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Dr Benjamin Gray

Lecturer in Ancient History

Contact details

Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
Birkbeck, University of London
Room 309
27 Russell Square



  • I am an ancient historian interested in the ancient Greek city-states. I focus on the Greek cities’ ethical and political debates and the implications of those debates for the later history of citizenship, democracy and political theory. Before starting teaching at Birkbeck in 2018, I was Fellow by Examination at All Souls College, Oxford (2006-2012), where I wrote my doctorate; Chancellor’s Fellow in Classics at the University of Edinburgh (2012-2016); and Alexander von Humboldt research fellow at the Humboldt University in Berlin (2016-2018).

Research and teaching

  • Research interests
  • I study the ethical and political thinking and debates of the ancient Greek city-states, with a focus on the Hellenistic period (c. 323 BC–AD 14). A main aim of my work is to integrate better the evidence of inscriptions, from tombstones to published laws and decrees, into our picture of ancient Greek political and ethical thought, by comparing them with more familiar literary and philosophical texts. This approach makes it possible to reconstruct a dynamic, wide-ranging public sphere of debate within and across Greek cities, to which individuals across the social spectrum contributed. The particularly rich inscribed remains from the Hellenistic world and eastern Roman Empire make it possible to track how the ideas and debates about citizenship, democracy, virtue and justice famous from Classical Athens were developed and transformed by citizens and thinkers living in the complex changed conditions of the following centuries.
  • My first book, Stasis and Stability: Exile, the Polis, and Political Thought, c. 404–146 BC (Oxford 2015), uses the case-study of exile, civil war and reconciliation to study basic assumptions, ideas and debates about citizenship, community and justice from the Peloponnesian War to the Roman conquest. I have also co-edited a volume on The Hellenistic Reception of Classical Athenian Democracy and Political Thought (Oxford 2018), which studies how Classical Athenian political institutions and ideals were imitated, challenged and adapted across the Hellenistic world. I am now concentrating on the development of Greek ideas of citizenship, cosmopolitanism and education in the later Hellenistic period (c. 150 BC – AD 14), as Greeks debated and interpreted the major social, cultural and political changes of the early Roman Empire.
  • Common to my different projects is a strong interest in studying together ancient and modern politics and political thought. I recently pursued this interest as one of the editors of and contributors to Ancient Greek History and Contemporary Social Science (Edinburgh 2018).  Building on my earlier work on Greek exile and refugees, I am also working on the comparative history of exile and the ancient background to modern debates about refugees, asylum, justice and cosmopolitanism.
  • Teaching
  • Greek and Roman Political Thought in Context (BA level 5)
  • The Ancient World (BA level 4)
  • Greek Set Book (BA and MA)
  • Introduction to Classical Culture (MA core course)
  • Classical Cosmopolitanism and its Critics (MA option)
  • PhD supervision
  • I have co-supervised several PhD theses on Hellenistic politics and culture, and welcome new proposals related to my research interests.


