The History of Rome (podcast)
The History of Rome, often abbreviated THoR, was a podcast created by Mike Duncan which aired between 2007 and 2012. In the 2010 podcast awards, THoR won best educational podcast. THoR covers the time period from the origin of the Roman Kingdom to the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, focusing on the most accepted chain of events according to historical consensus.
|The History of Rome (THoR)|
|Hosted by||Mike Duncan|
|Length||Usually 15-25 minutes (range 11:23-43:36)|
|No. of episodes||179|
|Original release||July 27, 2007 – May 6, 2012|
Duncan came up with the idea of THoR on a bit of a fluke while looking for something to entertain himself during a long plane ride and subsequent vacation. After a recommendation from a colleague, Duncan browsed through a few online history lectures in search of something to pass the time. While surfing through these lectures, through a series of links Duncan stumbled upon the 12 Byzantine Rulers podcast from Lars Brownworth, listened to a few episodes, and thought “This is really cool!”. However, when he searched for similar podcasts on the history of Rome, he could find none. Immediately, Mike was inspired to “do something like” Brownworth's podcast. He had had a longstanding interest in Roman history and was reading The War With Hannibal by Livy at the time. He enjoyed many of the historical episodes he encountered in the book, but realized that much of the public knew little about Rome outside of Caesar’s and Augustus’ time. One of Duncan's motivators for creating the podcast was to make the whole of Roman history attractive to the public through the form of a podcast.
Making of the podcast
Duncan researched extensively before each episode, relying on primary sources such as Livy and Tacitus as much as possible, while using secondary or modern sources to help judge the verity and objectivity of each source. In making the podcast, Duncan read almost exclusively about Roman history. Each show required Duncan 10 to 12 hours prep time, in addition to countless hours reading source material throughout the week. Duncan would aim to keep his episodes at around 4000 words. When recording, he would run two parallel tracks in GarageBand to preempt any errors, and would do a preparatory reading beforehand. He finished each podcast with a celebratory beer.
Duncan has mentioned that in making the podcast, he learned “human nature has changed very little,” and that people generally respond to the same situations in the same sorts of ways. “I don’t think we’re so completely different than any Roman was.”
The podcast sought to keep a neutral position, presenting all sides as equally as possible. Duncan would often go to great lengths to explain the level of accuracy of sources used and objective reasons for valuing one source over another. During the hundredth episode, Duncan held a question and answer session where he answered as many listener questions as feasible. There, he listed his opinion of the five greatest and five worst emperors as follows:
- Augustus ("for obvious reasons.")
- Diocletian (“for almost single-handedly reviving and rejuvenating a broken empire.”)
- Trajan (“for his stabilizing hand, good-natured wisdom, and military skill.”)
- Constantine (for “his lasting impact, I mean Constantinople.”)
- Hadrian (for "his obsession with cementing the Roman empire as a permanent institution guided on pragmatism, rather than romantic notions of glory.")
He also gave honorable mention to Marcus Aurelius, who placed sixth, Vespasian is number 7, and Claudius who would be tenth. Additionally, "Aurelian is pretty awesome" and Theodosius "deserves to be in there too".
Worst Emperors (not including people whose reign is measured in days or months) :
- Commodus (“for being a dangerously insane immature hedonist.”)
- Caligula (for the same reason.)
- Caracalla ("for being a relatively sane but still unquestionably bloodthirsty tyrant.")
- Nero ("for being an immature hedonist, who was more concerned with performance than he was with governance.")
- Elagabalus ("for being such a damn weirdo, that no one knew what to do with him, until they finally decided that it was best to kill him, which was probably for the best.")
Duncan also mentioned that, while the bulk of his podcast details the rise and rule of the Roman Empire, his primary interest remains in the era of the Roman Republic.
As an extension to the podcast, Duncan has led recurring guided tours around Rome, also visiting Ostia, Pompeii, Capri, and the field of Cannae; the tours walk through many sites mentioned in The History of Rome.
On June 4, 2016, Duncan's book, The History of Rome: The Republic (Volume 1) was published. The book is a collection of edited transcripts from the first 46 episodes of the podcast, covering the time period from the founding of the Roman Kingdom through the breakdown of the Republic.
In October 2017, Duncan's book The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic, was published by PublicAffairs, an imprint of Hachette Book Group.
Legacy and influence
The History of Byzantium podcast by Robin Pierson is explicitly modelled after The History of Rome in style, length and quality; Pierson intended the podcast as a sequel to The History of Rome in order to complete the story. David Crowther of The History of England podcast has mentioned Duncan as an influence. as has Peter Adamson of the podcast: The History of Philosophy without any Gaps. Isaac Meyer of the History of Japan podcast has mentioned in a few episodes that The History of Rome podcast inspired the "A day in the life of..." episodes.
Duncan has mentioned in turn being greatly inspired by the prior work of Lars Brownworth. Duncan has said he hopes that other history podcasters will follow his mantra and stick to "just the content" without a lot of "extraneous babbling", in order to give their podcasts as professional a feel as possible - thus making the podcast an educational experience geared to learning the subject of the podcast. Duncan mentioned on Podcast Squared consistency as critical to building an audience and being respectful to their time and advises every podcaster to set a deadline and stick with it. "If you can get (people) on a routine and looking forward to (the podcast), they’ll stick around".
- "Twilight Histories Interview".
- "A Free Man Interview".
- "History of Rome Q&A".
- "RunRunLive Interview".
- "Mike Duncan is going to be releasing a new podcast".
- "History of Rome Tours".
- Duncan, Mike (2016-06-04). Campbell, Peter D. (ed.). The History of Rome: The Republic. Herodotus Press. ISBN 9780692681664.
- "Podcast Squared Interview".
- "David Crowther AskReddit".