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Documentary looking at the concept of luxury in ancient Greece, from its role in democracy's origins in Athens to its denial in Sparta.

Luxury isn't just a question of expensive and the beautiful objects for the rich and the powerful. It has always been much more, and much more important, than that, especially in the ancient and medieval worlds.

This first episode follows the debate about luxury which convulsed ancient Greece from the beginning of the classical era. In Athens, it explores the role of luxury in the beginnings of democracy - how certain kinds of luxury came to be forbidden, and others embraced. A simple luxury like meat could unite the democracy, and yet a taste for fish could divide it. Some luxuries were associated with effeminacy and foreigners. Others with the very idea of democracy.

Yet in Sparta there was a determined attempt to deny luxury, and the guilty contradictions of this eventually brought what had been the most powerful state in Greece to its downfall. When Sparta was replaced by the Macedon of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, the absolute luxury of his court set new standards for luxury as political propaganda. Yet the guilty anxiety of ancient Greece could not be suppressed and still affects our ideas of luxury today.

First shown: 27 Jun 2011
Available for 17 days Why? Duration 60 mins