Medieval and Ottoman Portages

Medieval episodes of portaging the Corinthian Isthmus are unsurprisingly scant. The only account cited with any frequency is the remarkable portage of Niketas Ooryphas’ in AD 872. The portage is disputed, but the historical records for the account are certain.

Two other supposed medieval portages turn out to be dead ends. In an article titled “Railways in the Greek and Roman World,” M.J.T. Lewis notes (p. 12) that the 12th century Moroccan geographer Al Idrisi refers to the transfer of small ships over the Corinthian Isthmus (see p. p. 123 of this volume). Indeed, he does, but the account is a derivative summary of Strabo 8.2.1, not first-hand observation. In a similar way, Apostolos Papaphotiou, who notes the Al Idrisi account in his book on the diolkos, also records a text about a man who traveled by boat from Venice to Corinth and from there to Armiro (which Papaphotiou places in Thessaly), where he takes another boat to Constantinople. Papaphotiou reads this as evidence for transfer of ships over the isthmus, but the text doesn’t actually say that, and we should not and cannot rule out a circumnavigation.

So, no unambiguous accounts for the Medieval or Ottoman era. That is, until I stumbled upon one as I was was reading some early travel accounts to the Corinthia.  On page 240-241 of his Travels in Greece (1776), Richard Chandler gives us an interesting reference to ship portaging:

“The root of mount Oneius extending along the lsthmus rendered the Corinthian territory which was not rich in soil browy and uneven with hollows. On the side of the Corinthian gulf the beach receded toward that of Schoenus which was opposite. There the neck was most narrow, the interval between the two seas being only forty stadia or five miles; and there was the Diolcos or drawing-place, at which it was usual to convey light vessels across on machines. The same practice prevailed in the wars of the Turks and Venetians.

Which of the wars were opportunities for ship portaging is unclear from the passage, but Chandler clearly believed for some reason that it occurred. I have not yet found an earlier source that refers to this, although it perhaps is still out there waiting to be discovered. That Chandler mentions it so casually in passing reminds me a bit of how scholars have frequently read Strabo’s casual reference to ship portaging—but here, Chandler clearly places portaging in some murky time frame. Nakas and Koutsoumba have noted better-documented accounts of Venetian portages in their forthcoming piece on the diolkos, so there’s no reason at least to dismiss Chandler’s account out of hand. Of course, it may be that Chandler was thinking about these other accounts as he visited the Isthmus.

When I floated the question about this portage to the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology FB group, Diana Wright remarkably dug up a letter referring to the dragging of cannon between Corinth and Kenchreai in May 1480! So far as I know, that is the only account preserving the dragging of anything between Corinth and its eastern harbor.

So, I’ll add these to the list, and update the diolkos page, and scratch my head about Chandler’s reference, until someone clarifies it all for me or I stumble by accident on another forgotten document.

Archaeological Research at Corinth – Summer 2012

The ASCSA website carries a recent report by Ioulia Tzonou-Herbst summarizing archaeological work in Corinth and the region last summer. The essay offers a snapshot of a wide range of research and programs currently being carried out by archaeologists, art historians, and historians:  the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore, the Gymnasium, Fountain of the Lamps, Theater, Captives Façade, Frankish pottery, Hellenistic and Roman ceramics, Late Bronze Age stirrup jars, Roman portrait sculpture, early 20th century architectural drawings, Perachora topography, Isthmia, digital archaeology, and educational programs.

Here’s the opening:

“This past summer was hot in Corinth, the hottest I remember since I arrived in 2001. Summers are busy and fascinating, full of discoveries. After the excavations finish at the end of June, the hostel is emptied out and we say our goodbyes to the Regular Member excavators. Their stories of digging are added to the long, long history of generations of excavators. The rooms are filled once again, with a different crew this time. Starting July 1, a wise and stimulating group of people gather in Corinth: professors and researchers who dug different parts of the site come back to make sense of their discoveries.

