So here at the home (and office) of Finds and Features the lurgy has struck, and people are off sick left right and centre. So with a sore throat, what else is there to do but curl up in bed with a bowl of hot veggie stew, a bad dvd and a hot water bottle? Why… I even have time to do another entry!

So, here’s a review of the world’s most AWESOME history podcast. Frankly it could be the best podcast full stop, but that might be just because I haven’t found any good entertainment podcasts.

Podcast Review: The History of Rome

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Available from ITunes, or direct from the author’s website.

Despite the notable lack of Roman period archaeology in this blog, the Roman Empire in the West is actually one of my favourite periods, and the one I have studied most concertedly. Consequently it was with some trepidation that I started listening to this podcast – after all it’s easy enough to ignore the fallacies with a movie (yes, I love Gladiator, but mostly for the first battle scene) but much harder with pure history!

However I was pleasantly surprised. The most immediately noticeable thing about the author (Mike Duncan) of this podcast is his attitude – he clearly doesn’t take the whole podcasting thing too seriously (thank god!). That’s not to say he doesn’t do his research – far from it – rather he approaches the subject with passion but allows himself a tongue-in-cheek attitude that ensures the episodes never get dull.

Whilst he does concentrate on battles and famous figures, I get the impression that this is partly because of the limited nature of his sources (particularly in the early Republican period) and also because he often gets very interested in certain people/contexts and uses the episodes to pursue them, rather than sticking to some rigid plan.

As it says on the tin, the podcasts are a history of Rome, and that covers everything from the founding of the city right through to the end of the Western Empire. As a result Mike’s early stuff is based on shaky mythological tales, but he always seems to be upfront about the nature of his sources. So far, I haven’t found any particularly noteworthy errors or confusions but we have yet to enter the Imperial period I’m most familiar with.

What really makes this podcast is Mike’s tone – I get the impression he is doing this at least in part to communicate his passion for the period, rather than to ‘educate’ or make money with a spin off book. His humour is reasonably subtle and doesn’t interfere with the progression of the narrative, and he manages to discuss the people of the time without feeling the urge to over do the characterisation.

Mike also discusses wider themes with remarkable ease and interest. They appear to develop out the historical narrative naturally, and are pursued in a manner that makes it clear that he’s learning new stuff and enjoying making the podcasts, rather than just going about some passive exercise in discourse.

Perhaps my only criticism is that the sound levels are pretty poor at times. All the podcasts so far have been too quiet, which means that even at maximum volume I find it hard to listen to on the train. ¬†However they’re highly enjoyable without being at all patronising or dry, and they don’t swing too far the other way and sacrifice accuracy for entertainment.

I would thoroughly recommend this podcast to anyone looking for an overview of Roman culture or with a general interest in history. So far I’ve listened to over 50 episodes, and I’m still looking forwards to every new weekly addition!

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