“Straight from the Butcher’s Block” – A report on Corinth Excavations of 2011

In the late spring and early summer, we reported on new excavations in Corinth in the area northwest of the theater.   The latest issue of Expedition from the Penn Museum includes a preliminary report by C.K. Williams II titled “From the Field—The Corinth Excavations of 2011.”  In the document (available here as a PDF), Mr. Williams describes a late antique layer of butchered animals (mainly cattle) from the West Hall of the Roman Theater. 


Williams notes that the context postdates the use of the theater and postulates that it could possibly be connected with a religious celebration:

“It is the hall at the west end of the Roman stage building upon which the American School of Classical Studies at Athens focused  this year, largely because, when about two-thirds of the hall  was excavated in the 1920s, a good portion of a concentrated  dump of cow, sheep, and goat bones was removed without much notice.  We planned to correct that oversight in the spring of 2011  by the careful excavation and analysis of a sample taken from  the deposit, about a third of which still remained in situ…

The evidence does point, however, to the bones recovered  from the West Hall having accumulated as a result of butchering focused on supplying some sort of celebration or festival.  If the meat had been used to celebrate a Christian martyr, the church that was honoring him or her—if it was in the neighborhood—is still to be found.”

Read the rest of the report here

Two Corinthian Christmases

Happy Holidays from Corinthian Matters!

Surprising amounts of Corinthiaka in my feeds over the last few days.  Here are two very different Corinthian Christmases, an impressionistic rumination of modern Corinth in terms of its ancient classical image, the second a religious reflection on 1 Corinthians 13.

The first describes Henry Miller’s and Lawrence Durrell’s visit to Corinth around Christmas time in the late 1930s.  Kostis Kourelis discussed this quote in a lecture at UND in the fall.  Here is how the Guardian puts it:

“It is the day before Christmas, and an American is in Corinth with Lawrence Durrell. The weather is dubious; heavy rains may set in. In the light of a wintry afternoon, the site takes on a prehistoric aspect. Once among the ruins, first impressions change. “Every minute that passes sheds a new lustre, a new tenderness upon the scene. Durrell was right, there is something rich, sensuous and rosy about Corinth. It is death in full bloom, death in the midst of voluptuous, seething corruption,” writes Henry Miller in The Colossus of Maroussi (1941).”

Read the rest here.

The second is a holiday adaptation of 1 Corinthians 13.  Here is the first line:

“If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights, and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another decorator…..”

Three Reflections on 1 Corinthians

Among the fastest growing bodies of digital data related to Corinthian studies are the texts, audio files, and videos of homilies, sermons, and commentary on the New Testament letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians.   The former, especially, provides numerous inlets for Christian preaching and teaching and connection to ‘real-world’ issues, for it discusses such varied concerns as authority and power, humility and pride, wealth and poverty, sex and abstinence, pastoral ministry, charismatic gifts, women in leadership, the nature of the church, and so on.

Here are a sample of three reflections on 1 Corinthians over the last couple of months that reflect not only ruminations on different parts of the letter but also offer ecclesial perspectives with an edge.

The first (“At the Cross, at the Cross…),” by Dr. Michael Milton, Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, addresses the necessity of the cross for preaching today and takes issue with a watered Gospel message:

“The message of the cross is powerful. This is the message preached by St. Paul to a congregation very much embroiled in the practical meaning and effects of power. Power and its irresistible influence were thick in the air at Corinth. Power-plays, if you will, were being instigated in Corinth by divisive parties following, at once, Paul, Peter, Apollos, and even one, we are told, that sought to trump them all, the “Christ party.””

…Paul entered the emergency room of Corinth’s crisis with not only a description of the problem, a rife party spirit that was splitting the church, but also diagnoses and treats the congregational wounds as the heaven-sent physician of the soul. In verse 17, Paul makes the necessary move for the healing of the wound when he declares, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

For the rest, read more here.

