By: Mike Duncan
Free for download on iTunes or on the website:
I figure that a history podcast falls within the scope of this blog.
The History of Rome (a.k.a. THoR) is a podcast about, what else, the history of Rome. In the space of 179-and-a-bit episodes, Mike Duncan covers it all. Well actually, not all. He begins with Aeneas and the story of Romulus and Remus and covers the intertwined stories of the Western and Eastern empires up through to the deposition of Romulus Agustulus–the end of the Western Empire.
For a good podcast and an audiobook that continues the coverage of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) look for the works of Lars Brownworth. He has a podcast titled 12 Byzantine Rulers, and a book/audiobook titled Lost to the West. I highly recommend them both.
The first 10 episodes or so of THoR are a little rough, as Mike was just getting started podcasting. However, he soon gets the hang of it. He started the podcast to help distill and organize the minutiae of the various battles and political history of the Romans. This he does very successfully. Without being dry and brief, Mike covers a lot of the big names and battles. He also throws in interesting facts about lesser known events, amusing anecdotes, interesting quotations sourced from primary documents, and the odd quirks of Roman life.
For example, ever heard of the Sacred Chickens? No?
(Yup, just going to leave that hanging there. Go download.)
Listening to the episodes in chronological order, you can tell when Mike gets comfortable with the material because he starts to add his clever and deadpan sense of humor. More importantly, he starts to add his own analysis of what he’s covering, which is what puts this podcast on a higher level than that of most history podcasts I’ve listened to. Instead of just going through dates and events, Mike creates an interesting narrative and includes both scholarly consensus analysis (including the occasional non-mainstream scholarly opinion) and his own take on the subject. Mike’s own take is insightful and un-burdened by obtuse language. He’s smart and doesn’t need to trot out five-syllable words all the time to prove it.
Mike loves history and it shows. He spent a lot of time researching to give us the facts, but he doesn’t neglect the myths either. Especially when the factual timeline gets murky, Mike will also tell us the history “that the Romans told themselves,” which is interesting and relevant to understanding the people and their time.
He doesn’t make the mistake of making too many moral judgments about the Romans. He has some favorite figures in Roman history, and some that he obviously doesn’t like (Caracalla for example, but then who likes that fratricidal twerp anyway?). He’s not spouting condemnation, nor is he an apologist, nor does he posit that the Romans were super-totally great. They were influential and interesting, good and bad, and through THoR Mike Duncan makes them eminently accessible.
The Bottom Line: THoR has both style and substance. Very entertaining for both history buffs and history newbies. If/when I teach history, I’m totally burning this podcast onto CDs and adding it to my curriculum.