The Ancients

By History Hit Network

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 Jul 18, 2020


A podcast for all ancient history fans! The Ancients is dedicated to discussing our distant past. Featuring interviews with historians and archaeologists, each episode covers a specific theme from antiquity. From Neolithic Britain to the Fall of Rome. Hosted by Tristan Hughes. 

Episode Date
Lessons from the Antonine Plague

A plague which affects people from across society, mass exodus from city centres and numerous opinions on how best to stay well ... all familiar to people today, but also to the people of the 2nd century AD. In this fascinating chat with Dr Nick Summerton, we explore the causes and effects of the Antonine Plague, the guides to healthy living from Galen, Marcus Aurelius and Aristides, and whether there are overlaps with the current situation. Nick is a practicing doctor and is the author of ‘Greco-Roman Medicine and What it Can Teach Us Today’, published by Pen & Sword.


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Apr 11, 2021
Persia's Untapped Source: The Persepolis Fortification Texts

The Persepolis Fortification Tablets / Texts are the who’s who of the Ancient Achaemenid Empire, a unique insight into the administrative workings of this jurisdiction emerging from present day Iran. 30,000 of these clay tablets, inscribed in cuneiform, have so far been identified. Each forms a new piece of evidence for who the people of the Achaemenid Empire under Darius I were, where they were, what they did, and even what they ate. Tristan was joined by Professor Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones from Cardiff University to discuss how these texts have completely reshaped our understanding of this civilisation, and how the Ancient Persian perspective has demonstrated its remarkable networks, trade, administration and international travel.

Lloyd's new book, out in April 2022, is called: 'Persians: The Age of the Great Kings'.


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Apr 08, 2021
Jewish Burial at the Time of Jesus

According to the Gospels, Jesus died and was removed from the cross on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath (Friday afternoon), before his body was placed in the family tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. For 'three days and three nights', Jesus’s body was entombed. But do the accounts of his burial correlate with the archaeology? Do they accurately reflect the manner in which the Jews of ancient Jerusalem buried their dead?

To talk through this extraordinary topic, from what we know about ancient Jewish burial customs to the Talpiot Tomb controversy, I was delighted to be re-joined by Professor Jodi Magness. Jodi has appeared on the Ancients once before, the star of our highly-popular two part podcast on Masada.

You can view Jodi's library of books here:


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Apr 04, 2021
The Xiongnu: History's First Nomadic Empire?

Between the 3rd century BC and the 1st century AD, the Xiongnu inhabited the area surrounding Mongolia. They influenced the later Hun Empire, and had connections with Ancient China and Persia, but what do we know about them? Bryan Miller has been investigating the society, hierarchy and expansion of the Xiongnu, and in this episode he shares his findings from the archaeology and historical documents with Tristan.


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Apr 01, 2021
Music in Ancient Greece

Without recordings, and with notation and instruments long forgotten, how can we possibly know what music soundtracked Ancient Greek life? James Lloyd from the University of Reading has been studying Ancient Greek music, in particular its role in Ancient Sparta. In this episode James tells Tristan how it has been possible to recreate songs and instruments from antiquity. He takes us into the mythology connecting music to the Gods and Goddesses, and to nature, and he explains how the reaction to music in Ancient Greece may sometimes have been similar to the reaction to rock in the United States in the 20th century, and to drill in the UK today.


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Mar 28, 2021
The Rise of Cicero

Cicero is often considered to be one of the greatest orators of Ancient Rome. But how did he reach prominence in Roman politics? Why are his speeches so well remembered and what makes them extraordinary? Catherine Steel from the University of Glasgow joined Tristan to talk through the ascent of this statesman, lawyer and scholar from the Late Roman Republic.


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Mar 25, 2021
Boudica: Through Roman Eyes

The Iceni warrior who led a revolt against the Roman Empire around 60 AD often stands alone in our memory of ancient queens in Britain, but in this episode we explore Boudica’s portrayal in comparison to her contemporaries. In this second half of Tristan’s chat with Caitlin Gillespie, author of ‘Boudica: Warrior Woman of Roman Britain’, she also examines Boudica’s legacy, and the outcome of her revolt.


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Mar 21, 2021
Petra: The Rose City

A city of caves, temples and tombs, Petra gains its nickname from the pink sandstone from which it was carved. In this second part of his conversation with Tristan, Professor David Graf, who directed excavations in the ancient Nabataean city, describes the finer details of the architecture and artefacts found there. David and Tristan discuss Petra’s position on trade routes, its leadership and culture and whether, after becoming a client kingdom of Rome in the 1st century BC, and being annexed in 106 AD, much changed for the city. Did the Nabataeans maintain any autonomy or individuality? And what was to lead to Petra’s slow demise?


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Mar 18, 2021
The Ides of March

In 44 BC, the Ides of March took on a new significance. Previously observed as the first full moon of the new year, the 15 March is today remembered as the anniversary of the assassination of Julius Caesar. In this episode, Dr Emma Southon talks Tristan through the events leading up to the Caesar’s assassination: was he forewarned with omens in the days preceding his death? Who was involved in the plot and why did they want to kill him? Did Caesar really say 'et tu Brute?' And what of the more important 'other' Brutus? Emma tells the story of this momentous day.

Quick note: Caesar wasn't technically killed in the Senate House. He was killed in the senate meeting room, which at that time was held in the Curia of Pompey.

We also follow the theory that it was upon seeing Decimus Brutus, not Marcus Brutus, that Caesar gave up and stopped resisting his assassins. The debate continues!


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Mar 14, 2021
Women and Power in Ancient Egypt

Kara Cooney has been studying 6 of the remarkable female pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. In this episode she explains why many of them have been forgotten, and others regularly misrepresented. Professor of Egytian Art and Archaeology at UCLA, Kara introduces us to the lives and rules of Merneith, Neferusobek, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, Tawosret and Cleopatra, and explains how their reigns were used as tools of control in a patriarchal society.

Kara is the author of: 'When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt'.


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Mar 11, 2021
Boudica: Britain's Warrior Queen

Boudica has become a hero of British folklore. Her leadership of the Iceni in an uprising against the forces of the Roman Empire in around 60 AD is echoed around school classrooms. But what evidence do we have for her actions, appearance and eventual defeat? Caitlin Gillespie is the author of ‘Boudica: Warrior Woman of Roman Britain.’ In this first of two episodes, she speaks to Tristan about the sources that have helped us to find out more about this legendary woman.


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Mar 07, 2021
The Origins of Warfare

Popular discussions of human history are punctuated with conflict, but when did warfare begin? To discuss this massive question, Professor Nam Kim has returned to the Ancients. Taking in examples from Ancient Germany, Britain, Kenya and Vietnam, Nam uses Anthropological Archaeology to decipher whether Ancient societies were involved in warfare before the birth of nation states, and to explore the question of why humans have been prone to violence between groups.


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Mar 04, 2021
Cheddar Man: Science and the Skeleton

Cheddar Man is the oldest almost complete skeleton of a Homo sapien ever found in Britain and, for this fantastic episode, Tristan spoke to the scientist who has drilled a (very small) hole in him. Dr Selina Brace is a biologist who works with ancient and degraded DNA. At the Natural History Museum in London, where Cheddar Man currently resides, Selina and her team have been able to examine this iconic skeleton’s genetic makeup and deduce from it more information about the evolution of our species, as well as the lifestyles and even appearances of Homo sapiens moving from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic era.

For more visit:


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Feb 28, 2021
Petra: Rise of the Nabataeans

The assumption had once been that they were nomads until the Romans came. But more recent archaeological work in modern day Jordan is dispelling this myth about the ancient Nabataeans. In this first episode in another two part podcast, Tristan was joined by Professor David Graf from the University of Miami to talk about the early history of the Nabataeans and their close links to the extraordinary ancient city of Petra. A leading expert on the history and archaeology of Petra and its people, David was excavating at the Rose City when Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was being filmed at the ancient site 30 years ago.

