Occasus Imperii Romani
January 11, 2017 8:39 AM   Subscribe

The Fall of Rome is a podcast on the later Roman Empire, focusing especially on the various invasions that contributed to its collapse and how different regions of the empire experienced the disruptions of Late Antiquity. The most recent episode, "Attila And The Empire Of The Huns", has a particularly interesting discussion of how the Huns were able to project power over a vast swath of territory as a sophisticated multi-lingual, multi-ethnic empire, far from the mindless savages they are often portrayed as.
posted by Copronymus (30 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been listening to this as well recently, and I think it's quite good. I like his perspective, and his desire to do more than talk about how the barbarians caused a collapse of 'civilization' but instead treat the events with more nuance that I've heard from other sources. Production wise he's not quite on the level of say Mike Duncan or Jamie Jeffers yet, but it's still early I figure the ums and pauses will work themselves out. Great post and glad to see others are enjoying it too!
posted by Carillon at 9:00 AM on January 11


I like his perspective, and his desire to do more than talk about how the barbarians caused a collapse of 'civilization' but instead treat the events with more nuance that I've heard from other sources. Production wise he's not quite on the level of say Mike Duncan or Jamie Jeffers yet, but it's still early I figure the ums and pauses will work themselves out.

I think it really benefits from Wyman having just finished a Ph.D. on the subject, so he's got a level of fluency with recent research and modern historiography that most history podcasts can't really match. I've listened to a bit of Mike Duncan and Dan Carlin, and they can be very good, but they're still locked into tertiary sources for the most part, whereas Wyman is often able to hit the level beyond that, where he's providing something beyond an enjoyable re-telling of Ammianus Marcellinus. It's really great, and I wish there were more podcasts by people who are legitimately expert in the field they're covering (probably there are and I just don't know about them).
posted by Copronymus at 9:23 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


I think it really benefits from Wyman having just finished a Ph.D. on the subject, so he's got a level of fluency with recent research and modern historiography that most history podcasts can't really match. I've listened to a bit of Mike Duncan and Dan Carlin, and they can be very good, but they're still locked into tertiary sources for the most part, whereas Wyman is often able to hit the level beyond that, where he's providing something beyond an enjoyable re-telling of Ammianus Marcellinus. It's really great, and I wish there were more podcasts by people who are legitimately expert in the field they're covering (probably there are and I just don't know about them).


Agreed, and you can tell he's been both in the field given his fluency talking about the different schools of thought and aggressive academic debates (such as seeing professors make grad students cry). One thing that I think is really cool is his technique of taking us through the perspective of an average citizen in each era he's talking about, it really helps hit home the points he's talking about.
posted by Carillon at 9:41 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Late Rome is the best Rome. The Middle Ages didn't come from nowhere, and it's so interesting to see how they emerge. Multiple plagues depopulating the empire. Huns driving fleeing tribes into Roman territory. The changing style of border defense due to population dips (porous with multiple layers of forts, defense in depth) Folks building country estates to evade taxes. Those same folks building walls to keep out raiders due to all of the above. The treasury increasingly impoverished. Roman citizens opting out of military service, creating armies overwhelmingly comprised of the poor and barbarians. The moves to Constantinople and Ravenna. The Vandals. The emergence of the Byzantine empire.

So much cool stuff. So many awesome characters that most folks don't know about. Aurelian, Diocletian, Constantine, Julian the Apostate, Valentinian, Theodosius, Stilicho, Justinian, Belisarius, Heraclius.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:08 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


Oh no. Another podcast to work into my schedule. Guess I'll have to spend another hour in the gym.
posted by charlesminus at 10:28 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Late Rome is the best Rome.
(Delete long description of all the horrible things that happened)

I have this strange feeling that the inhabitants of Late Rome might disgree with you.
posted by happyroach at 11:21 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


posted by Copronymus

Eponystericus maximus.
posted by Pallas Athena at 12:49 PM on January 11 [6 favorites]


I have this strange feeling that the inhabitants of Late Rome might disagree with you

In our peaceful enlightened future we have the luxury of looking at the most sorrowful periods of human history with a cool detached intellectual curiosity.

