Another Article on the Diolkos

Back in January, I noted another new article on the diolkos of Corinth by Yannis Nakas and D. Koutsoumba forthcoming in the Loutraki volume (more on this soon).  Since then, I’ve been in contact with Yannis Nakas about the piece and his ideas about the diolkos.  Yannis is a maritime archaeologist in Greece and also a professional illustrator; any archaeologist needing someone to illustrate artifacts or Greek sites may want to look at this outstanding portfolio.

Yannis kindly wrote up a fuller version of his abstract in English, which I include below.  Like my recent piece on the diolkos and Hans Lohmann’s forthcoming article, Nakas and Koutsoumba critically reassess the traditional interpretation of the diolkos as a major slipway for moving ships overland.  They suggest that ships, when moved during episodes of war, could more easily have been transferred over the Isthmus via wooden beams, and that no commercial ship owner in his right mind would have transferred his vessel over the ridge.  Interestingly, they also observe / suggest that the Sector A “platform” relates not to the diolkos road but to Nero’s canal—and is, consequently, Roman in date.  Finally, they conclude, as Lohmann does, that the portage road excavated by Verdelis did not run all the way across the Isthmus!  These three articles together should contribute to new views of the dating and use of the diolkos road in antiquity—and consequently, the commercial economy of ancient Corinth.

So, here’s the extended and enriched abstract of the article “The Diolkos: a significant technical achievement of antiquity” (International Archaeological Conference. Corinthia and the Northeast Peloponnesus: Topography and History from Prehistoric Times until the End of Antiquity”, Loutraki 26-29 March 2009 (under publication) by D. Koutsoumba and Y. Nakas:

For more than a century, the diolkos of Corinth has intrigued scholars and public with the quality of its construction and its function as a unique slipway for the transportation of ships. Certain attributes, however, of the diolkos have received minimum attention from scholars and can shed light on questions concerning the monument’s initial function and use. Here are some of them:

The actual diolkos seems to have covered only part of the Isthmus. No remains of any stone-paved road have been located beyond the Isthmus’ west coast, even when the area was still free of modern structures. Apparently a stone paving was applied only on the parts of the road where the soil was soft and unstable, such as the Isthmus’ west and east coast; the diolkos must have continued as a simple stepped earth road across the central limestone ridge of the Isthmus.

Secondly, the preserved parts of the diolkos belong to at least three different phases of construction. The main part of the road appears to have been built more or less in the same period, sometime before the early 5th century BC, as a Doric capital in secondary use suggests. The west end of the road (today disappearing into the canal), constructed with impressive ashlar blocks set in regular rows is of different construction style but its dating is uncertain. The Π-shaped loading platform also belongs to another phase and could date to the early 4thcentury BC. Finally, the west end of the diolkos structure, a simple paved platform (its inclination is probably caused by the modern canal cut at its edge), is of totally different construction style, indicating a working area, possibly the only surviving remain of Nero’s works (Nero’s canal followed exactly the same course as the modern one).

Another noticeable element is the blocking of the main part of the road by two series of rough blocks (inside the modern Engineers’ Corps School), deliberately placed on the course of the main wheel tracks. It is unknown when this task took place and by whom. The existence of multiple wheel tracks on top of the blocking indicates that the road remained in use for a long time after that. A final element is the possible existence of two stepped earth roads on each side of the diolkos, as reported by the only excavator of the diolkos, N. Verdelis.

The diolkos was beyond doubt a highly sophisticated and elaborate work of craftsmanship of ancient Greece. It was repaired and expanded, due to its continuous use and also possibly incapacitated at one time. What was, however, its original function? Although the hauling of galleys over the Isthmus was a rather common practice during wartime, nothing similar is actually attested for merchantmen, whose transportation on wheels or sledges (both techniques feasible in ancient Greece) would require a disproportionate amount of money compared to the actual cost of the ship and its cargo, not to mention the cargo losses and the ship’s necessary repairs afterward. Nevertheless, the diolkos was worn out by extensive use, as indicated by the deep and multiple wheel marks on it. The Corinthian-controlled ferrying of great and heavy cargoes between both sides of the Isthmus would not only explain the use of the road but would also justify its initial construction.

It remains a mystery why the stone-paved diolkos was completely forgotten by the time of Pausanias or why it never reached any written source of the Greco-Roman antiquity. Was it so mundane a thing not of interest to ancient authors? Was it only used for a few years after its construction and then fell into disrepair and disappeared? Furthermore, who built it and when? Can we rule out totally its use for ferrying ships, or was it actually a slip-way operating only in special occasions? These questions remain unanswered and only further research and excavation at the area might provide some answers in the future.

