After Mike Duncan’s superb History of Rome, do we really need another podcast about Romans? Obviously more than a few people think so, by the way that this series, by La Trobe University in Australia has rocketed up the iTunes charts. In fairness, the show itself has a different format and tone – it’s much more biographical in focus and is presented as an interview between the host, Matt Smith, and a lecturer at the university, Dr Rhiannon Evans. Pieces of the interviews are then put together to tell the story and discuss any interesting points that crop up.
At the time of writing, the show has covered the lives of Julius Caesar and Augustus. These are well known figures and the episodes are fairly short (typically ten to fifteen minutes) so a lot of it may be familiar to listeners, but there is still plenty of discussion and lesser known details to keep it worthwhile. With the biographical nature of the show, some aspects like the workings of the republic or the details of the land reform crisis are brushed over quickly but the essentials are covered, so newcomers to Roman history need not be wary.
The interview is similar to the format of Peter Adamson’s History of Philosophy guest episodes, or to a lesser extent BBC’s In Our Time. Most of the talking is from Dr Evans, with Matt Smith just chipping in now and then to keep things moving or query some point. It works well and moves slickly though the biographies sounding both open and authoritative. It might be nice to hear some other guest interviewees, but that hasn’t been ruled out and for now the regular cast gives a sense of continuity to the series – it’s easy to just listen to one after another.
So, did we need another podcast on Rome? Probably not, but this is more than welcome anyway. It takes quite a different track to any of the rivals already out there (Mike Duncan, Dan Carlin’s work) and can happily fit in along side them. I’m already looking forward to it getting on to a few of the less well known emperors.