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Dr Benjamin Gray

  • Overview



    I am an ancient historian interested in the ancient Greek city-states. I focus on the Greek cities’ ethical and political debates, especially from the fourth to the first century BC, 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 (2012-2017); and Alexander von Humboldt research fellow at the Humboldt University in Berlin (2016-2018).

    Professional activities

    I am an associate editor of the journal Polis, with responsibility for expanding its coverage of Hellenistic political thought and the Hellenistic polis - please get in touch to discuss submissions on these topics.

  • Research


    Research interests

    • Ancient Greek city-states, especially from the later Classical to the later Hellenistic period
    • Ancient Greek political and ethical thought
    • Exiles, refugees and reconciliation
    • History of cosmopolitanism
    • Modern moral and political theory

    Research overview


    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. 

    Current project

    I am currently working on a book entitled ‘Debating Polis and Cosmopolis, c. 150 BC – AD 14: Greek Political Thinking between the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds'. 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.

    Ancient and modern ethical and political thinking

    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 ancient and modern exile, I am also working on the ancient background to modern debates about refugees, asylum, justice and cosmopolitanism, as well as the history of ideas of 'Classical modernity' in German thought. 

    Research clusters and groups

    • Mobility and migration
    • Global history and internationalism
    • Conflict and violence
    • The city and urban history
  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    I have co-supervised several PhD theses on Classical Greek and Hellenistic politics and culture, and welcome new proposals related to my research interests.

    Current doctoral researchers



    I teach modules at Birkbeck closely linked with my research on ancient and modern political and ethical thinking, which cater not only for Classicists and ancient historians but also for those studying history, history of ideas, politics, philosophy and geography. These include:

    ·         Greek and Roman Political Thought in Context (BA level 5)

    ·         Classical Cosmopolitanism and its Critics (MA option)

    I also contribute to the core courses in Classics and ancient history at BA and MA levels and to Greek and Latin teaching, including Greek Set Book (currently Thucydides Book III) and Latin Set Book (Tacitus Annals IV in 2020/21).

    Teaching modules

    • Greek set book (B) (HICL202S6)
    • Greek set book (B) (HICL202S6)
    • Mastering Ancient Rome (SSHC357S7)
    • Mastering Ancient Rome (SSHC357S7)
    • The Ancient World (SSHC404S4)
    • The Ancient World (SSHC404S4)
    • Greek and Roman Political Thought in Context (SSHC470S5)
    • Mastering Ancient Greece (SSHC564S7)
    • Mastering Ancient Greece (SSHC564S7)
    • Exiles, Refugees and the Ancient World (SSHC565S6)
  • Publications




    Book Section