My favorite history podcasts
I love podcasts, having been both an avid consumer and on-again-off-again producer of them for over ten years now. But what might surprise you, at least if you’re familiar with my work, is that the podcasts I love most are about history; I almost never listen to shows about tech. Good history podcasts can be hard to find, especially as they tend to get buried in the “Education” category in iTunes and other podcast directories, so I thought I’d share the list of shows I listen to. I hope you’ll find some new shows to enjoy and please feel free to hit me up with suggestions for podcasts I’ve missed!
History podcasts I listen to regularly:
If you know any history podcasts you probably know Mike Duncan’s The History of Rome and Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Both are legendary, in terms of both their quality and how many other history podcasts they’ve gone on to inspire. If you haven’t listened to any history podcasts I’d suggest starting with these two.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History isn’t just the best history podcast ever made, it’s a serious contender for best podcast of all-time. Dan only produces a few episodes a year, but each one is epic in scope and length (seriously, it’s not unusual for an episode to be three hours long) and is amazingly well-researched, engaging, and in-depth. Each episode or short series of episodes covers a specific topic, ranging from the Mongol Horde, to WWI, to the fall of the Roman Republic. If you’re only going to subscribe to one podcast from this list you have to make it this one.
The new series from Mike Duncan of The History of Rome fame, this one follows different revolutions throughout history, beginning with the English Revolution, then the American Revolution, the French Revolution, (the absolutely compelling, but little discussed) Haitian Revolution, and now is close to wrapping up his series on the wars of Latin American independence (I have a fourth great grandfather who fought on the losing side in Peru). This is one of the must-listens when it comes to history podcasts.
I don’t listen to that many American history podcasts, but this show by Bruce Carlson hooked me because he does a masterful job of putting the political issues of today in historical context. He’s especially good at digging up bits of American political history that have mainly been forgotten (like obscure fights over the House Speakership in the late Nineteenth Century) that I find utterly fascinating.
A series on ancient history by Scott Chesworth, this may be the most underappreciated podcast on this list. Now in its third season, for season one Scott did a wide-ranging survey of ancient civilizations, beginning with the rise of Sumeria and finishing up with Alexander the Great, looked at the archaeologists that rediscovered these civilizations in season two, and now in season three is tracing the family tree that begin with Cleopatra and will end with Queen Zenobia.
There were more than a few people who wanted Mike Duncan to keep The History of Rome podcast going past the collapse of the Western Empire in 476 and follow the story all the way to the fall of Constantinople and the end of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. He didn’t do that, but it opened up the opportunity for someone else to tell the story and fortunately for us Robin Pierson jumped on it and started The History of Byzantium, which picks up right where Mike left off. I’d actually argue that as good as The History of Rome was, The History of Byzantium is the better of the two podcasts in that Robin tends to go into more depth and offer more context as he tells the story.
The audio quality is a little rough in the early episodes, but this series offers a balanced look at the Crusades, beginning with Pope Urban II’s call for the First Crusade in 1095 all the way until the fall of Acre in 1291. I found this about two-thirds of the way through the series and at one point was binge-listening to three or four episodes a day in an attempt to catch up. Host Sharyn Eastaugh has been continuing the series by looking at the crusade against the Cathars of southern France.
This one is worth checking out even if you’re not all that interested in the origins of the English language — though you should be! The early episodes discussing the Indo-Europeans and the Proto-Indo-European language which is the source of not just English, but of Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Persian, German, etc, are especially fascinating.
A series that plans to do shows on ten different American presidents, each with a different history podcaster handling narration duties. Mike Duncan of The History of Rome and Revolutions did the first episode on George Washington and Dan Carlin of Hardcore History followed up with an episode about Richard Nixon.
I’m not religious, but the history of the early Christian Church is a lot more interesting than you’d think. Host Stephen Guerra does an excellent job of teasing out the intricate theological debates that raged during this era, as well as how events intersected with the wider historical landscape.
A series that looks at key battles that were turning points in the history of Europe, beginning with the Battle of Marathon. Host Carl Rylett doesn’t offer as much of a blow-by-blow of the battles themselves as he does on the political and historical events leading up to the battles (which is totally fine with me).
Doing a podcast about the entire history of the world is pretty ambitious, so don’t expect as much depth as you’d get on a more focused show, but this one is an enjoyable survey that’s 70 episodes in and just now getting to the Romans. Not updated very regularly any more.
Hosted by historian Brady Crytzer, each season of Wartime focuses on different topic. The first covered the French & Indian War, the second the empires of the ancient world, the third the American Revolution, the fourth on “game-changing” historical figures like Alexander the Great, the fifth on turning points like the Mexican-American War and the Battle of Midway, and the sixth on some of the lesser-known rebellions of colonial North America (for example I knew nothing about the Pueblo Revolt that took place in New Mexico in 1680). This one is less of a dates-and-battles podcast and more about understanding the forces that shape history. I’d start with Season 2.
