The History of Rome (podcast)
|The History of Rome (THoR)|
|Length||Usually 15-25 minutes (range 11:23-43:36)|
|Debut||July 27, 2007|
|End date||May 6, 2012|
The History of Rome, often abbreviated THoR, is an award-winning weekly 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 show is renowned for its concise style, historical depth, wit, and consistency.
Beginning of Podcast
Duncan came up with the idea of THoR in 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 History of Rome was supported by Audible, and after the company had pledged their support, Duncan began recommending a new Audible audiobook at the beginning of many episodes. The soundtrack which begins each podcast comes from the GarageBand snippet, Acoustic Picking 18.
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, 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” and Hadrian.
Commodus “for being a dangerously insane immature hedonist”, Caligula, for the same reason, Caracalla, Nero, and Elagobalus. Duncan believes one of the biggest reasons for the failures of these emperors was having “too much power at too young an age”.
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 walkthrough many sites mentioned in The History of Rome.
Legacy and Influence
The History of Byzantium podcast by Robin Pierson is explicitly modelled after The History of Rome in style, length and quality; Robin 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 a big influence.
Despite often being referred to as the “grandad” of history podcasting, 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. Mike mentioned 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”.