If you were ever forced to sit through a high school or college history class, you probably heard the story of the fall of the Roman Empire. At best, you remember that savage, fur-clad barbarians poured through the gates of a rotting, decrepit empire and snuffed out the light of civilization for a thousand years, until the combined forces of Protestant Christianity and capitalism saved us from medieval barbarism and ushered in an age of modernity.
Or, more likely, you don’t remember any of that, and I can’t really blame you.
As it’s usually told, this is either a melodramatic soap opera or a godawfully boring recitation of emperors, barbarian tribes, popes, and meaningless dates.
I promise you, though, it can and should be more interesting. I spent seven years getting a PhD in exactly this subject, and while my current career as a mixed martial arts journalist speaks pretty loudly to my professional prospects in academia, I did in fact pick up a few interesting things along the way. Want to talk about mass migration and the immigrant experience? How about pandemics? Climate change and the stresses it places on complex societies? How all of those things interact with widespread violence to bring about political and economic collapse?
If so, I’ve got something for you. Check out the first episode of The Fall of Rome Podcast, 40 minutes of cutting-edge research (as much as history can be on the cutting edge) presented in digestible form.
Patrick Wyman last wrote for Deadspin about UFC champions hanging out with an accused Russian war criminal; he can be reached on Twitter @Patrick_Wyman.