Podcast Review: The Saga Thing

Tacuina sanitatis 14th C. Public domain in the US

One of the first podcasts I started listening to when I first got into podcasts back in 2014 was The Saga Thing podcast. It is an episodic overview of the Iceland family sagas by two Medieval history professors who met when they were both in grad school. They have a love for the Norse sagas, and decided to create a podcast about a subset of them as a way to stay in touch with each other. Originally they thought that they would spend an hour or so discussing a saga and then pass judgement on it at a trial (hence the “thing” in the podcast’s name). It has turned out that they fail miserably at getting through any particular saga quickly, so a single saga will often take many episodes over many weeks, with another episode just for the judgments. In fact their very first episode was split into 3 parts, and I think only one saga was completed in a single episode. But the length of each episode is well worth it.

They take a lighthearted approach, sharing jokes back and forth, and making LOTS of modern cultural references (e.g Princess Bride, Star Wars, the Vikings TV show, etc.). This keeps the tone light and the digressions interesting. After a few episodes I felt like I knew these guys personally. They describe what happens in a saga (or a portion thereof, typically), and then talk about its significance to the overall story, to other sagas, and even to other Medieval literature. They often contrast what the author is claiming happened versus what they know from studying other contemporaneous texts, always keeping in mind that the Icelandic sagas were written WELL after the fact.

They are currently going through Egil’s Saga. They are 8 episodes in, and are guessing it will take more than twice that to finish. When they read portions of the actual saga (typically in translation, but sometimes in Old Norse) they come up with interesting voices for the different characters, and do a credible job of using the same voice for the same character from episode to episode.This helps keep the podcasts entertaining, and leads to more banter and teasing between the two of them.

When they “judge” a saga, they have several criteria that they use:

  • Best Bloodshed (Best battle scene description)
  • Body Count (Number of unnatural deaths)
  • Nicknames (Best nickname of a character)
  • Notable Witticisms (Most quote-able line spoken by a character)
  • Outlawry (Which character should be banished from Iceland)
  • Thingmen (Which character joins one of the hosts band of brothers (and sisters))
  • Final Ratings

They have come up with several unique measurements over the years, several based on the first saga they reviewed, Hrafnkel’s Saga. Things like length and body count are both compared with that saga to give some perspective on the different themes the different sagas take. Some are less bloody than others, for example, so they want to provide an easy indication of just how blood filled a saga was for it’s length.

In addition to reviewing sagas, they also have created many “Saga Briefs”, in which they spend an episode talking about things related to Medieval Iceland that aren’t directly from a saga. Two relatively recent ones were about the recent “female viking warrior” find and Medieval archery. In both they interviewed experts in the field and presented scholarly findings, rather than click-bait headlines. There have also been several relating to the Vikings TV show, and comparing what is happening there with both the sagas and other historical accounts. They have gotten much better in the past year or so about posting new podcasts more regularly, so you can look forward to new content every couple of weeks, or so.

If you are at all interested in Norse history or saga literature, then you will enjoy listening to these podcasts. While it isn’t necessary to start at the beginning, I would recommend at least starting at the beginning of a particular saga, rather than partway through. Even though they provide a summary of what went before at the start of each podcast, they usually only cover the one just before, not a recap from the beginning of the saga.

— Logan goði —

P.S. It was this podcast that inspired me to use goði as my County equivalent.

Book Review – Cotton, Climate, and Camels

Bookcases in the library of the University of Leiden, 1610

by The Honorable Lady Vashti al-A’sar


 

Cotton, Climate, and Camels in Early Islamic Iran: A Moment in World History by Richard W. Bulliet

Contents:

  1. How to Identify a Cotton Boom
  2. Islam and Cotton
  3. The Big Chill
  4. Of Turks and Camels
  5. A Moment in World History

In Cotton, Climate and Camels Richard Bulliet explores the rise of cotton production and export in Iran during the ninth and tenth centuries.

It sounds simple, and a bit dry. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This tiny book (less than 200 pages) is easy to read and filled with details from primary sources. Even better, Bulliet does a great job making connections between different types of evidence to support his theory.

