The History of Rome (podcast)

Last updated
The History of Rome (THoR)
Hosted by Mike Duncan
Genre History
Language English
LengthUsually 15-25 minutes (range 11:23-43:36)
Audio format MP3
No. of episodes179
Original releaseJuly 27, 2007 (2007-07-27) – May 6, 2012 (2012-05-06)
Website Official website

The History of Rome, often abbreviated THoR, was a 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.

Mike Duncan (podcaster) American historian and podcaster

Mike Duncan is an American podcaster and New York Times best selling author known for his award-winning podcasts The History of Rome and Revolutions, and the book The Storm before the Storm.

Podcast Awards

The People's Choice Podcast Awards, better known as the Podcast Awards, are global awards given annually to the best podcasts as voted by the general public. Founded in 2005 by Todd Cochrane of Podcast Connect Inc., the Podcast Awards changed hands for a short period by New Media Expo in September 2014 until New Media Expo's demise. The first Podcast Awards show was held in 2006 had over 350,000 people vote for their nominated podcasts, with nearly 1000 people attending the awards ceremony. The 10th annual Podcast Awards Show, the first show run exclusively by the New Media Expo, took place at Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino on April 14, 2015. It was hosted by Chris Jericho and Emily Morse. The 12th Annual event started with a complete site rebuild and change to the overall process.

Fall of the Western Roman Empire Political change in late antiquity that came with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire

The Fall of the Western Roman Empire was the process of decline in the Western Roman Empire in which the Empire failed to enforce its rule, and its vast territory was divided into several successor polities. The Roman Empire lost the strengths that had allowed it to exercise effective control over its Western provinces; modern historians posit factors including the effectiveness and numbers of the army, the health and numbers of the Roman population, the strength of the economy, the competence of the Emperors, the internal struggles for power, the religious changes of the period, and the efficiency of the civil administration. Increasing pressure from invading barbarians outside Roman culture also contributed greatly to the collapse. Climate change has been suggested as a driver of the changes in some of these factors. The reasons for the collapse are major subjects of the historiography of the ancient world and they inform much modern discourse on state failure.



Duncan came up with the idea of THoR on 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!”. [1] 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. [2] 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. [1] [3]

Lars Brownworth American podcaster

Lars Mehrling Brownworth is an author and former United States history and political science teacher at The Stony Brook School in Stony Brook on Long Island, New York, who created the top 50 podcast, 12 Byzantine Rulers: The History of the Byzantine Empire. This podcast was created on a whim by Lars and his brother, Anders Brownworth. Often mistaken for a college professor, Lars was, in fact, a high school history instructor at the time the podcast was produced.

Livy Roman historian

Titus Livius – simply rendered as Livy in English – was a Roman historian. He wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people – Ab Urbe Condita Libri – covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome before the traditional foundation in 753 BC through the reign of Augustus in Livy's own lifetime. He was on familiar terms with members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and even in friendship with Augustus, whose young grandnephew, the future emperor Claudius, he exhorted to take up the writing of history.

Julius Caesar 1st-century BC Roman politician and general

Gaius Julius Caesar, known by his nomen and cognomen Julius Caesar, was a populist Roman dictator, politician, and military general who played a critical role in the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. He was also a historian and wrote Latin prose.

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. [4]

Tacitus Roman senator and historian

PubliusCornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. Tacitus is considered to be one of the greatest Roman historians. He lived in what has been called the Silver Age of Latin literature, and is known for the brevity and compactness of his Latin prose, as well as for his penetrating insights into the psychology of power politics.

GarageBand Software application for OSX.

GarageBand is a line of digital audio workstations for macOS and iOS devices that allows users to create music or podcasts. GarageBand is developed and sold by Apple for macOS, and is part of the iLife software suite. Its music and podcast creation system enables users to create multiple tracks with pre-made MIDI keyboards, pre-made loops, an array of various instrumental effects, and voice recordings.