A roundtable format podcast hosted by Melvyn Bragg for BBC Radio 4 that features a single topic per episode discussed by a panel of academics. This one isn’t just about history — they also cover science and culture — but they manage to cover topics ranging from the Gettysburg Address and Eleanor of Aquitaine to the Sikh Empire and Hatshepsut.
New history podcasts (or that are new to me) that I recently started listening to and am excited about:
This is one of the few shows that consciously tries to emulate the depth, length, and even style of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History (which is not a bad thing as far as I’m concerned). Only four (very long) episodes have been released so far, two on the Slave Wars of ancient Rome, one on the body of a Bronze Age ice man who was discovered in the Tyrol mountains a few years ago, and one that begins the story of the 10,000 Greek mercenaries who went to fight in a Persian civil war some 2,500 years ago. Host Daniele Bolelli, who teaches history, does have a strong Italian accent, but you sort of don’t notice it after a bit and I’m enjoying his shows.
Begins with the earliest known seafaring activities (i.e. ancient Sumaria) and after a couple of dozen episodes is now up to the Phoenicians and Carthage.
A promising new series on the religious wars of early modern Europe. The history of this era can be tough to untangle and I look forward to seeing how host Benjamin Jacobs handles it.
A show where each episode highlights a single individual who hasn’t exactly been lost to history, but who doesn’t get anywhere near the attention they deserve given the impact they had. Only ten episodes so far, but they’ve covered a number of fascinating figures, including Otto the Great, Chandrgupta Maurya, and Mithridates.
A podcast about “myths we think are history and history that might be hidden in myths,” this one tackles stuff like whether the Chinese beat Columbus to the New World, was there actually a Trojan War, and who really killed Rasputin. Host Sebastian Major does a great job of being enthusiastic while skeptical.
History podcast series that have ended, but that I recommend:
A history of Rome in 179 episodes, all the way from its semi-legendary origins down to the fall of the Western Empire in 476. Almost every history podcaster points to this series as the one inspiring them to start their own podcast. Host Mike Duncan is now working on a new series called Revolutions (see above).
A limited series by Lars Brownworth that starts with Diocletian’s splitting of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western halves and then tells the story of the surviving Eastern half as it becomes the Byzantine Empire through twelve of its most important rulers.
Another limited series by Lars Brownworth, this one on the impact the Normans of Northern France had on medieval Europe.
Follows the life of Alexander the Great. Which I guess is self-explanatory. Hosted by Jamie Redfern, who also does A History of Hannibal.
A series about Belisarius, a Byzantine general during the 6th century, is about as niche as a podcast can get, but the story of his life is absolutely fascinating, especially given how overlooked the period just after the fall of the Western Roman Empire is. Only sixteen episodes.
Other history podcasts I subscribe to but don’t listen to frequently:
One of the few podcasts specifically about American history that I subscribe to. Each episode is on a single topic related to American history or culture, like alcohol, shopping, or oil.
This one is an offshoot of Ancient Warfare magazine and features a roundtable discussion of the theme of the magazine’s latest issue. Audio quality can be rough, but where else are you going to get a show about the Seleucid Empire, the organization of the Assyrian army, or the Roman conquest of Spain?
A weekly podcast produced by the BBC History Magazine. Focus is mainly on British history — which is not unexpected — but the interviews with history scholars are engaging no matter what the topic.
Mainly an extended review of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire mixed in with the occasional episode on another history book. Irregularly updated.
By Jamie Redfern, who also produced A History of Alexander the Great. Not just a recounting of Hannibal’s exploits, this one provides a lot of background on how Rome and Carthage ended up at war.
Covers the life of Julius Caesar, just like it says. Though now that they’ve reached the Ides of March they’ve moved on to the life of Augustus. Co-hosts Cameron Reilly and Ray Harris have a pretty conversational style which some people don’t care for.
An earlier series by Cameron Reilly, this one with co-host J. David Markham.
An off-shoot of the AskHistorians subreddit. Audio quality can be rough, but the breadth of topics is great.
An astonishingly in-depth series covering the entire history of Britain that kicks off about 70,000 years ago and after 227 episodes is only up to King Alfred.
Like The History of Rome, but about Egypt.
This is a series that held out so much promise — I personally find the history of Iran and ancient Persia to be fascinating — but new episodes are posted infrequently.
This show does short series on various wars and conflicts (the Seven Years War, the the Franco-Prussian War, World War I, etc), but looks mainly at the events leading up to the outbreak of hostility rather than the emphasizing the fighting itself.
History podcasts on my list to check out:
These are shows that I’ve found over the past few years, but for one reason or another haven’t listened to yet (or at least not beyond an episode or two).
Originally published at roj.as on December 28, 2016.