In addition to background information for  Persians, A’bbasids, and Seljuks, Bulliet explains how the changes in climate, religion, political, and cultural groups coincided in Persia in ways that affected technology, agriculture, and people’s daily lives. These changes are found reflected in the foundation and naming practices of towns, the naming practices for people, artistic styles, industries, and trade goods.

Despite some space given to qualification statements and academic conventions this book was easy to read and a great surprise in the amount of detailed information it contains.

Review: The Knowne World Bardcast Features the Music of Calontir

 

Unknown Artist. Minstrels with a Rebec & a Lute.
13th c. Manasseh Codex. El Escorial, Madrid. Public domain in the US

The Knowne World Bardcast is a podcast of bardic performances from across the Society. The typical format is familiar to listeners of radio and podcasts for generation; a playlist of recordings gathered from bards who have recorded their songs and made them available. The production levels of the recordings are spotty, of course, but Lord Gideon ap Stephen does a good job of editing the program and making it interesting. It is a pleasant way to be introduced to the music of other kingdoms, and a good way to pass the time on road trips to foreign wars. Please consider subscribing on your favorite podcatcher.

Lord Gideon is on a quest to publish episodes that showcase each particular Kingdom. His goal is to have episodes for all 20 Kingdoms, and he has done several of them so far. At the time of this article, he had recently posted an episode for Calontir and, for the first time, had to split the episode into two parts.

The Calontir Episode, Part One:  In the Key of Army

“Part One: In the Key of Army” is a documentary-style episode recorded at Gulf Wars. Gideon recorded Calontir singing as a kingdom at the Calontir Party. Standards such as the Battle of Maldon, Benevento, In Praise of a New Knighthood, and many other Calon favorites. Will make any Calontiri heart skip a beat, and long to join the chorus at the earliest opportunity.

The Calontir Episode, Part Two:  The Heart, The Land

This is a more typical episode of The Knowne World Bardcast. After being impressed by Calontir’s group singing, Gideon received messages reminding him that Calontir has its own share of solo bards, songwriters, poets and performers. The call went out and many answered and  “Part Two:  The Heart, The Land” was born. From across time and space, recordings of Calontir bards were gathered and assembled into a playlist:

Lord Gideon’s “The Knowne World Bardcast” is a great addition to the wealth of SCA culture, and this close look at Calontir’s culture of song is most welcome. We will be adding KWB to our SCA Links page under “Arts and Culture”

Eyfríðr’s Celtic Book Reviews

Copyist-illuminator. Mid-15th Century. Public domain in the US

Three short book reviews by Lady Eyfríðr Geirsdóttir


Here are my reviews for the first three books of my Celtic research project. I’ve tried to describe the book itself and then my personal thoughts on it — Eyfríðr

The Celts, by Barry Cunliffe

A broad approach to Celtic history, focusing mainly on the late Iron Age and beyond with emphasis on interactions with Rome and linguistics.

Eyfríðr says:  Great for an overall view of the Celtic world, and a nice starting point for research and clarification.

The Origins of the Irish, by JP Mallory

JP Mallory gives himself a valid criticism:  “This book may well be criticized for focusing so much attention on assessing the various hypotheses for immigration into Ireland….and not devoting much space to exploring the genius of the Irish (or Irelanders) in developing their own cultural identity.” There are many theories and not many facts when it comes to the origins of the Irish.

Eyfríðr says:  Essentially just theories of immigration. That information overall was good, the author had a few funny quips, but on the whole his ‘tone’ as a writer came across as quite self-satisfied, which was off-putting for an informational text. 

Archaeology and Celtic Myth: An Exploration, by John Waddell

More archaeology than myth, with reasonable conclusions and interesting parallels between Ireland and Indo-European mythos. Reviews both well-known sites like Tara and lesser known sites. Lots of primary and secondary sources. Focuses on equine ritual, solar worship, sacral kingship, and sovereignty goddesses.

Eyfríðr says:  I expected more myth but was very pleased with the scientific approach to the subject matter. Lots of really fascinating details that make you wonder and wish for a time machine. Reading this made me feel like I got the briefest glimpse into the Iron Age.

Review of The History Chicks Podcast

The History Chicks
“Two women. Half the population. Several thousand years of history. About an hour. Go.”
By Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider
http://thehistorychicks.com/

Graham and Vollenweider’s podcast focuses on historical women, both real and fictional. They look at the politics, royal intrigues, social or legal restraints these women faced, the obstacles they overcame and what life was like in their time.

