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The History Fangirl Podcast

Aug 13, 2017


One of the places I toured while in Italy was the area in and surrounding the Roman Forum. It’s a central part of early Roman history that is sadly little more than a pile of ruins today. But the Forum was once the center of Roman life, both politically and socially. My guest today is Mike Duncan, host of two great podcasts - “The History of Rome” and “Revolutions.” Mike is a history buff like me who began learning the history of the Roman empire through pleasure reading. When he started looking for a podcast about Rome and found there were none in existence, he decided to begin the first Roman history podcast himself. This is a fun conversation between Mike and me so be sure you take the time to listen.

What was the Roman Forum used for?

In the earlier stages of the Roman Empire, the Forum was a very crowded, much-used area of central Rome. It was the center of all political activity as well as a social center for all things Rome. Were you able to visit in ancient days you’d enter a rectangular plaza with government buildings surrounding it. Triumphal processions took place there as would public speeches, criminal trials, and some gladiatorial competitions. But it was also the center of commerce and a place where you’d find many religious shrines and statues. Mike Duncan describes the Roman Forum and what it would have been like to be there in ancient days, on this episode of The History Fangirl.

The Roman Forum is an example of the brick-based architecture that existed prior to the gleaming white marble we think of.

When we think of ancient Rome we typically picture the white marble columns and gleaming white walls of enormous buildings. But at the time the Forum was constructed the main material used for building was brick. That knowledge gives a very different feeling to the images of what it must have been like to make a visit to the Roman Forum in its heyday. In those days it was the birthplace of the Roman Senate and a much-honored location in the city. Join me and my guest Mike Duncan for a fascinating conversation about the history and use of the Roman Forum.

When the Roman Caesars took over, most citizens were happy about it.

Most of us know about at least two distinct stages of the Roman Empire - the years of the Republic and the years of Imperial Rome when the Caesars ruled. What most people don’t know is that the reason the Caesars were able to come to power is that the Roman Senate had become much maligned and quite ineffective. The people of Rome were tired of a system mired in corruption and political favoritism and welcomed the idea of a simplified form of rule, albeit a dictatorship. Mike Duncan shares how the transition happened and what it meant for life in the nation on this episode.

The reason we study history is to make better decisions.

Mike Duncan calls himself a practical historian. He’s interested in the dates and events of the ancient past because he believes they help us navigate our own course with greater wisdom. In this episode, he says that we study history in order to make better decisions, and we do that by learning about the triumphs, mistakes, and events of the past. Mike and I also talk about his new book, why he wrote it, and what he hopes readers will glean not only about Rome of the past but about our lives here in the the present.

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:22] Why I decided to make this first episode about the Roman Forum.
  • [1:12] Who is my guest, Mike Duncan.
  • [2:57] Mike’s interest in Roman history since childhood and how it’s snowballed.
  • [6:02] Where Mike received his inspiration and why he thinks history podcasts are great.
  • [8:20] What IS the Roman Forum? The center of Roman civilization.
  • [12:45] The experience of being at the Forum during its heyday.
  • [14:56] Highlights of the events that took place at the Roman Forum.
  • [18:30] The use of the Forum after the nation became an empire.
  • [23:32] What happened to the Forum as Rome lost control of Italy?
  • [26:40] The dismantling of the Forum to build homes and other buildings.
  • [30:06] How the papacy played a role in preserving many Roman artifacts.
  • [34:46] How Mike decided to write his book, “The Storm Before the Storm.”
  • [41:49] Comparisons between ancient Rome and modern America.

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Music Credit:  "Places Unseen" by Lee Rosevere available at