraws from Rome entirely to consolidate his power, allowing Belisarius to take Rome without a fight. But after Vitiges gathers his troops, he marches to retake Rome. He springs a surprise attack on Belisarius at the Salarian Bridge, which the Roman general barely escapes. Now he must survive in a city under siege, invening ship mills to continue producing the grain that feeds the city and training the civilians as soldiers. He holds off the Ostrogoths until reinforcements from Justinian arrive. After an indecisive battle, he agrees to a truce with Vitiges, which gives him time to position his troops. When the Ostrogoths break the truce, Belisarius is ready for them and crushes their force to drive them finally out of Rome.

Belisarius had broken the siege around Rome. Now he wanted to push on to the Ostrogothic capital in Ravenna, so Justinian sent fresh troops with new commanders: Narses and John. Belisarius ordered John to take his cavalry north and secure the route the Ravenna, but John bypassed several cities that seemed too difficult until he was offered a willing surrender by the people of Ariminum. When Belisarius ordered him to return to the main army, John refused, and soon found himself surrounded by the same forces he'd declined to fight earlier. Narses insisted that they rescue him, so Belisarius devised a plan and tricked the Ostrogoths into thinking his force was larger than it really was, so they fled without joining battle. John gave all the credit for his rescue to Narses, and a divide grew between the old guard loyal to Belisarius and the new troops loyal to Narses. Even though Belisarius had a letter from Justinian giving him sole control of the army, Narses argued over the semantics of the order and continued to do as he liked. He roped Belisarius into besieging Urbinus, then decided to abandon his own plan and return to Ariminum. Belisarius took Urbinus by a stroke of luck and wanted to send reinforcements to the Ostrogoth-besieged city of Mediolanum, supposedly under Roman protection, but John would only accept orders from Narses and stalled until after the city fell. When Roman troops finally arrived in Mediolanum, they found the entire city butchered and burned to the ground.

6x08 Justinian & Theodora - Bad Faith

  • 2016-01-30T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Mediolanum had fallen. Belisarius wrote a furious letter to Justinian explaining what happened, and the emperor immediately recalled Narses and reaffirmed Belisarius's leadership. His army tore through the Ostrogothic territory and soon laid siege to Ravenna, which they brought to the brink of surrender. But the Ostrogothic King Vitiges had written to the Persian Empire urging them to take advantage of Rome's distraction. Sure enough, Justinian found himself faced with a Persian army in the East, and he sent orders to Belisarius to leave Ravenna and return to defend Constantinople. Belisarius hated seeing his victory snatched from him, however, and almost refused to do it. Hearing of his displeasure, the Ostrogoths reached out to him and offered to make him their new king - no surrender necessary. Belisarius accepted their proposal, then immediately turned on them and declared the city for Justinian. Still, his greed cost the empire time. Justinian was furious that Belisarius had disobeyed his orders to return and wasted precious months solidifying control over the Ostrogoths while Persia threatened to overrun the heart of the empire. He could no longer trust his most valued general.

A comet flew over the empire for forty days, heralding bad news to come. Raiders struck from the west, coming within mere miles of Constantinople. But the biggest threat lay in the south, where a border dispute threatened to reignite the war between the Romans and the Persians. Since Belisarius was still in Italy, Justinian had to send other generals to attempt to resolve the matter peacefully. Both failed spectacularly. The Persian king Khosrau seized on this as a pretext for invasion. But instead of laying expensive sieges to the cities, he simply extorted them for tribute in exchange for being left alone by his army. As he advanced north, he took advantage of every opportunity to mock Justinian and remind him how little power he had to push the Persians back. Finally, the city of Antioch refused to surrender to Khosrau and he made quick work of it, convincing Justinian at last of the need to pay his own tribute to the Persians to make them go away. This bought him enough time for Belisarius to return, but even his great general was unable to make much progress. At last, he found himself pinned down in an un-winnable fight... which the Persians mysteriously decided not to engage against him. They did not want to risk contact with the Romans, whom they feared were rife with disease.

6x10 Theodora - This is My Empire

  • 2016-02-13T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

The first recorded outbreak of the Bubonic Plague occurred in Pelusium, an isolated town in the Egyptian province, but soon it moved on to Alexandria. Alexandria was the breadbasket of the Empire, and ships carrying grain (and plague-bearing rats) spread across the Empire. The Plague reached Constantinople to disastrous effect: 25% of the population died. Justinian set up a burial office but even they couldnt keep up with the demand. When they ran out of burial land, they started piling corpses into ships and setting them afloat; they even packed them into the guard towers along the wall. So few people survived that when word got out that Justinian had contracted the plague, hope seemed lost... until Theodora stepped up. She had always been a force within the Empire, Justinian's co-regent, and now she used that power to fight off the plots against him and keep the Empire together. She dealt ruthlessly with anyone who threatened them, and since many people wanted Belisarius installed on the throne as Justinian's heir, she recalled him and pushed him out of power. She managed to keep the Empire from disintegrating into Civil War and became the symbol of hope and perserverance for a sorely demoralized city. And then, miraculously, Justinian pulled through.

Theodora had kept the empire together, but it was deeply scarred. The Plague had killed a quarter of the citizens and imperial revenues were in dire straits. In Italy, the Gothic tribes had rebelled again under the united leadership of Totila, while the disorganized Romans failed to mount an effective defense. Italy quickly fell back into Gothic hands, and even when Justinian sent back Belisarius, he could barely raise an army and didn't have the money to support his few conquests. Eventually he had to be recalled to defend Constantinople, and Rome was lost forever. A similar rebellion occurred in Africa, but was mercifully quelled. And then Theodora died. Justinian wept at her casket. He refused to remarry and designated a nephew-in-law as his successor. Even in mourning, he managed to organize a defense against Persian aggression and reorganize the Empire's tax system to bring revenue back into the coffers he'd drained for grand monuments and expensive wars. As his final tribute to Theodora, he attempted to heal the divide between Monophysite and Orthodox Christians, which had been one of her life goals. He went about it by pressuring the Pope to join him in condemning the Nestorian religious leaders who'd championed monophysite beliefs at the Council of Chalcedon. The Pope reluctantly agreed, but as he feared, it did not heal the divide in the east and only created new controversy in the west.

Faced with a crumbling empire, Justinian remained determined to realize the dreams of his youth - even though he was now over 65 years old and without Theodora by his side. He worked tirelessly to bring revenue back to the empire, and with money in hand he could finally deal with the forces that threatened it. He assembled his last company, an odd selection of leaders for his army, made up of men who were either old, or inexperienced, or even known for failure - yet they succeeded. His instinct for choosing the right person for the job did not fail him, as one by one his last company made peace with Persia, tamed the Balkan threat, and reclaimed Italy from the Ostrogoths. But fate was not yet done with him. A wave of natural disasters and the return of the plague shook the empire while its foundations were still being rebuilt, and left it vulnerable to an invasion by the Bulgars. Justinian turned to his old friend Belisarius, calling him out of retirement for one final campaign. As always, Belisarius succeeded against the odds, but it would be his last fight. One by one, all of Justinian's close friends and advisors died of old age. Increasingly alone, he spent his last years trying to consolidate his empire and struggling to reconcile the Christian church. Finally, after one of the longest reigns in Roman history, Justinian died in 565 CE. His reign was a great "What If:" What if all those disasters hadn't struck? Would his grand amibtions have succeeded? He accomplished so much with the expansion of empire, the construction of the Hagia Sophia, and his overhaul of the legal code. But in the process, he risked - and perhaps lost - everything. He emptied the treasury, overextended the borders, and left the empire vulnerable to the Ottomans years later. Good or bad, his legacy reaches through the centuries to touch our lives today.

7x01 Europe - The First Crusade - The People's Crusade

  • Season Premiere

    2015-08-08T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

In 1095CE, Pope Urban gathered the leaders of the Christian community at the Council of Clermont. Urged on by Emperor Alexius Comnenos of Constantinople, he called for a crusade to retake the Holy Land from the Muslims who occupied Jerusalem. Muslims had occupied the Holy Land for over 400 years, but the timing was politically right for the Pope and the Byzantine Emperor. Pope Urban wanted to re-unite Christendom after the anti-Pope kicked him out of Rome, while Alexius Comnenus wanted to retake the territory he had recently lost in Anatolia from the Seljuq Turks. As incentive, the Pope offered crusaders a plenary indulgence: complete forgiveness for past sins in the eyes of God and the church. It worked too well. While the official armies of the Crusade prepared, a charismatic leader named Peter the Hermit began breaching directly to the people, claiming Jesus had sent him to lead them on Crusade. Walter sans Avoir joined him in France, and a man named Count Emicho of Leiningen emulated him in Germany. Both peasant groups met with and created disaster: Walter Sans Avoir's group pillaged Belgrade while Count Emicho's group turned on the local Jewish population as an excuse to slaughter them. Thus the First Crusade began with a disastrous People's Crusade.

Emicho of Leiningen and Walters sans Avoir certainly made a mark, but the largest group in the People's Crusade was led by Peter the Hermit. To gain passage through Hungary, they swore an oath not to destroy anything, but the lack of real leadership for their group became clear when they very quickly started a market brawl, stormed the local citadel, then fled to Belgrade and immediately repeated their aggression by turning on the Byzantine troops sent to keep them in line. At the city of Niŝ, the Byzantine troops pinned them down and slaughtered a quarter of the entire crusading "army." The remainder fled to Constantinople and secured passage into Turkey, but the group fractured from within and became two separate factions, with Peter leading one and a man named Reinald leading the other. Both factions competed for bragging rights, committing horrible atrocities to outdo each other. One group actually managed to siege a castle, but it had no water supply, so they were easily starved out by the Turks. The Turks, however, spread a rumor that this group had actually gone on to capture the capitol city, and the remaining crusaders set out to join what they thought would be a loot extravaganza. Instead, they ran into a Turkish ambush that left only 3,000 of their 20,000 soldiers alive. Now led by Geoffrey Burel, they retreated to Constantinople.

