Paul J. Kosmin

My research addresses the political, cultural, and intellectual history of the ancient Greek world, and I have taught and published on historical questions from the archaic period in the seventh century BCE down to the total Roman dominance of the east Mediterranean at the turn of the eras. The core of my work to date has focused on the Hellenistic east, that is, on the political landscape that extended from the Greek mainland to India and Central Asia in the last three centuries BCE.

Within this field, my research has clustered around two broad historical themes. First, I am interested in the relationship between empires and systems of knowledge and practice. The new Graeco-Macedonian kingdoms of the east Mediterranean and west Asia – the Ptolemaic empire in Egypt and the Seleucid empire in the Near East and Central Asia – were established in lands in which they had no roots and to which they held no legitimate claim. Accordingly, the Hellenistic imperial elites had to make sense of the territories over which they now ruled, and their Near Eastern subjects had to become familiar with their recently arrived masters. My first book, The Land of the Elephant Kings: Space, Territory, and Ideology in the Seleucid Empire (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; 2014, paperback 2018) explored the Seleucid empire as a spatial phenomenon, arguing that the Seleucid kings and court worked hard to make this imperial territory their own, to transform the landscape over which they ruled into a meaningful and legitimate territory. My second book, Time and Its Adversaries in the Seleucid Empire (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; 2018; Runciman Prize 2019) investigates the nature and function of historical time in the multi-ethnic imperial environment of the Hellenistic East. It proposes that the Seleucid empire was a site of intensive creativity in understandings of temporal duration, that it was the location and cause of something approaching a revolution in chronological thought and historical experience. It argues that the formal time structures projected by the Seleucid empire (above all, era-counting) and the local temporalities that responded to, resisted, and ultimately undermiend tese (end-of-history apocalyptic theologies, in particular) were, in important respects, new to their world and foundational for ours. 

The second main theme of my research is the interaction between the Greek world and its Near Eastern neighbors. I have investigated various modes and sites of encounter between Greeks and non-Greek populations, the religious and cultural changes that follow, and the encoding of these meetings in ethnographic and historical writings. My work has focused on four zones of encounter: with western Asia Minor, especially at the city of Sardis (an co-edited volume, Spear-Won Land: Sardis from the King's Peace to the Peace of Apamea (Wisconsin University Press), is forthcoming); with Judea and the southern Levant, politically, in terms of the Maccabean revolt and the rise of the Hasmonean kingdom (two co-edited volumes are forthcoming, The Maccabean Moment and The Middle Maccabees: From the Death of Judas through the Reign of John Hyrcanus (ca. 160-105 BCE). New Archaeological and Historical Perspectives), and culturally, with respect to apocalyptic literature, local historiography, and the Dead Sea Scrolls; with the textual and imperial traditions of Mesopotamia and western Iran; and with the Mauryan kingdom of India and the trading communities of the Indian Ocean.

I have begun a third big research project, provisionally titled The Ancient Shore. This will be a cultural history of the coastline in Greek antiquity, explored as a site of social processes, as a dynamic of claim-making and territorialization, and as an inducement to thinking, wonder, and religious experience. 

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