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13 of the Most Engrossing Tales of History on TV

Television has become a medium that allows audiences to explore the past in a way that books or documentaries cannot always do justice to. Historical TV shows take us on a journey through time, showcasing moments from the past that have shaped the world we live in today. These shows not only provide entertainment but also educate and enlighten viewers about significant events, people, and cultures of the past.

From gripping dramas to epic sagas, whether fictional or based on real-life events, historical TV shows transport us back in time and immerse us in a world that once was. They allow us to witness the events that shaped history, from the rise and fall of empires to revolutions and wars, and the lives of the individuals who played pivotal roles in them.

The best historical TV shows are those that have been well-researched, accurately depict historical events and cultural nuances, and have compelling storytelling. 

Related: 7 Must-Read Books That Will Get You Interested in History

Whether it's the political intrigue of The Crown, the epic battles of Rome, or the emotional journey of Band of Brothers, historical TV shows offer something for everyone. They allow us to step into the shoes of historical figures, experience their struggles and triumphs, and gain a deeper understanding of the world we live in today.

In this article, we will explore some of the most memorable historical TV shows that have graced our screens over the years. 

1. Deadwood (2004–2006)

Deadwood is a dark and gritty Western drama that takes viewers back to the American frontier of the late 1800s. Set in the titular town of Deadwood, South Dakota, the show explores the lives and struggles of a cast of characters living on the edge of civilization. With its richly drawn characters, immersive world-building, and brutal depictions of violence and corruption, Deadwood provides a raw and unflinching look at life on the frontier. From the scheming saloon owner Al Swearengen to the honorable lawman Seth Bullock, the characters of this engaging series are as fascinating as they are flawed, making for a captivating viewing experience.

Watch on Hulu

2. The Chosen (2017 -)

With this groundbreaking series, the story of Jesus Christ and his disciples is told in a new, innovative way. Unlike traditional biblical adaptations, The Chosen takes a more intimate and character-driven approach, exploring the personal journeys and relationships of those who knew and followed Jesus. Known for its stunning production values, powerful performances, and deep emotional resonance, The Chosen has become a phenomenon among viewers of all religious backgrounds. In The Chosen, characters - from the humble fisherman Peter to the conflicted tax collector Matthew - are brought to life with depth and authenticity, making it a must-watch for anyone interested in the human side of Christianity.

Watch on Netflix

3. Band Of Brothers (2001)

This emotionally powerful miniseries needs no introduction. The iconic HBO show follows a group of American soldiers during World War II. Based on the real-life experiences of the men of Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, Band Of Brothers offers a visceral and unflinching portrayal of the horrors of war, as well as the bonds of brotherhood that can form in even the direst circumstances. Band Of Brothers is an incredible series with top-notch production quality, strong performances, and authentic attention to detail.

Watch on HBO Max​ or Hulu

Related: Have You Watched These Amazing TV Miniseries Yet?

4. Vikings (2013–2020)

Now, this is the perfect show for Viking lore enthusiasts. This thrilling and action-packed historical drama gives us a look at the world of Norse warriors and their legendary exploits. Set in the early Middle Ages, Vikings follows the story of the legendary Viking warrior Ragnar Lothbrok and his family as they navigate a dangerous and complex world of politics, war, and adventure. Boasting stunning battle scenes and complex characters, Vikings has become a fan favorite among viewers of all ages. Whether you're a fan of historical dramas, action movies, or epic tales of adventure, Vikings is sure to satisfy you.

Watch on Netflix

Related: 10 Classic Family TV Shows Everyone at Home Will Enjoy

5. The Crown (2016–2023)

The Crown is a lavish and sumptuous historical drama that takes viewers inside the world of the British royal family. From Queen Elizabeth II's early reign to the turbulent 1980s, the series explores the personal and political lives of the Windsors, as well as the complex relationships that define their world. An award-winning television series, The Crown has garnered a loyal following thanks to its superb set designs, stellar performances, and compelling storylines. It should be seen by anyone who enjoys historical dramas or is intrigued by the inner workings of the royal family.

Watch on Netflix

6. John Adams (2008)

HBO’s miniseries John Adams takes viewers on an epic journey through the American Revolution, chronicling the life of one of America's most influential founding fathers. This critically acclaimed series captures the essence of John Adams' remarkable character, as well as the tumultuous period in which he lived. The show offers a vivid and intimate portrayal of the early days of the United States of America, featuring stunning performances by Paul Giamatti as Adams and Laura Linney as his wife Abigail. The series received numerous accolades, including 13 Emmy nominations and four wins, and has been praised for its meticulous attention to historical detail.