Although it finds Peter the Hermit's group from the People's Crusade in shambles, the summer of 1096 finally sees the "official" forces of the First Crusade set out for Jerusalem. This was not one army, however, but five separate armies led by men with very different motivations and sympathies - many of them surprisingly hostile towards the Pope or the Byzantine Empire. Hugh of Vermandois, brother of the King of France, led one army despite his brother having been excommunicated by Pope Urban II. Godfrey de Bouillon from the German territory had actually helped kick the Pope out of Rome and install the anti-Pope. Bohemond of Taranto brought an army whose experience primarily came from fighting the Romans twelve years prior. Raymond of Toulouse led the largest army and believed himself the main leader of the Crusade, despite the fact that he traveled with the Pope's appointed leader, Bishop Adhemar. Only Robert of Flanders could be said to be on good terms with both the Pope and the Eastern Roman Empire. When the five armies arrived in Constantinople, Emperor Alexius Comnenus approached them all privately with bribes and threats to get them to swear an oath that any land they conquered on Crusade would be returned to him. They all took it (except Bohemond's nephew, Tancred) and so the emperor sent them across the Bosphorus to attack the Turks at last.

Having sworn their oaths to Emperor Alexius Comnenus, the Crusaders finally sailed across the Bosphorus River to Turkey. When they disembarked, however, there were no Turkish armies waiting for them. Unopposed, they marched to Nicaea, the capitol of the Sultanate of Rum, and laid siege to it. At last word reached the sultan, Kilij Arslan, who rode back to save his city (and his family) only to realize that this army of crusaders was much larger and better organized than the People's Crusade which had come before. They had not yet realized, however, that the city of Nicaea was being secretly resupplied by ships arriving by night from Lake Askania. Once they did, the Byzantines transported their own ships overland to blockade the lake and launch a coordinated assault with the crusaders to force the city to surrender. The crusaders marched towards Jerusalem, but along the way, the Turks launched a surprise assault on Bohemond's army. He ordered his knights to form a shield wall around the priests and civilians traveling with them, and they held for hours under a burning sun until reinforcements from the other crusading armies arrived. They rallied, defeated the Turks, and resumed their march.

After their victory at the Battle of Dorylaeum, the Crusaders have an open path to Antioch and beyond that, Jerusalem. After the Sultan of Rum, Kilij Arslan, ordered the wells destroyed along their path, the Crusaders struggled through the desert and eventually decided to split their forces. Tancred and Baldwin set off towards Tarsus and Tancred tricked the Turkish garrison into surrendering to him, but Baldwin claimed the city for himself and broke his oath to the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenos. Tensions between the two lead to another confrontation in the next city, after which Baldwin abandoned the Crusade entirely and conned his way into becoming the Count of Edessa. Tancred meanwhile returned to the main force of Crusaders, who were besieging Antioch. When a force led by Bohemond and Robert of Flanders met Antioch's Turkish reinforcements on a foraging mission, they attacked them and scared them away. Then Bohemond tricked the Byzantine general into leaving as well, and threatened to leave himself unless the Crusaders let him keep Antioch. They had no choice but to agree to keep their forces together. With this assurance, Bohemond engineered the capture of Antioch: he bribed a Turkish commander to let them through the gates. The Crusaders massacred the people of Antioch when the city fell, but they had no time to rest after their victory: a huge Turkish army was already bearing down on them.

The Crusaders now held Antioch, but not securely. The Turks still control the citadel atop the mountain and had a massive army coming to reinforce them. The situation grew worse when Stephen of Blois deserted from the Crusades, and told the Byzantine reinforcements not to bother: he believed Antioch would fall immediately. Now entirely on their own, the Crusaders held the wall in constant vigil until a mystic named Peter Bartholomew claimed to have received a vision from Saint Andrew. Guided by his vision, he discovered metal which he claimed to be the holy lance of Longinus - nevermind that the church already had the holy lance in its possession. Though the Crusade leaders had doubts, the soldiers were inspired so they launched an assault on the Turkish armies. Surprisingly, they won the day: the Turks did not fully support their leader, Kerbogha, and many took the Crusade counter-attack as an excuse to abandon the siege. Bohemond now kept Antioch, while Raymond of Toulouse - after the disastrous Siege of Maarat led the soldiers to commit acts of cannabalism - took the remains of the army south to Jerusalem. His attempt to capture a small city called Arqa along the way almost fractured the crusade army again, and did lead to the death of Peter Bartholomew. They arrived in Jerusalem to find the local wells poisoned, giving them no choice but to attack the city head-on. After days of intense fighting, they won their way inside the walls and began a massive slaughter of the people who still lived inside Jerusalem - the Christian population had been expelled, leaving only Muslims and Jews still in the city. And thus, with Antioch and Jerusalem both in crusader hands, the First Crusade came to an end.

8x01 Korea: Admiral Yi - Keep Beating the Drum

  • Season Premiere

    2015-09-26T15:00:00Z — 7 mins

Admiral Yi Sun-sin of Korea began his legendary career with a series of disasters. Fate (and corrupt officials) conspired against him to have him repeatedly knocked down from the success he had earned, often because his insistence on strict military codes and refusal to ignore corruption made enemies of his fellow officers. Even when his superior had him tortured and blamed after a loss to the Jurchen raiders from the north, Yi perservered. Stripped of his rank and now reduced to a common enlisted man, Yi nevertheless served Korea with distinction. Meanwhile his childhood friend, Ryu Seong-ryong, had risen to become the prime minister of Korea. Ryu recognized the threat of war from Japan looming on the horizon, so when Yi asked to retire in 1588, Ryu convinced him to stay.

Japan invaded Korea after a series of long civil wars that had finally culminated in Toyotomi Hideyoshi leading a unified Japanese army. Their martial society had trained extensively with weapons like the arquebus, early guns, and the civil war had given them tremendous experience with siegecraft. By contrast, Korea had not been at war for hundreds of years: they were mostly troubled by raiders from without and corrupt government officials from within. However, their unique situation meant that they had great cannons for fighting off pirates and secure if minimal hill-top forts. As a tributary ally of the Chinese, the Koreans were startled and confused when Japan asked permission to march through their territory and make war on China. Many officials thought the Japanese were only bluffing, but Ryu Seong-ryong recognized the threat and made sure his friend Yi was moved to naval service to help defend the country. Yi trained his men and commissioned a new ironside ship design called the Turtle Ship. Unfortunately, other commanders did not take the threat seriously: even when Japanese ships appeared on the horizon, the southern commander convinced himself it was a trade fleet and took no action while the ships docked, then unloaded their soldiers onto Korean soil. The well-trained Japanese army crushed the Korean army and quickly advanced to Seoul. Meanwhile, Yi organized his small fleet of warships and launched quick strikes against the Japanese navy, catching them off-guard and on-patrol. He destroyed 43 enemy ships without losing a single one of his own, and was promoted accordingly to become the new Southern Commander of the Korean navy.

While Yi found success at sea, the Korean land army suffered terrible losses. Yi Il, the man who once accused Yi of negligence, lost one battle after another, until finally the regular forces were annhilated at Chungju. The Joseon court that ruled to Korea fled to Pyongyang, on the verge of being pushed out of their own country. But that same day, Admiral Yi tore through a Japanese fleet at Okpo. He moved on to Sacheon, where he baited the Japanese commander into a trap and debuted his turtle ship. The unstoppable turtle ship carried the day, so he used this tactic again and again he destroyed a Japanese fleet while suffering no losses of his own. Finally, Hideyoshi ordered his naval commanders to take Jeolla, Yi's headquarters. Sadly for him, his general Wakisaka Yasaharu grew too eager and engaged Yi without backup at Gyeonnaeryang Strait, only to find himself lured into an even more sophisticated version of Yi's bait-and-retreat strategy: a "Crane's Wing" of ships that collapsed on the overextended target from all sides. In one of the largest naval battles in history, Yi scored a decisive win and again didn't lose a single ship. He headed to Angolpo to attack Hideyoshi's two remaining generals and seal his victory, but they refused to be baited. He had to settle for a long range exchange of cannon fire, which worked at the cost of many injuries to his own men. In the end, he destroyed all but a few Japanese ships, and those he only spared to give the Japanese some means to escape and stop raiding in Korea. But he had accomplished his goal: Hideyoshi ordered a halt to all naval operations except guarding Busan, and without this control of the sea, Japan could not re-supply their troops nor hope to resume the assault that would have finally pushed Korea's leaders out of Korea.

Yi's success had forced the Japanese to give up offensive naval operations, but their huge fleet remained entrenched in Busan harbor. While Yi pinned them down, reinforcements from the Chinese army had finally arrived and helped the Korean army take back the country on land. Yi petitioned for marines to take Busan back from the Japanese, but his requests were ignored. Instead, he focused on making his base on Hansando self-sufficient: he promised protection to refugees in exchange for them working the island, building his equipment, and even researching military technology. But a truce was called with Japan, one that dragged on for years until Hideyoshi broke it by ordering a second invasion. An informant brought word of secret, unprotected Japanese fleet movements, but Yi recognized it as a trap and refused to go. However, his friend Ryu's enemies at court seized on this as an opportunity to put Yi on trial for treason. They demoted him again, and gave his fleet to Won Kyon. Won Kyon fell into the trap Yi had refused, and a coordinated surprise attack from the Japanese resulted in the destruction of all but 12 ships. Yi was quickly re-instated, but ordered to disband the navy. He refused, and planned his counterattack carefully: he would fight at Myeongnyang Strait, where he hoped the natural currents would do what his numbers could not. His plan worked: the reversing tide caught the Japanese by surprise and flung their ships against each other right as he pressed the attack. With 13 ships versus 133, he once again drove back Japan with zero losses to his own navy. Word of his success brought other ships out of hiding and convinced the Chinese navy to ally with him at last.

