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Podcast / The History of Rome

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The History of Rome ("THoR" to its friends, 2007-2012), is a podcast by Mike Duncan. As you might expect, it covers the history of The Roman Empire from the founding of Rome to the death of the last Western Emperor in 476. It achieved massive acclaim and (for a podcast) popularity in large part because of three factors: (1) Mike Duncan's incredibly detailed and accurate research, (2) Duncan's amazing ability to relate the story not only well, but in a way that made things interesting, and (3) the fact that episodes are generally about 30 minutes—long enough to be engrossing, but short enough that they hold your attention. It's perhaps no wonder it was voted the best educational podcast of 2010.



  • Anti-Climax: The end of the Roman Empire is regarded as this. The title of that episode is "Not with a bang, but with a whimper". Of course that's because Duncan focuses on the Western Empire as the cutting off point. If one were to consider the Byzantine Empire, then The Fall of Constantinople is quite a stirring climax.
  • Black Comedy: Indulges in a bit of this at times. Particularly notable when discussing Valentinian's death from a stroke he worked himself into during a furious rant. He even refers to it as the "very serious and not at all hilarious death of Valentinian."
    • Also notable when describing the assassination of Pertinax and the auctioning of the Empire to Didius Julianus.
  • Breather Episode: Duncan did a few of these, including question-and-answers and exploration of daily Roman life.
  • Butt-Monkey: Poor Claudius could not catch a break, between being widely mocked for a speech impediment, being bullied by Caligula, one engagement being broken off for political reasons, his first wife dying on their wedding day, his fourth wife openly marrying another man while still married to him, and his final wife (probably) having him assassinated to make way for Nero. A shame as Duncan considers Claudius to probably have been in the top ten greatest Roman emperors.
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  • By "No", I Mean "Yes": "There weren't seven kings of Rome, but there were seven kings of Rome." By this Duncan means that Rome almost definitely did not actually have only seven kings (that would require improbably long reigns for all of them), but it had seven kings who were important to its cultural and social development and who we know about.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Duncan is a master of sarcasm and irony. He even snarks about it in his episode of Julian the Apostate, noting that he's not sure if it's ironic by some definitions, but he thinks it's ironic that the last Constantinian Emperor tried to halt the spread of Christianity when the first did the most to marry the state to the growing Church.
  • Dramatic Irony: We all know how the Roman story ends up, but Mike tries as much as possible to put the narrative in the Romans' shoes, creating quite a lot of this.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The first few episodes are much less polished and substantially more variable in length. His delivery also sounds much less nuanced and stresses are much less notable compared to his later work and especially compared to Revolutions. Part of this is due to inferior audio equipment during the first few episodes. In one of his Twitter Q&As he denied specifically training his storyteller voice and said it came about organically.
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  • The Ghost: Duncan's girlfriend, later fiancée, and then wife, known as "Mrs. The History of Rome" after they got married in 2010. She finally appeared on the 100th episode in a two-second cameo.
  • Glory Days: For Duncan, Rome's high period was the period of its founding to the victory over Hannibal at Zama. He cites this as his favorite period in Roman history.
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire: Duncan points out that the Republic stops being republican as it expands territory yet zealously restricts citizenship and voting rights to its fellow population. Caesar was a populist reformer who tried to expand rights and bring about reforms but eroded the Republican government in his attempt to grab power.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!:invoked Duncan feels this way about some Emperors who died before they could fulfill their potential. He especially cites Aurelian, calling his death by assassination an incident "I still get angry about". While he's more skeptical about Julian the Apostate, he also feels that his ideas were so ambitious that historians "are never gonna stop discussing what might have been had he lived longer"
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Duncan mentioned that after completing recording an episode, he treated himself to a nice beer or other drink. (This carried onto his next project, Revolutions.)
  • Jerkass: Duncan's opinion of Romulus. He points out that Romulus murdered his brother and ordered the Rape of the Sabine Women, and says that it's enough to make him want to root against Rome.
  • Mission Creep: He notes that it largely happened because of a failure of the Senate to properly control its army by the end of the Punic Wars, leaving Generals like Scipio Africanus to decide how to pay for their wages, upkeep and remuneration, and forcing politicians, opportunists and reformers both, to start using offices as a path to power and slowly exceeding their command. The end result led to temporary titles like Dictator becoming Dictator perpetuo and imperator becoming Emperor.
  • Running Gag: Whenever something amusing or unexpected occurs, Duncan is liable to say, "then a funny thing happened" (a Shout-Out to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
    • Deaths that happened under mysterious circumstances are almost always blamed on Livia, no matter how many centuries after her own death they occurred.
  • Sequel Escalation: Duncan humorously compares the career of Gaius Gracchus compared to his brother to this trope
  • Short-Lived, Big Impact: Discussed, leading to Duncan comparing Aurelian to the concept of career vs. peak value in baseball to get the point across.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Not Duncan himself, but rather the ancient sources he pulls the material for the podcast from. He's quick to point out that, for example, the absolute lambasting of Emperor Domitian is the result of the fact that he didn't give the senate much say in the way his administration was run, and the senators were typically the ones writing the history books.
  • Wedding Episode: Variation. One of the breathers covers Roman wedding customs and the marital lives of Romans over the centuries. This one was precipitated by his own marriage to "Mrs. The History of Rome."

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