Watch Engineering an Empire

"Engineering an Empire" (2006) was a documentary series on The History Channel. It focused on the various technological and architectural achievements made by various societies. Peter Weller was the narrator. The show began life as a one-shot describing the engineering prowess of the ancient Romans, but later became a series. It portrayed technological feats of such societies as the ancient Egyptians, the Chinese, and the Aztecs.

Mondays at 9:00 pm on History
1 Season, 14 Episodes
October 9, 2006
Reality, Documentary & Biography
8.3/10
Cast: Peter Weller, Michael Carroll
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Engineering an Empire Full Episode Guide

  • The thirst for power shared by all Roman emperors fueled an unprecedented mastery of engineering and labor. Learn about the engineering feats that set the Roman Empire apart from the rest of the ancient world.

  • Brilliance and brutality. Intellect and intrigue. Christianity and carnage.As much of the world descended into the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome, one civilization shone brilliantly: the Byzantine Empire. With ruthless might and supreme ingenuity, the Byzantines ruled over vast swaths of Europe and Asia for more than a thousand years. A bridge to antiquity, it was Byzantium that preserved the classical learning and science that would one day give rise to the Renaissance.Led by rulers who exercised absolute power and architects who pushed beyond Rome's engineering marvels, the Byzantines constructed the ancient world's longest aqueduct, virtually invincible city walls, a massive stadium, and a colossal domed cathedral that defied the laws of nature.The Byzantine Empire was the dominant civilization during the Dark Ages. But after a millennium of rule, its engineering feats would betray them - as an ancient light was extinguished in the glare of modern warfare.

  • For over 4000 years, the world's greatest empires have come and gone. Only one has survived the test of time: China.Century after century, China's regal emperors mobilized immense peasant armies to accomplish engineering feats unparalleled in human history.Among the groundbreaking innovations of the ancient Chinese were the world's longest canal, its most complex and effective irrigation system, and a naval fleet mightier than all those of Europe combined-but, none can compare to the colossal 4,000-mile wall that stands as the most ambitious construction project ever built.From such heights came spectacular death spirals, as dynasty after dynasty-consumed by vanity and greed-was stripped of power by the people it had ruled.

  • "The sun never sets on the British Empire" - for years, these words of pride and optimism were used to describe the largest empire in history: Britain. At its pinnacle, the empire spanned every continent and covered one quarter of the Earth's land mass.Through the centuries, the rulers of this enormous powerhouse used extraordinary engineering feats to become an industrial and military titan, loaded with riches.Some of their many pioneering accomplishments include the world's first locomotive, a superhighway of underground sewers, the imposing and grand Westminster Palace, and the most powerful and technically advanced navy in the age of sail.As scandal, violence and drama consumed British royalty at home, the empire surged ahead with these works of engineering innovation that paved the way for the modern world.

  • At the height of its power this empire stretched across 15 times zones, incorporated nearly 160 different ethnicities, and made up one sixth of the entire world's landmass. An Empire that started as a few small principalities was shaped into an indomitable world power by the sheer force of its larger than life rulers. From the beginning, these visionaries engineered Russia's empire, adapting foreign technologies to seize power, capture territory, increase trade, and build greater and grander symbols of Russia's imperial progress.But building the infrastructure of this Empire came at an enormous price - Russia's history is littered with the bodies of the serfs and slaves who built her crowning achievements. The bigger the Empire grew the more resources and human life it consumed. For Russia's peasants, constructing a modern Russian Empire didn't mean progress; it meant more tax, more war, more work - and death. As Russia entered the 20th century, her expansion reached critical mass as her iron willed rulers pushed progress at an unsustainable pace and her population reacted in a revolution that changed the history of the world forever.From the Moscow Kremlin, to the building of St. Petersburg, to the Trans-Siberian railroad, this episode will examine the architecture and infrastructure that enabled the rise and fall of the Russian Empire.

  • The story of the Aztec empire is one wrapped in myth and legend. In less than 200 years they transformed themselves from a band of wandering nomads to the greatest civilization the New World had ever known. What records remain of this amazing feat indicate they did it through brilliant military campaigns and by ingeniously applying technology to master the harsh environment they faced. They built their capital city where no city should have been possible: in the middle of a lake. They quickly transformed marshes into rich agricultural land surrounding an urban center that rivaled any city in the world at the time. They called it Tenochtitlan. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived there in 1519, and saw its gleaming pyramids, temples and places, grand canals filled with boats, enormous causeways crossing miles of lake from the mainland with aqueducts bringing fresh running water to the massive city, they actually thought they were dreaming.But they also practiced human sacrifice on an unprecedented scale, at one time dispatching 20,000 victims at a single temple dedication ceremony. They also made many enemies. By the time the Spaniards landed they had no trouble recruiting tribal allies to destroy the Aztecs and that they did just that with amazing speed leveling Tenochtitlan completely to build their colonial capital, Mexico City, on the rubble.From the remains of the Great Temple in Mexico City, to the construction of their Venice of the New World, this episode will examine the architecture and infrastructure behind the New World's greatest, and last, indigenous society.

  • Western Civilization has been influenced by many cultures, from Rome to America, but it was born in Ancient Greece. Centuries before Julius Caesar conquered much of the known world, the Ancient Greeks were laying a foundation that has supported nearly 3000 years of European history. Ancient Greece brings to mind philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates, Olympian gods, the beginnings of democracy, great conquering armies like those of Alexander the Great, and savage internecine battles, none more famous than the duel to the death between Athens and Sparta.Greece is a story about the human drive to explore, to wonder, to be curious. Their ruins now communicate that drive. Over 1000 years, this strong and charismatic people strategically harnessed the materials and people around them to create the most advanced technological feats the world had ever seen.From The Tunnel of Samos: a mile-long aqueduct dug through a large mountain of solid limestone, to Agamemnon's Tomb, to The Parthenon, this episode will examine the architecture and infrastructure engineered by the Greek Empire.

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