David, who has a particular fascination with the early history of the Nabataeans, explained how he has attempted to piece together information about the Nabataeans from various archaeological sources. From papyri fragments to inscriptions to ostraca to rare coinage. Part 2, focused around Petra's later ancient history, will be released soon!


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Feb 25, 2021
Lugdunum: The Biggest Battle in Roman History?

In 197 AD, the armies of Septimius Severus and Clodius Albinus met at Lugdunum, on the site of present day Lyon. If we believe the numbers given in Cassius Dio, this was the greatest and bloodiest clash between two Roman armies in history. 300,000 soldiers were present in total, according to Dio. The numbers are debated, but nevertheless the titanic scale of this clash in ancient history is clear to see. In this episode Tristan speaks to Dr Jonathan Eaton about the lead up to the battle, how Severus and Albinus went from friends to foes, and whether we can really call this the biggest battle in Roman history. Jonathan is Academic Registrar at Teeside University and author of ‘Leading The Roman Army: Soldiers and Emperors 31 BC - 235 AD’.


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Feb 21, 2021
Palmyra: Pearl of the Desert

Palmyra features in headlines today as a casualty of IS destruction, but during its heyday it was a monumental city set on an oasis in the Syrian desert. First mentioned in the second millennium BC, it gained wealth from the caravan trade which moved goods across the desert. What makes it unique, however, is not its wealth but its multicultural, multilingual nature. Buildings in Palmyra featured inscriptions in Greek and Palmyrene and, after becoming a subject of the Roman Empire in the first century AD, Latin. To find out more about this beautiful site, Tristan spoke to Ted Kaizer from Durham University. Ted is Senior Lecturer in Roman Culture and History, and takes us through the growth of Palmyra, its position on the crossroads of cultures and whether or not it was really subject to Roman rule.


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Feb 18, 2021
Myths of Masada

In 73 AD, 967 Jewish rebels against the Romans committed mass suicide atop the Masada Fortress. Or did they? In this second part of Tristan’s interview with Jodi Magness from the University of North Carolina, who co-directed the 1995 excavations of the Roman siege works at Masada, we separate myth from mystery. Jodi weighs the question of Josephus’ sole account of this event against the archaeological evidence, and the external forces which may have influenced the mythologising of Masada.

Jodi is the author of 'Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth'.

Part 1:


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Feb 14, 2021
Rome: 'The Eternal City'

Rome. The Eternal City. One of the most recognisable names that many associate with the Ancient Mediterranean World. To provide a detailed run down of this ancient city, Tristan was delighted to be joined by Dr Greg Woolf, Director of the Institute of Classical Studies in London. From its humble beginnings as a group of villages to the infamous slave labour that we must never forget remained at the heart of this city throughout antiquity, Greg covers all these topics in this eye opening chat.

Greg is the author of The Life and Death of Ancient Cities: A Natural History.


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Feb 11, 2021
Besieging Masada

Dramatically placed on a plateau with drops of 400m to the east and 90m to the west, Masada translates from Hebrew as fortress. It became just that when Herod the Great built a magnificent palace complex upon it between 37 and 31 BC, the remains of which are in fantastic shape today. But the site isn’t only notable for its connection to the bible-famed King of Judaea. Masada was also the stronghold of some of the survivors of a Jewish revolt and, in response, the locus of a Roman siege in the early 70s AD. For this first of two parts, Tristan spoke to Jodi Magness from the University of North Carolina. Jodi co-directed the 1995 excavations of the Roman siege works at Masada, and in this episode she tells Tristan about the archaeological findings at the site, many of which are still visible to the untrained eye.

Jodi is the author of 'Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth'.

Part 2, which will focus on the fall of Masada, the myths and the siege's legacy, will be released in the coming weeks.


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Feb 07, 2021
Beasts of Battle: Indian War Elephants

The four components of the Ancient Indian battlefield: infantry, cavalry, chariots … and elephants. These magnificent creatures were dominant in conflicts to the east of India, in South-East Asia, but also to the west, in Greece and Africa. For this episode, Anirudh Kanisetti and Tristan discussed the role of Indian war elephants, their strengths, weaknesses and training; and what they tell us about Ancient India.

Anirudh’s own podcasts, Yuddha, which is dedicated to Indian Military history, and Echoes of India, which embraces the whole of Indian history, can be found here:


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Feb 04, 2021
Edges of Empire: Rome's Northernmost Town

Roughly two miles south of Hadrian’s Wall lie the remains of Roman Corbridge, the northernmost town of the Roman Empire. The site’s archaeology is unique. The remains highlight what was once a bustling town. As its centre was the high street. Covered walkways, street side shops and an ornate fountain are just a few of the structures that we know were present along this central road, now known as the Stanegate. Metres away, however, you have the remains of very different structures surviving. Military buildings, ‘mini forts’ that were slotted into Corbridge’s bustling town landscape, when the legionaries returned here in the 2nd century. Though not on Hadrian’s Wall itself, this ancient cosmopolitan town had strong economic connections with those manning this frontier. It is a must see site for anyone planning to visit Hadrian’s Wall.

A few months back, I was fortunate enough to visit Corbridge and be shown around the site by English Heritage curator Dr Frances McIntosh.

The full tour / documentary can be viewed on History Hit TV. Hadrian’s Wall: Settlement and Supply:

The site of Corbridge Roman Town is owned by English Heritage


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Jan 31, 2021
Roman Military Tombstones: Uncovering the Unknown Warriors

From Northern Britain to the Near East, Roman tombstones have been uncovered on various far flung frontiers of the Roman Empire. Dedicated to those auxiliaries and legionaries that perished far from home, guarding a distant border of this ancient empire. These objects provide an extraordinary insight into the lives of these fallen soldiers and how they were honoured. But these memorials don’t just provide information about the tomb’s deceased occupant. They can tell us so much more. About variation in tombstone designs, about the larger military community stationed on that frontier and about the importance of memory for these soldiers. To talk through this astonishing topic, Tristan was delighted to be joined by Ewan Coopey, from Macquarie University in Sydney. A Roman tombstone fanatic, Ewan has done a lot of research into funerary monuments on Roman frontiers, particularly regarding those belonging to Legio VII, based in Dalmatia.


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Jan 28, 2021
The Mystery of the Ninth Legion

The legions of Rome were the nucleus of Rome’s military might for centuries. From campaigning in northern Scotland to the Persian Gulf, these devastating battalions extended and cemented Roman power. Yet of these legions there was one whose end is shrouded in mystery: the Ninth Legion. So what might have happened to this legion? Joining me to talk through the theories surrounding the Ninth's disappearance is Dr Simon Elliott. Simon has recently written a book all about the Ninth's disappearance, and in this podcast he takes us through the various theories and evidence surrounding this mystery.


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Jan 24, 2021
Edges of Empire: The Sasanian Frontiers

For centuries, arguably the greatest external threat the Roman Empire faced came from the East. From the Sasanian Persian Empire. With its nucleus situated in Iran, at its height the Sasanian Empire was one of antiquity’s most formidable kingdoms, controlling lands that stretched from the Hindu Kush to the River Euphrates. Like the Romans, the Sasanians had to deal with various potential threats. From the north, from the lands of the steppe east and west of the Caspian Sea, nomadic peoples such as the Huns would become renowned for descending on Roman and Sasanian territories and wreaking havoc. And so, on the edges of their empire, the Sasanians constructed frontiers of various forms. For military purposes, yes. But also for economic and political purposes as will be explained.

In this podcast, we’re going to look at some of these Sasanian frontiers. From a dominating fort a ‘top an alpine gorge in the Caucusus to a barrier that makes Hadrian’s Wall pale in comparison. To talk through this incredible topic, I was delighted to be joined by Dr Eve MacDonald from the University of Cardiff. Alongside her research on the Sasanian Empire and its frontiers, Eve has also done work surrounding the ancient history of Carthage and of North Africa. She is the author of ‘Hannibal: A Hellenistic Life’.


