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This past week, like many I suspect, I went back to my small square-of-a-cubicle at my day job to get on with ‘regular work’.
That’s always tough, and, despite hitting the weights, yoga, meditation, going to see the new Hobbit movie, and all other manner of uplifting activities, fighting those back-to-work doldrums can make you feel like a lone centurion facing down a Parthian cavalry charge. One thing that I’ve always found is that getting lost in your favourite period of history can wipe out the New Year blues and make you feel like you have some reinforcements at your back. Today I wanted to share with you some of my very favourite documentary series to help temper your own version of cubicle-itis, and get you through the next few weeks as we step into the jaws of Winter (at least in the northern hemisphere). Remember, we’re dealing with history here, and most people don’t have very fond memories of their school history classes.
I can’t stand it when a television presenter is overly academic, snooty, blustery, or arrogant. And so, the following shows are on my list not only because of the fascinating topics, but also for the quality of the hosts, their respect and passion for the subject matter. For me, Michael Wood has presented some of the most fascinating documentary series since the late 70s.
My absolute favourite Michael Wood documentary, however, is his magnificent series entitled In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great.
In this three-part series, we journey with Michael along the entire route taken by Alexander’s army all the way from Macedon and Greece, to Tyre and Egypt, through war zones controlled by the Taliban to the Hindu Kush on into India and back.
At the time of filming, Wood was unable to visit the battlefield of Gaugamela, but after the second Iraq war, he returned to the area to film a follow-up documentary called Alexander’s Greatest Battle which is also well worth a look. If you watch any of these videos, and have an interest in Alexander the Great, In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great is the one I recommend you watch.
Next up we have another British historian and broadcaster whose list of documentary credits is just as astounding as Michael Wood’s, perhaps even more varied. Bettany Hughes has done documentaries on ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and she’s looked at Helen of Troy and Nefertiti, Atlantis, ancient engineering, Democracy, and sex in the ancient world. She has that passion that is so essential to teaching history, and she doesn’t sugar-coat the past.
The reason I’ve put Adam Hard Davis on this list is because his BBC series, What the Romans did for Us, is the most interesting documentary series I’ve ever seen that looks at the practical side of the Roman world. In this series, Adam shows us numerous inventions and innovations to come out of the Empire. He has done several shows on the ancient world, but the one that introduced me to him remains, for me, his very best. Watching Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is a wonder-full journey to these magnificent sites that have captivated the human imagination for ages. Some people might think of Romer as melodramatic, but I think he is more passionate than anything. This next presenter is relatively new to the history documentary scene compared with those I have mentioned above, but when I first saw one of his shows, I knew he would be an ancient history documentarian who would get a whole new generation of students interested in history.
His most recent series is called Roman Britain from the Air, which began airing last month. Most of his documentaries are about ancient Greece, however, and the one that I wanted to mention here is his three-part series Ancient Greece: The Greatest Show on Earth. If you want to learn a lot about ancient Greece, in a fascinating and entertaining way, you should definitely watch Michael Scott’s series. My last entry here is not an academic or historian, but he sure was an entertainer, and sometimes larger than life. One of my primary refuges from the madness of the world is the Arthurian realm, and so I could not offer up this list of blues-chasing documentaries without mentioning my favourite Arthurian documentary. Many of you may have seen Richard Harris in the first couple of Harry Potter movies as Professor Albus Dumbledore.
The latter was the reason he was chosen to host this single documentary on Britain’s most famous hero. Rather than seeking to tear down or dismiss the theories about an historical Arthur, this documentary looks at the real possibilities and evidence for the existence of Arthur. This documentary is about the search for the person who may have been the historical Arthur, the Romano-British warlord who held off the Saxons for a brief time in the early sixth century A.D. What I love about this documentary are the visits to Tintagel Castle, and South Cadbury Castle, as well as the digital recreations of these and other sites. As I mentioned in that post, I had been working as an archaeologist on the dig there, which happened to be during the time of the filming of Arthur: King of the Britons!