After his success at Myeongnyang, Yi began rebuilding the Korean navy and strengthening his partnership with the Chinese. But then, Toyotomi Hideyoshi died. Japan's new leaders had no interest in continuing the war, but although they sued for peace, Korea now held the upper hand and was determined to punish the people who had committed so many massacres against their people. Yi and the Chinese fleet bottled up the Japanese at the fort in Suncheon. When the Japanese called for reinforcements, Yi interrupted them in Noryang Strait. Again they were outnumbered, 500 to 150, but the Chinese commander did not yet understand Yi's long range style of warfare and immediately closed for close combat. Yi ordered his flagship to rescue their allies, and as soon as the Japanese recognized him, they focused fire on him. This allowed the Chinese, suddenly forgotten, to fire freely on them. The Japanese realized their error and tried to flee, but Yi would have none of it. Beating the war drum himself, he urged his ships to chase the Japanese - to punish them for all the slaughter they brought to Korea. It was then that he was struck by a fatal gunshot. Before he died, he ordered his son and nephew to command the battle for him. They dressed in his armor to hide his death from the troops and continued beating the dream. Together, they carried the day - only for Yi's tragic death to be revealed at the moment of victory. But although Yi did not live to see it, 300 Japanese ships were captured and destroyed that day and the rest of their invading force was rounded up soon after. For his tireless service, his brilliant leadership, and his unwavering devotion to Korea, Yi was given the posthumous title of Chungmugong, the Martial Lord of Loyalty.

9x01 Middle East: Odenathus - Ghosts of the Desert

  • Season Premiere

    2015-10-31T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

In 260 CE, the Roman Empire was falling apart on all sides. Emperor Valerian gathered the legions to push back on the worst incursions from the Sassanid Empire in the east. They not only lost - they were massacred, and the emperor was taken captive. This left the empire in disarray. Into this desperate moment stepped Odenathus from the city-state of Palmyra. Palmyra was a vassal state that owed fealty to Rome and had been decorated with many honors and recognition in the past. If Rome fell, the Sassanid Empire would certainly look to conquer and annex Palmyra, so Odenathus rode to the rescue. He gathered all the soldiers he could find and took the Sassanid army by surprise on their way back from the battle with Valerian. He destroyed them. From there, he rode north to protect the emperor's son, and the next heir to Rome, then south again where he pushed the Sassanids all the way back to their capitol twice. Despite his success and undeniable military power, he never took power for himself or declared himself an emperor. Rome showered him with appreciation and titles. Sadly, he was murdered by his nephew in 267 CE, but his loyalty had bought the Roman Empire enough time to recover and survive for another 200 years.

Palmyra is an embodiment of our shared past, but right now it's under the control of ISIS. They have destroyed the antiquities that remind us of our shared past. We would like to take a moment to honor Dr. Khaled al-Assad, the museum director who gave his life rather than reveal the locations of more Palmyrene relics for ISIS to destroy.

10x01 England - The Broad Street Pump - You Know Nothing, John Snow

  • Season Premiere

    2015-11-14T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Thanks to his mother's support, John Snow rose from humble beginnings as a coal miner's son and apprenticed to a doctor in Newcastle. As a young man, he treated many patients during the cholera epidemic that struck Newcastle. He noticed that the traditional explanation for cholera's spread - miasma from graveyards and swamps - could not explain its appearance in Newcastle where he treated patients. He took that knowledge with him to London, where he formally studied medicine and achieved the highest honors in his profession in only a year. His formal study of anesthesia earned him such great recognition that on two occasions he was trusted to work on the Queen. But then cholera broke out in London again. Snow wanted to prove miasma didn't cause it and find the real cause, so he interviewed patients and doctors across the city. He theorized that the diarrhea which came from cholera also helped to spread it. He even wrote up a case study where one street whose well water mixed with sewage had a huge infection rate while across the street their neighbors with pure well water barely suffered at all. Confident that he had found the cause, he published his findings, but the medical community was not thoroughly convinced.

John Snow's single case study was not enough to convince the medical community that cholera was spread through the water, but he did not give up. He founded the Epidemiological Society of London in 1850, the first organization dedicated to studying not just cures for disease, but also their causes. And so when cholera returned in 1854, John Snow saw a chance to finally prove his theory and set about studying the patterns of disease. The disease appeared to strike randomly, both rich and poor, but he realized that in his district were two different water companies, one of which he theorized might be contaminated. Finding evidence proved more difficult than he anticipated: going to door to door, he was often met by people who didn't even know what water company supplied their building. He tracked down landlords and even developed a water test to help him identify which water source each house had, but before he had the time to compile and analyze his findings, another terrible outbreak struck in Broad Street.

John Snow raced to discover the causes of the cholera epidemic that swept Broad Street. He went door-to-door talking to the locals, then surveyed government records for extra clues. He began to craft a map of deaths, and drew the first Voronoi Diagram to assess the victims' proximity to the pump. All but 8 of the 84 victims were closer to the Broad Street Pump (and hence more likely to use it) than any other pump, and most of the remainder had daily commutes that took them past the pump. He also noticed that a local workhouse and a tavern were conspicuously cholera-free despite their proximity to the pump, and found that they had access to their own drinking supplies which unbeknownst to them had kept them safe. With his evidence in hand, he met with the local health commission and convinced them to deactivate the Broad Street Pump. But his theory was still not widely accepted, and after the epidemic passed everything returned to normal. At last, a local pastor named Henry Whitehead set out to debunk the wild theories about what had caused the epidemic in his parish. He doubted Snow's results, but as he investigated, he found more evidence that backed them up. His relationship with the neighborhood also meant he could get information Snow couldn't, and it was thus that he found Patient Zero: a baby who died two days before the epidemic, and whose mother had been throwing her dirty diapers in a cesspit under the house. The government investigated and found that the poorly-built cesspit had begun leaking into the Broad Street Pump's water supply, infecting all who drank from it with cholera passed along in the baby's diapers. It would take many years before John Snow's theory became accepted fact, but his research paved the way for the modern medical field of epidemiology.

John Snow's report on the causes of cholera provided yet more evidence of the dangers of filthy cities. Cities had always been unhealthy places to live, generally with a higher death rate than birth rate, but fixing them just wasn't the focus of an agricultural world economy. The Industrial Revolution in the 1700s brought more people to the cities, and suddenly, cities had to grow in order to maintain the vastly expanded manufacturing and shipping operations of the new era. Edwin Chadwick published a report about the sewage in city streets and clearly explaining the need to remove it. His report led to legislation that created local health boards and drove the construction of complex sewer systems. These sewers were massive, expensive undertakings that, even today, remain the foundation of many large modern cities. They reduced diseases across the board and saved countless human lives, part of a legacy that John Snow would be proud of.

11x01 Mary Seacole - A Bold Front to Fortune

  • Season Premiere

    2016-01-09T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Mary Seacole treated soldiers during the Crimean War - but she took a long path to get there. She grew up in Jamaica, the daughter of a local hotel owner and a Scottish soldier. She admired her doctress mother and wanted to be like her, but she also yearned to travel and see the world. In 1821 she accepted a relative's invitation to visit London, and turned herself from a tourist to a businesswoman by importing Jamaican food preserves. She traveled with her business for several years before returning home to Jamaica, where she married a white man named Edwin Seacole and started a general store. Their venture failed, and disaster struck: fire destroyed most of Kingstown, and both Mary's husband and her mother died in 1843. Mary survived and rebuilt the hotel, but she set out to start a new life in Panama and was immediately greeted by a cholera epidemic. She helped contain it, and earned a reputation that helped her start her own business across the street from her half-brother's. When word reached her that the Crimean War back in Europe needed nurses, she left her business behind and went to sign up. Both the War Office and Florence Nightingale's expedition rejected her, but Mary determined to find her own way there.

Unable to find any official sponsors, Mary Seacole decided to send herself to the Crimea. She recruited her husband's cousin, a fellow business person, and the two of them set off for the war zone. Unlike London, where she'd met a chilly reception, Mary's help was welcomed by the overworked doctors and suffering soldiers. She built a new version of her British Hotel and invited officers to dine or shop there, using their money to buy medical supplies and creature comforts for the poorer soldiers. She had set herself up next to the army camp, and during battles she helped provide emergency care. But when at last the city of Sevastopol fell, Mary's medical services were no longer in much demand. She enjoyed a few months of prosperity as the soldiers celebrated their newfound time off, but in March of 1856, a treaty was signed and troops began returning home. Many of them left unpaid debts, and Mary could no longer sell her supplies, so she and her business partner were forced to return home to London and declare bankruptcy. When that news got out, the soldiers she'd cared for rallied to her aid, donating money to help pay her debts. Although Mary tried to continue serving soldiers in warzones, the government never recognized her and in the end, only her homeland of Jamaica remembered her contributions after her death. In the 2000s, her story came back to light in the United Kingdom and she was recognized in 2004 as the Greatest Black Briton.

12x01 World War II - The Battle of Kursk - Operation Barbarossa

  • Season Premiere

    2016-02-15T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

In June 1941, Nazi Germany launched an attack upon the Soviet Union. The German Reich had been building up forces along the Eastern Front for a long time, but the sudden aggression caught Soviet forces unprepared. Many troops were captured and the Germans quickly conquered territory from the Soviet states. But the Soviets reorganized, improved their communication structure, and pulled together a defense at Smolensk. Although they lost again, they critically slowed the German advance and halted their race towards Moscow. Instead, the Germans tried to lay siege at Leningrad, only to be struck themselves by insufficient supply lines and a brutal winter that claimed the lives of many soldiers. With that, the Wehrmacht withdrew and redirected its efforts towards Stalingrad. Josef Stalin refused to let them take any land "further than the Volga" in Russia, and mounted a stiff defense. Even when the Luftwaffe, the German air force, reduced the city to rubble, Soviet soldiers continued to wage war from the debris. Meanwhile, the Germans were so focused on their offensive that they let their defensive lines collapse, and in October 1941 the Soviets managed to surround and pin down the German 6th Army. Their commander refused surrender terms because he didn't want to displease Adolf Hitler, but the 6th Army's resistance inevitably collapsed in February 1942.