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Jan 21, 2021
Indonesian Cave Art: A Dramatic New Discovery

It’s a paradox for the ages, breaking news about people who lived and died thousands of years ago. This discovery is no different, because Adam Brumm and his team in Sulawesi have released their discovery of the oldest known figurative art made by modern humans. And the oldest known cave art depicting the animal kingdom. The paintings on the Indonesian island are over 45,500 years old, and feature three pigs alongside the stencilled outlines of the hands of their prehistoric painter (perhaps). Listen as Adam tells Tristan about his research on this beautiful island, how the pigs were discovered and what they can tell us about the first humans to arrive in Southeast Asia.


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Jan 17, 2021
Tomyris: A Warrior Queen's Revenge

Her legend afforded her a place alongside Eve, Cleopatra and Venus, to name just a few of the famous women whose biographies were collected by Giovanni Boccaccio in 1361-2. Though not a household name as the others may be, Tomyris’ story contains all of the hallmarks of an epic. Tomyris was Queen of the Massagetae people, from present day Central Asia, in the 6th century BC. She is remembered in Herodotus’ first book for her vengeful challenge to the bloodthirsty Cyrus the Great. To talk about Tomyris, Queen and commander, Tristan was joined by Christian Djurslev of Aarhus University.


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Jan 14, 2021
Oppian’s Halieutica: Creatures of the Ancient Deep

The deep blue sea is the subject of speculation to this day but, in this episode, we have access to the mysteries, myths and misgivings that were associated with the ocean in the 2nd century AD. The Halieutica was written in Hexameter by the Greek poet Oppian, and dedicated to the then Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus. Emily Kneebone from the University of Nottingham has recently completed a monograph on this overlooked Epic, and she is here to tell us about the sea and its often personified, often hostile inhabitants.


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Jan 10, 2021
Battle by the Trebia: Hannibal's Winter War

It’s 218 BC, and Hannibal has made the mammoth journey across the Alps en route to Italy, accompanied by his army, their horses, and their elephants. But the real battle is yet to come, and in this fantastic second episode with Louis Rawlings, he takes us onto the battlefield with the Carthaginian army and into the fight against their Roman and Allied opposition. Louis and Tristan discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each side, and the tactics deployed under Hannibal’s remarkable leadership.


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Jan 07, 2021
How Ancient Egypt Stayed Egyptian

The length of time between the rule of Cleopatra and the erection of the Pyramids is the same as that between now and the birth of Jesus Christ. With that in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that some periods of Ancient Egypt fall beneath the radar. The Late Period of Ancient Egypt, however, is not without drama. These final centuries are characterised by repeated invasions and leadership by foreign rulers. Chris Naunton is an Egyptologist, writer and broadcaster. He spoke to Tristan about the influence of external forces on Ancient Egyptian society from the Third Intermediate Period through the Late Period. This included Libyan, Assyrian, Persian and, notably, an Ancients’ favourite, the Macedonian Alexander the Great.


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Jan 03, 2021
El Kurru: Egypt's Nubian Pharaohs

In the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Ancient Egypt was ruled by an extraordinary dynasty. This was the 25th Dynasty, also known as the Nubian Dynasty because of their Kushite roots. They maintained their Nubian identity, with one of the most striking examples of this being the site of El-Kurru. Situated in what is today Northern Sudan, this was one of the key cemeteries for the 25th Dynasty. Complete with unique-styled pyramids, beautifully-preserved wall paintings and tumuli, archaeologists have made some remarkable discoveries at this site over the past century. One such archaeologist is Dr Rachael Dann, from the University of Copenhagen. Alongside a dedicated team, Rachael has spent years working at El-Kurru. In this podcast she explains what we know about the site and the archaeology that survives. The second of our episodes on Ancient Egypt.


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Dec 31, 2020
Hatshepsut: Egypt's Hidden Pharaoh

Hatshepsut – whose name means “foremost of noblewomen” – was an exceptional figure in the history of Ancient Egypt. Only the second woman in history to assume the title of pharaoh, during her reign she oversaw the building of monumental temples, established trade connections with far away African powers and oversaw extended periods of peace. Hatshepsut's legacy in the history of Ancient Egypt is remarkable and the fact that her story has been largely-forgotten is one of the great tragedies of antiquity. To shine a light on Hatshepsut, Tristan was delighted to be joined by Lucia Gahlin, a brilliant Egyptologist with a great passion for the story of Hatshepsut. This was a great chat, enjoy.  

Lucia also stars in our new History Hit documentary about Hatshepsut, featuring alongside the likes of Kara Cooney and Monica Hanna. Please do have a watch:


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Dec 27, 2020
The Mystery of Mithras: A Pagan Christmas?

The clichéd Christmas: white snow, hot fires, mulled wine and a feast. This might not be the case were the holiday not to fall on 25 December and, although many things have been missed in 2020, the usual questions of whether this is the right date arrived reliably on time. So, for this episode, Tristan spoke to Professor Matthew McCarty to find out whether Christmas Day was really placed in December to supplant non-Christian worship, in particular that of Mithras. Matthew is Assistant Professor of Roman Archaeology at the University of British Columbia. He has been directing the field excavation of a mithraeum in Apulum (Romania), the first scientifically excavated mithraeum in the province of Dacia. In this festive episode, he shares his insight into the social dynamics of ritual practices in the sanctuary at Apulum and elsewhere.


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Dec 24, 2020
Saturnalia: Bonus Episode!

In this episode from the History Hit archive, Dan talks to Kevin Butcher about the Roman festival of Saturnalia. Held between the 17 and 23 December, Saturnalia invloved plenty of drinking, gift-giving, and a sense of a world turned upside-down.


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Dec 22, 2020
Hannibal: Crossing the Alps

In 218 BCE, Hannibal Barca's Carthaginian army, accompanied by horses and elephants, completed one of the most audacious military marches of ancient Mediterranean history. Setting off from southeast Spain, on their way they overcame a number of hostile Celtic tribes and traversed two major mountain ranges: the Pyrenees and then, most famously, the Alps. Battered and bruised Hannibal and his men eventually descended from the Alpine passes and arrived in Northern Italy at the end of 218 BC, where they soon clashed with the Roman legions awaiting them near the River Trebbia. This battle, fought on a snowy plain in freezing conditions, was the climax of the 218 BC campaign and the first of Hannibal's great victories against Rome.

From the outbreak of the Second Punic War to the Battle of the River Trebbia, in this two-part podcast Dr Louis Rawlings, Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at Cardiff University, dives into the events of 218 BC and the incredible leadership of Hannibal. In this first episode, Tristan and Louis discuss the background to Hannibal Barca's march to Italy, before focusing in on one of the greatest adventure stories from antiquity: Hannibal's crossing of the Alps.

Episode two, covering the Battle of the River Trebbia, will be released in a couple of weeks.


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Dec 20, 2020
Thucydides: Thoughts on the Athenian Empire

From 478 BCE until 404 BCE, a collection of Greek city-states were united under the leadership of Athens. Beyond inscriptions and a few minor sources, there is very little to tell us about life within this empire … that is, except the works of Thucydides, an Athenian historian and general who wrote a history of the Peloponnesian War. Professor Polly Low from Durham University spoke to Tristan about what we can learn from Thucydides work about this Athenian empire. How did Athens come to have this power? How did they keep their subjects in line? What did Thucydides miss out?