The second homily, “Fourth Sunday of Advent: Chaos in Corinth,” by a Catholic priest, Father Shelton, draws conclusions from 1 Corinthians 4 about apostolic succession, authority, and the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church:

“Saint Paul discovered that after a community is converted to the Gospel, there is a danger of corruption in faith and morals without the firm but gentle hand of Our Lord’s shepherds.  After their conversion, the Corinth Catholics soon drifted into rival groups, rather than following their pastors.  But the Corinthians must learn to listen to their pastors and to follow them, rather than dividing into different groups and deciding for themselves what they will believe and do…..

As we prepare to celebrate our annual feast of Our Lord’s first advent at his Nativity, let us also prepare ourselves for his second coming in glory to judge the living and the dead.”

The third reflection  (“Tough Text Thursday: 1 Corinthians 13)” by Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, addresses the issue of charismatic gifts debated especially by Protestants:

“The issue of modern-day miraculous gifts such as prophecy, tongues, and healing is a controversial one. On one hand you have extreme Charismatics who believe these types of gifts are alive and well, and who incorporate them into the church service, often without any order or constraint and are manifested in strange ways.

On the other hand, you have Cessationists who believe that miraculous gifts ceased in the early church and have “passed away.” Their idea that these gifts are used in modern day worship and practice is viewed as counterproductive at best and counterfeit at worst.

Many in the Charismatic tribe criticize Cessationists for following a “cerebral” Christianity, “which has generally implied that we can get along quite well without the Spirit in the present age, now that the church has achieved its maturity in its orthodoxy.”1

Conversely, many in the Cessationist tribes of Christianity accuse Charismatics of following an emotional Christianity that holds little value for strong Biblical scholarship and theology.

We must always evaluate such issues through the lens of Scripture. And while not capturing the breadth of this issue, today’s tough text, 1 Corinthians 13, is an important passage in understanding whether these gifts are valid for today…”

These are the tip of an expanding iceberg for sermons and commentary on the Corinthians – we hope in the future to provide some  paths for navigating these materials.

Corinth at the Tate

Museums are increasingly posting collections of images and artwork online which, on occasion, deal with Corinthian topics.  In the midst of the end-of-semester madness, I learned of Tate’s extensive online collection of art through alerts sparked by the posting of Corinthian images on a new beta site (to replace its current digital collection).

Some interesting 19th century representations of Ancient Corinth, Acrocorinth, fortifications, harbors, and landscape with minarets:

Also, some illustrated New Testament material :

  • Sir Edward Poynter, “Paul and Apollos 1872”: an agricultural image of the territory with Corinth in the distance and illustrating Paul’s metaphor of 1 Corinthians 3.6: Paul plants an olive tree, Apollos waters it, God made it grow.
  • William Blake, “Job’s Evil Dreams” (1825, reprinted 1874).  A verse from 2 Corinthians 11.14 in the image
  • William Blake, “The Fall of Satan” (1825, reprinted 1874).  A verse from 1 Corinthians 1.27: “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.”

The current digital collection turns up a few additional Corinthiaka images that are probably soon to be transferred to the new site.

Map of the Corinthia


One of the most common ways that people find Corinthian Matters is through Google searches for good maps of the Corinthia.  I’ve posted several maps here with the promise that I will add more at a later point.  I noticed this Corinthian map in English was recently posted in Wikimedia Commons and is available for sharing and adaptation.  This is actually a variant of a German circulating since 2007: see the various versions here

Barbarians at the Gate

One reason I love Corinthian Matters is that David Pettegrew’s loyal bots constantly crawl the web looking for new academic articles on Corinth. As anyone who attempts to keep abreast of new scholarship on any topic knows, it is almost impossible to do so without some loyal human and software allies.Recently, he brought to my attention Amelia Brown’s recent contribution to the publication of the 6th biennial Shifting Frontiers in Late Antiquity Conference from 2005 at the University of Illinois. Her article titled “Banditry or Catastrophe?: History, Archaeology, and Barbarian Raids on Roman Greece” takes on the perennial issue of the impact of raiding, rampaging, barbarians on the end of public, civic life in Late Roman Greece. She looks at the Costobocs, Heruls, and Goths in particular and makes the argument that there is very little archaeological evidence for these raiders. Moreover, the textual evidence that does exist is highly problematic and fits poorly with the long-standing empirical expectations held by more archaeologists. In other words, the destructive rampage of Alaric or the violent reconquest of Stilicho left almost no evidence in the archaeological record. Earlier thoughts to the contrary were almost always the product of overly optimistic interpretations of problematic contexts or have been overturned with revised ceramic chronologies introduced through the more controlled stratigraphic excavations.