Richard "the Challenger" Cutland, ex British tankie and military specialist at Wargaming, stops by to talk about the types of tanks involved in the Battle of Kursk! Early in Operation Barbarossa, the Germans didn't expect much from their opponents. They did not know about the T-34 and KV-1 tanks, which turned out to be superior designs. The Germans deployed a special commission to study Soviet tank designs and soon introduced the Tiger, Panther, and Ferdinand tanks which Hitler believed were key to victory. The Panther in particular was now outclassing Soviet tanks, but it had giant mechanical issues and broke down frequently. The Soviets had produced a new T-43 model tank, but it was designed to tackle the old German Panzer IV and didn't measure up well to the new German tanks. So they preferred to focus on the trusty T-34 tanks, which made up in speed and numbers what they lacked in range and firepower. The Kursk region also played to the Soviets' advantage in Russia: the dust storms and mudfields hindered air support from the Luftwaffe and the advance of the Wermacht. Erich von Manstein, the German commander, decided not to advance. Instead he yielded ground to the Soviets in an attempt to lure them into overextending. He successfully caught them out at the First Battle of Kharkov, but even though the Soviets suffered heavy casualties there, it wasn't enough to make a dent in their huge army. Manstein needed to do something more drastic. Both he and the Soviets recognized that the Soviet line had a weakness where it bulged out to defend the city of Kursk, making it an obvious target for the next stage of operations.

On July 5, 1943, the long-awaited German assault began. Despite the arrival of the powerful new German tanks, the Soviets ground their advance down to a crawl thanks to the stiff fortifications they'd had time to lay in place. The Germans planned their assault for July 5, 1943 but a defector warned the Soviets and denied them the element of surprise. Even without the warning, General Zhukov had found plenty of time to fortify Kursk with layer upon layer of pillboxes, minefields, and more. He planned to bloody the Germans with this staunch defense and weaken them for later. The new German tanks, such as the Tiger, arrived only to find themselves outnumbered by numerous Soviet T-34s and ill-supported by maintenance crews who were stretched too thin by the number and variety of new tanks being deployed. General Manstein ordered his strongest tank unit to push through, targeting the small town of Oboyan, but although he made the most progress along the line of the assault, even he had not expected resistance on this scale. By the next day, the Germans had barely reached the second line of Soviet defenses, and while they hadn't been forced to retreat anywhere, they were distinctly behind schedule. Hitler needed them to win. It wouldn't win the war, but he hoped that it would force the Soviets to withdraw, leaving him free to concentrate on the Western front and the threats from the United Kingdom and the United States.

Twelve days of ferocious battle wore both sides down to the bone. Each German push was met with a Soviet counterattack in places like Ponyri and Prokhorovka, until finally the Allied invasion of Sicily forced Hitler to recall his troops. German divisions had not expected the level of resistance they met from the Soviets, and their planned advance was behind schedule. At the same time, the Soviets were concerned by the breaches in their first level of defense and by the Tiger tanks which so decisively outgunned their T-34. Fighting on the north side of the Kursk salient came to focus on the small Russian town of Ponyri, where the Germans saw an opportunity to break through and encircle the Soviet defenders. But every time they took control, the Soviets countered and took it back, until finally it became clear that they would never hold Ponyri and could only hope to divert troops from reinforcing the Soviet line elsewhere. But in the south, General Vatutin of the USSR had come up with a clever strategy: he literally buried his T-34 tanks up to the turrets, making them fortified anti-tank guns whose small profile negated the range advantage of the Tiger. His methods were extremely effective, but the Germans continued to fight forward inch by bloody inch. The Soviets needed to hold until reinforcements arrived. An attempted counterattack failed, but managed to slow the Germans, as did the sudden arrival of rainy weather that bogged down their materiel. In the midst of this, the brutal war criminals in the SS Division fought on with a ferocity best exemplified by Joachim Krüger, who once ripped off his pants to escape a smoke grenade and charged bare-assed at a Russian tank. But this wild back and forth could not continue. On July 12, 1943, the Germans sought a decisive outcome through a hard push at Prokhorovka. They did not get it, and the tides quickly turned against them. The Allies invaded Sicily, pressuring Hitler. He gave the command to withdraw the troops at Kur

13x01 Suleiman the Magnificent - Hero of All That Is

  • Season Premiere

    2016-03-12T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

A young Suleiman ascends the throne of the Ottoman Empire. He wants to be a benevolent ruler, but he must prove that he is no pushover. Perhaps it all began when Suleiman's father died... Suleiman's father, Selim I, had pushed the borders of the Ottoman Empire further than any before him. Suleiman and his childhood friend, a Greek named Ibrahim who'd once been his slave, had to race back to Constantinople to claim the throne before news got out. Suleiman immediately bestowed gifts on the janissaries and court officials whose favor he would need for a successful reign, but he also carried out executions against those he suspected of treachery. He could not afford to be too kind. Indeed, his rule was challenged immediately by a revolt in Syria, which Suleiman crushed with overwhelming force to secure his reputation as a powerful leader. He wanted to stretch the empire even more, to bring it into Europe, which brought his attention to Hungary (his gateway to Europe) and Rhodes (a thorn in his side in the Mediterranean). The young prince of Hungary gave him the excuse he needed by executing an Ottoman envoy who'd come to collect tribute. Suleiman prepared his troops for war.

Knowing that most of Europe is preoccupied with internal struggles, Suleiman launches his wars against Hungary and Rhodes while they're cut off from outside reinforcements. Suleiman wanted to erase the failures of his predecessor, and extend the Ottoman Empire into Europe... The boy king of Hungary had given Suleiman the perfect pretext for war by killing his envoy, and he'd done it at a time when Hungary was especially isolated from the rest of the continent. The Holy Roman Empire and Papal States were being torn apart by the declarations of Martin Luther. Spain and France were busy fighting each other. Suleiman even ensured that Venice would stay out of the dispute by offering them a lucrative trade treaty with his empire. Though he felt certain of victory, he still studied every route and painstakingly worked out the logistics of moving his army. He would not risk failure through carelessness. Yet the siege from his cannons could not bring down the walls of Belgrade, so he turned to treachery: eventually, the Orthodox Serbian contingent in the city gave him access in order to escape the oppression of the Catholic Hungarians. Suleiman massacred the Hungarians, but honored his agreement with the Serbs and let them leave. Then he turned to Rhodes. He offered them a chance to surrender in advance, but they refused. The Knights of Rhodes were after all a sacred order, equal in discipline to his janissary forces. They fought hard, repulsing several attempts by the Turks to invade through collapsed walls and repeatedly refusing Suleiman's offers to let them surrender. But at last they wore down and agreed to terms of truce. Suleiman allowed them to leave along with any Christian subjects who wished to go with them. It had taken him two years to complete his wars, but he had succeeded.

The victorious Suleiman begins to consolidate his empire and his home. With Ibrahim and his favorite concubine, Roxelana, by his side, he reorganizes the empire and begins his great work: a book of laws. But Hungary still stands untaken, and he must have it. Suleiman had made so many decisions out of earnest love, but now he could only look back with regret... Suleiman returned from his campaigns to find that two of his sons had died of illness that year, but also that his favorite concubine had borne him a new son. Her name was Roxelana, and although she was only a Polish slave, he loved her deeply and soon elevated her to become his legal wife, the Hürrem Sultan. He also promoted his best friend, Ibrahim, up the ranks until he finally appointed him grand vizier. With these two ruling at his side, he felt ready to take on the world. But Ahmed Pasha, his second vizier, was jealous of Ibrahim. He'd expected to get the position of grand vizier for himself, and when he didn't, he asked for a governorship of Egypt instead - which he then used to mount a rebellion against Suleiman. His rebellion triggered a wave of uprisings through the empire. Suleiman sent Ibrahim to quell them all, which he did, and then reorganized the provinces to break up the power blocs that had acted against his sultan. At the same time, Suleiman had begun working on a great work of law, reforming the hodgepodge legal heritage of the Ottmans into a unified code that would guide the empire for the rest of its days. While it was still in progress, he saw an opportunity to reach for Hungary again and he took it. His troops marched through a torrential downpour of rain until they encountered the Hungarian troops on the Field of Mohács. Impetuous nobles had pushed the young King Louis II to take the field and go on the offensive, despite being outnumbered and outgunned by the vast Ottoman force. Their brave but foolhardy charge failed, and the Ottomans surrounded and destroyed them. Although S

When a dispute arose over the control of Hungary, Suleiman saw an opportunity to extend his empire into Europe and gain allies from those who'd asked for his help. Though he took Buda quickly, Vienna had time to fortify against him and pushed his troops back. Suleiman looked back on those heady days, and wondered how his victories had all turned to ash... After the Battle of Mohács, Suleiman found himself quickly pulled into the politics of western Europe. The Queen Mother of France asked him to intercede for her in a quarrel with the King of Spain, and the Austrian Hapsburgs had claimed Hungary as their own territory despite his recent victory there. The Hungarians, meanwhile, had elected their own king John Zápolya and refused to acknowledge the Austrians. Suleiman decided to settle the matter by marching with his armies again, and found Zápolya a willing ally. Bad weather slowed his advance and cut his numbers, but he nonetheless took Buda by storm and made an example out of the Austrians they found there. When they got to Vienna, however, they found that the city had been fortified and reinforced by several European nations. Though Suleiman offered a king's ransom to the first man over the walls of Vienna, his troops just couldn't push through. The arrival of winter forced him to withdraw the siege, unsuccessful. He pretend to consider it a victory, but he knew that this defeat meant he'd never be able to acquire the European empire he had dreamed about. Besides, he was growing older, and the question of succession weighed heavy on his mind. By tradition, only one of his sons would be allowed to live and inherit the throne, but he couldn't bear the thought of his beloved Roxelana forced to watch her sons die. Especially considering his most likely heir, Mustafa, wasn't a son of Roxelana's at all. The quandary weighed heavy on him.

