History Podcasts: Lars Brownworth, the Byzantine Rulers, and Norman Centuries

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 24 January 2010

I'm sure some of you have already heard of Lars Brownworth and his podcast series, but since I'm relatively new, I thought I would share. Lars produced his first podcast series, 12 Byzantine Rulers, while teaching high school history and political science at the Stony Brook School. That series evolved into a book deal with Crown Publishing and the release of his book, Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire that Rescued Western Civilization. My husband just finished the series this weekend, and I have to admit I am quite impressed with the parts I heard.

Over course of seventeen episodes, Lars spotlights 12 Byzantine rulers in chronological order, while filling in some of the important details between. He details the history of the empire from its first great emperor, Diocletian, to its last, Constantine XI. However, this is no dry recitation of facts and dates, but rather an exploration of the hows and whys of armies, families, political intrigue and diplomacy. Over the course of this podcast series, a lot of our lost history comes to life. Some of the best parts include his description of what it must have been like to the Crusaders from Europe when they first saw the walls and city life of Constantinople. The largest cities they had seen paled in comparison to the city before them and the technologies in the city must have seen quite impressive. Even today, we forget that running water, central heating and air conditioning are not modern inventions only.

In terms of gaming, many of the stories from the empire are great fodder for the enterprising GM. The shared history and experience of this area with the West, including paganism and Christianity, means that while exotic, there is a shared cultural literacy. In addition, a fair amount of the technology from the earlier Roman and Greek civilizations lived on in this place and the ingenuity of the populace created even further wonder. Quite a few opponents feared the legendary Greek Fire, and with good reason, as it could continue to burn, even on water. The Hagia Sopia, the largest cathedral for 1,000 years, and it influenced architecture for even longer. These are just two examples among many that can be used to give a different sort of flair to any game than the traditional Western European Dark and Middle Ages.

However, if the latter is more your style, Lars is producing a series on Norman history, focusing not only on the French and English groups but the Italian ones as well. The few I've heard are just as good as the ones on the Byzantine empire and can be found on the Norman Centuries Podcast website


Thanks for the write-up! Glad you are enjoying Lars' work.

Yes, Byzantine Rulers was my entry into podcast listening, and well worth it. A similar podcast I enjoy immensely is The History of Rome.

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