  • Books
  • Stasis and Stability: Exile, the Polis, and Political Thought, c. 404–146 BC (Oxford 2015)
  • Ed. with M. Canevaro, The Hellenistic Reception of Classical Athenian Democracy and Political Thought (Oxford 2018)
  • Ed. with M. Canevaro, A. Erskine and J. Ober, Ancient Greek History and Contemporary Social Science (Edinburgh 2018)
  • Articles and chapters
  • 'Historical Consciousness and Political Agency among Ancient Greek Refugees', Pallas 112 (2020) (= L. Loddo (ed.), Political Refugees in the Ancient Greek World: Literary, Historical and Philosophical Essays), 231-45.
  • ‘Seeking New Classics in a Crisis: Modernity as Ancient History in German Thought’, B. Goff and M. Simpson (eds.), Classicising Crisis: the Modern Age of Revolution and the Greco-Roman Repertoire (Routledge 2020), 148–67
  • 'Debating the Benefits and Problems of Philanthropy in Later Hellenistic Anatolia', in E. Akyürek, C. Roosevelt and O. Tekin (eds.), Philanthropy in Anatolia through the Ages (Istanbul/Antalya 2020), 3-12.
  • ‘Freedom, Ethical Choice and the Hellenistic Polis’, History of European Ideas 44.6 (2018) (= V. Arena (ed.), Liberty: an Ancient Idea for the Contemporary World? Ancient Liberties and Modern Perspectives), 719–42.
  • 'A Civic Alternative to Stoicism: The Ethics of Hellenistic Honorary Decrees', Classical Antiquity 37.2 (2018), 187-235.
  • ‘Citizenship as Barrier and Opportunity for Ancient Greek and Modern Refugees’, Humanities 2018 7(3), 72, open access at (part of journal special issue on ‘Displacement and the Humanities’, eds. E. Isayev and E. Jewell).
  • ‘Approaching the Hellenistic Polis through Modern Political Theory: the Public Sphere, Pluralism and Prosperity’, in M. Canevaro, B. Gray, A. Erskine and J. Ober (eds.), Ancient Greek History and Contemporary Social Science (Edinburgh 2018), 68–97.
  • ‘A Later Hellenistic Debate about Classical Athenian Civic Ideals? The Evidence of Epigraphy, Historiography and Philosophy’, in M. Canevaro and B. Gray (eds.), The Hellenistic Reception of Classical Athenian Democracy and Political Thought (Oxford 2018), 139–76.
  • ‘Exile, Refuge and the Greek Polis: Between Justice and Humanity’, Journal of Refugee Studies 30.2 (2017), 190–219.
  • ‘Civic Reconciliation in Later Classical and Post-Classical Greek Cities: A Question of Peace and Peacefulness?’, in E. Moloney and M. Williams, Peace and Reconciliation in the Classical World (London 2017), 66–85.
  • ‘Civil War and Civic Reconciliation in a Small Greek Polis: Two Acts of the Same Drama?’, in H. Böhm, M. Mattheis and J. Wienand, Civil War in Ancient Greece and Rome. Contexts of Disintegration and Reintegration (Stuttgart 2016), 53–85.
  • ‘Justice or Harmony? Reconciliation after Stasis at Dikaia and the Fourth-Century BC Polis’, Revue des Etudes Anciennes 115.2 (2013) [2014], 369–401.
  • ‘Scepticism about Community: Polybius on Peloponnesian Exiles, Good Faith (Pistis) and the Achaian League’, Historia 62.3 (2013), 323–60.
  • ‘The Polis Becomes Humane? Philanthropia as a Cardinal Civic Virtue in Later Hellenistic Honorific Epigraphy and Historiography’, Studi ellenistici 27 (2013) (= M. Mari and J. Thornton (eds.), Parole in movimento. Linguaggio politico e lessico storiografico nel mondo ellenistico), 137–62.
  • ‘Philosophy of Education and the Later Hellenistic Polis’, in P. Martzavou and N. Papazarkadas (eds.), Epigraphical Approaches to the Post-Classical Polis, Fourth Century BC–Second Century AD (Oxford 2012), 233–53.
  • ‘From Exile of Citizens to Deportation of Non-Citizens: Ancient Greece as a Mirror to Illuminate a Modern Transition’, Citizenship Studies 15.5 (2011) (= B. Anderson, M. Gibney and E. Paoletti (eds.), Boundaries of Belonging: Deportation and the Constitution and Contestation of Citizenship), 565–82.
  • Lectures
  • February 2015: public lecture at the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford on ‘Exile, Refuge and the Greek Polis’; podcast available here.
  • Contributions to reference works
  • ‘Polis’, annotated bibliography for Oxford Bibliographies Online, first published 2015.
  • Translation of and commentary on the fragments of the historical works of Persaios of Kition (584) (published in 2016) and Dioscurides (594) (published in 2018) for Brill’s New Jacoby.

Current activities

  • I am currently working on a book entitled ‘Debating Polis and Cosmopolis in the Later Hellenistic World: Civic Rhetoric and Political Thought’. This book studies the rich political and ethical rhetoric of the decrees passed and inscribed by Greek cities, especially in Asia Minor, in praise of good citizens and benefactors in the later Hellenistic world (c. 150 BC–AD 14). It compares that inscribed rhetoric with the political and ethical ideas of contemporary historians (e.g. Polybius, Diodorus Siculus), rhetoricians (Dionysius of Halicarnassus), geographers (Strabo) and philosophers (e.g. Posidonius), in order to reconstruct changing Greek ideas and debates about the city, virtue, justice, education, compassion and cosmopolitanism. My argument is that the complex changes of the later Hellenistic world were strenuously and imaginatively debated at the time, across Greek society, in a still vibrant public sphere.
  • I am also continuing to develop my interest in the relationship between ancient and modern politics. Alongside my ongoing work on ancient and modern refugees, I am starting to study the role of Classics and Ancient History in modern German political thought, especially among exiles. My focus is on developing ideas of 'Classical modernity', especially on the ways in which different German thinkers (particularly but not only on the political left) have attempted to write the 'ancient history of the modern world': to apply to the modern world some of the perspectives, methods and techniques of Classics and Ancient History, such as archaeology, philology and very longue-durée history of ideas, in order to develop new interpretations of modern history, society and culture.