2 Corinthians: A Select Bibliography

Pepperdine University has provided free access to its past issues of Leaven: A Journal of Christian Ministry through its digital commons site.  There are about 20 articles and reviews on Corinth and the Corinthians.  Most useful is Carl Holladay’s select bibliography of 2 Corinthians, which actually includes a mix of commentaries, books, and articles on Paul, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Corinthians through 2002.

The Complete Archaeology of Greece

John Bintliff’s new tome (May 2012) looks like a serious comprehensive work.  At 544 pages, The Complete Archaeology of Greece: From Hunter-Gatherers to the 20th Century A.D. promises to tell the story of Greek culture from the Paleolithic to the modern era.  It doesn’t get much more comprehensive than this.

Here’s the description from the Wiley-Blackwell website.

The Complete Archaeology of Greece covers the incredible richness and variety of Greek culture and its central role in our understanding of European civilization, from the Palaeolithic era of 400,000 years ago to the early modern period. In a single volume, the field’s traditional focus on art and architecture has been combined with a rigorous overview of the latest archaeological evidence forming a truly comprehensive work on Greek civilization.

  • A unique single-volume exploration of the extraordinary development of human society in Greece from the earliest human traces up till the early 20th century AD
  • Provides 22 chapters and an introduction chronologically surveying the phases of Greek culture, with over 200 illustrations
  • Features over 200 images of art, architecture, and ancient texts, and integrates new archaeological discoveries for a more detailed picture of the Greece past, its landscape, and its people
  • Explains how scientific advances in archaeology have provided a broader perspective on Greek prehistory and history
  • Offers extensive notes on the text, available online, including additional details and references for the serious researcher and amateur

And here is the table of contents.  Judging from the index, the Corinthia makes a very good showing.  There’s even some discussion of the Eastern Korinthia Survey.

Old Maps Online

On the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology facebook page, someone posted this interesting site: Old Maps Online: Discovering the Cartography of the Past.  The site provides hundreds of maps for different parts of the world between the 17th and 20th century.  As the site notes here,

“The OldMapsOnline Portal is an easy-to-use gateway to historical maps in libraries around the world.

It allows the user to search for online digital historical maps across numerous different collections via a geographical search. Search by typing a place-name or by clicking in the map window, and narrow by date. The search results provide a direct link to the map image on the website of the host institution.

OldMapsOnline has been created by a collaboration between The Great Britain Historical GIS Project based at The University of Portsmouth, UK and Klokan Technologies GmbH, Switzerland

Its creation was funded by the Joint Information Service Committee under Strand C: Clustering Digital Content of their Content Programme 2011-13. It is the successor of a project lead by the Moravian Library in the Czech Republic between 2008 and 2011. The portal is based on the MapRank Search technology originally developed for theKartenportal project in Switzerland.” 

If you follow this link, you can see the maps of the Greece, the Peloponnese, and the Corinthia.  Great resource!

Open Meeting of the ASCSA–March 9 Videocast

The open meeting of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens will be streamed online tomorrow, March 9, at 7:00 PM (12:00 EST). 

Director Jack L. Davis will present a lecture on “The Work of the School in 2011.” This should include some Corinthiaka.  Clemente Marconi will follow with a lecture on archaeological investigations of Selinunte, Sicily.

To watch the lectures, visit this page

Kenchreai Field School

If you are student at one of the participating institutions in Sunoikisis, you are eligible to apply to the Kenchreai Archaeological Field School.  The Sunoikisis website describes the program as an introduction…

“…to the archaeology, history and culture of Greece through participation in a field school and accompanying seminars and excursions. The Kenchreai Excavations, directed by Professor Joe Rife, provide a unique opportunity to learn about the past first-hand at one of Greece’s most spectacular seaside archaeological sites. During the 2012 season participants will learn about data analysis, artifact processing, and conservation, in addition to architectural survey and stratigraphic documentation, all important components in archaeological fieldwork. Students will also attend a series of seminars by leading experts in several fields, from ancient religion to biological anthropology, and they will join excursions to major sites and museums in the region, such as Corinth, Perachora, Mycenae, Nemea, Epidauros, and Nafplion. The excavation team stays at a family-run boarding house in Archaia Korinthos, on the site of ancient Corinth, where we enjoy the natural beauty of the countryside and the easy rhythms of a traditional village community.”

The application deadline is March 16.