Before joining the Classical Studies programme at Columbia, Peter read Literae Humaniores (Classics) at New College, Oxford, where he studied under Jane Lightfoot, Andy Meadows, Paolo Fait, and Georgy Kantor. For his BA degree there he took a variety of literature, history, and philosophy papers, ultimately focusing on Graeco-Roman history.
Peter’s research interests lie towards the geographical fringes of the Classical world – his current focus being the zenith and subsequent decline of the Seleucids. This is a fascinating area for which the evidence is at times slimmer than it might be, and where some parts have received considerably more attention than others. While the Western fall of the Seleucids to Rome has been widely discussed, their demise on the Eastern front and gradual fall to the Parthians has received less in the way of scholarly torchlight – an enticing prospect. (That said, events in the West are also of interest to Peter, in particular the Seleucid interactions with Judaea and the subsequent rise of the Hasmoneans.)
A combination of economic and geographical history will be at the centre of Peter’s research. He intends first to spend a couple of years learning Akkadian and Aramaic in detail, to make full use of the available religious and administrative records, alongside the Greek histories and numismatic & epigraphic evidence. Although the diachronic/comparative method has very frequently been a characteristic of Seleucid scholarship, Peter plans to employ this large-scale and, for his specific topic, to present a triptych of Achaemenids – Seleucids – (Romans &) Sassanids: landing firmly in a subject area where Classicists say you’re an Assyriologist, and Assyriologists say you’re a Classicist…
Away from the Seleucids, Peter remains keenly interested in the area which originally brought him to classical history - Roman Britain, particularly in the mid-/late third century: the effect (or not) of the temporary Britannic/Gallic ‘Roman’ empires in terms of governance, the military, art and architecture, and again the influence of geography on such changes.
Within Classics as a whole, Peter is also eager to see increased use (and, by extension, accessibility) of the Digital Humanities: in particular, linked data in general; the recent advances in 3D imaging (and, within numismatics, the potential for use of facial recognition in die studies); and digital inscription data systems. These pose a variety of interesting challenges, in that the underlying computer systems have now been developed but not necessarily with the humanities in mind, and meanwhile plenty (though by no means all) of the numismatic, epigraphic and archaeological evidence is available in a digital format, the numismatic currently in a rather better state than the rest. The focus is thus on adapting and structuring systems within predefined limits, rather than starting from square one, which presents interestingly different challenges to previous areas in Digital Humanities development.
In his limited free time, Peter is a keen singer (having been a tenor in the Choir of New College Oxford for four years, and – much earlier – a chorister at the Queen’s Chapel), and also loves hiking - when not found in an armchair with his nose in a new book. Interested in languages modern as well as ancient, Peter is also currently learning Japanese. You can visit his personal website. Email Peter Leigh.