Tal Ish-Shalom

Tal’s main research interests concern Hellenistic and Roman history. His ongoing dissertation project, “State Formation and Ethnic Identity in the Late-Seleucid Levant (164–63 BCE),” is a comparative study of diverse local polities that rose at the expense of the declining Seleucid empire: the Phoenician city-states of Sidon and Tyre on the Lebanese coast, the Hasmonean state in Judaea, and the Nabataean Kingdom centered in present-day Jordan. It proposes that these societies, traditionally studied in separate academic disciplines, can be better understood by a common framework as “post-Seleucid” states. In all these societies, it is growing independence from the Hellenistic Seleucid empire that appears to correlate with greater adoption of Greek cultural idioms in their public discourse. It is suggested that the general phenomenon of “Hellenization” may, on closer inspection, be better understood primarily in instrumentalist terms. Post-Seleucid states resorted to a Greek regional cultural koine in order to navigate an increasingly anarchic geopolitical reality, be it as part of a network dynamic with other small city-states or in an attempt to position themselves in the role of successors to the Seleucids. In the course of the research for this project, Tal spent the summer of 2019 participating in the Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar at the American Numismatic Society, and conducted independent research of Sidon’s autonomous-era bronze coins, some of which is yet unpublished.  

Tal’s second area of study is Roman history. In a recent article in The Journal of Roman Studies, “Provincial Monarchs as an Eastern Arcanum Imperii: ‘Client Kingship’, the Augustan Revolution and the Flavians” (2021), Tal re-examines the role of ‘client kings’ in the Roman east in the early Principate. Contrary to previous emphasis on continuity with the republican past, the article proposes that Octavian-Augustus enacted a set of measures that fundamentally changed the relations of certain eastern monarchs with the imperial centre. These ‘provincial monarchs’ became a new elite of Roman administrators, personally loyal to the domus Augusta and distinct from ‘client kings’ earlier and elsewhere. This Augustan systemization complemented the provincial division of 27 B.C.E., creating a ‘divide and rule’ dynamic between provincial monarchs and imperial legates expedient to the Julio-Claudians. This model is then used to challenge the view that the Flavians systematically ‘provincialized’ the east as part of a reorganization of the frontier. It raises the alternative possibility that provincial monarchy gradually died out following the Flavian realization that its continued maintenance was detrimental to their public image in Rome.

During his time at Columbia, Tal enjoyed teaching elementary and intermediate Latin (Sallust and Ovid), sections in Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman history, as well as an upper-level undergraduate seminar of his own design (Ethnicity, Power, and Resistance in Ancient Empires) taught as part of the GSAS Teaching Scholars program. 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 novel and a cup of English Breakfast tea. Email Tal Ish-Shalom.