These are biographies for the most part, sometimes combining women in an episode, such as the “Tudor Grandmothers” episode about Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville.

The two began podcasting in January 2011 with an episode about Marie Antoinette and are now up to 145 episodes, more than 100 full episodes an hour or more long and 44 “minicasts” of 15 to 45 minutes. Minicasts are sometimes used to cover material that doesn’t neatly fit in an episode, like the “Teeny Tiny Tudor Tutorial” that looked at how the various players from Henry VII to Elizabeth I were related.

Graham and Vollenweider don’t cover historical figures in chronological order, but they do have a chronological list on their website of women they’ve discussed from the earliest, Hatshepsut, to Shirley Chisholm, who died in 2005. The pre-17th century women (and a few just over the edge of SCA period) are:

Hatshepsut: 1507-1458 BCE – #45
Cleopatra VII: 69-30 BCE – #46
Agrippina the Younger: 15-59 – #73
Hypatia of Alexandria: 355?-415 – #95
Eleanor of Aquitaine: 1122-1204 – #86
Joan of Arc: 1412-1431 – #51
Tudor Grandmothers: 1441/43-1509; 1466-1503 – #21
Katherine of Aragon: 1485-1536 – #22
Anne Boleyn: 1501/1507-1536 – Minicast
Last Four Wives of Henry VIII: 1508-1537; 1515-1557; 1521-1542; 1512-1548 – #24
Queen Mary I: 1516-1558 – #30
Lady Jane Grey: 1536/1537-1554 – #31
Elizabeth I: 1533-1603 – #43, 44
Mary, Queen of Scots: 1542-1587 – #58
Queen Nzinga: 1583-1663 – #80
Artemisia Gentileschi: 1593-1653 – #85
Pocahontas: 1596-1617 – #99

They also look at fictional characters, such as Mrs. Claus and Little Red Riding Hood, and have spent time on the women of Gone With the Wind, Jane Austen’s characters and the women of Oz. Sometimes  they look at an era rather than an individual. Their episodes on “The Gilded Age” and “1950s Housewives” are good examples of this.

Graham and Vollenweider take a conversational approach to presenting their material. It’s not as bad as if Today Show hosts Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie decided to discuss Cleopatra, but it has that back-and-forth conversational feel. This is not my favorite way to listen to history, but the pair cover material others often don’t. And they could use a better mike. Compared to most other podcasts, their audio quality is poor.

But the duo is from the Kansas City area, so I have a soft spot for them. And they sprinkle current cultural references in their talks. A good example of this is when they describe Richard III  as “Scar from the Lion King,” the kind of pop culture reference that makes it easier to follow complex family relationships.

The website is good, with additional content and many illustrations. They also have a Pinterest page with illustrations of some of their subjects. They have a non-Patreon button on their website for donations, and they sell t-shirts, coffee mugs and cloth bags with quotes from some of the women they’ve profiled.

In the summer of 2017 the duo began “minicast” recaps of the first six episodes of the Netflix series “Anne with an E,” a new take on Anne of Green Gables. In December 2017 they spun off a new podcast, The Recappery, as a place for them to discuss other female-oriented historical fiction. The new one- to two-hour recaps of television, movies and other media began with recaps of “The Crown” season 2. I suspect they will cover fewer fictional women in the main podcast now.

The History Chicks began in January 2011 and their most recent episode is 102, posted in late February 2018.

The Real Middle Ages Podcast Review

The Real Middle Ages
By Aron Miller
therealmiddleages.com

Editor’s Note: Have a favorite history podcast? Share it with the Falcon Banner. Send reviews to rex.deaver@gmail.com.

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.

Norman Centuries Podcast Review

Norman Centuries 
“A Norman History Podcast”
By Lars Brownworth
https://normancenturies.com/

Editor’s Note: Have a favorite history podcast? Share it with the Falcon Banner. Send review to rex.deaver@gmail.com.

Brownworth is a teacher and author, so his podcasting approach is more like a recitation than the more informal, sometimes irreverent look at history many podcasters present. In his Norman history podcast he doesn’t ask for questions or interact with the listeners. I imagine he’s reading his book, or at least his lecture notes. He does answer questions on his blog “Finding History” (https://larsbrownworth.com/blog/), which seems to cover all his podcasts and perhaps his books.