Watch on Prime Video

7. Rome (2005–2007)

Welcome to Rome, a thrilling and immersive historical drama that takes viewers back to ancient times! This series premiered in 2005 and offers a gripping look at the turbulent and decadent world of ancient Rome during the final years of the Republic.

The series revolves around the lives of two soldiers, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, as they navigate ancient Rome's political intrigue and violence. Along the way, they encounter iconic figures such as Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, and Mark Antony and witness some of the most momentous events in ancient history.

Rome is praised for its lavish sets, breathtaking visuals, and excellent performances, with standout work from actors such as Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson, and Polly Walker. The show delves into themes of power, loyalty, and betrayal, offering a thrilling and immersive look at one of the most fascinating periods in human history.

Watch on HBO Max or Hulu

8. Downton Abbey (2010–2015)

If you're a fan of period dramas and haven't seen Downton Abbey, you're in for a treat! This beloved show depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their retainers in early twentieth-century England. For those interested in the Edwardian era, Downton Abbey is a must-watch, featuring stunning costumes, impeccable historical detail, and a cast of talented actors.

The series touches on a range of topics, from women's suffrage to World War I, all while exploring the complex relationships between the characters. You'll find yourself rooting for Lady Mary and Matthew's romance, laughing at the Dowager Countess' witty one-liners, and feeling deeply invested in the fates of the Crawley family and their loyal staff.

Overall, Downton Abbey is a heartwarming and engaging drama that will transport you to a bygone era.

Watch on Prime Video

9. Rise of Empires: Ottoman (2020–2022)

Experience the Ottoman Empire, one of history's most powerful empires, as you step back in time with this gritty show. Rise of Empires: Ottoman takes you through the rise of this mighty empire and the legendary figures who shaped it. The show combines incredible reenactments with insightful commentary from historians, providing a rich and fascinating look at this enthralling period in history.

Follow the story of Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, and witness the intrigue, betrayal, and war that defined his reign. With a talented cast and stunning cinematography, Rise of Empires: Ottoman immerses you in the Ottoman world like never before. So grab some popcorn and prepare to be swept away by the epic Ottoman Empire story.

Watch on Netflix

10. The World at War (1973 - 1974)

This is easily one of the most comprehensive documentaries about World War II. The gripping series documents the many aspects of the war, from the perspectives of soldiers, civilians, politicians, and more. With never-before-seen footage and interviews with the people who lived it, you'll feel like you're right in the middle of the action.
The World at War is not only informative but also emotionally charged, giving a vivid portrayal of the human experience during wartime. Laurence Olivier's powerful narration makes the experience that much more engrossing.

Watch on Prime Video

11. Turn: Washington's Spies (2014–2017)

The show focuses on the story of a group of ordinary farmers and merchants from Long Island who, unbeknownst to their families and neighbors, form an intricate spy ring to help George Washington and the Continental Army defeat the British forces. The series is filled with action, intrigue, and betrayal, as the spy ring members must navigate dangerous situations and keep their identities hidden from the British, who will stop at nothing to capture them. We guarantee you won't regret watching this riveting historical drama.

Watch on Prime Video or Apple TV

Related: The Best Shows and Movies on Apple TV+ Right Now

12. Marco Polo (2014-2016)

Marco Polo shows us the epic journey of the famous Venetian explorer as he navigates the treacherous world of 13th-century China. The show digs into the vast and complex Mongol Empire culture, with its warring factions, dangerous alliances, and intricate political games. 

The story delves into Marco Polo's life, who was captured and imprisoned by the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan. In a bid to survive, Polo uses his wit and cunning to gain favor with Khan and rise through the ranks of the empire. Along the way, he falls in love, makes allies and enemies, and witnesses the rise and fall of empires. The short-lived series is a visually stunning and culturally rich depiction of a little-known period in history, and offers a thrilling blend of drama, action, and intrigue.

Watch on Netflix or Prime Video 

13. Frontier (2016–2018)

This underrated historical drama offers a thrilling and unique take on the early days of Canada's fur trade, where rival factions battle for control of the lucrative industry. Frontier centers on the conflict between the Hudson's Bay Company and the independent fur traders who are trying to break their monopoly in the late 18th century. The series features a diverse cast of characters, including Native Americans, Scottish trappers, and Irish smugglers, who are all vying for power and profit in the rugged and dangerous wilderness. Frontier is a compelling historical drama that showcases spectacular landscapes, intense action sequences, and an ensemble cast including Jason Momoa and Landon Liboiron.

Watch on Netflix 

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