However, if you were actually there, in the midst of the world's greatest superpower slowly crumbling from the inside out as vengeful hungry foes wait in the wings to gobble up the remnants... I think we can all agree that sounds quite horrible.
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:00 PM on January 11 [13 favorites]


Yeah, 2017 is gonna suck.

Thanks for the new podcast! I listened to the first episode and I'm really hoping he finds his voice as that's the only thing lacking. The subject matter and his take on it is pretty awesome.
posted by mayonnaises at 1:12 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Amazing, thank you!
posted by mrdaneri at 1:37 PM on January 11


Meanwhile, in "Late Rome", New Rome kept chugging along, building impenetrable walls that would keep itself going for another thousand years. We could do a lot worse.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:02 PM on January 11


It's really great, and I wish there were more podcasts by people who are legitimately expert in the field they're covering (probably there are and I just don't know about them).
posted by Copronymus


I also like hearing the latest research. I've enjoyed the podcasts by enthusiastic amateurs -- and they've definitely brought me up to speed on the basic events. But I really like hearing the more academic analyses from people engaged in current research.

There is a History of Iran podcast that is being done by (I believe) a current graduate student- there are only a few episodes and they've been sporadic (because he is a grad student). But what is there is very good.

I've also been loving the "Great Courses" and "Modern Scholar" series from the Teaching Company. My library has them as ebooks, and they are all by current academics in the given field. Sometimes they stray out of their expertise (like a Roman history expert messing up on early Neolithic agriculture) for some of the broader courses, but it's also been awesome to hear a working archeologist talk about that (not at all clear line) between a "state" and not a "state", drawing examples not just from the usual suspects (eg Middle East) but also from west and central Africa.
posted by jb at 2:03 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


I should clarify: the courses are e-audio-books.
posted by jb at 2:10 PM on January 11


Awesome, I've been jonesing for more history podcasts. Good find!
posted by Happy Dave at 2:21 PM on January 11


I'm looking forward to checking this out, though I'm also not sure where to work it in! I love this period in history, in part because it fills in such a huge blank spot I have for Europe between the Roman Empire and the high Middle Ages.

I've tried listening to other academic podcasts, and they have been uniformly rough. They've either been too dry and academic, or too focused on one person's theories rather than offering an overview of different theories. I don't think any have lasted more than a few episodes. It's rare to find one who can tell a good story, outside of the Great Courses.
posted by kanewai at 3:29 PM on January 11


On this note, may I reccommend Robert Garland's The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World?

It was a 'Great Courses' purchase that sustained me through a long hospitalization; It includes many fascinating perspectives from antiquity-- particularly many ignored or long-neglected voices. Well worth the investment.
posted by mrdaneri at 3:54 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


"Late Rome is the best Rome." - I have this strange feeling that the inhabitants of Late Rome might disagree with you

The neighbors of the Roman Republic and Empire might suggest that the world became a better place when the Romans became less skilled at genocide.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:25 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


However, if you were actually there, in the midst of the world's greatest superpower slowly crumbling from the inside out as vengeful hungry foes wait in the wings to gobble up the remnants... I think we can all agree that sounds quite horrible.

You know, I would disagree with much of this characterisation, for a few reasons:

1. I think it compresses a timeframe that in reality was very long; the empire "collapsed" over centuries. Many changes would not have been noticeable to citizens at the time because they would have been all they knew.

2. I think it glosses over the reality of living in the Roman empire for many ordinary citizens, which was far from a bed of roses. This is not to what replaced it (where it was replaced) was any better; merely that it probably wouldn't have been demonstrably worse for most.