Brownworth is the author of the popular podcast “12 Byzantine Rulers: The History of the Byzantine Empire.” He also is the author of the books Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire that Rescued Western Civilization, The Normans: From Raiders to Kings and The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings. The latter book made it to the New York Times bestsellers list. So this podcast is presented by a recognized expert.

And it is informative. Brownworth describes the Normans as a “footloose band of individual adventurers who appeared out of nowhere to blaze across the face of Dark Age Europe.” He begins with Rollo and follows the Normans through William, Tancred and Bohemond. He follows their adventures in France, England, Ireland, the German states, Sicily and Antioch. And he notes that the Norman Principality of Antioch outlasted the Kindgom of Sicily by a century.

It’s been a year since I listened to this, and I remember I particularly enjoyed the stories of the Normans in Outremer. His theme, that the Normans never stopped being restless, never settled down completely, is supported by a lot of evidence. And he appears to know his subject well.

But his website contains nothing more than you find on iTunes or Stitcher. No maps, no reference material, not even a place for comments. On the plus side, it also doesn’t ask you to subscribe or join Patreon. He doesn’t ask for money anywhere.

“Norman Centuries” began in September  2009 and ended with episode 20 in October 2014.

 

 

 

 

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Review

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
“Thinking Outside Pandora’s Box”
By Dan Carlin
https://www.dancarlin.com/hardcore-history-series/

Carlin is a former television reporter and radio talk show host who migrated to podcasts and blogs in 2005. His first podcast, Common Sense, discusses politics and current events. In 2006 he began Hardcore History, his unique take on history’s more “hardcore” aspects, mainly war, genocide, Armageddon and similar exciting themes.

In the most recent episode, posted in August 2017, Carlin takes a long, long look at indigenous tribal people up against the encroachment of technologically superior or organizationally superior cultures. After a long preamble, he launches into a discussion of Julius Caesar’s wars in Gaul, which he’s titled “The Celtic Holocaust.” His contention is that, unlike African or Native American tribes, “These people had a chance to win” even though they were “never the betting favorites.”

He points out that the Celts, Gauls and Germans were able to field large armies. Disease hadn’t ravaged the local populations the way it did in the Americas. And their weapons and warfare were similar, although the Romans had some missile technology the tribes didn’t. He also notes that the Romans had superior armor. But what they had most was organization.

This episode is fascinating, and Carlin backs everything up with either original source material (translations of Caesar’s works, and he notes which translation he’s using) or the opinions of experts in the subject. Sometimes he’ll read a passage from Caesar’s work, then follow it with a look at the Roman political situation. Why did Caesar want to focus on this aspect or exaggerate that number? What did it gain him back home? And where do Caesar’s justifications wear thin?

This is the only episode I’ve listened to so far. Carlin only issues two or three new episodes every year. The most recent ones are anywhere from five to seven months apart. But he makes up for this with very long episodes. Episodes 56-58 look at the ancient Achaemenid Persian empire. Those three episodes total nearly 13 hours. Episode 60, “The Celtic Holocaust” is just a few seconds shy of six hours.

It wasn’t always like this. Wikipedia says his first episode in July 2006, “Alexander Versus Hitler,” was only 16 minutes long. The next 15 episodes ranged from a half hour to just shy of an hour. After that they ranged from two to five hours in length.

Most of these are no longer available unless you purchase them from his website. Episodes 50 through 60 are available on iTunes, Stitcher and so on, as well as on his website, for free. A compilation of episodes 1-49 is $69.99, although you can purchase smaller groups of podcasts for $4.99 to $9.99. He also sells “extras,” the stuff that didn’t make it into an episode, for $1.99 each, such as “Wrath of the Khans” to accompany episode 47. (For the life of me, I can’t understand what didn’t make it into a five-episode, 8.5-hour topic.) Carlin also has a place to donate on his site, although he only mentions it at the end of the episode – very low key.

Carlin’s Hardcore History is wildly popular. Each new episode is downloaded by millions of people. And if you like the kind of long-form history that compares conditions in one time or place with another, or with contemporary issues, you’ll appreciate Carlin’s take.

