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SUNY Old Westbury Library, Old Westbury, NY 11658
Documentaries: streaming online video documentaries accessible directly through this page.
Byzantium: From Splendor to Ruin
This program covers the founding of Constantinople as a second Rome, its flowering when the Roman Empire in the West was shattered, its gradual decline under the impact of Normans, Turks, Venetians, and the Crusades, and finally, its fall in 1453. The program describes the history, art, and religious significance of Byzantium, its attempts to restore the Roman Empire, its influence in the West, and its heritage. (43 minutes)
Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire
Out of the ashes of the Roman Empire rose the Holy Roman Empire, born during Christmas of 800 in the Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome. This program covers the antecedents and the life of Charlemagne, shows life at the court, life of the courtiers and of the peasants, recounts the battle of Roncevaux—site of the epic Chanson de Roland—and counterpoints the glories of the Carolingian Renaissance with the everyday realities of hunger, plague, and constant violence. The program concludes with the first of Europe’s major confrontations between empire and church, in this instance between Henry IV and Gregory VII. (31 minutes)
The Clash of Titans: The Crusades
n this program, Dr. Thomas Asbridge offers a trenchant examination of the Third Crusade and the two renowned figures who have come to embody Crusader war: Richard the Lionheart and the Muslim sultan Saladin. Drawing on eyewitness accounts and historical records, Asbridge constructs a nuanced portrait of the two leaders and their fierce struggle to claim the Holy Land—a battle that he says brought them to their knees even as it served to forge their legends. A BBC Production. Part of the series The Crusades. (50 minutes).
Knights and Nobles
This program surveys the courtly culture of armored knights, their duties and privileges, and their significance in the religious and political conflicts of the Middle Ages. Presided over by royalty, knights formed an elite caste with a code of honor steeped in the arts of hand-to-hand combat and chivalry. Knights and Nobles examines their everyday customs, coats of arms, weaponry, and—with the help of an elaborate historical reconstruction—the castles which sheltered them between campaigns. The program climaxes with the Battle of Crecy in 1346, which initiated infantry-style warfare and effectively ended knighthood in the military sense. Portions are in other languages with English subtitles. (53 minutes)
The Medieval Mind Series
The philosophy, art, literature, and theology of Western Civilization can find their roots in the fervent and fertile Middle Ages. This four-part series helps belie the notion of the Dark Ages by examining the complex worldview of the medieval mind through its religious personages, institutions, and poetry. Original BBC broadcast series title: A Strange Landscape. 4-part series, 50 minutes each
Monks: Keepers of Knowledge
As hubs of spiritual and scientific activity, monasteries were the information centers of the Middle Ages. This program explores the varying missions—and the often-cloaked thoughts and feelings—of the medieval monk, within the larger context of the era’s highly regulated and intrigue-ridden religious life. With a focus on the interaction of European and Arab cultures, as well as the importance of libraries and pre-Christian texts, the program’s discussions of medicine, mathematics, astronomy, law, and philosophy portray monastic life as full and surprisingly worldly: not only the zenith of introspection, but an arena of passion, exploration, and power struggle. Portions are in other languages with English subtitles. (53 minutes)
Mystic Women of the Middle Ages Series
From the 12th century to the 15th, women throughout Europe dedicated their lives to God by founding communes, becoming anchoresses, and even leading armies. In the course of doing so, many challenged the medieval Church and its male hierarchy, and as a result, some were recognized for their contributions while others were labeled as heretics. This six-part series presents the legacy of medieval women who challenged society through their visions, teachings, and writings, and who continue to provoke discussion today. 6-part series, 24 minutes each.
Peasants, Serfs, and Servitude
During the Middle Ages, most of Europe’s inhabitants were illiterate and lived in the shadow of the wealthy; knowledge of peasant culture is therefore limited. This program addresses the historical lack of firsthand written materials, viewing serfs and servants through the eyewitness accounts of a fictitious traveler. Although a peasant farmer’s daily existence was indeed oppressive, defined by taxation and compulsory military service to the ruling noble, the program details innovations of the era—including the horse-drawn iron plough and the three-field planting system—amounting to an agricultural revolution that set the stage for a heavily populated, modern Europe. Portions are in other languages with English subtitles. (53 minutes)
Vikings and Normans
The Vikings were farmers and food gatherers, fierce and violent in battle, with family and clan loyalties that lasted beyond life. This program covers the Viking sea prowess and explorations: Viking influences in England and Scotland, trade with the Far East 300 years before Marco Polo and the discovery of America 500 years before Columbus, the Viking presence as far as the Black Sea, and encounters between Slavs and Vikings. The program also covers the Normans—Vikings who had conquered northern France and adopted both Christianity and the French language—and their establishment of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily; the Norman conquest of England in 1066; and the Magna Carta and its effects. The program concludes with the final barbarian invasions of Europe by the Magyars. (37 minutes)