June 15, 2015

Ancient Warfare Magazine Podcast

Tags: Podcasts, History

Available from iTunes and from its own site

The Ancient Warfare Magazine Podcast, as the name implies, is produced as part of the bi-monthly paper magazine of the same name. I’ve never read the magazine, so I can’t comment on it. One episode of the podcast is released for each issue of the magazine (although normally a few months later) and on the same topic, such as the Gaius Marius, Logistics or the Seleucid Empire at War. However the content is never just a repeat of the articles. Instead the podcasts assumes the listener has read the corresponding magazine, or is at least familiar with the topic at hand and then starts from there. The format is a roundtable discussion for around half an hour, going wherever the conversation leads. Production values are high.

This is not a basic history of events podcast. Listeners will need a good understanding of ancient war and battles just to start. For instance in discussing the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, no mention is made of the battle or it’s result. Instead there is debate on why Arminus decided to go from ally to enemy of Rome, and how the battle caused terror in Rome despite its distance. The podcast on the Hellenistic Successor States assumes listeners know the difference between the Greek Hoplite Phalanx and the Macedonian Sarisa Phalanx. Talk on Caesar’s campaign’s barely mentions his battles or career. It focuses entirely on his self-aggrandisement and how he made his own luck partly with well-trained, experienced and trusting soldiers - postulating he had no grand plan, but just took advantage of situations as they occurred.

The discussion is normally quite interesting. There is a strong focus on Greek, Hellenistic and Roman history, but not overwhelmingly so. Other western and near eastern cultures are also represented. I would guess the is roughly proportional to how much the remaining sources can tell us (which is predominately Greek & Roman as they tended to write things down). However, it is disappointing that there is no mention (so far) of cultures far from the Mediterranean - India, China, or the Americas. Often some surprising thoughts come up. That the uniform of a Roman legionary was anything but uniform (despite what the movies and TV show), with the men modifying or replacing their equipment as they saw fit. The huge advantage in steadfastness and maneuverability that came with professional soldiers, be it Alexander’s phalanx, Athens’ rowers, or Rome’s legions. How many generals had an Alexander complex, comparing themselves to him (Caesar and Trajan) or mindlessly aping him - the successor kings even copied his slightly twisted neck. I was also surprised to discover that Sargon claimed to have just over 5000 soldiers when he conquered Mesopotamia - armies were clearly much smaller 4000 years ago.

An informative discussion-based podcast on narrowly focused (warfare based) topics for listeners who already know the basic details.