Suleiman's empire stretches across the Mediterranean, but in the midst of his success, he suspects betrayal in his own house. His best friend, Ibrahim, and his most promising son, Mustafa, both seem to have designs upon the throne. Suleiman was alone in his garden, unable to escape the doubts and regrets that shadowed him... Suleiman and Ibrahim marched south upon the Safavid kingdom, where they met no resistance. Faced with an unbeatable Ottoman army, the Safavids simply yielded and scorched the earth behind them so Suleiman would not be able to hold the territory he took. Ibrahim suggested that he take on the role of sultan in this new territory so that he could govern it, but his words enraged Suleiman. Roxelana had been warning him that Ibrahim had grown ambitious and disrespectful, and now he saw it. He had Ibrahim assassinated and appointed a new chief vizier. But now his Western empire was in shambles. He allied with the French against his enemy, Charles of Spain, but they conducted their war in Italy, well beyond his usual sphere of control. The mismanaged war had to be called off after Charles and Ferdinand attacked Hungary in the wake of John Zápolya's death. Suleiman defeated them and annexed it officially. Again war called. This time he sent his troops south without him, only to hear word that they felt Mustafa was a better leader than he was and Mustafa didn't disagree. He joined them in the field and ordered Mustafa to come to him and prove his innocence, but it was a trap. He had Mustafa killed. The consequences rippled out. He killed Mustafa's son, his grandson. One of his own sons died from grief. Roxelana died of old age. His two remaining sons, Selim II and Bayezid, began to quarrel for the throne, and he ordered them both out of the capital. Bayezid hesitated, and Suleiman turned against him. Even after Bayezid fled to the Safavids, Suleiman pressed for his execution and bribed the Safavid sultan to carry it out for him. Now, he had only o

Suleiman's decisions came back to haunt him, starting with the Knights of Malta (once Rhodes). He tried to kick them off their island again, but failed. He launched a new campaign to take Vienna and prove the might of his empire. But he was so old... A messenger disrupted Suleiman in his reverie. He brought news from Malta... Suleiman had outlived both his friends and his rivals. Charles V had passed, but his throne had passed to a son who proved just as vexing. An ardent Catholic, Philip II set his ships to harass Ottoman fleets in the Mediterranean and emboldened others to dispute Suleiman's mastery of the sea. The Knights of Malta, whom Suleiman had defeated at Rhodes and allowed to leave peacefully, once again gave safe habor to these Christian ships. Suleiman sent a force to take their island, but his commanders argued with each other and Christian Europe united against him in a way that it could not when he'd been a younger man. The Knights Hospitallier withdrew into their forts. His army struggled for three weeks to take just one of them, and although they succeeded, Suleiman's commander died and the Christian reinforcements had time to join the remaining two forts. At last, faced with yet another fleet of reinforcements, Suleiman's commanders decided to withdraw. Back in his garden, Suleiman knew that this defeat would destroy the invincible image of his empire. He resolved to prove that the Turks were still a force to be feared, and organized a campaign to take Vienna. He would lead them himself. They left in 1566 with great fanfare, but they were immediately greeted by torrential rains that slowed their advance and cost them materiel. Suleiman spent the whole trip confined to a carriage, and when they finally arrived to siege Szeged, he had to retreat a sickbed in his tent. He died while the battle still raged outside, never to know his empire's fate.

14x01 WWII - The Resource War - Arsenal of Democracy

  • Season Premiere

    2016-04-05T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

To understand nations at war, you have to look at how their economies function. With World War II on the horizon, Europe and Asia dug themselves in for a fight - and a look at each other's resources told them what to expect. European economies were so closely connected that some people expected they have to avoid another world war or destroy their finances, but in fact World War I had taught them how to prepare for just such a scenario. Germany, France, and Great Britain all invested in their military before war broke out. When evaluating these economies to see how war would affect them, we look at four main factors: GDP, population, territorial extent, and per capita income. Broadly, this helps us determine how resilient, expansive, self-sufficient, and developed a nation is. All of those factors determine how a nation must conduct its war. For example, the vast territorial holdings of the British Empire meant that they had vast resources to draw upon but needed a long time to mobilize them, which helped Germany determine that they needed to strike fast and win big if they hoped to win the war before Britain's full resources came into play. Japan also estimated that they could win a war in the Pacific if they managed to win before the US had been involved for more than 6 months. These calculations drove the early strategies of the Axis powers, but the participation of the US would later prove to be a crucial factor.

14x02 WWII - The Resource War - Lend-Lease

  • 2016-04-12T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

After Germany's early push, the situation looked dire in Europe. The United States had resources to help out, but initially clung to an isolationist policy. Gradually, measures like Cash and Carry and the Lend-Lease Act expanded their involvement. Germany's blitzkrieg had been largely successful. France fell early, and Great Britain appeared on the verge of collapse. Europe needed more resources to sustain their resistance, but the United States was bound by the Neutrality Act which established a policy of isolationism and forbade the US from supporting foreign wars in any way. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt skirted those restrictions. He lobbied Congress to reinstate a provision in the law called Cash and Carry, which would allow other nations to buy US war materiel with cash and transport it themselves into the warzone. He also established an agreement which allowed him to place American military bases on British colonies in exchange for destroyer ships, thus safeguarding the far reaches of the United Kingdom from possible Axis invasions. When it turned out that the English won the Battle of Britain and successfully staved off the attempted Nazi conquest, America decided to support them in a more substantial, long term way. Thus the Lend-Lease Act was signed: the US would loan equipment to their strategic partners (who were not the Allies yet). Though supposedly the equipment had to be returned, it was pretty obvious that war materiel would not come back in the same shape if at all, so this was really the largest donation of war supplies ever. But it wound up benefiting the US in turn, since the increased production galvanized an economy that had been stagnant since the Great Depression. It also kickstarted the involvement of the US Merchant Marine, who were among the earliest US citizens to give their lives in World War II and suffered the highest casualty percentage of any branch of the service. These unarmed ships navigated U-boat infested waters to bri

The armies and technology of World War II required a vast supply of resources. A close look at Germany and Japan shows how the need to secure those resources played a significent role in determining strategy throughout the war. The armies of World War II needed a vast supply and variety of resources. The Allies had many of those resources on their side, but the Axis powers did not. Germany imported many of its resources from countries it would soon be fighting, and needed their war strategy to account for the acquisition of those resources. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed with the USSR set up a trade agreement to bring them oil from Russia for a while, in addition to establishing temporary non-aggression with the Soviets. When the war began in earnest, Germany targeted Norway with its supply of aluminum and iron as well as its access to the even more resource-rich Sweden. Conquering France also gave them access to rich farmland to feed the troops. But even though they had gained control of the oil fields in Romania, it wasn't enough to power their war machine. Many Nazi generals wanted to target North Africa for this, but Hitler had his sights set on the Soviet Union and wound up squandering much of Germany's reserves in a fruitless effort there. Meanwhile, Japan's entrance into the war had cost them their primary trading partner: the United States. The Japanese army wanted to pursue the Northern Expansion Doctrine (Hokushin-Ron) and push through China into Siberia, wounding the USSR in the process. They attempted this strategy, but the Soviets met them in Mongolia and pushed them back in the Battle of Khalkhin Gol. So they turned to the Southern Expansion Doctrine (Nanshin-Ron) advocated by the navy, and began to sweep up islands in the Pacific. They planned to strip the European colonial powers of their holdings, and they succeeded in capturing 90% of the world's rubber production. But the US responded by synthesizing rubber, and built an industry so large t

A series of missed airstrikes resulting in the death of civilians sparked the no-holds-barred Battle of Britain. Germany launched a Blitz to bomb London into submission, but inadvertantly sparked more resistance and gave British industry a chance to bounce back. On August 25, 1940, a group of German bomber planes got lost on a night-time mission over England. They wound up dropping bombs not on their industrial target, but on the city of London itself. Winston Churchill ordered a retaliatory strike against Germany, but this time it was the RAF who missed their target and hit civilians. Hitler was convinced this was intentional, so he rescinded his prohibition against targeting civilians. The Luftwaffe organized a massive attack against London, intending to break the British people's will to fight. The Blitz backfired in several respects. First, it diverted Germany's attention from strategic targets, which meant they were no longer putting real pressure on the British industrial war efforts. Second, they wound up bringing the British together and strengthening their will to fight on in the names of those who'd been lost to German bombs. Ultimately, the cost in men and material for Germany to wage the Battle of Britain exceeded the cost of damage they inflicted.

