Scheidel's research focuses on ancient social and economic history, with particular emphasis on historical demography, labor, inequality, and state formation. He is interested in comparative and transdisciplinary approaches to the study of the premodern world, and has been trying to build bridges between the humanities, the social sciences, and the life sciences.
The most frequently cited active-duty Roman historian adjusted for age in the Western Hemisphere, Scheidel is the author or (co-)editor of 18 books, has published well over 200 articles, chapters, and reviews, and has lectured in 26 countries. His most recent books are The Science of Roman History (2018, ed.), The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century (2017; 12 translation contracts), On Human Bondage: After Slavery and Social Death (2017, co-edited with John Bodel), State Power in Ancient China and Rome(2015, ed.), Fiscal Regimes and the Political Economy of Premodern States (2015, co-edited with Andrew Monson), The Oxford Handbook of the State in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean (2013, co-edited with Peter Bang), The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Economy (2012, ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies (2010, co-edited with Alessandro Barchiesi), Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires (2009, ed.), The Dynamics of Ancient Empires (2009, co-edited with Ian Morris), and The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World (2007, co-edited with Ian Morris and Richard Saller).
Scheidel is preparing a book on the connections between the fall of the Roman empire and the creation of the modern industrialized world, an e-publication on the Roman monarchy in global comparative context, and a general survey of ancient demography, and has been co-editing The Oxford World History of Empire (2 vols., with Peter Bang and Christopher Bayly †). He launched an international research initiative for the comparative study of ancient Mediterranean and Chinese empires, co-founded the Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics, created the interactive web site Orbis: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, which has received over a million visits and attracted global media coverage, and is co-editor of the journal Historia and the monograph series Historia Einzelschriften and Oxford Studies in Early Empires. He was awarded a New Directions Fellowship of the Mellon Foundation and a Guggenheim fellowship, and is a Corresponding Member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.