Hello Dear Reader, welcome to my collection!
What I aim to present here are a historian’s thoughts (more on me and my interests below) on depictions of historical and quasi-historical societies and militaries in popular culture. Mostly this has been prompted by my response to how pre-modern battles are generally presented, but I hope to expand beyond just battles and armor, to also talk about historical societies and economies.
The goal here is to do something more substantial than the bevy of internet nitpicks, sins-lists and the like. We’re going to discuss a lot of flaws here, but also where a given scene, book, or game succeeds in embedding some real sense of historical reality into a moment. Negativity for its own sake gets boring: we’re as much about the good as the bad here.
But this is also a blog about history, and so the goal is for the reader to learn something – in each post – about historical societies, militaries, battles, weapons and so on. This blog is as much about how it really worked (in as much as we can know) as how it didn’t work in that one scene.
We’re going to have three kinds of posts here:
- Collections: The bulk of the content. One post every week, ideally on Fridays. Collections may focus on a particular scene, sequence, chapter, etc. or on a common style or trope. We will assess that depiction, looking at its (lack of) historical rootedness and talking about how such things might have really worked in the past.
- New Acquisitions: One-off reaction posts. These will come irregularly and represent my more off-the-cuff response to something I have recently seen.
- Miscellanea: Off-topic posts that don’t fit into the other categories, like this one. Expect these to be rare.
A Word About What is Historical: We’re not going to just talk about popular depictions of purely historical events: historical fiction and even speculative fiction and fantasy are fair game. Fantasy literature in particular is frequently based in a ‘sense’ of the Middle Ages – often deeply flawed – worth interrogating. Also, I love the hell out of works of fantasy, both high and low, and there is no way you are making me leave them out. Fight me.
I will be calling that entire category of fully fictional works and worlds set in historically inspired settings ‘quasi-historical,’ to capture their ‘almost-not-quite-historical’ nature, in contrast to works aiming to represent real history, or historical fiction.
On “Why Bother” or “It’s only a movie/game/book/comic/show:” Yes, it is true – the things I will talk about here are not the Most Important Things. But they are art – not always high art, and some of them are perhaps barely art – but art the same. Art influences the way we see the past and the way we understand its connection to the present. It is worth being mindful then of the way art may distort that past and its connections.
Also, it is fun and you might actually learn something.
Who am I? I am an actual, professional military historian. In particular, I am a specialist in the Roman army of the Middle and Late Republic, though I tend to wander chronologically and geographically quite a bit. My interests focus on many of the practical concerns of life and battle in the ancient world: the cost, manufacture and use of weapons and armor, the economics of subsistence farming, etc. My most recent research focuses on the development and cost of military equipment in the Middle Roman Republic, but I also have a running project in the background on the economics of household subsistence in the Roman agricultural economy.