Succession Star Brian Cox Tells the Entire Histories of Ancient Greece and Rome in 20 Minutes Each

Spoil­er alert: The death of Logan Roy the week­end before last marked the end of an era. Or at the very least, it was notable for occa­sion­ing, in the Los Ange­les Times, per­haps the first news­pa­per obit­u­ary of a fic­tion­al char­ac­ter. Roy was the mogul-patri­arch at the cen­ter of the hit black com­e­dy-dra­ma Suc­ces­sion, which is now approach­ing the end of its fourth and final sea­son on HBO. Bri­an Cox’s per­for­mance in that role had much to do with the suc­cess of Suc­ces­sion, so to speak, not least because he clear­ly under­stood that, for all its of-the-moment ref­er­ences, the series’ nar­ra­tive is deeply root­ed in con­cepts like dynasty and empire, which them­selves extend way back to antiq­ui­ty.

Antiq­ui­ty hap­pens to be the sub­ject of two videos Cox nar­rat­ed, just before the pre­miere of Suc­ces­sion, for the Youtube chan­nel Arza­mas. “Ancient Greece in 18 Min­utes” and “Ancient Rome in 20 Min­utes” deliv­er just what their titles promise, brief but clear and well-informed primers on the clas­si­cal civ­i­liza­tions that mod­ern West­ern­ers have long thought of as the pre­cur­sors to their own.

Of course, there were no sin­gle, con­tin­u­ous polit­i­cal or geo­graph­i­cal enti­ties called “Ancient Greece” and “Ancient Rome”; rather, those names refer to large regions of the world in which city-states rise and fell — as their very nature and rela­tion­ships with one anoth­er changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly — over a peri­od of cen­turies upon cen­turies.

To these acclaimed videos Cox brings his sig­na­ture irrev­er­ence-laced grav­i­tas. At the very end of “Ancient Greece in 18 Min­utes,” he tells of the Byzan­tine Empire, “which extend­ed the life of Greek cul­ture anoth­er thou­sand years — leav­ing us the weird Russ­ian alpha­bet, for instance.” This line is fun­nier if you know that Arza­mas is a Russ­ian chan­nel that has also put up videos on Russ­ian his­to­ry and cul­ture: the one on the coun­try’s twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry art just above, for instance, which Cox also nar­rates. Rus­sia has inher­it­ed ele­ments of the ancient Greek and Roman civ­i­liza­tions, as have oth­er dis­tant lands like the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. And wher­ev­er we live, we can laugh at Cox’s obser­va­tion that “if an ancient Greek were to see mod­ern democ­ra­cy, he would say just one word: oli­garchy” — a form of rule Logan Roy knew all about.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Intro­duc­tion to Ancient Greek His­to­ry: A Free Online Course from Yale

A Vir­tu­al Tour of Ancient Athens: Fly Over Clas­si­cal Greek Civ­i­liza­tion in All Its Glo­ry

The Rise & Fall of Roman Civ­i­liza­tion: Every Year Shown in a Time­lapse Map Ani­ma­tion (753 BC ‑1479 AD)

An 8‑Minute Ani­mat­ed Flight Over Ancient Rome

A Vir­tu­al Tour of Ancient Rome, Cir­ca 320 CE: Explore Stun­ning Recre­ations of The Forum, Colos­se­um and Oth­er Mon­u­ments

An Archive of Animations/Cartoons of Ancient Greece & Rome: From the 1920s Through Today

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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