Tal’s main research interests concern Hellenistic and Roman history. His MA thesis, entitled Indirect Rule in the Roman East, 31 BCE - 68 CE, offers a revisionist account of the role of the so-called “client kings” in the early-imperial Roman East. Using prosopographic analysis and aided by a comparative consideration of systems of indirect rule in other empires, ancient and modern (the British in India, the French in West Africa, the Achaemenids), Tal re-considers the nature and role of Rome’s eastern subject monarchs. He argues that the Roman system of indirect rule in the East in the Julio-Claudian period should be best understood primarily as an artificial, calculated creation of Augustus, aiding his re-orientation of Roman power, rather than as a declining relic of previous generations, as often maintained. In his view, the shift to direct rule in the late 1st century CE should likewise be interpreted as a contingency of the rise of the Flavian dynasty rather than a culmination of a long-term trend.
In his dissertation work, Tal will focus on the late Hellenistic period, and will study the Levant in a century of change, during the period of Seleucid decline up to the Roman conquest (c.164-63 BCE). As is well known, this period is characterized by the rise of various local polities, including the Kingdom of Commagene, the Phoenician city-states, the Hasmonaean state in Judea and the Nabataean kingdom. Tal wishes to study the use of cultural and ethnic idioms in the multi-lingual state discourse of these diverse polities. A major goal will be to track the states’ development, change and negotiation of Hellenistic and local identities, in light of Seleucid decline and the dynamic, increasingly multipolar, geopolitics of the Levant in this period. These issues offer surprising resonances to central questions in today’s world, which also appears to experience the decline of old hegemonies and a shift towards multipolarity, complemented by the surfacing of diverse and complex identities. The history and development of modern post-colonial states may therefore offer one fruitful avenue to explore as a comparative model for consideration in the study of the ancient polities.
During his time in Columbia, Tal has enjoyed teaching elementary Latin and sections in Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman history, and he looks forward to teaching intermediate Latin (Sallust and Ovid) in the coming Spring. Tal participated in archaeological excavations at Hadrian’s Villa in Italy, and took part in the Center for the Ancient Mediterranean (CAM) tour of Roman sites in Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Currently, Tal is a contributor to the cataloguing project of the Olcott collection of ancient Roman coins at Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML).
Tal came to Columbia from his native Jerusalem, where he pursued a BA in Classical Studies at the Hebrew University (graduating summa cum laude in 2015), and worked as a research assistant in the Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae (CIIP). In his spare time, Tal likes to go on hikes with family and friends, to try out new kinds of food, or to relax at home with a good novel and a cup of English Breakfast tea. Email Tal Ish-Shalom.