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Dr Benjamin Gray

Lecturer in Ancient History
(on research leave in 2017/18)

Contact details

Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
Birkbeck, University of London
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 coming to Birkbeck in 2017, I was Fellow by Examination at All Souls College, Oxford (2006-2012), where I wrote my doctorate, and Chancellor’s Fellow in Classics at the University of Edinburgh (2012-2017). I am currently on leave as 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, forthcoming 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.
  • As a result of my earlier work, I also have a strong interest in the comparative history of exile and the ancient background to modern debates about refugees, asylum and cosmopolitanism.
  • Teaching
  • Past undergraduate courses at the University of Edinburgh include ‘Political Thought and Practice in the Greek City’ and ‘Greek Politics and Culture from Polybius to Plutarch’
  • 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, forthcoming 2018)
  • Articles and chapters
  • ‘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.
  • ‘Polis’, annotated bibliography for Oxford Bibliographies Online, first published 2015.
  • ‘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.

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 developing during my fellowship in Berlin a new project, ‘Studying the German Left as Ancient History’. This project studies how different modern thinkers have paradoxically applied 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 German socialism and social democracy.