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Dec 17, 2020
The Garamantes: Farming the Sahara

Greco-Roman historians including Herodotus, Tacitus and Pliny the Elder would have us believe that the Garamantes were simple uncivilized cattle herders, living in sporadic camp dwellings. Until archaeological excavations began in the 1960s, this categorisation remained in place. Luckily, archaeologists like David Mattingly have dedicated years of research to sifting the fact from the fiction in the story of these residents of present day Libya. In this episode, David provides us with the revised version of the Garamantes’ civilisation. This includes masterful innovations in irrigation which allowed the Garamantes to farm two crops a year under the heat of the Saharan sun, as well as evidence of a social hierarchy and engagement in foreign trade. Listen as David turns the stereotype of the Garamantes on its head.


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Dec 13, 2020
Scotland's Enigmatic Ancient Structures

Brochs. Early archaeologists believed that they must have been built by the Danish, that the indigenous population could never have managed it. More recent suggestions have been that architects travelled Scotland, spreading the plans for these Iron Age ‘round houses on steroids’. Iain Maclean came on The Ancients to shed a little light on the truth of the stone buildings found across Scotland, particularly on the coastline. Whilst mentions of Romans, Egyptians and Greeks are familiar to our ears, the Scottish Celts have fallen under the radar. By studying brochs, archaeologists have not only uncovered the amazing architecture which has kept many of them standing, but have also learned more about the societies that built them. By examining the spread of the structures over time, they have been able to track changing climates; and by excavating the contents of the buildings, they have been able to track the communities’ ways of living off the land. Iain dreamt up the concept of the Broch Project for Caithness and, when he isn’t building brochs from various different materials, is spreading knowledge of this little understood part of Scottish history through events and community outreach.


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Dec 10, 2020
Old Testament Warriors

It’s probably the most famous book in the world, and it’s also essentially the only literary source which covers the genesis of warfare and the nation state. Simon Elliott is an archaeologist, historian and broadcaster. He came onto the podcast to talk to Tristan about 7,500 years of history - in under an hour. Using the Bible as a jumping off point, Simon takes us through the technological developments and innovation of warfare, bringing in other archaeological findings to support the singular perspective of the bible. This episode runs through the first walled settlement at Jericho, the first battle chariots and the development of different strategies. This truly is a who’s who of the Ancients, including the Assyrians, Babylonians, Sumerians, Akkadians, Egyptians of all kingdoms, Hittites, Sea Peoples, Philistines and Hebrews.


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Dec 06, 2020
Spartacus: Life or Legend?

‘I’m Spartacus!’ In the field of epic film making, the 1960 historical drama ‘Spartacus’, is legendary. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, adapted from the Howard Fast novel by Red Scare blacklisted screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, and starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov and Jean Simmons; it is a classic. But how much of the plot has emerged from the true story of a Thracian gladiator and slave who escaped his Roman captors and led an unsuccessful but impressive rebellion against their oppressors? How much of the film’s message was formed by the personalities involved in its creation, and the context in which it was made.

In her own words, Dr Fiona Radford devoted years of her life to the man with the most memorable chin cleft in the world - Kirk Douglas, specifically as Spartacus. Her thesis traced the production history of this film, examining in particular the effect that the turbulent process had on the portrayal of female characters. Having taught at Macquarie University, ANU and the University of Sydney, she currently teaches history at secondary school level, and her conversation with Tristan in this episode is an eye-opener to 1950s film making as well as the legend of Spartacus.


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Dec 03, 2020
Dura-Europos: The Syrian Pompeii

When we think of Pompeii, we remember the city which became frozen in time after a natural catastrophe. Well, in 1920, exactly 100 years ago, another 'frozen city' was rediscovered. This time it was Dura-Europos, and rather than falling victim to a volcano, this city was destroyed after a bloody siege in 256 AD. Whilst there is no historical record of life in the Hellenistic, Parthian and Roman border city and garrison, its remains have proven to be a rich source for archaeologists since the 1920s. Between the only complete example of the semi-cylindrical Roman legionary shield and the perfect oval shields with beautiful paintings of Greeks and Trojans or Greeks and Amazons; beyond the regimental records and complete horse armour and the Palmyrene Gate; archaeologists have uncovered the story of the city.

Tristan was joined on the podcast by Simon James from the University of Leicester, who talked through what we now know about life in Dura-Europa and the relationships between the Roman garrison, their dependents and the other inhabitants. He also offers a play-by-play of the battle which brought this city to a halt, and possibly one of the earliest examples of chemical warfare, all discovered through archaeology.


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Nov 29, 2020
Pompeii and the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius

Pompeii is back in the news. An extraordinary new, touching discovery, found during the Great Pompeii Project of Professor Massimo Osanna and his team. Roughly 700 metres northwest of Pompeii, in the remains of a suburban Roman villa, archaeologists have unearthed the incredibly-preserved remains of two men, victims of the infamous eruption of Mount Vesuvius that occurred almost 2,000 years ago in 79 AD.

So what do we know about the eruption? What do we know about this terrible event that has left Pompeii with this astonishing legacy? Daisy Dunn came back on the show for this special, emergency podcast to talk through what we know about the eruption and those who witnessed it.

Daisy is the author of In The Shadow of Vesuvius: A Tale of Two Plinys. She has also appeared on the Ancients podcast earlier this year, talking about Rome’s most erotic poet Catullus.


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Nov 26, 2020
Linothorax: Kevlar of the Ancients

The House of the Faun in Pompeii is known for being one of the largest and most impressive private residences in the ancient city. Among its many works of art is a depiction of Alexander the Great in battle. In previous episodes we have discussed Alexander’s rule and empire, but this time, let’s focus on his armour, as shown in this mosaic on the floor of the House of Faun, the only contemporary portrayal of linothorax on a known figure. For, instead of wearing bronze or iron armour as one might expect, Alexander is going into battle wearing a breastplate of linen.

Gregory Aldrete has spent 12 years studying the composition and effectiveness of this ancient armour used by many nations around the Mediterranean. To do so, he recreated the armour from scratch, using authentic materials. In this episode Gregory, Professor Emeritus from The University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, speaks with Tristan about how this armour protected one of the most powerful conquering armies of all history, despite being made of a soft fabric.


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Nov 22, 2020
Volcanic Vineyards of Pompeii

An ancient town, buried and preserved beneath volcanic ash, Pompeii is a gift to archaeologists and historians seeking to find out more about the lives of the civilians in a regular Roman town. Beyond the well recognised plaster casts of the bodies of people and animals alike, and the structures and artwork maintained in situ, however, is evidence of a very specific system. That is the system of the cultivation of grapes and the process of extracting every usable substance from them to make wine. Positioned in the Campania region of Italy, Pompeii shared fertile soils, perfect climatic conditions and proximity to a busy sea port. The grapes of Pompeii may have ended up on the tables of the house at which they were grown; they might have been made into low quality wine for manual workers or better quality wine valued at more than the wages of many; or, they might have been shipped far and wide.

Emlyn Dodd is a Fellow at the Australian Archaeological Institute in Athens and is currently directing a survey project across Cycladic islands which, among other things, is investigating the production of wine and oil in the Classical to Late Antique eras. He spoke to Tristan about what the evidence from Pompeii tells us about grape growth and wine production there, and whether this can be scaled out to other settlements in the Roman Mediterranean.


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Nov 19, 2020
Terror in the Teutoburg Forest

Its been used for nationalist propaganda across the ages and its just been dramatised for Netflix, but what do we actually know about the Battle of Teutoburg Forest? For a start, where was it? Dr Joanne Ball, from the University of Liverpool is a battlefield archaeologist. In this episode she takes Tristan through this story of the betrayal and destruction of three of Emperor Augustus’ Roman legions - under the leadership of Varus - by a Germanic alliance led by Arminius, a Germanic auxiliary officer brought up as a hostage of the Roman Empire. Together they explore the circumstances which led the Roman leaders to trust a Germanic subject against his fellow Germanic nationals. They also go through the evidence which places the ambush at Kalkriese and the battle’s extensive legacy, some of which stems from conflicting accounts of its location.

