The Real Middle Ages
By Aron Miller
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The “Real Middle Ages” podcast is not a complete narrative of the the Middle Ages. Instead author Aron Miller tackles discreet topics for several episodes in a row before moving on to a new topic. His main focus is the European medieval period, which he describes as the period between 476 CE and 1492 CE.
In episode two he describes why he has chosen 476 CE as his beginning point and what happened in the lead up to the fall of the Western Roman Empire. In episode three he discusses several competing dates that could be used for the end of the Middle Ages and why he has settled on 1492. (The first episode is an introduction to the podcast. It probably could have been shortened and added to the beginning of the second episode.) Although he proclaims in his introduction that he will not turn the podcast into a data dump of names and dates, his long beginning and end introductions do just that. In his defense, though, it’s difficult to sum up any beginning or end of a period without a lot of dates and names.
Miller states that he will “explore different characters and themes throughout the Middle Ages that demonstrate the human experience.” And one of his goals is to dispel common misperceptions and myths. For example, he explains how the costumes for a 19th century Wagner opera lead to the ridiculous horned Viking helmets we see all too often. He explains that certain peoples or periods in time suffer from what he calls the “cool factor,” which leads to all kinds of misperceptions. Case in point is the Norse, or Vikings. A mythos has developed in popular culture about who the Vikings were and how they behaved that isn’t supported by primary sources or archeology.
Miller is an academic, so his early podcasts suffer as a result. For one thing, he has three introduction episodes, followed by his introduction to the Rus in episode four. That’s several hours of introductions straight out of academia.
He starts to figure out how to do things better about episode eight or nine, although he still has poor sound quality. And his pronunciation of many words is jarring. But his writing becomes less of a masters’ thesis. He starts learning how to speak conversationally. He adds fun little facts and digressions.
Beginning in episode four he tackles the early beginnings of the Rus, starting with a look at the Russian Primary Chronicle and its limitations as a source. In episode five he describes the founding of the Rus kingdom by Rurik.
He digresses during October 2017 with a two-episode look at witchcraft, but picked up his look at the Rus again in November 2017, wrapping up in December 2017 with the death of Vladimir the Great in 1015. He followed that with a question and answer episode. In February 2018 Miller began his new topic, A Norman Foundation, with a look at the beginnings of Normandy, Rollo and the primary sources for this time period.
I enjoyed listening to the Rus episodes, particularly about their interactions with Byzantium. I’m listening to the History of Byzantium and that podcast just now is getting to the same time period and the same interactions with the Rus. But I’m more interested in the Norman topic he’s just beginning.
Miller’s web page offers illustrations and maps to go with his episodes, along with a lengthy bibliography, but not much else. He has a Patreon button, but he doesn’t ask for donations, at least not in the early episodes. He does ask for reviews on iTunes of course.
I’m a binge listener, so I like history podcasts that have been around for a few years and have many episodes available. Despite the fact that Miller began his podcast a year ago, he only has 20 episodes in the can. I’ve caught up to The Real Middle Ages and now have to wait three weeks or a month for the next episode to drop. With my memory I often can’t remember the previous episode by then. But if you listen more sporadically, Miller’s slow delivery schedule may not be an issue for you.
“The Real Middle Ages” began in March 2017 and is up to episode 20 in March 2018.