Unfortunately (well, sort of unfortunately), I was in Greece when the film crew and Richard Harris showed up at the site. Richard Harris is legend, and so what better actor than one who has played Arthur, to present this documentary. So there you have it, a selection of magnificent history documentaries, presented by engaging and knowledgeable hosts, to get you through the winter months. Also, if you have any of your favourite documentaries or hosts you would like to share with everyone here, please do tell us in the comments. This entry was tagged Adam Hart Davis, ancient Greece, ancient history, archaeology, BBC, Bettany Hughes, Dark Ages, documentarians, documentary, drama, History Channel, John Romer, King Arthur, Michael Scott, Michael Wood, presenters, Richard Harris, Romans, Spartans, travel.
You have listed two of my favourite presenters of all time — Michael Woods and Bettany Hughes ?? and have watched all of their documentaries. For more than 20 years, historian and broadcaster Michael Wood has made compelling journeys into the past, which have brought history alive for a generation of readers and viewers. Michael was born in Manchester and educated at Manchester Grammar School and Oriel College Oxford, where he did post-graduate research in Anglo-Saxon history.
In this lavishly illustrated companion to his BBC TV series, Michael Wood weaves a spellbinding narrative out of the 10,000-year history of India.
From the Khyber Pass and the Himalayas to the tropical jungles of India's Deep South, this original and striking survey of Indian history provides vivid portraits of India's regions and cultures, and new insights into some of history's greatest figures: the Buddha and Ashoka, Samudragupta and Akbar the Great, Nehru and Gandhi. Maya Vision International is a London-based independent film and television production company, founded in 1983. The Story of India is made possible by contributions from viewers such as yourself and also by Patak's Indian foods. The BBC’s serialisation of Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies is proving grippingly good. Michael Wood has taken an interest in Mary Arden since at least 2001 when he filmed his biographical series “Searching for Shakespeare” (released on DVD). In his book of the series, Michael Wood explained: “The story of a person’s life begins before he or she is born.
I’ve recently seen Mary’s father Robert described as a “peasant farmer”, but this is far from the case. Robert Arden farmed 150 acres of land in Wilmcote owned by Lord Abergavenny and owned farmland in the village of Snitterfield which was rented by the Shakespeares. The known facts about Mary Arden’s life are few: it’s thought she was born between 1536 and 1538, just the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and when each parish was instructed to acquire a copy of the Bible in English. We know quite a lot about Robert Arden’s finances because he made a will, and the inventory of his goods survives. The house that was the subject of the inventory still stands, and from 14 March 2015 will be open for the summer.  In the late 1990s the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust commissioned a number of reports on the documentary and physical evidence for the house. This entry was posted in Shakespeare's World, Stratford-upon-Avon and tagged Mary Arden, Michael Wood, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Tudor, Wolf Hall. Yes I can’t understand why Robert Arden would be described as a peasant farmer when he was obviously doing rather well. Michael and Rebecca with their daughters were regular visitors to Mary Arden’s long before he filmed there in 2001. Saw the programme, beautifully researched and shot, As usual Michael Wood, did not disappoint. The combination of knowledge, travel log, archaeological discovery, and ancient innovation always fills a void and reignites my passion for history. His In Search of series covers everything from the Myths and Heroes, to the Dark Ages, Anglo-Saxon England, and Shakespeare. There are times when Wood was in danger too, but he is intrepid and curious, and you really get a feel for what the journey might have been like, visiting landscapes which few people will ever see in person. Just recently she was tweeting out from modern Georgia and the land of Medea and the Golden Fleece where she was shooting for a new show.
This three-part series provides a fantastic look at the nature of Spartan society, its past glories, and its downfall. And the cool thing is that these are all things that we still use in some way, shape or form today. Rather he gets up close and personal with the ruins, the landscape, and the people who lived in those places. He’ll admire the grand design and architecture, but also the fine details of a hidden relief that decorates a forgotten piece of history.