Presented by Tristan Hughes (@ancientstristan)

Featuring Jo Ball (@DrJEBall)

Edited by Sophie Gee (@SophieGee12)


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Nov 15, 2020
Agrippa and Augustus: The Golden Age

The Romans, an ancient conquering civilisation with an empire that spread from Europe across the Balkans to the Middle East and North Africa. For this episode, we are returning to our study of one of the most influential men in Roman History, Marcus Agrippa. Lindsay Powell came back to talk Tristan through the later life of the right hand man of Octavian / Augustus. After bringing about the end of the last civil war of the Roman Republic, and his great victory at the Battle of Actium in 31BC, came Agrippa’s twenty golden years. His loyalty to Octavian unwavering, Agrippa delivered countless architectural and artistic developments to Ancient Rome and other cities across the Empire. Lindsay and Tristan explore the lengths to which Agrippa’s devotion to his Emperor would stretch, whether to marriage or even to gifting his own sons.


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Nov 12, 2020
The Other Alexander

Alexander, an Ancient Greek king and a victorious conqueror. No, not that one, not Alexander the Great. This time, we’re talking about his uncle, Alexander I of Molossia. In 334BC, when Alexander the Great advanced east to conquer the Persian Empire, Alexander of Molossia was travelling west across the Ionian sea to the south of Italy. In addition to their matching names and simultaneous expansionist expeditions, both Alexanders were brought up in the court of Philip II of Macedon. But whilst one remains a household name, the other has sunk into obscurity. To explore the life of this lesser known Alexander, Tristan was joined by Dr. Ben Raynor. Ben is a former Moses and Mary Finley Fellow at Darwin College, University of Cambridge. He talks us through Alexander I of Molossia’s formative years in Philip’s court, his relationship with the Macedonian king and his own successes as a leader. Ben and Tristan also delve into the legends about Alexander’s death, and his omission from popular history.


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Nov 08, 2020
Philip and Alexander: Kings and Conquerors

Alexander the Great. One of the most recognisable names in history. In his short lifetime he conquered the mighty Persian Empire and marched his army as far as the Indus River Valley. But it is important to remember that Alexander’s achievements were only possible because of his father Philip. It was Philip who transformed the Kingdom of Macedon from a backward domain into the dominant power in the Central Mediterranean. It was Philip who reformed the army and created the force that would serve as the nucleus of Alexander’s famous victories. Both were extraordinary leaders. Both embodied a charismatic style of leadership that helped transform them into semi-legendary conquerors.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a soft spot for the story of Alexander, his successors and the Hellenistic Period in general, and so I was delighted to be joined by the one and only Adrian Goldsworthy to talk all things Philip and Alexander. One of Britain’s most renowned ancient historians, Adrian has written countless books on ancient Rome, while his most recent work covers the stories of Philip and Alexander.

This was a great chat and I hope you enjoy.

Adrian is the author of Philip and Alexander: Kings and Conquerors.


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Nov 05, 2020
Catullus: Rome's Most Erotic Poet

If you're looking for a raunchy Roman poet, look no further than Catullus. Born into one of the most exciting periods in Roman history, in the early 1st century BC as the Roman Republic started to sing its swansong, Catullus was an aristocrat who moved in powerful circles. He was known to Cicero; he dined with Julius Caesar even after he’d mocked the great leader in verse. Catullus was well-connected, but it was his abiding love for a woman he called Lesbia (probably Clodia Metelli, a powerful woman herself) that inspired much of his poetry, which survived in a single manuscript of 116 verses.

Catullus was revolutionary, bringing a new type of poetry to the fore in ancient Rome. Often his poems were deeply personal, filled to the brim with emotion. Rarely did the young man hold back when pouring his heart out into his verses. Friends and enemies were targeted in sexy and scurrilous poems that continue to shock readers to this day. Nevertheless Catullus' legacy was far-reaching. From Ovid to Byron, Catullus has inspired many of those famous romantic poets that followed him.

To talk through the life of Ancient Rome's 'bad boy poet' (to quote our current Prime Minister Boris Johnson), it was an honour to interview Daisy Dunn, a leading classicist and Catullus' 21st century biographer. In this podcast Daisy brilliantly talks through the life of Catullus and his remarkable legacy. This was a brilliant chat and I hope you enjoy as much as Daisy and I did recording it.

Daisy is the author of Catullus: Rome's Most Erotic Poet.


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Nov 01, 2020
The Kingdom of Aksum

At its height the Kingdom of Aksum was considered one of the four great powers of the Ancient World. Situated primarily in what is now northern Ethiopia, Aksum’s legacy is astonishing and far reaching and so it is extraordinary to think that so few people have heard about this kingdom today. To explain why this is the case, and so much more, I was delighted to be joined by Dr Jacke Phillips, an archaeologist and leading expert on the Kingdom of Aksum. In this podcast Jacke explained to me what we know about this ancient African kingdom and how we are continuing to learn more thanks to new, ground-breaking archaeological discoveries. From Aksum's relations with neighbouring kingdoms to its important role in the history of both Christianity and Islam, Jacke explains all in this brilliant chat.

Apologies for the couple of places where the audio is a little dodgy!


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Oct 29, 2020
Legendary Cổ Loa: Vietnam's Ancient Capital

It is one of the most extraordinary ancient archaeological sites in Southeast Asia, albeit one that is relatively unheard of outside of Vietnam. Cổ Loa. A defensive stronghold that during its golden age became the beating heart of ancient Vietnam. To this day the city holds a deep national importance for the Vietnamese. It is a site surrounded by legendary tales, with new archaeological discoveries continuing to reveal more about this ancient city’s fascinating past.

To talk through the history, and legends, that surround this central bastion of ancient Vietnam, I was delighted to be joined by Professor Nam Kim from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Nam is a leading expert on the ancient history of Vietnam and has conducted excavations at Cổ Loa since 2005.

Nam is the author of The Origins of Ancient Vietnam


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Oct 25, 2020
The Battle of Philippi: Death of the Roman Republic

In October 42 BC the Roman Republic committed suicide. Near the town of Philippi in northern Greece the forces of Brutus and Cassius, the famous assassins of Julius Caesar and the last surviving cheerleaders of the Roman Republic, faced off against the armies of Marc Antony and young Octavian. Two separate battles were fought, the results of which decided the future direction of Rome. I was delighted to get the brilliant Steele Brand (@steele_brand) back on the podcast to talk me through these all-important battles. From the background to Brutus’ pitiful demise Steele guided me through the final Roman attempts to restore the Republic and how they were ultimately squashed by a combination of political brilliance, suicidal blunders and outrageous luck.

Steele is the author of ‘Killing for the Republic: Citizen Soldiers and the Roman Way of War’.

Steele's Twitter: @steele_brand

Tristan's Twitter: @ancientstristan

Steele's previous appearance on The Ancients:

Quick note:

Lycia was a region in southwest Anatolia that bordered the Mediterranean Sea.


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Oct 22, 2020
Sophocles' Lost Plays: Solving the Puzzle

The Big Three. In antiquity it could mean a whole host of different things, the triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus for instance. But for many, ‘The Big Three’ means the three great tragedians of Ancient Greece we know so well today: Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. Today’s podcast is all about Sophocles, the creator of famous plays such as Oedipus Rex, Ajax and Antigone.

Seven of his plays survive in full, but believe it or not this is but a morsel of the many works that Sophocles created. Fragments of more than 100 other plays written by Sophocles have been uncovered. Though only snippets survive, and in various forms, they have provided valuable insights into Sophocles’ career and how he wrote much more than just tragedy. Even more extraordinary, to this day new fragments continue to be studied. They continue to reveal more about Sophocles and his works, slowly adding more pieces to the puzzle that is this famous dramatist - and ancient Greek drama as a whole. Sophocles may have been living over 2,500 years ago, but his story is far from over.