15x01 Early Christian Schisms - Before Imperium

  • Season Premiere

    2016-04-30T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Understanding the early theological struggles of the Christian church is vital to understanding history. This series will focus on Rome and the political and religious forces that drove various interpretations of Christ and his teachings - and a push towards orthodoxy. Disclaimer: This series is intended for students, to give them a broad overview of a complicated subject that has driven world history for centuries. Our story begins and focuses on Rome. One of the toughest questions early Christians had to face was Mosaic Law. Did the laws of Moses still apply, or did the teachings of Jesus Christ replace them? The issue of circumcision became a focal point for this conflict. In an era without surgical anaesthetic or procedures, asking grown men to have their foreskins removed was a painful process. Paul the Apostle argued vehemently against the practice because he believed that Christianity needed to be accessible to Romans, the gentiles, and he knew that requirements like circumcision would vastly reduce the number of people willing to convert. Gradually, Judaizing forces were pushed out of mainstream Christianity as the religion began to convert more Romans. But it soon faced another crisis: what was the nature of Christ? This issue would come up time and time again, but one of the earliest conflicts over it came from the Docetists. They believed Christ was a being of pure spirit, and that it would denigrate his godhood to consider him a human man. But in the Epistles, John argued fervently against that idea, saying that Christians must believe in Christ "in the flesh" in order for his sacrifices to be meaningful. A bishop named Ignatius of Antioch embraced that idea when facing a conviction to be thrown to lions in the Colossuem, believing that his martyrdom echoed Christ's and he was proud to give his body to prove his faith. Then the 3rd Century Crisis hit, and the Roman government fell apart. The Church stepped in, and many people believed its prophesie

Constantine had restored full rights to Christians in the Roman Empire with the Edict of Milan, but he did not expect theological debates to divide the church. Conflict between the orthodox church and both the Donatists and the Arians drew him to intervene. Disclaimer: This series is intended for students, to give them a broad overview of a complicated subject that has driven world history for centuries. Our story begins and focuses on Rome. Constantine had gained control of the Roman Empire, its first Christian emperor, and he restored full rights to people of the Christian faith with the Edict of Milan. But his generosity immediately raised a question: what did the church do with so-called traditors, who had renounced the Christian faith during the days of persecution and now wanted to return? The Roman Church demanded they be restored, because the doctrine of penance declared that anyone could repent for any sin, no matter how grievous. But in North Africa, one group was outraged when a traditor named Caecilian was not only restored to the faith but elected Bishop of Carthage. They refused to accept him and elected their own bishop, Donatus, instead. Donatus performed the role of a bishop without official church authority and he insisted on re-baptizing traditors in contradiction to the doctrine of penance. The church wanted to put him on trial, but since Donatus had rebelled against the people calling for his trial, he didn't believe it would be a fair trial. He wrote Constantine asking for help and the emperor decided to intervene, setting a dangerous precedent for imperial involvement in affairs of the church. Over a series of several trials, church leaders continued to condemn Donatus and he continued to ask Constantine for retrials until the emperor grew fed up and washed his hands of the matter. The unrepentant Donatists went on to become a splinter church that divided North Africa for centuries. Around the same time, a bishop named Arius had begun to

The Council of Nicaea convened to decide the guiding rules of the church - and to resolve the questions posed by Arian theology. A deacon named Athanasius set himself against Arius and succeeded in getting his teachings declared heresy. Disclaimer: This series is intended for students, to give them a broad overview of a complicated subject that has driven world history for centuries. Our story begins and focuses on Rome. Constantine called the Council of Nicaea not only to address the teachings of Arius, but also to decide basic matters for how the church would go forward. Yet it was the debate over Arian theology which quickly came to dominate the council's time. The bishops effectively split into two factions, one backing Arius and the other led by a deacon named Athanasius. Athanasius vehemently opposed the Arian teachings and would not allow any compromise to be formed with the other group. Yet he played the politics very carefully, adopting in his own arguments the phrase "homoousian" (or "of the same substance") to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son, knowing full well that Arius would never accept an agreement which included this idea. Even when others tried to compromise with the phrase "homoiousian" (or "of similar substance"), Arius would not agree. Athanasius used the extra time to make private deals and assemble a majority coalition, with which he successfully caused Arianism to be declared heresy and forced Arius himself into exile. Emperor Constantine was just happy a decision had been reached, but a bishop in his own court would not let matters rest so easily. This bishop, Eusebius, campaigned tirelessly for the restoration of Arius and managed to get Athanasius exiled instead. Constantine himself wound up being baptized by Eusebius, and his son Emperor Constantius II would be a die-hard Arian in his turn. Eusebius even ordained a Goth named Ulfilas to preach to the Gothic tribes, and his sucess meant that the tribes became

The Council of Ephesus meant to heal a rift between Nestorius of Constantinople and Cyril of Alexandria, but instead it set off a chain of ecumenical councils that disagreed with each other, excommunicated rivals, and ultimately led to more factions within the church. Disclaimer: This series is intended for students, to give them a broad overview of a complicated subject that has driven world history for centuries. Our story begins and focuses on the Romane Empire. A centuary after Constantine, the Emperor Theodosius II found himself wrapped up in yet more theological disputes. His chosen patriarch of Constantinople, Archbishop Nestorius, had angered many other church leaders with his teachings that Christ had separate human and divine natures. Cyril of Alexandria wrote to the Pope in Rome for support against Nestorius, and received permission to excommunicate him. Nestorius responded by having the emperor call an ecumenical council, at which he intended to excommunicate Cyril. But Cyril acted first, declaring for the excommunication of Nestorius and forming a majority by pushing the council to begin early before the supporters of Nestorius could gather. When they did, they formed their own council and excommunicated Cyril right back, only to be excommunicated in turn by Cyril's Council of Ephesus. Theodosius II attempted to resolve this by calling a second council, but this time none of the Western delegates had time to arrive and in their absence, monophysite leaders from the East excommunicated Nestorius again and declared monophysitism the official doctrine of the church. Those who didn't get to participate called this the Robbers Council and refused to acknowledge it. Then Theodosius II died, and this fight devolved onto his successor, Marcian. Marcian called together the Council of Chalcedon to rule on the previous councils, where it was finally decided that Christ had two unified natures, human and divine, and everyone who'd supported the Robbers Counci

16x01 The History of Writing - Where the Story Begins

  • Season Premiere

    2016-06-04T15:00:00Z — 7 mins

How did the ancient civilization of Sumer first develop the concept of the written word? It all began with simple warehouse tallies in the temples, but as the scribes sought more simple ways to record information, those tallies gradually evolved from pictograms into cuneiform text which could be used to convey complex, abstract, or even lyrical ideas.

Where did the alphabet come from? How did it develop, and why? The writing systems first developed in Sumer provided a basis for the written word, but their system of characters also inspired a shift to single phoneme systems where each letter represents a distinct sound.

17x01 Samuel HaNagid - A Prince of Jews

  • Season Premiere

    2016-06-11T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Forced to flee from his home in Cordoba, Samuel HaNagid made a new name for himself in the kingdom of Granada. He picked his allies carefully and rose to the position of vizier, an unheard of honor for a Jew in a Muslim kingdom. His fame as a poet, a leader, and a patron of Judaic studies spread across the Mediterranean.

18x01 First Opium War - Trade Deficits and the Macartney Embassy

  • Season Premiere

    2016-06-18T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

The British Empire's grasp on the Americas was slipping right at the time when they needed those resources most. The massive amounts of tea they imported from China had created a huge trade deficit, but the Chinese were reluctant to let any Europeans trade outside of the Canton port strictly controlled by the Hong. So Britain sent a formal embassy led by Earl George Macartney.

Opium was illegal in China, but that didn't stop the East India Company from manufacturing it for the black market. The Chinese emperor appointed an official, Lin Zexu, to stop it. He seized and burned huge opium caches held by British merchants, and ultimately ordered the British out of China entirely. Instead, they set up base on a barren island that would become known as Hong Kong.

18x03 First Opium War - Gunboat Diplomacy

  • 2016-07-02T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

The British set up a blockade outside Canton, but one of their own private merchant ships tried to run through it. When the Chinese came to its defense, war began in earnest. Since the British had far superior firepower, they easily conquered Chuenpee and Chusan. Elliot and the Emperor's new envoy, Qishan, soon sought a treaty and agreed on generous terms... which their overseers harshly rejected.

The Chinese attempt to retake Canton by force failed. New British commanders took charge and would accept nothing less than total Chinese capitulation. They captured cities all the way up to Nanking, forcing the Emperor to negotiate. He had no choice but to accept an unequal treaty, kicking off a period of subservience to Europe which China still remembers today as the Century of Humiliation.

19x01 Urbino - The Light of Italy: Federico da Montefeltro

  • Season Premiere

    2016-07-16T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Federico da Montefeltro shone brightly as the "Light of Italy," one of many torches that helped light the flame of Renaissance. He made his name as a wily yet honest mercenary captain, but he also ruled as prince of the small, remote town of Urbino. There, he and his wife built an illustrious court that celebrated creativity, knowledge, and justice.

20x01 Lindisfarne - An Age Borne in Fire

  • Season Premiere

    2016-07-30T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Bishops. Manuscripts. Pilgrimage. Wealth. In 793 CE, the island monastery of Lindisfarne thrived in a state of harmony. Then, everything changed when the Viking raiders attacked. Once they discovered Europe's weakness, not even mighty kings like Charlemagne could stop them. They transformed their power at sea into an avenue for conquest and expansion: the Viking Age had begun.

21x01 The Brothers Gracchi - How Republics Fall

  • Season Premiere

    2016-08-06T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Rome had doubled the size of its empire in a single generation, but such expansion came at great cost. The wars enriched the wealthy and impoverished the soldiers who fought in them. Into these turbulent times came a talented and well-connected young man named Tiberius Gracchus, who soon learned the power of appealing to the populace over the elite.

21x02 The Brothers Gracchi - Populares

  • 2016-08-13T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Tiberius Gracchus took up the cause of land reform, determined to restore property rights to the average citizen and curtail the abuses of the rich. But another tribune vetoed his proposed law, so Tiberius began to fight back with his own veto and ground the government to a halt. At last, he held a special vote to remove his opponent from office so that his land reform bill could pass.

21x03 The Brothers Gracchi - Ochlocracy

  • 2016-08-20T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

To protect himself from retaliation for his populist policies, Tiberius Gracchus ran for tribune a second time. On election day, he sought protection from the crowd among rumors that wealthy elites planned to assassinate him, but accidentally sent a message that he wished to be not elected, but crowned as king. A Senator formed an opposing mob that killed Tiberius and 300 of his supporters on the spot.

21x04 The Brothers Gracchi - Enter Gaius

  • 2016-08-27T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Gaius Gracchus took up the mantle of his dead brother, overcoming resistance from the Senate and the elites to win the election for tribune. Although he had a hot temper, he shared his brother's charisma and talent, so he built a powerful base of popularity by creating programs for the poor, the army, and the middle class.

The Senate stole credit for all Gaius's proposals, and stole his popular support. Once he failed to win re-election for tribune, the Senate repealed his reforms. Gaius organized a protest, but the Senate brought it down with armed force and killed Gaius. Not a century later, the Republic would fall.

Before Tiberius and Gracchus got famous, their father led such a break-out political career that it must have seemed impossible to live up to his legacy. Yet, his success set the stage for their falls...