This is fine. The ancients liked to punctuate their history with barbarian raids, natural disasters, and other catastrophic events as much as modern scholars. The catastrophic events fit ancient communities and narratives into a wider conversation by making heroism, treachery, or divine displeasure recognizable to an audience. Similarly, archaeologists have looked for episodes of catastrophe in their excavations to align archaeological contexts with known historical events (and if possible dates!). Just as real or imagined tragedies created relevance for individuals living in the past, Mediterranean archaeologists have treasured evidence tying their labors to historical experiences conjured so dramatically in texts. Just as Mediterranean archaeologists have become more confident in the autonomy of their own discipline, so have they gradually shrugged off the ties of the world that they excavate to textual traditions championed by generations of Classicists.

The result of this work is not just to call into question the past distilled from a carefully empirical reading of texts, but also to call into question the periodization schemes, narratives, and research agendas dictated by these texts. This has led to a sometimes violent rupture between traditions of humanistic scholarship that have contextualized research and teaching for centuries and the results of archaeological investigation. As you can imagine, research like Brown’s that asks us to re-interpret such basic narratives as those surrounding the end of the ancient world do more than challenge the narrative of ancient Greece, but bring into question the line between barbarian and civilized that has been so central to the differentiation between the glorious, civilized Classical past and the brutish, uncivilized, Medieval time.

By absolving the barbarians of some of the blame for the end of Classical public life, Brown has offered a modest challenge to the master narrative and begun the arduous process of using the very tools produced by a system that championed the Classical age to undermine its esteemed place in our society today.

Cross-posted to The New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World

Touring the Corinth Canal

As my next installment in this canal-themed week, I include below three of my favorite video tours of the Corinth Canal.  Each provides great glimpses of geological stratification, the remnants of low walls that are mostly eroding into the water, the rail and auto bridges,  the rise and fall of elevation, and the vegetation growing out of the rocks.  These are the tip of the iceberg for videos on the Corinthia — hundreds out there.

The first one offers beautiful high-definition shots…

The second video begins on the Saronic Gulf and moves westward in the direction of the Corinthian Gulf.

The final one begins in the Corinthian Gulf and moves eastward toward the Saronic Gulf.  This one condenses to a 4 minute video a journey that takes half an hour.

Roman Colonies in the First Century of their Foundation

Readers interested in the Roman colony of Corinth and questions of Romanization and colonial identity should find food for thought in Roman Colonies in the First Century of their Foundation, Oxford 2011: Oxbow Books.  The work (ed. Rebecca Sweetman) includes chapters on Corinth (by Paul Scotton), Knossos, Nikopolis, and Butrint, among others.

Here is Christopher Dart’s opening paragraph in his review of the book for BMCR:

“The volume, deriving from a conference held at the University of St. Andrews in September of 2007, approaches the topic of “Romanization” from the perspective of the colony rather than from the “top-down,” investigating questions of identity and the relationships that individual Roman colonies had with both their surrounding communities and the broader empire. It consists of eight central chapters (2 to 9) examining the development of Roman colonies over a period of a century or more after their foundation. Both the scope of the individual chapters and the approaches employed are quite diverse; some looking at particular classes of evidence or very specific topics, others more generally studying the development of colonies in a particular region. Most of the chapters include illustrations, photographs and/or maps that are well-chosen and enhance the text. These chapters are supplemented by an introductory study to the volume by editor, Rebecca Sweetman (chapter 1), which identifies a number of historical problems and common themes that run throughout the chapters, and a concluding discussion by Greg Woolf (chapter 10), which more broadly discusses the nature of Roman colonisation.”

Read the rest of the review here.