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.” [5]

The soundtrack which begins and ends each podcast comes from the GarageBand snippet Acoustic Picking 18. [6]


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:

Greatest Emperors:

  1. Augustus ("for obvious reasons.")
  2. Diocletian (“for almost single-handedly reviving and rejuvenating a broken empire.”)
  3. Trajan (“for his stabilizing hand, good-natured wisdom, and military skill.”)
  4. Constantine (for “his lasting impact, I mean Constantinople.”)
  5. Hadrian (for "his obsession with cementing the Roman empire as a permanent institution guided on pragmatism, rather than romantic notions of glory.")

He also gave honorable mention to Marcus Aurelius, who placed sixth, Vespasian is number 7, and Claudius who would be tenth. Additionally, "Aurelian is pretty awesome" and Theodosius "deserves to be in there too".

Marcus Aurelius Roman Emperor and philosopher

Marcus Aurelius was Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and a Stoic philosopher. He was the last of the rulers known as the Five Good Emperors, and the last emperor of the Pax Romana, an age of relative peace and stability for the Roman Empire. He served as Roman consul in 140, 145, and 161.

Vespasian Augustus

Vespasian was Roman emperor from 69–79, the fourth, and last, in the Year of the Four Emperors. He founded the Flavian dynasty that ruled the Empire for 27 years.

Claudius Augustus

Claudius was Roman emperor from AD 41 to 54. Born to Drusus and Antonia Minor at Lugdunum in Roman Gaul, where his father was stationed as a military legate, he was the first Roman emperor to be born outside Italy. Nonetheless, Claudius was an Italic of Sabine origins and a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Because he was afflicted with a limp and slight deafness due to sickness at a young age, his family ostracized him and excluded him from public office until his consulship, shared with his nephew Caligula in 37.

Worst Emperors (not including people whose reign is measured in days or months) :

  1. Commodus (“for being a dangerously insane immature hedonist.”)
  2. Caligula (for the same reason.)
  3. Caracalla ("for being a relatively sane but still unquestionably bloodthirsty tyrant.")
  4. Nero ("for being an immature hedonist, who was more concerned with performance than he was with governance.")
  5. Elagabalus ("for being such a damn weirdo, that no one knew what to do with him, until they finally decided that it was best to kill him, which was probably for the best.")

Duncan believes one of the biggest reasons for the failures of these emperors was having “too much power at too young an age”. [4]

Duncan also mentioned that, while the bulk of his podcast details the rise and rule of the Roman Empire, his primary interest remains in the era of the Roman Republic.


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 walk through many sites mentioned in The History of Rome. [7]


On June 4, 2016, Duncan's book, "The History of Rome: The Republic (Volume 1)" was published. The book is a collection of edited transcripts from the first 46 episodes of the podcast, covering the time period from the founding of the Roman Kingdom through the breakdown of the Republic. [8]

In October 2017, Duncan's book The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic , was published by PublicAffairs, an imprint of Hachette Book Group.

Legacy and influence

The History of Byzantium podcast by Robin Pierson is explicitly modelled after The History of Rome in style, length and quality; Pierson 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 an influence. [9] [10] as has Peter Adamson of the podcast: The History of Philosophy without any Gaps. Isaac Meyer of the History of Japan podcast has mentioned in a few episodes that The History of Rome podcast inspired the "A day in the life of..." episodes.

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. Duncan mentioned on Podcast Squared 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”. [9]

See also

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  1. 1 2 "Twilight Histories Interview".
  2. "A Free Man Interview".
  3. "EyeonItaly".
  4. 1 2 "History of Rome Q&A".
  5. "RunRunLive Interview".
  6. "Mike Duncan is going to be releasing a new podcast".
  7. "History of Rome Tours".
  8. Duncan, Mike (2016-06-04). Campbell, Peter D. (ed.). The History of Rome: The Republic. Herodotus Press. ISBN   9780692681664.
  9. 1 2 "Podcast Squared Interview".
  10. "David Crowther AskReddit".