22x01 Hiawatha - The Great Law of Peace

  • Season Premiere

    2016-08-25T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Hiawatha wanted peace, but a more powerful chief named Tadodaho opposed him. So he joined forces with a man called the Peacemaker and a woman named Jigonsaseh, who dreamed of uniting the five Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) nations under one Great Law of Peace.

22x02 Hiawatha - Government for the People

  • 2016-09-01T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

After getting the Seneca to join the Great Law of Peace, Hiawatha came up with a plan to convince Tadodaho. But it took Jigonsaseh to confront him and make him become a true leader. Now united, the Five Nations created a participatory democracy rooted in the Peacemaker's ideals, one that still lives on today.

23x01 The History of Paper Money - Origins of Exchange

  • Season Premiere

    2016-10-01T15:00:00Z — 8 mins

Giant stones sunk under the sea? Cows? Cowrie Shells? What do they all have in common? They were all money. Find out how we got from exchanging these things to doing 8 hours of work for a stack of paper that takes 2 seconds to print on The History of Paper Money.

How does paper money get introduced? Who has to lose their head to do so? And what does Marco Polo have to do with anything???

Poor England. First Charles I and civil war, then losing to the French, then the Great Fire of London in 1666. Luckily, Nicholas Barbon comes along to help. And make obscene amounts of money. Who says you can't do both?

What happens when you really try to put paper money doctrine into practice? And why would you put a gambler, womanizer, and fugitive criminal like the ironically named John Law in charge of running it?

The first question of paper money is not how much you can print, nor even what its value is - but who prints the money? When every bank started to print their own bank notes, it caused confusion and frustration. Enter the Central Bank.

Even as the use of paper money grew, ties to the gold standard remained... and remained challenging. From the First Opium War to the Great Depression, events around the world stretched the capacity of bullion based economics. So what - and who - finally abandoned it?

Veterans Day, or Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day, commemorates the end of World War I: a day the world hoped to bring our soldiers home for good. But the War to End All Wars was failed by a peace that only brought more conflict. Today we honor our troops worldwide and come together with War Child's Armistice Campaign, where gamers can lay down their arms to raise money for children affected by war.

25x01 Simón Bolívar - Reverberations

  • Season Premiere

    2016-11-19T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Born to one of the wealthiest families in Venezuela, Simón Bolívar imbibed the ideals of revolution from a tutor who inspired him to travel to Europe as a young man. What he saw and learned, he would one day bring back to foment revolution in the Spanish colonies of Latin America.

When Napoleon conquered Spain, the Spanish colonies no longer had a clear leader to follow. Bolívar seized on this opportunity to promote his dreams of Venezuelan independence, but he stumbled from lack of experience. A man named Francisco de Miranda took control instead.

The failure of his first attempted revolution in Venezuela only fanned the flames of Simón Bolívar's determination to end Spanish reign over South America. Convinced that he needed to unite the entire continent in freedom, he gathered troops and set out with a new purpose. But his ferocity threatened to overwhelm his ideals.

Failure had taught Simón Bolívar one important lesson: no single state in Spanish South America could win independence alone. To succeed, he needed to form one great state, united and able to stand up to the might of Spain.

25x05 Simón Bolívar - Heavy is the Head

  • 2016-12-17T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

After so many failures, Simón Bolívar finally began to find success: Gran Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia all stood free from Spanish rule. He raced to found new governments and consolidate the liberty he'd earned, but resources had been stretched too thin.

25x06 Simón Bolívar - All Good Things

  • 2016-12-24T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Simón Bolívar hoped to bring the nations of South America together in one great federation, but he feared that people would think he meant to make himself a king. He tried to step back, but revolution threatened from within his ranks and his body had grown weak with illness.

26x01 Catherine the Great - Not Quite Catherine Yet

  • Season Premiere

    2017-01-28T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Before she became Catherine the Great, legendary empress of Russia, she was a smart but lonely girl named Sophia. Her mother ignored her until family connections proposed a marriage between Sophia and the presumptive heir to the Russian throne - and suddenly she was thrown from her quiet life in a backwoods mansion to the center of a cutthroat political world.

Sophia's excitement to meet her future husband deflated when she realized Peter III was a boor who cared nothing about Russia. By contrast, she threw herself into learning the culture with such vigor that she earned the love of the people. She was rechristened Catherine and married Peter... but when he became emperor, his mistakes and her popularity began to add up to a crisis situation.

When the conspiracy to seat Catherine on the throne of Russia was exposed, she had to move quickly. While Peter III blundered through a day of miscommunications, Catherine swiftly seized power, secured the loyalty of the army, and demanded his abdication.

Catherine had great ambitions to reform Russia according to her own highest ideals, but she soon found that the reality of governance made those ideals difficult to achieve. She also found herself tangled in war, rebellion, and (scandalously) smallpox.

Catherine had many lovers during her life, but perhaps none meant so much to her as Grigory Potemkin. Although their romance did not last a lifetime, it did form the basis of a working relationship that would change the face (and future) of Europe.

26x06 Catherine the Great - Succession

  • 2017-03-04T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

The optimism that marked Catherine the Great's early years turned on its head. She oversaw the partition and final dissolution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. She also alienated her son in the same way her own mother once did, leaving him ill-equipped to succeed her.

27x01 Ned Kelly - Becoming a Bushranger

  • Season Premiere

    2017-03-18T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

When Ned Kelly lost his father at a young age, he became the man of the house but didn't know how to support his family. Swept up by the grandiose tales of a visiting bushranger, young Ned decided to give crime a try.

27x02 Ned Kelly - Under Suspicion

  • 2017-03-25T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Ned's second venture as a bushranger brought him to the attention of the local police. He did time in prison, then tried to clean up his act, but became frustrated by the suspicion that continued to dog him.

Ned Kelly and his infamous band of horse thieves tormented the police. It seemed they could not be caught... until Ned fired shots at an officer who wanted to arrest his brother. Ned fled into hiding, and when police pursued him, he ambushed them in their camp at Stringybark Creek.

27x04 Ned Kelly - Kelly Country

  • 2017-04-08T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Hunted by the police, the Kelly Gang decided to strike back instead of hiding. Since he blamed the rich for all his troubles, Ned took aim at the banks and pulled off a pair of brazen robberies that helped win him renown across the countryside.

27x05 Ned Kelly - The Iron Outlaw

  • 2017-04-15T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Ned Kelly sought revenge against the police. He built plate armor and planned to derail their train so he could kill them, but his plan was betrayed and police surrounded him and his hostages. It all came to one final showdown in Glenrowan, Australia.

28x01 Mary Anning - Princess of Paleontology

  • Season Premiere

    2017-04-22T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

"She sells seashells by the seashore." Many have heard this old English rhyme, but few know the true story of the woman who inspired it. Her name was Mary Anning, and she did much more than sell seashells: she discovered some of the very first dinosaur fossils and laid the groundwork for the brand new field of paleontology. But she never got credit for her work.

29x01 The Articles of Confederation - Becoming the United States

  • Season Premiere

    2017-05-06T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

When the thirteen colonies of North America broke away from Great Britain, they struggled to draft their first constitution. After great debate, they created the Articles of Confederation and formed the United States of America.

The Continental Congress sent the Articles of Confederation to the thirteen states for ratification, but Maryland insisted on changes that Virginia rushed to oppose. Meanwhile, the American Revolutionary War raged on.

With the newly United States on the verge of bankruptcy, Congress reaches out to the most able financier in the nation: Robert Morris. His ambitious plans attract the aid of Alexander Hamilton, but fall to ruins when the states abandon him.

The war finally ended and the United States secured their independence from Great Britain, but immediately their Confederation seemed to be on the verge of falling apart. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison teamed up to organize a new convention where all the states would not just reform the Articles of Confederation, but replace them entirely.

30x01 Hunting the Bismarck - The Pride of Germany

  • Season Premiere

    2017-05-11T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

During World War II, the Bismarck was the pride of the German navy - and the nightmare of Great Britain. It was enormous, overpowered, and a constant threat to the seas. So when they got word that the Bismarck had mobilized, the British raced to stop it.

The Bismarck had been sighted, and the British fleet raced to intercept it with their own flagship: the mighty HMS Hood. As Hood and her escort caught up, a harrowing battle between four giant ships ensued.

The order went out: Sink the Bismarck. Ships converged from all over the Atlantic to hunt down the pride of the German navy, and Swordfish planes launched from the aircraft carrier Ark Royal raced to harry the great warship.

Sink the Bismarck. Churchill's orders were simple, but executing them had proved tricky. Admiral Tovey and his hastily summoned handful of ships and planes had one more opportunity to sink the German juggernaut, and they were determined not to waste this chance.

31x01 Kamehameha the Great - The Lonely One

  • Season Premiere

    2017-06-03T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Kamehameha I of Hawaii sought greatness not only for himself but for his people. He rose up in the face of many setbacks and hunted advantages wherever he could find them with an unstoppable determination to form the Kingdom of Hawaii under his rule.

Kamehameha brought the islands together and introduced the first human rights code, the Law of the Splintered Paddle. He continued to trade with Western countries, enriching the islands and enhancing his personal status as leader of the new Kingdom of Hawaii.

32x01 D-Day - The Great Crusade

  • Season Premiere

    2017-06-06T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

D-Day: June 6, 1944, the day when Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy to retake France from the Germans. They hoped to take the Germans by surprise, and their decision to brave rough weather to make their landings certainly accomplished that, but despite these small advantages, the American forces at Utah and Omaha Beach had to overcome monumental challenges to establish a successful beachhead.

32x02 D-Day - The Secret War

  • 2017-06-13T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

The Germans expected the Allies to invade France to re-open the Western Front, but they did not know when or where the invasion would start - thanks largely to the operations of MI5, British intelligence services, who staged an elaborate deception called Operation Bodyguard designed to make the Germans think they would be invading Pas de Calais instead of their real target: Normandy.