At one point he notes that Caesar’s forces were blindsided in an ambush and wonders if Caesar had been killed then, would Rome’s borders have stayed much smaller? Without Caesar, would there have been an empire at all? He asks what would have happened if the Europeans in the Americas had faced a 100,000-strong native army. Would “manifest destiny” have occurred? Such thought arguments weave through his material.

At another point he implores his listeners to “imagine the human suffering” that followed a siege. He remembers the women and children, and what happens to them when their side loses. He asks what would you give your life for? Is freedom worth it? Is it worth the threat of imprisonment, slavery, rape, torture or death? He notes the Gauls risked all for freedom from Rome and went from being political slaves to actual slaves.

Each episode has its own webpage and artwork. The “Celtic Holocaust” episode’s striking artwork looks like the cover of a book. The page also includes a map of Caesar’s trips through Gaul and a list of “Tribes/Names/Places” with definitions. The first “King of Kings” episode begins with a brief video clip. That’s followed by a list of nearly 30 people and places with definitions. The third Persian episode’s webpage includes a map of the Battle of Plataea and a family tree of the ancient Persian kings. There’s pretty decent content to accompany each episode.

Carlin’s Hardcore History doesn’t follow a sequential timeline, so there’s no way to know what he’ll cover next. And it isn’t all pre-17th century history. Episode 59 looks at the nuclear arms race and asks “What happens if human beings can’t handle the power of their own weaponry?” Episodes 56-58 head back into the ancient world but episodes 50-55 cover World War I. Carlin’s most recent podcast was episode 60, although by the time this posts he may have issued episode 61.

British History Podcast Review

The British History Podcast
“History the way it is meant to be heard”
By Jamie Jeffies
https://www.thebritishhistorypodcast.com/

Editor’s note: Share your favorite podcast with The Falcon Banner. Send your review to rex.deaver@gmail.com.

This is an interesting podcast that I just began listening to, so I’m still in the period of the Roman occupation of Britannia. It’s a period of England’s history I know less about, so I can’t speak to Jeffries’ accuracy, to whether he glosses over too much or leaves essential bits out. Perhaps when I get to the Anglo Saxons I’ll have a better idea of how accurate he is. But so far he hasn’t said anything I know was incorrect. And his approach is engaging, so I’ll keep listening. Jeffries began his podcast in May 2011 and currently is at episode 265.

Jeffies is a Brit with an American accent. He was born in the UK but grew up in the states. I’ll be listening along, lulled by his accent into forgetting this until he says  something about “here” or “just a few miles from my home,”  suddenly reminding me that he’s British.

Jeffries explained that he learned history at the knee of his grandfather, who told him tales of the land of his birth. Jeffries wants to make history that interesting for his listeners, and I think he succeeds to some extent. It may not be the thrilling tales he learned as a child, but it moves along at a decent clip.

He began with Ice Age Britain, spending an episode looking at what we know from paleontology and archeological finds. The next few episodes look at Julius Caesar’s trips to Britannia, then other Roman emperors’ interactions, and of course on to Claudius. By episode 22 we’re up to the crisis of the third century and the rebellions in Gaul. This should give you an idea of how fast (or slow) the podcast is moving.

Jeffies likes to include the archaeological record, sometimes disputing accepted canon. He’ll note that the number of people killed in a certain battle has to be wildly exaggerated. After all, where are the bodies? He also looks at the various walls built, noting when they were abandoned, reoccupied and so forth, to determine if the northern tribes might have made inroads at certain times.

Jeffries also throws in comments about pop culture, mentioning movies that cover this period of history. (For example, he loves Gladiator and hates The Eagle). He also discusses problems with the historical record or competing theories about how or why something happened. His discussion of the disappearance of the 9th Legion should be of interest to a lot of folks.

And he interacts with his listeners. Like many podcasters, he asks for and answers questions submitted on Facebook or his webpage. Or he says something to acknowledge others might disagree with him. When he describes how Scotland’s rocky, hilly landscape full of waist-high thistles made the area less appealing to the Romans, he’ll make a comment like, yes, Tom, I know the north is beautiful, but that wasn’t why the Romans wanted to go there.

