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The History of Byzantium

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http://thehistoryofbyzantium.com

Podcasts , History

The History of Byzantium is a podcast dedicated to the story of the Roman Empire from the fall of the West in 476 to the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Robin Pierson is from London in the UK. He writes about American TV shows at thetvcritic.org and works for his father (an actor).

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Terry Young

Terry Young

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Mike Duncan's magnum opus "The History of Rome" (THoR) was a landmark in history podcasting, indeed, podcasting in general. It's what inspired me to start my own detailed narrative podcast "The History of the Early Church." When I finished the last episode of THoR I found myself wanting more even after nearly 200 episodes! But thank God we have Robin Pearson to continue the story of Romania. "The History of Byzantium" (HoTB) is a welcome continuation of Mike's work, both faithful to the style of its predecessor, but also its own standalone podcast. Robin's diction is clear and fluid, and his accent makes for soothing audio. Robin's fearlessness is also to be commended. He plans to take the narrative of the Roman Empire from the mid-fifth century to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. In many ways this narrative task is even more ambitious than THoR given that in Mike's podcast, while covering slightly more time than Robin's will, the early centuries of Roman history until Julius Caesar, and especially before the Punic wars, were covered in about 40 to 50 episodes given the lack of detailed contemporary source material. Robin will have a greater challenge in that every century of Byzantine history has, more or less, detailed primary sources. Where as Mike Duncan could cover the entire 250 years of the Roman kingdom in just a few episodes, Byzantine history affords Pearson no such thing. Byzantine history also spans across many historical periods (ie. Late Antiquity, Early, High, & Late Medieval). This means an ever changing geological cast of people's and nations around the Roman Empire, a lot of to cover! Thus, Robin is to be commended for his fearless ambition and he has thus far succeeded in spades. The two hour episode on Heraclius' victorious campaign against Persia was masterful and is perhaps the best example of Robin being able and willing to set himself to the historical task at hand.
Since this is a history of the Byzantine Empire, the subject of religion plays a key role in a way that it did not in THoR. Robin's coverage of Byzantine Orthodox Christianity is done with accuracy and maturity. While some may think his coverage is a bit thin on the details with subjects like say Monophysitism, this would be to misunderstand his purpose. His podcast is about the Roman state, with the Christian Church playing a secondary role in his narrative. It is the intricacies of the imperial court, not the councils and schism of clerics, that he aims to cover. The subject of Islam also now plays a major role, though I felt Robin was a bit over cautious here, as though he felt he was stepping on eggshells with every sentence.
One of the novel additions Robin has brought to the story of the Roman Empire are his end of the century review episodes. While Mike took a break from the narrative in the reign of Antoninus Pius, Robin takes these breaks every 100 years, surveying not only the Empire but the world around it. This is, I think, an improvement of the THoB over its predecessor. Robin really makes you feel like you are in the world of Late Antiquity.
"The History of Byzantium" is one of the best history podcasts on iTunes. No podcast and/or history lover can afford to not listen to it!
Tony Diaz

Tony Diaz

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Like many others, I came to The History of Byzantium having just sailed through the entirety of Mike Duncan's riveting The History of Rome podcast. On the heels of Mike's description of the Rome's collapse in the West, I found myself hungry for the next chapter. What about the Greek-speaking half of the empire that survived for another 1,000 years, almost to the Renaissance? I have long felt like this is one of those gaping holes in Western history as it is customarily taught: a huge chapter of European history that we for some reason ignore.

Well, Robin Pierson has never disappointed as a successor to Mike Duncan. In his hands, Eastern Roman imperial history has unfolded with real fluency. After briefly reviewing how the late Roman Empire's power and wealth shifted toward the Greek-speaking east and toward Christianity under Constantine, Robin dove in to the bitter controversies and mysteries of Byzantine politics after the West fell. Since then, Robin has told a consistently engaging tale, balancing palace and church intrigue, military strategy, and broad social commentary.

Throughout, Robin always points up controversial issues and the difficulties of understanding ancient texts and archaeological questions. The website provides plenty of maps, illustrations, and a rich bibliography for further reading. I especially appreciate his inclusion of guest subject matter experts in the podcast, drawing listeners into controversies over (for example) the origins of Islam. I eagerly anticipate every broadcast. Always fascinating.
Simon Wheeler

Simon Wheeler

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I've listened to most history podcasts out there and lots of paid-for audiobooks too. HoB podcast is up there with the very best of the lot.

- Content is fascinating and very much outside the well-trodden range of historical topics
- Well-researched and thoughtfully structured
- Beautifully narrated, good pace and clear
- Always careful to present as well-rounded a view as possible

If you love learning about history, then this is definitely one to put to the top of your list.
The Wheelman

The Wheelman

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Simply a great podcast. It's great that someone has taken on themselves to continue the great work begun by Mike Duncan in "The History of Rome", and so far it's been an worthy continuation.

My particular favorite parts so far are a ~45 minute episode on the self-identification of people in the so-called "Byzantine Empire" (hint: they never called themselves that), and an epic 2-hour episode on the last war between the Romans and the Persians in the 6th century, in which Heraclius takes the last army in the Empire to an almost impossible victory.