Our days are spent working in the museum. The short working hours of the museum this year put pressure on resident scholars to work straight through lunch, ‘doing the Mary’ and having a late lunch, which they considered a sacrifice that would please Demeter. Plenty of study and discussion took place in the afternoons in Hill House library and into ouzo time on the terrace overlooking the Corinthian Gulf.”

Read the rest here.

Maps of the Corinthia

I have updated the Maps section of this website as well as the subdirectories for Contours and Maps of the Corinthia. The latter contains a gallery of maps generated for free distribution for educational and research purposes. The maps present the Corinthia at different scales, with 20 meter and 100 meter contours, generated from the SRTM DEM. Some examples of the gallery maps include….

A simple base map of the Corinthia which can be modified through a photo editing program to add sites, roads, and the like:


A map displaying the most important ancient sites in the Corinthia from the Archaic-Late Roman period:


A map of the Isthmus with sites discussed by Pausanias in the mid-2nd century AD:


A partial gazetteer of ancient and modern sites and settlements in the region:


These maps are intentionally basic—no stream valleys, roads, canals, or fortification walls. Feel free to add and modify to your own ends. Please contact me for adopting these maps for the purposes of publication.

Contours of Greece from SRTM Data

This post for users of GIS.

You should really take the time to learn how to create contour lines automatically so that you can produce topographic maps at different elevation intervals for whatever region you are researching.

But, for those without access to extensions like spatial analyst that enable the conversion, or the time to mess with this, I will offer the following shape file data sets for 1) the Peloponnese and part of central Greece, and 2) the Corinthia.

The two images below display the extent of the contours that I’m linking to here.

The first shows  the extent of contour coverage for southern and central Greece. At the end of this post, you’ll see links for 20 meter and 100 meter contours for this broad area.


The second image shows the modern regional unit of the Corinthia (and western Attica), which includes the ancient territories of Corinth, Sikyon, Tenea, and Megara. I will link to files containing 20 meter contours for this area.


I generated these shape files from SRTM data through a simple conversion via the “Contour” tool in the ArcGIS extension Spatial Analyst — see my previous post about the process. (SRTM data refers to Shuttle Radar Topography Mission that marks a particular research endeavor by NASA to make high-resolution topographic data globally available.)

The image below shows the SRTM DEM that was used to generate the contours.


I downloaded the SRTM file shown above (“SRTM_41_05”) from the CGIAR Consortium for Spatial Information website, which describes the data sets in the following way:

“The CGIAR-CSI GeoPortal is able to provide SRTM 90m Digital Elevation Data for the entire world. The SRTM digital elevation data, produced by NASA originally, is a major breakthrough in digital mapping of the world, and provides a major advance in the accessibility of high quality elevation data for large portions of the tropics and other areas of the developing world. The SRTM digital elevation data provided on this site has been processed to fill data voids, and to facilitate it’s ease of use by a wide group of potential users. This data is provided in an effort to promote the use of geospatial science and applications for sustainable development and resource conservation in the developing world. Digital elevation models (DEM) for the entire globe, covering all of the countries of the world, are available for download on this site. The SRTM 90m DEM’s have a resolution of 90m at the equator, and are provided in mosaiced 5 deg x 5 deg tiles for easy download and use. All are produced from a seamless dataset to allow easy mosaicing……

Dr. Andy Jarvis and Edward Guevara of the CIAT Agroecosystems Resilience project, Dr. Hannes Isaak Reuter (JRC-IES-LMNH) and Dr. Andy Nelson (JRC-IES-GEM) have further processed the original DEMs to fill in these no-data voids. This involved the production of vector contours and points, and the re-interpolation of these derived contours back into a raster DEM. These interpolated DEM values are then used to fill in the original no-data holes within the SRTM data. These processes were implemented using Arc/Info and an AML script. The DEM files have been mosaiced into a seamless near-global coverage (up to 60 degrees north and south), and are available for download as 5 degree x 5 degree tiles, in geographic coordinate system – WGS84 datum.”