Jeffries’ primary fundraising is through monthly memberships on his website. For $4.99 a month members receive access to members-only episodes, timelines, transcripts and members-only boards. For example, members-only episodes offered during the early time period I’m listening to include one on Celtic literacy and another on the Hallstatt culture. I haven’t done this, but might. He has at least 90 members-only podcasts available by the 10th century.

The website also has some value. There’s a good list of sources, a massive family tree of early English rulers, and maps. There are maps of Britannia during different eras, Anglo-Saxon migrations, the locations of various battles and where Hadrian’s wall was.

My only real complaint is his choice of music. During one battle between the Romans and Celts he played some kind of stylized Native American music – not real Native American music, but some kind of odd take that involved a lot of screeching. At other times he plays 21st century music that’s a bit jarring. One time he just played cows mooing to indicate nothing was happening in Britannia. And some of his episodes are quite short. When you wait two weeks for something, it would be nice if it was more than 20 minutes long.

The British History podcast currently is in the early 10th century, just after the battle of Tettenhall.

 

History of Byzantium Podcast Review

The History of Byzantium
“A Podcast Telling the Story of the Roman Empire from 476 AD to 1453”
By Robin Pierson
https://thehistoryofbyzantium.com/

Editor’s Note: Do you have a favorite history podcast? Send a review to rex.deaver@gmail.com.

Pierson loved the popular History of Rome podcast and was saddened that Mike Duncan didn’t continue past 476 AD. Pierson believes – as many SCA folk do – that “Rome” only ended in the West. In fact, he calls the people of the Eastern Empire “Romans” throughout and only named his podcast “The History of Byzantium” to avoid confusion. He began his podcast in May 2012 and currently is at episode 159.

Pierson says he wanted to continue Rome’s history because “Byzantine history is fascinating, world changing and largely forgotten.”

I had not listened to The History of Rome before binge-listening Pierson’s podcast, so I will simply present his statement about it:

“I have tried to remain faithful to Mike’s structure of half-hour installments told from a state-centric perspective. My innovation is to pause the narrative at the end of each century to take time to cover wider issues to do with Byzantium”

I particularly like this approach. After several episodes of battles all over Anatolia and the near east, or discussions of warring factions inside the Theodosian Walls, I can hear about everyday people, learn what’s been happening in the Caliphate and Europe, and hear Pierson’s answers to listener questions.

Pierson occasionally interviews someone, such as a grad student studying the period or Mike Duncan. He asks for and answers questions listeners send him during the end-of-century episodes. Once he did an episode completely from the viewpoint of a soldier. It’s the only time he’s done a fictionalized episode.

Pierson’s approach to fundraising is one I like. Rather than ask for monthly donations, every year or two he does an episode you must pay for. He did this for episodes 28, 77 and 129. You can always skip them.

He also offers side episodes that you can purchase. He did several on John of Chrysostom, a couple on the life of Porphyrius the Charioteer, one on Symeon the Stylite, a couple on Procopius, who wrote a biography of Justinian and a secret history full of snipe and spite. He did a sale episode on the origins of Islam early on, and the most recent two are on Roman healthcare. The early episodes are available for $5 each and the later ones for $7.

Pierson now offers a $42 yearly subscription to all these pay episodes and promises six new side episodes each year. If you want to listen to all these, and want to see them just appear in your feed, this is a good choice. But it’s a bit rich for my blood. I’ve bought the fundraiser episodes to ensure I don’t miss anything and skipped the rest. I’m up to episode 130 now.

Except for those three pay episodes, he continues the chronological narrative for free.

I also like the website. It includes his Audible recommendations, his recommended sources and maps. Since I generally listen to podcasts while doing other things, I’m not always near the computer to review the maps he provides. As a result I often am in the dark about exactly where the Romans are until later. Byzantine history is an area I’m not familiar with, so the names, and particularly the place names, tend to pass me by until I have time to look at the map, but others may not have this problem. For example, I don’t have this problem when listening to English history podcasts. I’m guessing some of you would not need his maps at all.

The History of Byzantium is currently in an end-of-century overview for the period 913-1025 AD. (Note: He breaks his centuries unevenly in order to line up with the change in emperors.) The most recent episode was about Byzantine funeral practices and where the emperors are buried.