Episode 1: Civilisation 

Dr. Amanda Foreman travels to a range of countries including Turkey, Siberia, and Greece, as she explores the history of women from the earliest urban settlements to the sprawling empires of the classical world. Tackling many of the subjects ignored by traditional history, Amanda investigates the origins of patriarchy, the silencing of women, the rise of the veil, the truth behind the Amazons, and the possibility of female agency in the ancient world. 

Civilisation has given us extraordinary advances: law and commerce – science and art. But what does it look like from the point of view of women?  In this episode, Amanda travels across the globe from the Fertile Crescent to the Eurasian Steppes, looking at the earliest civilisations in order to understand how and why the status of women declined as humanity became richer, more powerful, and more urbanized.  Along the way she asks some profound questions about the nature of power and the future of equality.

In Anatolia, Amanda visits Catalhöyük, one of the world’s earliest settlements, where archaeologists believe that men and women lived in relative equality.  Moving on to the so-called Cradle of Civilization (Mesopotamia), she explores the history of women’s relationship with the written word, as well as the effect of the world’s first legal codes on their freedom and status. Subjects include divorce, adultery, abortion, and the first veiling law in 1350BC – two millennia before the advent of Islam.  Across Europe and the Near East, she highlights some of the extraordinary women who left their mark in history.  

These include Enheduanna, the world’s first recorded author; the nomadic priestess, the Ukok Ice Maiden, one of the great archaeological discoveries of the 20th century; and Hatshepsut, one of ancient Egypt’s most successful, but most maligned ruling Queens. Crucially, she also explores the darker legacy of gender inequality in ancient Greece, whose ideas on female inferiority have cast such a long and baleful shadow over women’s lives.  Amanda argues that it is time to eject the old idea of equating civilization with patriarchy; one doesn’t have to mean the other.

Highlights include Amanda holding the 3,000 year-old Assyrian law tablet that was responsible for introducing the long and problematic history of the veil.

Photographs from the Episode 1