I was delighted to be joined by Dr Lyndsay Coo, a leading expert on Sophocles and his lost plays, to talk through the life and legacy of this famous dramatist. We first talk about Sophocles and his seven surviving plays, before going on to the many, many fragments that survive and their significance. This was an enthralling and eye-opening chat. Enjoy.


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Oct 18, 2020
69 AD: Rise of Vespasian

69 AD was a tumultuous year in Roman history. 4 Romans assumed the title of emperor; only one remained standing by the year’s end. His name was Vespasian, veteran of Claudius’ invasion of Britain and the builder of the Colosseum. Jonathan Eaton (@DrJEaton) joined me on the podcast to talk through the rise of Emperor Vespasian. In particular, we focus on what this father of the Flavian Dynasty was doing during 69 AD and assess how influential soldiers across the empire were in his bid for power. Jonathan is the author of Leading the Roman Army: Soldiers and Emperors, 31 BC – 235 AD.

Jonathan's Twitter: @DrJEaton

Tristan's Twitter: @ancientstristan


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Oct 15, 2020
The Defeat of Rome: Crassus and the Battle of Carrhae

Gareth Sampson, author of Defeat of Rome in the East: Crassus, the Parthians, and the Disastrous Battle of Carrhae, 53 BC came on the podcast to provide an in depth account of Marcus Crassus’ disastrous campaign east of the Euphrates River in 53 BC. Gareth sorted the fact from the fiction. He dispelled the idea that Crassus was this incompetent general, highlighting the questionable impartiality of our surviving sources that are at pains to suggest the campaign was plagued by disastrous omens from start to finish. In fact it was quite the opposite.

Gareth is also the author of Rome and Parthia: Empires at War, his most recent book.

Quick note:

The Seleukid Empire: A Hellenistic Kingdom that once ruled much of the ancient Near-East. One of its key kings was Antiochus III, also known as Antiochus 'the Great'.


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Oct 11, 2020
Septimius Severus in Scotland

Dan Snow talks to Simon Elliott about Septimius Severus, the first Hammer of the Scots, about his Northern Campaigns, and the true story of this savage 3rd century invasion of Scotland.


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Oct 08, 2020
Nero the Antichrist?

The Emperor Nero is one of antiquity's most infamous figures, having a particularly hostile relationship with the Christians. But did the early Christians associate Nero with the Antichrist mentioned in the New Testament? Joining me to sort the fact from the fiction is Shushma Malik (@MalikShushma), Lecturer at the University of Roehampton and the author of The Nero-Antichrist: Founding and Fashioning a Paradigm. Shushma explains how this association between Nero and the Antichrist was invented in the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries by later Christian writers of antiquity. We also explore how this association was revived in the 18th and 19th centuries and how widespread this revival's influence became. Including its influence on the 1951 American epic historical drama Quo Vadis.

Shushma also taught me at university a few years back, so it was great to catch up!

Shushma's Twitter: @MalikShushma

Tristan's Twitter: @ancientstristan


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Oct 04, 2020
Agrippa: Rome's Forgotten Hero

There are few men in Roman history that can claim to have been as influential as Marcus Agrippa. The right-hand man of Octavian / Augustus, his career is dotted with powerful positions. And yet, what was arguably so remarkable about his life was his stalwart loyalty to his friend Octavian. Together they irreversibly transformed the Roman Empire. Joining me to talk about Agrippa's remarkable career is his 21st century biographer Lindsay Powell. In this first of two episodes, Lindsay talks me through Agrippa's career up to the climactic Battle of Actium and the key role he played in bringing about the end of the last civil war of the Roman Republic.

Lindsay is the author of Agrippa: Right Hand Man of Augustus. Part 2 of this podcast, on Agrippa's life from Actium down to his death, will be released in the near future.


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Oct 01, 2020
The Polynesians: Ancient Mariners of the Pacific

The ancient Polynesians remain the greatest seafarers in history. Already by the time of the legendary founding of Rome on 21 April 753 BC, Polynesian voyagers had crossed huge parts of the Pacific Ocean and settled on isolated islands such as Tonga and Samoa. Mind-boggling and incredible. Later they would voyage even further into the Pacific, settling the likes of Easter Island, Vanuatu and New Zealand. So how did they do this? How were they able to reach these far-flung islands in their iconic canoes? What were the keys to their success? And perhaps most fascinating of all what drove groups of Polynesians to want to set sail in their iconic canoes into the vast and treacherous Pacific?

So many questions still surround the ancient history of Polynesia and their unparalleled voyaging across the vast Pacific Ocean and in this podcast I was delighted to be joined by Christina Thompson to talk me through this 'Puzzle of Polynesia'. From the iconic outrigger canoes to the canine animals they brought with them, she explains what we do know (and what are the theories) about the ancient Polynesians and their incredible voyages across the Pacific Ocean.

Christina is the author of: 'Sea Peoples: The Puzzle of Polynesia' and 'Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All'


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Sep 27, 2020
The Battle of Salamis

We've had the Battle of Thermopylae with the brilliant Paul Cartledge; we've had the Battle of Artemisium with the great Owen Rees. And I'm delighted to say that we are today fulfilling the 2,499 Persian War 'trilogy' with the Battle of Salamis. One of the most famous naval clashes of antiquity, it saw a small (largely-Athenian) fleet square up against the mighty Persian armada of King Xerxes. It occurred around this time (c.22 September), 2,499 years ago.

I was thrilled to be joined by Professor Barry Strauss to talk through the Battle of Salamis. In this podcast he provides a thorough account of the clash and explains why the battle became so important to the Athenians. Barry is the author of 'The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter that Saved Greece - and Western Civilisation'. He is also the host of the Antiquitas podcast.

A second podcast with Barry, on 10 Roman Emperors, will be out in due time!


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Sep 24, 2020
The Rise of Constantine

The Emperor Constantine I, better known as Constantine the Great, is one of the most significant emperors in Roman history. His later Christian biographers lauded him as an icon, the man who set in motion Rome's dramatic transformation into a primarily Christian empire. And yet Constantine's own beliefs were deliberately ambiguous, as Professor David Potter explained. He learned from Diocletian, he witnessed the mistakes and the successes. He figured out how to heal divisions in the empire, but at the same time restore it to one man rule through blood and battle. 

Constantine's military and administrative successes are often-overlooked, but these in themselves were extraordinary. In this podcast David and I chatted through Constantine's remarkable life, his legacy and why you wouldn't rate your chances of survival if you were part of his family.

David is the author of 'Constantine the Emperor'.

Some notes from the pod:

Galerius - A Roman emperor between 305 and 311

(Valerius) Severus - Galerius' preferred candidate to become the new Augustus in the west in 306, following the death of Constantius (Constantine's father). He was opposed by Constantine.

The Wall - Hadrian's Wall

The Chi Rho - a Christian symbol, but also a symbol of good fortune. Constantine painted the symbol on his soldiers' shields at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.

Lactantius - an early Christian author who talked about the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.

Maximinus Daia - ruled alongside Licinius in the east. Formed an alliance with Maxentius against Licinius and Constantine. Defeated by Licinius.

Licinius - ruler of the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Co-ruled the Empire with Constantine for a while (doesn't end well!).


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Sep 20, 2020
Jason and the Argonauts

This week's episode from the History Hit archive features the brilliant Tom Holland telling the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, an epic story of honour, adventure, dangerous women and a golden fleece. Told with wit, verve and passion, this magical tale of the first group of super-heroes will be a treat for all, whether young or old. This was recorded at the 2016 Chalke Valley history festival and first released on the Chalke Valley History Hit Podcast.


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Sep 17, 2020
Alexander the Great: Through Persian Eyes

Conqueror. Destroyer. Convert. Legendary king. It's fair to say that Alexander the Great's relationship with ancient Persia was complicated. Despite conquering the Persian Empire, Alexander admired and adopted many aspects of Persian culture. Despite sacking the prestigious Persian centre of Persepolis, he honoured the great Persian king Cyrus and married a Persian princess. Alexander may have conquered the Persian Empire, but ultimately this conqueror became a willing 'captive' of Persian culture.

