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Give Me More! Max Adams’ The Viking Wars

From first cracking open In the Land of Giants (hopefully coming soon to a Concerning History book club near you), I have been enthralled with what I’ve come to call Max Adams’ Dark Ages Trilogy. Now at last I’ve come to what, for many, is the main event: the cataclysmic clash of cultures—Roman Christian Anglo-Saxon, Irish Christian Celtic and Brythonic, and Pagan Scandinavian—that define the ninth and tenth centuries and the British Isles themselves to this day. Eagerly anticipating Adams’ historical treatment of such oft-tread ground, I dove right in. While I was mostly satisfied by the end, however, as with most endings, I was left wanting just a little bit more.... Read More
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Lost in Translation: The Impossible Task of Complete Historical Accuracy

Spring 2019 saw yet another HBO phenomenon in the form of the docudrama miniseries Chernobyl (and you can look for a review coming next year to Concerning History). The recent Emmys briefly brought Chernobyl back into the spotlight, and I heard again a complain I’d first encountered back when the show originally aired: there were no accents or, rather, there were the wrong accents. No character in the show speaks with a Russian or Ukrainian accent, and indeed most of the actors stick to their native British cadence. This sorely bothered some people, to the point of even not being able to finish the show. Heather and I, however, were not bothered by it in the slightest. It’s a rare moment when internet podcasters are on the side of historical accuracy and I am not, so why this seemingly uncharacteristic shift in perspective?... Read More
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Anatomy of Battle: The Siege of Minas Tirith

Hobbit Day has come again, and with it, Bryan and Francis’ now-traditional post discussing some element of intersection between history and that beloved fantasy realm of Middle Earth. This week, in what may become a long-running series here at Concerning History, Bryan and Francis dissect the climactic siege of Minas Tirith and Battle of the Pelennor Fields from The Return of the King, showcasing multiple elements of historical inspiration, or at least historical echoes, for the biggest battle described in detail Tolkien’s legendarium. Please forgive the longer-than-usual post; they’re both incurable nerds...... Read More
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Sweet Revenge: History’s Knightfall, Season 2

Last year, I was pleasantly surprised by History Channel’s newest scripted history content, Knightfall, and its decision to steer into the motifs of a grail quest that we know, somehow, will lead to the fall of Knights Templar in the early fourteenth century. A little over a year later, its second season premiered to much fanfare, centered almost entirely around the fact that the always wonderful Mark Hamil would be joining the cast as a crotchety old Templar veteran tasked with training the Temple’s new initiates (sound slightly like a recent Star Wars movie, anyone?). Eager to hear more of the mysteries of the Holy Grail and see how, exactly, the tragic flaws of main character Landry de Luson lead to his order’s destruction, I dutifully tuned in.... Read More
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A Hoard of Knowledge: Max Adams’ King in the North

I was first introduced to the writings of Max Adams through In the Land of Giants, which Kevin and I will hopefully get around to hosting a book club discussion on one of these days. Enchanted by Adams’ compelling prose, especially as it described the elusive world of early medieval Britain, I decided to look up his other works and start from the beginning. That beginning was The King in the North: The Life and Times of Oswald of Northumbria, and Adams did not disappoint with his study of this great Christian martyr and Anglo-Saxon warrior king.... Read More
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Trying to Do Too Much: Netflix’s Outlaw King

Billed alternately as a somewhat-sequel to the classic movie Braveheart and “the real story of Scottish independence that Braveheart didn’t tell you,” (the two aren’t mutually exclusive, by the way), Netflix’s new film featuring Chris Pine as the titular character, Robert the Bruce, has been on my radar for a while. Being somewhat familiar with this period of Scottish history, or at least, familiar enough to want to see the Bruce portrayed historically faithfully, I dove right in after it dropped on Netflix November 9. While I enjoyed Outlaw King well enough, one thing it most certainly is not is historically accurate.... Read More
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The Historical Middle Earth: Men of the West

Another Hobbit Day (September 22nd, the birthday of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth) has passed. This year, rather than singing dirges of fallen Gondolin now that we must wait another 365 days to eat a third breakfast (also known as elevenses) without shame, we decided to look at some of the lesser known historical inspirations for crucial civilizations in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.... Read More
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Remember the North? Michael Pye’s The Edge of the World

If I had a dollar for every time someone claimed to be writing a book about an “unknown,” “overlooked,” or “forgotten” period of history, I would be a very rich man. So often, these periods really aren’t that underserved, and we’ve even at times considered putting together a post listing the most regularly talked about “forgotten” periods of history. When I came across Michael Pye’s Edge of the World, however, I thought I had hit the jackpot. I have a soft spot for histories of the early Middle Ages (sometimes known as the Dark Ages), and few periods of history can claim more accurately to be unknown, as we must work from scarce written sources and physical evidence to reconstruct an elusive historical narrative of Europe’s rebirth after the fall of Rome. Even better, Pye promised to focus on a region lesser known in this period; rather than look for clues to our modern world in the court of Charlemagne or the remnants of Rome, Pye casts his gaze out into the cold world of the North Sea. Baited with prospects of a world system history of the North Sea in the early Middle Ages, then, I was practically salivating to begin reading. While entertaining, however, Edge of the World would fall far short of my lofty hopes.... Read More
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At the Court of the Khan: Netflix’s Marco Polo

Let’s be honest with each other for a minute: our historical movies and television in 2018 are still overwhelmingly, almost-hilariously, Eurocentric. Indeed, at least half a dozen of the shows on my (long, long) list of things to watch focus on the English/British monarchy alone. When I learned of Netflix’s drama recounting the travels of Marco Polo through Central Asia and China, then, I couldn’t wait to try it out. Sure, it would still be somewhat Eurocentric, but at least some underserved regions and periods of history had the possibility of being fully realized onscreen. Towards that end, my hopes would prove to be realized in full.... Read More
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A Daunting Scope: Peter Heather’s Empires and Barbarians

Snapshots of Europe taken at the beginning and end of the first millennium AD could not appear more different. As the millennium opened, Rome was just reaching the apex of its imperial might. The traditionally dominant Mediterranean world extended its tendrils of control across the Celtic world of modern-day France and lowland Britain, while beyond the Rhine and Danube frontiers Germanic peoples pursued a subsistence existence much less developed than their Roman and Romanized neighbors. One thousand years later, Mediterranean dominance was a distant memory. Germanic cultures and kingdoms had replaced Roman imperial rule. Europe’s center of balance had moved decidedly northward, and the eastern plains and forests boasted new states formed by Slavic peoples. Gone was the unequal pattern of development, and the map of modern Europe had largely, if blurrily, taken shape. This Late Antique/Early Medieval period, as Western Rome crumbled and fell, and ‘barbarian’ kingdoms took its place, has long fascinated me, and so I was excited to get my hands on a somewhat general, approachable history of the period by Kings College, London historian Peter Heather. While I found Heather’s work greatly informative, my hopes of reading a sensible, comprehensive narrative of this period were unfortunately left unfulfilled.... Read More