According to their disclaimer about liability, distribution, and acknowledgement/citation, these contours are freely available for (non-commercial) educational and research purposes, but users should cite the data source for publications and reports:


Users are  prohibited from  any commercial,  non-free resale,  or redistribution without explicit written permission from CIAT. Users should acknowledge CIAT  as the source used  in the creation  of any reports,  publications, new data  sets, derived products, or services resulting from the use of this data set. CIAT also request  reprints of  any publications  and notification  of any  redistributing efforts. For commercial  access to  the data,  send requests  to Andy Jarvis.


We kindly ask  any users to  cite this data  in any published  material produced using this data,  and if possible  link web pages  to the CIAT-CSI  SRTM website (

Citations should be made as follows: Jarvis A., H.I. Reuter, A.  Nelson, E. Guevara, 2008, Hole-filled  seamless SRTM data V4, International  Centre for Tropical  Agriculture (CIAT), available  from”


Finally, the data sets. The following zipped folders each contain 7 individual files that are needed as a package for recognition by ArcGIS. Right click on the file and save to your computer. I will post some ‘permanent’ version of the notes above to this page in the website.

Enjoy, but please do remember to cite the CIAT-CSI  SRTM website.

A Better Way to Make Topopographic Maps

When I attended the THATCamp Philly in September 2011, I listened to a presentation by Dianne Dietrich about the value of programming for teachers and researchers in the humanities: the goal is to avoid processes that can be done automatically. If you have to repeat a step more than 3 times, she said, you should look for an automative process. I’ll admit that I was a little lost in the ensuing discussion about programming basics and in the subsequent session about XML, nor was I was the only one—the dean of humanities at my college, Peter Powers, caused a twitter storm when he later admitted that the THATCamp experience was somewhat inaccessible (and would be for many humanities faculty). One thing I took away from the conference, however, was that it would be a good idea some day soon to take a basic programming class and that I should be on the lookout for automative processes that save time. My work with Zotero this fall confirmed that conclusion. Creating a massive digital library of ancient texts (which I’ll write about soon) would certainly benefit from knowledge of basic programming.

Enter GIS and topographic world (and GIS experts will no doubt laugh at my folly here). If you’ve followed this website, you may recall my post last spring about the progress we were making in creating higher-resolution topographic layers for the Corinthia. Over the last couple of years, I have been slowly chipping away at 20 meter contours for the region based on the Greek 1:50,000 topographic maps. Digitizing a topographic map of the Corinthia in this manner is an extremely slow process as you follow contour lines of the map with your mouse and click click click along them to trace a digital copy – note the red “digitized” lines in the image below and the squiggly contour lines in gray /black that are not digitized.

January 2012 102

A handful of students at Messiah College had made slow progress on the topographic map over the last couple of years with this tracing method. The students benefited from getting to work with ArcGIS and we worked slowly toward completion of a worthwhile project. After dozens of hours of work, we had finished the Isthmus, the western plain, and the central Corinthia and had left only the territory east of the canal.

When I commented on our progress last March, Richard Rothaus of Trefoil Cultural and Environmental posted a link to this 2006 article by Konstantinos G. Nikolakopoulos and Nektarios Chrysoulakis about the accuracy of the Greek 1to50:000 topographic maps. The authors compare topographic maps digitized from the Greek 1to50k maps (which were created in the 1980s from aerial photographs), to topographic maps generated from two sets of NASA space imagery and digital elevation models, ASTER and SRTM. They conclude that the topographic data from ASTER and SRTM is more accurate and can be used to correct the Hellenic 1to50k maps: “The accuracy of the ASTER DEM is considered as suitable for updating 1:50.000 topographic maps and the SRTM DEM is suitable for the detection of areas that need updating.”

Sounded valuable, but I had done all this work already using the Greek topo maps as the base, and I figured it would be easier for me to complete the process of tracing the old-fashioned way than take the time to learn how to create contour lines from DEMs. So, in late October, I decided I would finish the map the traditional way by tracing and clicking. I focused on the Perachora peninsula as an experiment to determine how long it would take to complete the entire Corinthia. The image below shows much I had accomplished after 2 hours: note the red lines marking the digital copy over the mass of gray contour lines. So I had probably digitized 10-15% of the peninsula. I reckoned that finishing the contours for all of the Corinthia would have taken 40-60 hours or more. 