3. The idea of "hungry foes" waiting to "gobble up the remnants" presupposes a kind of static geography of territories and a natural right of Rome to claim many lands it had itself invaded not so long ago. It also ignores the number of 'foes' extant whilst the empire was still live and humming, ranging from the gauls, to the kimbri, to the parthians, etc etc.

4. Furthermore, the characterisation of foes is a little problematic- foes to whom, exactly? To the Roman elite? Certainly. The the average (non)Roman citizen? That is more difficult to say.

tl;dr it was a fascinating time, and it's still fascinating to me to see how our preconceptions about the Roman Empire play out..
posted by smoke at 4:33 PM on January 11 [11 favorites]


The Great Courses are in the main excellent. I've listened to a tonne of the history ones. There's a few duds, but most of them are great.
posted by smoke at 4:34 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I am not sure why I equated Hungary with the Huns, or remnants of their doings. Then I read that Finnish and Hungarian are related languages whose only other relative is Korean, or Manchu. I had this Finnish friend, and he was talking about his uncle Ati, and I asked if that were short for Attila and he said that it was. So, because of these random bits of info and associations, I thought the Huns were Asiatic from across the Steppes and ultimately of Manchurian ancestry. What do I suppose?
posted by Oyéah at 7:35 PM on January 11


Hungarians aren't Huns; the country is misnamed in English. Hungarians are properly called Magyars and the country is Magyarország (in Hungarian).

The Huns arrived in Europe during the 400s, and the Magyars emigrated into the Carpathian basin in the 800-900s.
posted by jb at 8:06 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Meanwhile, in "Late Rome", New Rome kept chugging along, building impenetrable walls that would keep itself going for another thousand years. We could do a lot worse.

Yes, but it would be a terrible pain to build an Eastern Wall that would still let through busloads of retirees to Las Vegas.
posted by happyroach at 12:27 AM on January 12


Then I read that Finnish and Hungarian are related languages whose only other relative is Korean, or Manchu.

This is wrong. The languages related to Finnish and Hungarian are most prominently Estonian (the third Fenno-Ugric language of an independent nation), Sami, Komi, Khanty and many, many others in spoken in today's Russia, originating around the Ural mountains. The thing about any Asian connections is a myth. And anyway Korean is a language isolate.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 12:57 AM on January 12 [6 favorites]


I suspect a lot of the narrative of the 'fall of the Roman Empire' as a dramatic and relatively sudden event is informed by the hangover of the dominance in Anglophone culture of British historians passim. The experience of the end of the Roman empire in Britain was just that, and in turn was of particular fascination to British Empire-era academics and antiquarians.

As for the production of the podcast - he's reading a script, and while he noticeably improves in successive podcasts (as does the quality of the audio, although it's still not quite there - too boxy at the beginning, too sibilant latterly), it's still scripty. Reading an essay or delivering a lecture cold needs actorly chops, and perhaps he could spend an afternoon with a drama coach. But I think it would be most improved if he got a partner to bat off, to work down a list of pre-arranged talking points and make it more conversational.

That would be a different podcast, though! As it is, it's really not bad at all, and I'm being BBC producer-level critical. He's got a good voice, his confidence with the subject really comes through, as does his skill with organising structure.Tjese are big, complex and fact-dense topics and he delivers. He clearly got good value out of his PhD experience.
posted by Devonian at 2:43 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


As for the production of the podcast - he's reading a script, and while he noticeably improves in successive podcasts (as does the quality of the audio, although it's still not quite there - too boxy at the beginning, too sibilant latterly), it's still scripty. Reading an essay or delivering a lecture cold needs actorly chops, and perhaps he could spend an afternoon with a drama coach. But I think it would be most improved if he got a partner to bat off, to work down a list of pre-arranged talking points and make it more conversational.

I hear ya - he could do with editing out a few of early stumbles etc. But I personally find his tone and cadences quite engaging. Mike Duncan's History of Rome was really hard to listen to for the first, say, hundred episodes because he spoke in a pretty flat monotone. He's light years better now, but I still find myself zoning out occasionally because he has a bunch of verbal habits that repeat over and over and my mind wanders. I have the same issue with the British History Podcast, although he too has improved a great deal.