Alexander was extraordinary - one of the most written about figures in history. But what did the ancient Iranians think of him?

I was delighted to be joined by Professor Ali Ansari in this podcast to chat through the complicated history of Alexander the Great in the Persian narrative. A once-hated figure, overtime he was adopted into Iranian legend. This was a fascinating chat. Alexander Romance, Immortals, Persepolis, Persians, Parthians – it has it all.

Some definitions from the pod:

The Alexander Romance - a legendary account of the life and exploits of Alexander the Great that remained popular into medieval times. Various versions exist (Greek, Syrian, Armenian, French, Jewish, Persian and more).

Zoroastrianism - the central religion of the Persian Empire (e.g. the Zoroastrian priests at Persepolis).

The Seleucids - one of the Successor kingdoms that emerged in the aftermath of Alexander the Great's death. Named after its founder, Seleucus / Seleukos. Controlled Persia for over 100 years.

The Parthians - an Iranian / Hellenistic culture that ruled ancient Persia after the Seleucids. They remain the longest single dynasty to have ruled Iran (c.500 years).

The Immortals - the 10,000 strong guard of the Persian Achaemenid King.


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Sep 13, 2020
The Roman Forum

Another one from the History Hit archive! The Roman Forum, also known by its Latin name Forum Romanum (Italian: Foro Romano), is a rectangular forum (plaza) surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the centre of the city of Rome. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum.

For centuries the Forum was the centre of day-to-day life in Rome: the site of triumphal processions and elections; the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches; and the nucleus of commercial affairs. Here statues and monuments commemorated the city's great men. The teeming heart of ancient Rome, it has been called the most celebrated meeting place in the world, and in all history. Located in the small valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, the Forum today is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and intermittent archaeological excavations attracting 4.5 million sightseers yearly.

This episode was first broadcast on Darius Arya Digs.


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Sep 11, 2020
The Vestal Virgins

Priestesses of Vesta, Goddess of hearth, home and family, the College of Vestal Virgins were Rome’s only full-time priesthood. They numbered only six and were selected from noble Roman families at an early age, between six and 10 years old. They would tend the sacred fire in the Temple of Vesta and remain virgins for the duration of their tenure, which would stretch long into womanhood, lasting at least 30 years. Their importance to Rome was paramount and throughout this ancient civilisation's pagan history, the Vestal Virgins remained right at the heart of Roman society. But things were not always plain sailing for the Vestals during their 1,000 year history... I was delighted to be joined by a leading light on this subject Peta Greenfield to talk through the history of the Vestals. From the importance of fire and water for the cult to the infamous Vestal punishment of 'incestum' Peta explained the history behind all in this brilliant chat.

Quick note:

Octavia was Octavian / Augustus' sister.

Livia was Augustus' wife.


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Sep 06, 2020
Pax Romana

Time for a delve into the History Hit ancient history archives! In this podcast Dan Snow sits down with the brilliant Adrian Goldsworthy to ask the big questions surrounding the success of Imperial Rome. Why did the Roman Empire last so long? What were the keys to its success? Why were its soldiers so effective? And so much more. This podcast was initially released on Dan Snow's History Hit, for the publication of Adrian's book 'Pax Romana: War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World' in 2016. But it has certainly not lost its quality!

New Ancients episodes with Tristan and guests will be released every Sunday!


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Sep 04, 2020
The Kingdom of Kush

Along the banks of the River Nile, directly south of ancient Egypt and hundreds of miles away from the Mediterranean, there was a flourishing kingdom. The Kingdom of Kush. The Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Nabataeans, Libyans, Romans, and not to mention countless African kingdoms - the Kushite domain boasted a remarkable history with all these ancient civilisations throughout its long history. Its existence spanned centuries; its cities were bustling centres for inter-continental trade; its art and architecture continues to amaze visitors to this day.

I was delighted to be joined by Luke Pepera (@LukePepera), a historian, archaeologist and anthropologist with a passion for African history. In this podcast he shines a light on the Kingdom of Kush's history, particularly focusing on the ancient kingdom's often-overlooked interactions with Imperial Rome. He explains how the death of Cleopatra and the demise of the Hellenistic Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt paved the way for a major conflict between the Kushites and Romans, where the Kushite warrior queen Amanirenas led her armies against the Emperor Augustus' legions. Nevertheless, despite this hostile beginning, over the following centuries relations between the Kushites and Romans improved, with both kingdoms co-existing in relative harmony until the former's demise in the mid 4th century. This was a fascinating chat and I hope you enjoy.

Luke has recently starred in two History Hit documentaries covering African history: 'The Kingdom of Benin' and 'Africa: Written Out of History'.

Notes: Cornelius Gallus' campaign in Arabia Felix was against the Arabians, not the Assyrians!


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Aug 28, 2020
The Battle of Artemisium

Around this time 2,499 years ago the famous Battle of Thermopylae was raging. But it is important to remember that this clash was not happening on its own. At the same time, to the east of Leonidas' defence, another battle was underway at sea between Xerxes' great armada and a much smaller Hellenic fleet plagued with internal problems. This was the Battle of Artemisium, an often-overlooked and overshadowed military encounter of the Persian Wars. Its importance, however, was sizeable. I was delighted to have Dr Owen Rees back on the show to talk through this clash, explaining its significance and how it paved the way for one of the most famous naval battles in history: Salamis. Owen is the author of 'Great Naval Battles of the Ancient Greek World.'

This episode is the second in a small series covering 4 key clashes of 480 BC, the 2,499th anniversaries of which we are celebrating this year. Some mildly-strong language.


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Aug 23, 2020
The Battle of Thermopylae

2,499 years ago the Persian 'Great King' Xerxes launched history's largest amphibious invasion of Europe before D-Day. Accompanied by a huge army and navy he crossed the Hellespont (modern day Dardanelles), intent on punishing the city-state of Athens and any other Hellenic powers that dared to resist. It was during this campaign that one of history's most famous battles was fought, at the Pass of Thermopylae in central Greece. King Leonidas, his 300 (or so) Spartans and their Hellenic allies fought off against King Xerxes' mighty Persian army for three days. To talk through this fascinating battle I'm chatting with Paul Cartledge, a professor from the University of Cambridge and one of the World's leading experts on ancient Sparta. In this fascinating chat, Paul sorts the fact from the fiction about the doomed Thermopylae defence. He starts by explaining the conflict's background, before moving on to the battle itself. We finish off by discussing how this famous battle ultimately created what we now know as 'the Spartan mirage'.

This episode will be the first in a small series dedicated to talking about the 480 BC clashes of the Second Persian War, for the 2,499th anniversaries of these battles. Paul is the author of 'Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World.'


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Aug 20, 2020
War Elephants

Move over Hannibal. More over Carthage. This podcast is all about a much BIGGER elephant power in antiquity. A power that, at its height, stretched from modern day Bulgaria to the Hindu Kush: the Seleucid Empire. Existing for almost 250 years, throughout this Empire’s long history the Indian elephant remained right at its heart. On the battlefield these giant beasts of war became symbolic of Seleucid warfare, fighting in almost all (if not all) the major military encounters the Seleucids had with other powers: from Ipsus to Magnesia. But away from the battlefield too, these animals retained their importance, particularly for the Seleucid Kings.

The history of Seleucid elephant warfare is fascinating and it was a great pleasure to be joined by Dr Silvannen Gerrard to talk through this topic. Silvannen explained how these elephants were trained and used in war, but she also stressed their importance away from the battlefield - their prestige value, the logistics of looking after elephants and how they epitomised a vital trade link with ancient India. She also answered the all important question: did the Ancients send elephants into battle drunk?

