Great historical movies and shows: how to learn general information about European history by watching TV

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Watching great historical drama period movies and television shows can be effective at communicating ideas about history when done right, as films are entertaining so keep people’s attention, sometimes much better than a book can.

The following is a list of films and television shows which can be viewed on Amazon Prime Video, listed in the chronological order of the time period they cover and which showcase life and key events from different time periods. Some of these time periods have relevancy to HEMA movement, as they depict life during the time periods of the fighting traditions we study.

Spartacus (2010 series): Set in 1st century BC Rome it deals with the events of the Third Servile War in the years leading up to the end of the Roman Republic. (link)

Rome (HBO 2005 series): Set in the 1st century BC it covers the transition of the Roman Republic into an Empire, focusing on the events beginning with Julius Caesars return from his campaign in Gaul to and concluding with Mark Antony and Cleopatra defeated by Augustus’ forces. (link)

Karl Der Grosse-Charlemag(Charlemagne) (2014): A German language production with English subtitles in the 2019 re-release, this docu-mini series with some dramatization scenes depicting the life of Charlemagne, King of the Franks and the Carolingian Empire. Set in the 8th and 9th century (link)

Vikings (2013): A highly fictionalized story that takes place in the 9th century based on oral tradition stories about Ragnar Lothbrok and his sons. (link)

The Last Kingdom (2015): Similar to Vikings, this television series also takes place in the 9th century but after the death of Ragnar Lothbrok. It deals a lot with events related to the life of Alfred the Great. (link)

Arn: The Knight Templar (2008): A Swedish epic film following the life of a boy as he becomes a Knight of the Templar Order. Note there are three versions of this film, do not watch it on Amazon Prime Video as that version has been heavily edited and poorly dubbed, losing about 40 minutes of the original mini-series. Purchase the DVD instead for the full series version. (link)

Kingdom of Heaven (2005): A highly fictionalized account of the fall of the crusader state Kingdom of Jerusalem to the forces of the Sultan Saladin in the 12th century. The protagonist of the film, Balian of Ibelin, was a real person but he was not born a bastard and he actually grew up in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Still the film is worth a watch. (link)

The Pillars of the Earth (2010):  Taking place during the Anarchy period of 12th century England, this series follows the lives of peasants, monks and tradesmen in the fictional town of Kingsbridge centered around the construction of a cathedral. (link)

Diriliş: Ertuğrul (Resurrection: Ertuğrul, 2014): Turkish television show set in the 14th century that covers the events that prelude the founding of the Ottoman Empire. The plot follows a highly fictionalized life of Ertuğrul, the father of Osman I, and follows his conflicts with the Mongols and Byzantine Empire. (Note: This one is not on Amazon, it is on Netflix)

World Without End (2012): A sequel to Pillars of the Earth taking place 150 years afterward at the start of the The Hundred Years War in the 14th century., as well as the events of the Black Death plague in England. (link)

The White Queen (2013): (link) Taking place in the middle of the 15th century in England, this series covers aftermath of the War of the Roses and reign of Edward IV. Its sequel is The White Princess (2017) ( link) mini-series which covers the start of the Tudor dynasty.

Maximilian (2017): ( link) A German television mini-series set in 1477 covering the events of the marriage between Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, after the death of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. This series is available with English subtitles.

The Borgia: Faith and Fear (2011): A French-German-Czech-Italian production in English language, Set in final decade of the 15th century to early 16th century. it covers the Italian Wars, a very relevant period of history for students of the long sword traditions in HEMA. (Note this is a different series than The Borgias produced by Showtime. The one we recommend is a far superior show in our opinion and more historically accurate.) (link)

The Spanish Princess (2019) which deals with Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragorn and is a sequel to The White Princess. (link)

The Tudors (2007): A Showtime channel production set in the late 15th to mid 16th century England which deals specifically with the life of Henry VIII after he decides to seek a divorce from Catherine of Aragorn. (link)

Elizabeth (1998) (link) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) (link) are films taking place shortly after the period of time The Tudors ends with.

What do you think? Any other films or television series you think would be relevant to the time period of the fighting traditions we study in HEMA? Feel free to make some suggestions in the comments below.


If you’d like to learn more information about historical fencing practices please check out our Learn HEMA page for a guide to learning about the historical weapon that interests you. You can also find more guides we’ve written about other topics at our Helpful Guides page.


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