That's one of the advantages of Dan Carlin's work - his delivery is so over-the-top loopy shock jock style that I can't tune it out. My wife calls it 'that conspiracy radio history thing you listen to', which is fairly accurate.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:07 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


I had this Finnish friend, and he was talking about his uncle Ati, and I asked if that were short for Attila and he said that it was.

It's more likely the etymology is the other way around, i.e. it came from a word like "Ati" (usually Eastern Germanic atta "father," with a common diminutive suffix), or a proto-Turkic language.

So, because of these random bits of info and associations, I thought the Huns were Asiatic from across the Steppes and ultimately of Manchurian ancestry. What do I suppose?

No one really knows. There's the usual suspects in the Hsiung-nu, who were indeed west Asian, but not in the way we'd think of it in modern terms. In all likelihood, They wouldn't be the proto-Mongols they're often portrayed as in popular culture, but that's about as specific as we can get. Also, at the time the Huns show up in the primary sources, most of the nomadic tribes were either of Indo-Iranian origin (Alans, and before them the other Sarmatians and Scythians) and spoke languages much closer to the Persian of the time, or were (like the Goths and Gepids and others) Germans who spoke a now-extinct branch of the Germanic languages. As these groups were either absorbed or driven into Roman territory, it became harder to tell who was who and how to interpret reports. A lot of the descriptions of Huns are so disparate while also being similar to other already-known cultures that it makes it difficult to pin down who they were, except maybe that the people we commonly think of as the "actual" Huns were more like a ruling class than an ancient superpower unto themselves. The time period of scholarly interactions with Huns was incredibly short by historical standards (~90 years), and they actually spent a lot of time as mercenaries or even allies of the Roman Empire(s), leading to conflicting descriptions. Sadly, so many ancient sources have been lost over the last millennia and a half that we'll probably never actually know their origins.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:44 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


Hungarians aren't Huns; the country is misnamed in English. Hungarians are properly called Magyars and the country is Magyarország (in Hungarian).
To be fair, the Hungarians do claim to be descended from the Huns. It's in their national anthem
posted by Lame_username at 6:11 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


The neighbors of the Roman Republic and Empire might suggest that the world became a better place when the Romans became less skilled at genocide.

The rejoinder being what have the Romans ever done for us. In general, they saw the advantage of human capital, preferably docile, but living rather than dead. The later Roman emperors were, after all, often not Italian. And honestly, would you prefer it were the Huns on the horizon?

This guy is better than Duncan for all the reasons given. With the Roman history podcast, I had to stop listening because while he was generally good enough on the narrative, I found myself talking back at statements that were unsupported, un-nuanced, or just plain wrong. It didn't help when he had to apologize for not knowing how to pronounce names. That is, after all, part of the job.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:54 AM on January 12


And honestly, would you prefer it were the Huns on the horizon?

For large segments of the population of the WRE, probably. For example, not being the subject of your landlord (who would have resembled a rural Mafioso or slumlord more than a president of the condo board)would mean that you might not be disfigured or have a limb amputated in order to prevent you from military service that could provide a way out of crushing poverty. Now, you may not know if the Huns on the horizon were the slash-and-burn kind or the ones who were just after your boss' loot, but that's a chance quite a few people were probably willing to take. The much flatter hierarchical structure of Hunnic society may have seemed pretty damn appealing to the ancient equivalent of the working class.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:11 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


This guy is better than Duncan for all the reasons given. With the Roman history podcast, I had to stop listening because while he was generally good enough on the narrative, I found myself talking back at statements that were unsupported, un-nuanced, or just plain wrong.

I'm curious- do you remember any specific things that Duncan got wrong that got your goat?
posted by the phlegmatic king at 10:04 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


« Older 'I have to do this'   |   "the U.S. government rounded up the people of... Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.