Oh, and make sure you listen RIGHT to the end!

A few notes:

Eumenes, Antigonus, Ptolemy and Seleucus were all prominent players fighting after Alexander the Great’s death.

Ptolemy was the founder of the Hellenistic Ptolemaic Kingdom, centred in Egypt.

Sarrisas were very long pikes – roughly 6 metres long.

The Galatians: a conglomeration of Gallic tribes that settled in modern day central Anatolia.

We (I mainly) go back and forth between 'Seleucid' and 'Seleukid'. Same kingdom!


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Aug 16, 2020
'Killing for the Roman Republic'

In 281/280 BC, the Hellenistic King Pyrrhus ventured to southern Italy to aid the Italiote-Greek city of Tarentum against a rising power based in central Italy. This enemy was the Romans. Over the next 150 years this civilisation would rise to become the Mediterranean superpower, winning wars against the Carthaginians, the Antigonids, Seleucids, Ptolemies and various other enemies. But why were the Roman soldiers so effective? I was delighted to be joined by Dr Steele Brand who brilliantly answered this question. Steele explained how the Roman Republican military was far from invincible. Indeed what is so striking from this period is how many devastating defeats the Romans suffered in the process - from Heraclea to Cannae. What made the Romans so extraordinary, however, was their mindset: the Roman civic ethos that was ingrained in its citizens from childhood. Steele explained how the household farm served as an ‘incubator’ for habituating citizens to Roman virtue, which in turn ensured that citizens remained willing to serve even in the wake of catastrophic military defeats. In short, it was these part-time ‘soldier farmers’ that became the nucleus of antiquity’s most famous empire.

Steele is the author of 'Killing for the Republic: The Roman Way of War'.


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Aug 13, 2020
Combat Trauma

From the 2000 historical blockbuster 'Gladiator' to the Total War series, brutal hand to hand warfare is something we commonly associate with antiquity. But do we have any ancient cases of psychological injury as a direct result of military service? Joining me to discuss this topic, focusing on cases from the Classical Greek Period (c.500 – 323 BC), is Dr Owen Rees. Owen is a historian of ancient warfare and society. He has also written papers about the possibility of an equivalent phenomenon to PTSD in ancient Greek warfare and how that trauma manifested itself differently in ancient Greek culture. In this podcast, we focus on the cases of two specific individuals from the Classical Period: Epizelus the Athenian and Clearchus the Spartan.


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Aug 09, 2020
Stone Circles

From Cornwall to Orkney, stone circles are scattered throughout the length and breadth of the British Isles. Their history stretches more than 2 millennia, varying from the earlier huge stone circles such as Castlerigg, Avebury and the Ring of Brodgar to the smaller and more regional circles that emerged after c.2,000 BC. Their remains continue to attract great amounts of visitors right up to the present day.

To learn more about these extraordinary prehistoric structures, I'm chatting with Timothy Darvill OBE, a professor from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at Bournemouth University and the author of Prehistoric Britain.


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Aug 02, 2020
Agrippina the Younger

Agrippina the Younger (AD 15 - 59) was one of the most prominent women in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Born during a time of radical political change in the Roman Empire, she had a very powerful pedigree. Great granddaughter of Augustus. Niece of Tiberius. Daughter of Germanicus. Sister of Caligula. She was also a wife of the Emperor Claudius and the mother of the infamous Nero. Today she is remembered as one of the most notorious women of ancient Roman history, thanks largely to her negative portrayal in the works of Cassius Dio, Suetonius and Tacitus. But how much of what they say is true? Joining me to help sort the fact from the fiction is Carey Fleiner, Senior lecturer in Classical Roman History at the University of Winchester. A brilliant communicator, Carey convincingly explains how the material record reveals a very different Agrippina to the infamous power-hungry murderess depicted by Roman writers. This was a fantastic chat and it was great to have her on the show to chat all things Agrippina. 

A couple of clarifications from parts of the interview:

Agrippina was 22 when she gave birth to Nero.

Suetonius included the remark 'I have swords as well as islands'

Gaius Sallustius Crispus Passienus was the name of Agrippina's second husband. He had been prominent during the reign of Tiberius (not Julius Caesar)


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Jul 26, 2020
Horse Archery

The horse archer was one of the most feared warriors of antiquity. Triumphing mobility and fluidity, these swift skirmishers came to epitomise a feared ‘eastern’ style of warfare. Renowned historical weapons expert and avid horse archer Mike Loades joins me to chat through horse archery's ancient history. Where did it originate? How did this method of warfare come to be? What sort of equipment did they use? Mike explains all. We first focus on this warfare method’s importance among ancient Near Eastern cultures before taking an in-depth look at antiquity’s superlative horse archers: the Scythians!

Mike is the author of ‘War Bows’, an in-depth history of four iconic weapons that changed the nature of warfare. 


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Jul 19, 2020
The Antonine Wall

In c.142 AD the Emperor Antoninus Pius ordered the construction of a new wall in Northern Britain. Situated between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde it stretched the neck of modern day central Scotland and was called the Antonine Wall. Although its ‘lifespan’ was relatively short-lived, this wall beyond ‘The Wall’ boasts a remarkable history. Archaeological discoveries continue to reveal more about this monumental structure and its accompanying features. From the terrible ‘lillia’ spike pits the Romans placed in front of the rampart to the Wall’s strong stone foundations.

I was delighted to be joined by Andrew Tibbs to learn more about the Antonine Wall and why we must NOT call it the northernmost physical barrier of the Roman Empire. Andrew is the author of 'Beyond the Empire: A Guide to the Roman Remains in Scotland'.


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Jul 12, 2020
Housesteads and Hadrian's Wall

Housesteads Roman Fort is one of the great, surviving treasures of Roman Britain. Once an auxiliary fort, it occupied a dominant position on Hadrian’s Wall. The Fort has proven vital in helping archaeologists and historians achieve a greater understanding about life on Hadrian’s Wall. From the worship of peculiar deities to everyday sanitation.

To chat through Housesteads’ extraordinary archaeology and what it can tell us about life along this frontier, I’m joined by Professor Jim Crow from the University of Edinburgh. Jim has conducted excavations at several locations along Hadrian’s Wall, including Housesteads. He also lectured me a few years back, so it was great to catch up. 


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Jul 05, 2020
Biological and Chemical Warfare

The origins of biological and chemical warfare stretch far back; modern technology has not brought about these terrifying weapons. Throughout antiquity we have cases of societies using poisonous gases, incendiary materials and living organisms against their enemies. From snake and scorpion bombs to the use of ancient naphtha grenades. But how did the ancients view these infamous weapons? Did they try to refrain from using them? And if they did use them, why?

I was thrilled to be joined by Adrienne Mayor to chat through this extraordinary topic. Adrienne is a folklorist and historian of ancient science at Stanford University. She is the author of numerous books including Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World.


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Jul 02, 2020
The Fall of the Western Roman Empire

In the late 4th century and early 5th centuries two massive largely-Germanic confederations arrived on Roman borders, having been uprooted from their homelands by the Huns. These were the Goths and the Vandals. Both peoples would become prime enemies of the Roman Empires in the East and West. Both would sack Rome; both played significant roles in the decline of the Western Roman Empire, inflicting terrible defeats and seizing some of the most lucrative territory in the Western Mediterranean. To talk through this ‘barbarian’ impact on the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, I’m chatting with Peter Heather, Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London and the author of ‘The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians’.


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Jun 26, 2020
The Plague of Athens

Plague in the ancient world was nothing unusual. Bouts of illness were common occurrences, but we do have accounts of some exceptional outbreaks: epidemics that brought powerful empires and city-states to their knees. One of the most infamous occurred in 430 BC: the Plague of Athens. Recently I was fortunate enough to interview Alastair Blanshard, a Professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Queensland, about this devastating episode in Athenian history.


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Jun 24, 2020