2023–2025 Postdoctoral Fellow, Classics
PhD in Classical Studies, Columbia University
Tal Ish-Shalom is a Hellenistic and Roman historian, whose research is at the intersection of political and cultural history. Tal studies how changes in political superstructures (e.g., the consolidation and disintegration of empires) affect the culture and identity of subject communities and local elites, and how the cultural history of local communities can help illuminate empire in turn. He received his PhD in Classical Studies from Columbia University in 2023.
Tal’s current book project, State Formation and Ethnic Identity in the Late-Seleucid Levant (200-63 BCE), offers new perspectives on Hellenistic, Phoenician and Jewish history, and on the problem of “Hellenization”—the adoption and adaptation of Greek cultural idioms by non-Greek communities. It argues that the observed divergence between communities in the late 2nd century BCE is paradoxically rooted in the common experience of Seleucid power: the Seleucid empire’s conquest of the southern Levant c.200 BCE fostered a novel competitive dynamic between subject communities that increased the salience of particularistic ethnic discourse even as it broadened the adoption of Greek cultural idioms. This common Greek cultural “infrastructure” could then be reoriented under the increasingly anarchic post-Seleucid world of the late 2nd century BCE. Thus, smaller state such as Sidon and Tyre on the Phoenician coast, prioritizing alliances with peer polities, allowed native idioms to atrophy, explaining e.g., the loss of the Phoenician language in this period. The neighboring Jewish Hasmonaean kingdom, by contrast—being in a much stronger position due to a series of contingent events—could turn to an imperialistic strategy in which Greek and particularistic idioms complemented each other, allowing a Jewish particularism to continue into the next generations.
Tal’s interests extend to the Roman period, as reflected in his article, “Provincial Monarchs as an Eastern Arcanum Imperii: ‘Client Kingship’, the Augustan Revolution and the Flavians,” published in The Journal of Roman Studies. It argues that a specific group of Rome’s eastern “client kings” played a hitherto overlooked role in a cardinal event in Roman political history, the regime change from Republic to Empire in the late 1st century BCE (the “Augustan Revolution”). The proposed model for these “provincial monarchs” also offers a novel explanation for the shift in the patterns of Roman imperialism towards direct rule under the Flavian dynasty in the late 1st century CE.