32x03 D-Day - La Résistance

  • 2017-06-20T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Although the French government surrendered to the German invasion, French people rose up and formed resistance groups to take their country back. Charles de Gaulle and his Free French took advantage of these independent movements to help organize actions that would greatly aid the Allied landings at Normandy.

32x04 D-Day - The Atlantic Wall

  • 2017-06-29T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

The Germans had established a secure barrier against the Allied invasion of France - or so they believed, until the D-Day landings in Normandy caught them by surprise and the Atlantic Wall quickly fell apart.

33x01 The Bronze Age Collapse - Before the Storm

  • Season Premiere

    2017-06-24T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Egyptians. Hittites. Assyrians. Myceneans. Long ago, these four Bronze Age civilizations lived together in a healthy system of trade, agriculture, and sometimes warfare. But then, everything changed when the Sea People attacked.

Bronze Age societies built intricate networks of trade, advanced military infrastructure, and hugely organized central governments. But when crucial parts of those systems began to disappear, the societies built on them began to crumble.

At last, we have the Sea People: marauders who swept into Bronze Age cities and ground them into dust. But while they're often blamed for the Bronze Age Collapse, were they really its cause? What else must have been going on to cause such illustrious civilizations to crumble?

It started with famine... and ended with four great civilizations' utter destruction. The Bronze Age Collapse is still a matter of scholarly debate, but our favorite theory rests on an understanding of Systems Collapse and how societies build themselves to survive disaster.

34x01 Saragarhi - The Last Stand

  • Season Premiere

    2017-08-05T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

A humble signal station manned by only twenty one Sikh officers of the British Empire finds itself beset by 10,000 attackers. There is no hope for relief, but even knowing it will come at the cost of their lives, the Sikhs refuse to stand down.

35x01 Great Northern War - When Sweden Ruled the World

  • Season Premiere

    2017-08-19T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

A young boy king had inherited the crown of the Swedish Empire, and his neighbors saw an opportunity to attack. To their surprise, young Charles XII of Sweden turned out to be a fearsome opponent who quickly repelled their assaults - and then sought revenge.

35x02 Great Northern War - A Good Plan

  • 2017-08-26T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Augustus the Strong was determined to prove his might by defeated Charles XII on the battlefield. He gathered his Polish-Lithuanian forces, met the Swedes, and proceded to... lose. And lose. And lose. Then he got deposed and started a civil war which of course he also lost.

Flush from his victories against Poland-Lithuania, Charles XII of Sweden sets his eyes on an even greater enemy: Russia. But its ruler, Peter the Great, is no pushover: as the Swedish troops advance, he burns down the countryside and leaves them starving and exposed as a ferocious winter sets in.

35x04 Great Northern War - Clash of Kings

  • 2017-09-16T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Charles XII had gone to the Ukraine hoping for supplies and reinforcements, especially from the cossacks led by Ivan Mazeppa. But Peter the Great was hot on his trail, and had no intention of letting him off that easy.

35x05 Great Northern War - Rise and Fall

  • 2017-09-23T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Charles XII narrowly escaped the Russian pursuit, with help from the Ottoman Empire. But the weak points in his army had been clearly exposed. Northern Europe united against him - but of course, Charles XII responded by launching a fateful counter-offensive into Norway.

36x01 The Collapse of the Carolingian Empire - Echoes of History

  • Season Premiere

    2017-09-30T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

The empire built by Charlemagne would end up divided by his grandsons, all of whom wanted to rule their own piece of it. But the division worked poorly, and may have set a precedent that shaped wars in Western Europe for centuries to come.

37x01 Otto von Bismarck - The Wildman Bismarck

  • Season Premiere

    2017-10-13T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Otto von Bismarck became the greatest statesman of a generation, but he began as an intransigent and irresponsible youth. He coasted through college, got himself thrown out of an early political appointment, and caused havoc with his divisive opinions during a meeting of parliament.

1848. Revolution swept Europe as the working class rose up to claim their freedoms from an oppressive ruling class. But as a member of that ruling class, Bismarck had some resistance to this movement. He channeled his wild energy into productive avenues, gradually becoming the man of realpolitik that we know today.

37x03 Otto von Bismarck - Iron and Blood

  • 2017-10-28T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

Bismarck was just starting to get the hang of diplomacy when the throne of Prussia passed to a new Frederick Wilhelm who promptly sent him away to Russia. But then Bismarck got tapped to serve as the Head of Government and began pushing for his great project: the unification of Germany.

Bismarck turned up the heat on his long-term plan to unite the German Confederation under Prussian leadership. He allied with Austria to seize a piece of disputed land, then maneuvered them into a war that he decisively won. Even an assassination attempt could not stop him.

The northern German states now looked to Prussia for leadership, but that power brought increased attention from their enemies. Bismarck engineered a war with France by striking at Napoleon III's pride and wound up winning a runaway victory to secure Prussia's diplomatic power.

37x06 Otto von Bismarck - Germany!

  • 2017-11-18T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

You would think that capturing the Emperor of France would end the war, but... no. Who could Bismarck negotiate with? Eventually he forced an interim government to cave to his demands, and at the same time convinced the rest of the German states to unite with Prussia.

38x01 Berlin Airlift - The Cold War Begins

  • Season Premiere

    2017-12-07T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Tension between the Soviet Union and their former World War 2 Allies escalated into a hostile blockade of Berlin. All sides wanted to avoid another war, but the United States, Great Britain, and France refused to bend to Stalin's pressure. They came up with a daring plan to supply Berlin by air.

39x01 Khosrau Anushirawan - Like Father, Like Son

  • Season Premiere

    2017-12-09T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Khosrau Anushirawan ushered in a golden age of Iran, but only after his father Kavadh suffered through the near collapse of the empire. Once he broke free from a controlling minister and radical religious reformer, Kavadh realized that the empire needed to change.

Kavadh asked his allies in Eastern Rome for help getting Iran back on its feet. The Romans' replies were not only unhelpful - they were insulting. By the time Khosrau inherited the throne, resentment and war had turned the delicate alliance with Rome into an open rivalry.

Once the chaos settled, Khosrau enjoyed an unprecedented era of peace. He brought reform to the army and the economy, invested in a great center of learning, imported knowledge from around the world, and earned his new title of "The Immortal Soul."

Iran and Rome had agreed to an Eternal Peace, but tensions between them proved too great and Khosrau decided to invade while Justinian's guard was down. His army swept into Rome practically unopposed, and he made a mockery of Justinian at every opportunity while treating himself to a grand old time pillaging and parading across the Roman border.

Plague had brought an end to Khosrau's war against Justinian, but Justinian's nephew soon reignited the rivalry. Khosrau was at the peak of his political power and eager to crush this young upstart personally... but old age had also crept up on him.

40x01 WW1 Christmas Truce - Silent Night

  • Season Premiere

    2017-12-17T16:00:00Z — 11 mins

On Christmas Eve in 1914, soldiers in the trenches sang together across the wastes of No Man's Land. Some were brave enough to step out of their trenches and meet face-to-face, forming an unofficial truce that lasted (with a few blemishes) until the end of Christmas Day.

"Yesterday there was a fierce and terrible onslaught... of Christmas packages into our trenches." So began one soldier's letter home after the Christmas Truce of WWI. These letters give us a peek at the joys and sorrows experienced by troops on deployment, from the pleasure of a surprise holiday truce to the pain of being too long apart from families.

41x01 Cheng I Sao - Pirate Queen

  • Season Premiere

    2018-01-27T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

She was the most ferocious pirate China had ever known. She was a powerful fleet commander, a sharp businesswoman, and a consummate strategist. She was Cheng I Sao, leader of the Pirate Confederation, and she lived her life on her terms.

42x01 Cuban Missile Crisis - The Failed Checkmate

  • Season Premiere

    2018-02-15T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

An eye for an eye, a missile for a missile--that's how the saying goes, right? So thought the Soviet Union and the United States in the early fall of 1962, kicking off a 13-day staring contest that scared the world.

After President Kennedy's television address, tensions are rising. Fidel Castro is getting annoyed at the US and Soviet Union alike, and everyone else has their own ideas on what retaliation looks like.

With simultaneous nuclear tests by both the US and Russia, and tense miscommunications among troops on the ground, in the air, and on the water, the doomsday clock ticked to 11:59 PM for one fateful day.

43x01 Genghis Khan - Temüjin the Child

  • Season Premiere

    2018-02-17T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

As a child, Temüjin was afraid of the world, saddened by its cruelty and an outcast from his own tribe. But his mother, Hoelun, passed on her risk-taking personality to him, a boy who would one day become the famed conqueror Genghis Khan.

When Temüjin needed help to find his kidnapped wife, Börte, his blood brother and friend Jamukha came to his aid, and the two eventually combined their camps and families. But peace would not last long...

Jamukha and Temüjin were officially fighting for control of the Mongolian steppes, appointing themselves the titles of "khan." But each man practiced wildly different strategies to gain prestige--Jamukha showed no mercy, but Temüjin took a more egalitarian route.

43x04 Genghis Khan - Khan of All Mongols

  • 2018-03-10T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Temüjin had a plan: a set of strategies to keep amassing wealth and followers for himself while keeping unity between all the disparate Mongol tribes he was collecting. But Jamukha and Ong Khan had other plans...

The man now known as Genghis Khan, leader of all Mongols, was ready to show the world what he was made of. He acted in fairness towards his own people and happily began integrating Chinese citizens and their culture, but showed no mercy to those who opposed him.

Genghis Khan wanted to establish a long-lasting legacy of conquering and growth for the Mongols, but at what cost? Even his own sons fought each other for the throne. Would peace truly last in the lands he had conquered?

44x01 The Danelaw - Alfred vs. Guthrum

  • Season Premiere

    2018-04-05T15:00:00Z — 10 mins

The Vikings moved from Scandinavia to the coasts of Britain, intent on establishing a new kingdom by any blood necessary. What they probably didn't expect was that one of their own leaders, Guthrum, and the local king, Alfred, would end up cooperating on the creation of a kingdom for the Danes.