In short, whether or not you've listened to "The History of Rome", this is a podcast I would recommend to anyone with any interest in history, particularly Roman/ancient history.
handson

handson

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At the beginning, Robin wanted to keep Mike Duncan's "rough structure and neutral tone", and admired Mike's simplification of the history for our benefit. Robin has succeeded on the first part, but not the second part. But guess what? For our 20th and 21st Century minds, that's impossible! I'm glad Robin didn't get too simple.

The history of the Roman Empire is so well known and infused in our Western culture, that its ideas and organization are still within our own languages and cultures that many feel, perhaps rightly so, that we are continuing their civilization.

The Byzantine, on the other hand, was utterly lost in comparison, so the Western tradition and its prejudices obliterated the "decadent" Eastern ways as much as it could. This I know now thanks to people like Robin Pierson and his Byzantium podcast. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

All the extra survey episodes about the various territories, organization, religion and politics are welcome and edifying, as it is water to the drought of knowledge we have about those times. It's so unknown and foreign to us modern Westerners that it's almost like a fantasy novel story. Now I can actually see where some fantasy novelists, like L.E. Modesitt and his "Recluce" series got some of his ancient but failing empire inspiration. Epic.

So thank you again for taking what must be a very complex era and taking the time to give us the details we need to understand the reasons people then did what they did, the limitations the empire was under, and how heroic their efforts were. I feel that my education in this life (age 50 now) is only now becoming more complete!
Tjørhom

Tjørhom

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The website has a layout and style familiar from other blogs. Each entry links to an episode of the podcast, and the sidebar has all the standard content such as links to other blogs, podcasts, the website's sponsor etc. The blog entries could perhaps be enhanced with various tags to make it easier to find similar entries, but all in all the functionality is more than satisfactory.

The aesthetics of the site are nice enough, and go along well with the theme of the podcast without entering into the realm of caricature. The blog entries enhance the podcast episodes in meaningful ways with interesting photographs and maps. Both of which tend to be well chosen and easy to understand, and the latter is also true for the website in general.

The podcast itself is easy to recommend; Mr. Pierson presents an interesting, well told and suitably multi-faceted narrative of the Eastern Roman Empire. He avoids falling into the 'politics only' trap and keeps his listeners informed about the world outside the palace walls; from matters of religion, every day life, the ideas and views of the time, to the international context. Perhaps the only thing missing from this broad view is a closer look at the world of trade and economic activity in general.
rudy924

rudy924

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I came to The History of Byzantium not only directly from Mike Duncan's The History of Rome (which I had just completed) but I was also already familiar with Robin from having listened to some of his thetvcritic.org podcasts as well as his A Pod of Casts (Game of Thrones Podcast) show with Roberto Suarez.

Robin covers the historical topics found in HoB with the same level of insight and professionalism that he brings to his TV discussions (whether on Buffy of Walking dead or even Spartacus). He not only does an excellent job at carrying the story of the Romans forward from where Mike Duncan leaves off, and providing much needed illumination and understanding to what is (for me) a much murkier period of history. I know much about the Roman Empire until 476, much less about it from 500-1453. Robin is ably filling those gaps for me.

Some of my favorite episodes so far have dealt with his coverage of the plague that struck during Justinian's time (mid 6th century), the devastation it wrought and the lasting effects it had on the Empire. Of course this plague (carried by the Y Pestis bacterium) was also linked to the Black Death that struck Europe later. Arguably it was more devastating in Justinian's time

Among other things, I look forward to his coverage of the Crusades and their effect on the Empire and the Byzantines in a few centuries.

Highly recommended!
Fromkiss Schmiddlap

Fromkiss Schmiddlap

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The first history podcast I listened to was Mike Duncan's "History of Rome". I picked up on some others but avoided the History of Byzantium because I thought it would be too specialized and obscure; after all, Byzantium was just the remnant of the old Roman Empire and it pretty much lost relevance until the Crusades, right?

Not even close. Understanding Byzantium is crucial to understanding the modern world. Robin Pierson is careful to offer a great quantity of detail along with how it all links up to the period and the region. Even though I had recently read a number of books on Islam, his discussion of Islam and its origins revealed insights that I had not come across before and that make the whole picture of that region much clearer.

And while presenting much information about politics, social structure, daily life, and the inner life of the Byzantines, he puts that all into the service of a narrative thread, i.e., it's a really good story. Aside from taking an upper level university course (or two) or plowing through a shelf of books, I don't see how else I could get access to this breadth and depth of information.

On top of that, I simply enjoy listening to the podcast. It might be just the history geek in me speaking, but if anyone is looking for thoughtful entertainment, I think this will be a treat.
mpadraig

mpadraig

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I heard about Mike Duncan's History of Rome, but through my education I decided to skip his podcast and backtrack at a future date. The largest symptomatic issue describing my love of this podcast is that during my x3 2 hour commute to school I now drive to speed limit to elongate my time listening to this podcast. Very different than Dan Carlin's singular series, this is a very long series with bite sized episodes. HIGHLY RECCOMEND. We don't know enough about the Byzantium empire or any contemporary empire, generally. Give it a go. Robin is Fantastic.
Alexander Winn

Alexander Winn

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This is a really great podcast! The site is a little sparse, but that's ok: we're really just in it for the info. The narrative is clear and interesting, and the content is fascinating. Highly recommended!
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