For the last few weeks I have been listening religiously to the Fall of Civilizations Podcast which I discovered also has this same podcast in a YouTube video version. I’m likely to go back and watch all these videos when I have a chance, because the story Paul Cooper (@PaulMMCooper) tells is clear, detailed and illustrated with relevant pictures of artifacts, and readings from the period and from the people who discovered the ruins.
My favorite after listening to 13 of the 15 podcasts available so far, is The Aztecs: A Clash of Worlds. Cooper starts with the 1978 discovery of the Aztec ruins by a group of workmen digging through the asphalt in a residential part of Mexico City, which was built on top of the ruins of the capital city of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlán and Lake Texcoco that once surrounded it. Apparently they uncovered the image of the god of the Aztecs. I immediately realized how the entire civilization and its capital city had been treated as if it was not important, building a city on top of it, and now all had forgotten where it was.
Cooper always starts with that discovery of the ruins, whenever that happened. For example he speaks of how Xenophon’s telling of how he and some Greek mercenaries fighting in the area, ran across the ruins of the Assyrians, first Nimrud and then Nineveh. Then he goes back in geological times, for example, 60 million years ago when the dinosaurs roamed the earth until a meteor hit the coast of southern Mexico. Cooper smoothly takes the listener from that event to the evolution of humans. He includes the entire history of the earth and man that is relevant to the story of the Aztecs, as he does for each of the civilizations he is discussing.
With this approach he sets the context in which he can tell the story about the rise of the civilization as well its fall. For the Aztecs the human story in Mexico starts before the end of the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago when a stone age people arrived in the valley of Mexico. When the ice age ended, the worlds of the Eurasians and Americans also ended as the bridge between these two worlds disappeared, but as Cooper says, this story is about how those two worlds meet again. The story develops showing why the Aztecs end up with its capital in the middle of a lake.
Another important story-telling technique used by Cooper is that he describes the life of key players in the rise and fall of each civilization. In the podcast about the Aztecs, Cooper explains what is known about the upbringing of several of the key Mexica kings, as a lead up to how they obtained power, considering the challenges most had with multiple siblings with whom to compete for the role of king. Most importantly, the life story of Hernán Cortés is summarized with key details added, like his life on Hispaniola and Cuba prior to his rapid departure for the coast of Mexico after Velázquez, Governor of Cuba, revoked his permission to leave. This added an important piece to the entire story about the Aztec conquest by Cortés.
Once the geologic, economic, political and personal backgrounds have been revealed, Cooper tells the story of the rise and fall of the civilization using reading actors for the long quotes he frequently takes from the sources. The story of the Aztecs is one of the longest of the series of 15 episodes so far, at more than four hours, so I’m not going through the entire story for you here. I’m just using that particular 9th episode as an example of many others I’m sure you’ll also enjoy including stories about the rise and fall of:
- The Roman Britains
- The bronze-age civilizations
- The Mayans
- The Greenland Vikings
- The Khmer empire
- The Easter Island builders of stone statues
- The Songhai empire
- The Sumerians
- The Han dynasty
- The Byzantium empire
- The Incas
- The Vijayanagara
- The Nabataeans
I’ve learned more from these podcasts, than any history course I ever had, so consider offering it to your children too. I think they’ll enjoy it and get a better appreciation for history from listening to even one of these podcasts.