He is very knowledgeable, and has great passion for the subject matter he is talking about.
Not having studied ancient Greek theatre, it came as something of a surprise that ancient Greek drama was so closely linked to the birth of Democracy, and that it played such an essential, pivotal role in ancient Greek society. Personally, I liked him as the Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the movie Gladiator, and King Richard the Lionheart in the movie Robin and Marian.
This is a wonderful documentary of this myth, history and archaeological discoveries surrounding the person of Arthur.
He is cool, captivating, and powerful as he tries to unravel the mythical Arthur, and bring us face-to-face with the Arthur of history. He is the author of several highly praised books on English history including In Search of the Dark Ages, The Domesday Quest, in Search of England and In Search of Shakespeare.
Home today to more than a fifth of the world's population, the subcontinent gave birth to the oldest and most influential civilization on Earth, to four world religions, and to the world's largest democracy. It explores the ways in which Indian ideas and inventions have shaped the history of the world, and shows how some of ancient India's conclusions about the nature of civilization have lost none of their relevance for our own times. Specializing in producing original, landmark documentaries, Maya Vision has developed a unique style, making some of the world's greatest stories accessible to a wider public. She has produced much of Maya Vision's output with Michael Wood and many other film-makers. My husband, Richard Morris, was for many years Chief Guide at Mary Arden’s House, in Wilmcote and he has supplied me with the following information.
It’s going to be interesting to see what evidence Michael Wood is going to give us about the education of a typical woman of her time.
And the human stories behind the history never fail to make that Parthian cavalry charge feel smaller and more manageable. However, the most fascinating of this series, for me, and for many archaeologists I know, is the six-part In Search of the Trojan War. If you look at the range of his work, you’ll see that he covers a wide range of topics besides history. There are all sorts of wonderful surprises in this fantastic series, hosted by a man who loves what he does and has a child-like curiosity and enthusiasm that is truly contagious. Actually, Richard Harris rarely ever disappointed in any of his film roles over the years of his magnificent career, including as King Arthur in the film version of the musical Camelot.
He has over 80 documentary films to his name, among them Art of the Western World, Legacy, In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great, Conquistadors and In Search of Myths and Heroes.
Now, as India bids to become a global giant, Michael sets out to trace the roots of India's present in the incredible riches of her past.
In particular, they have been widely praised for combing accurate historical research with visually arresting and genuinely intriguing television. The Maya Vision team includes Sally Thomas, who has the unenviable task of ensuring the smooth running of the operation that is Maya Vision International and John Cranmer, their resident graphics and computer supremo. Professor Christopher Dyer wrote “We know that Robert Arden, Mary Arden’s father, was already a person of some substance when he paid 6s 8d to join the Stratford Guild in 1517”, and in 1538 “Robert was playing a prominent role in the religious fraternity at Aston Cantlow, which would suggest an important person in village society”. The investigations showed that the house previously known as Glebe Farm, 50 yards along the road, was actually Robert Arden’s house and the one traditionally known as Mary Arden’s House was a later building owned by Adam Palmer. I borrowed the book on the series and was even more impressed with the detail of Michael Wood’s research. His most recent work is the epic 6 part television series The Story of India which aired on BBC2 in August 2007.
Their international documentary series, often filmed in remote, developing and sometimes hostile countries throughout the world, reflect their innovative and creative approach to production. Mary had eight children, three of whom died young, and went through many family disasters and tragedies.
In this interview with The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur Wood reveals the truth behind the “us vs. By an amazing coincidence the SBT had acquired Glebe Farm to prevent development of the site, but it was the wonderfully-atmospheric Palmers Farm that Michael Wood used for his filming. If you’d like to read up, here’s a link to an article about Shakespeare written by Michael Wood.

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