John Ma, Professor

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John Ma is an ancient historian, working in the history of the Greek world, with particular interest in Greek epigraphy and the Hellenistic world. He received a BA in Classics and a DPhil in Ancient History from Oxford (after a short stint in Princeton as a graduate student in Classics). His research tries to combine philological attentiveness (especially in the case of Greek inscriptions), interpretive awareness (for literary but also documentary evidence), groundedness in materiality and concrete space, and a feeling for legal, social and economic realities. This combination can be seen in Antiochos III and the Cities of Western Asia Minor (ed. 2 2002), “Chaironeia 338: Topographies of Commemoration”, JHS 128 (2008), 72-91, and Statues and Cities: Honorific Portraits and Civic Identity in the Hellenistic World (rev. ed 2015). One of his major areas of interest is Hellenistic history, namely the history of the Mediterranean and the ancient near-east during the three centuries after the death of Alexander the Great. This area involves five or six large topics (empire; city-state; the ethnic relations between Greek and non-Greek; the impact of Rome; the presence or not of a world-economy), and five or six large regions (the Aegean; the Black Sea; Egypt; the Levant; Babylonia; the “Upper Satrapies” in modern Iran and Afghanistian). The period is exhilaratingly complex and difficult to understand; its study also requires a knowledge of Classical Greek history and Roman history, as well as an understanding of the ancient near-east and ancient Egypt (two fields in which Columbia is strong). Another area of interest is the ancient Greek city-state, or polis, on the long history of which he is currently writing a monograph. The intense history, and (desire-ridden) historiography of the polis are a major, perhaps the major, theme of Classical Greek history, and involve a whole possible palettes of approaches, from philology to archaeology, political philosophy and social sciences. One of the challenges has been to write a history of the Greek city state that is not just that of Athens (in fact, within which Athens takes its place and starts to make sense, rather than be considered as an exception or a model); another has been to explain the longevity but also the mutations of the polis as a social form; a third has been to combine the study of institutions (or constitutional arrangements), ideology and social relations. A third area of interest is the economic history of the ancient world between 600 and 100 BCE, over an area from the Adriatic to Iran and the Black Sea to Egypt—a history which encompasses the “sixth-century boom” visible all over, the rise of imperial economies in the Aegean and the ancient near-east, and the possible connection of various regional economies during the Hellenistic period. The causal processes involved, the impact of politics, the correct interpretive models, and simply the gathering of data, are all aspects of the topic which interest me, and which I look forward to pursuing at Columbia. John Ma webpage.