Clearly that was not a good use of my time, so I explored the alternate option, creating topographic maps from NASA DEMs. I began by downloading the DEM model from this SRTM website, and later, the ASTER files from Earth Explorer. Once I added these into ArcGIS, it was a pretty easy process to learn the steps in ArcGIS, as this youtube video shows (and many other online tutorials). I did encounter a few ‘rookie’ problems like not having the necessary ArcGIS extensions and getting the DEM rasters to relate to the rest of my data, but these were easily resolved by talking to friends. The entire learning exercise required only a long day, and the conversion itself takes about 45 seconds! In less than a minute, I have contours for all of the Corinthia.


The brilliant thing is that I can reduplicate the process to create contours at 1 meter, 5 meter, 100 meter, 500 meter intervals for all of the Corinthia, or for that matter, all of Greece. As I learned in subsequently corresponding with Angela Ziskowski and Dan Lamp, these contours can be exported to AutoCad in DWG format.

A major surprise was how closely the topographic data from the DEMs aligned with the 1to50k Greek maps. In the image below, compare the red lines with blue labels showing the contours created from the ASTER image with the underlying black lines with black labels showing the contours of the Greek 1to50s. They almost always fall within 10-20 m of the Greek army maps and frequently overlay exactly—and remember that it is the Greek army maps that are less accurate here.


In the next week, I’ll post links to 20 meter contours for Greece for free download, and also updated maps of the Corinthia. Thanks to Brandon Olson, Bill Caraher, and Richard Rothaus for helping me figure all of this out.

The Christianization of the Peloponnese

Dr. Sanders recently shared a link (via the Corinthian Studies facebook group) to an interesting new digital project by Dr. Rebecca Sweetman and the University of St. Andrews titled “The Christianization of the Peloponnese.” The home page describes the project as a study of the gradual spread of monumental forms of Christianity in the 5th to 7th centuries:

“The aim of this project is to advance an understanding of the changing processes involved in the Christianization of the Peloponnese with particular reference to the location and socio-political context of churches from the 5th to 7th centuries CE. An intensive topographic and archaeological study has made it possible to present a detailed image database of the Late Antique Churches of the Peloponnese and a clickable map based on GPS data. The results of the analysis of this work, which will be published shortly in three articles, have shown clearly the evidence for phased and largely peaceful Christianization of the Peloponnese with a considered use of memory and tradition at different times, rather than that of a violent transition, as is frequently portrayed in the historical literature.”

As the project challenges the notion of “a single process of unequivocal and forceful spread of Christianity with a complete intolerance of any pre-Christian religious practice,” Sweetman continues the work of her 2010 article on the Christianization of the Peloponnese in the Journal of Late Antiquity (see Bill Caraher’s review and critique of that article here). This current website is dedicated to publicizing three forthcoming articles (unfortunately, not named or referenced), which will offer analysis of the Christianization in the Peloponnese in comparison with other regions (Crete, Cyprus, Cilicia, Lycia). By Christianization, Sweetman refers to the monumental forms of early Christian basilica architecture that spread across the Peloponnese in the 5th and 6th centuries.

Whatever the potential value of her forthcoming articles, students and scholars of the Corinthia will benefit most from Sweetman’s clickable map and photo catalogue of the 130 early Christian churches of the Peloponnese.

While the catalogue descriptions of the individual churches are too brief, and the bibliography is incomplete (e.g., why are the works of Rife and Rothaus not referenced for the churches at Kenchreai?), the photos, plans, and aerial views (via Google Maps) give this website some value. Early Christian basilicas are notoriously hard to find in Greece (especially when you’re looking for them) and often difficult to access (sometimes surrounded by big fences), and their frequent publication in modern Greek makes them inaccessible to most scholars and students. So, a website presenting good photos and basic location information for these churches is welcome.

But hopefully this is the start rather than the end of the project. If the author presents somewhat more substantial notation and bibliography for the individual churches and the Christianization of Greece or the Peloponnese, the website could serve as the starting point for early Christian basilica architecture in southern Greece.

Corinthian Scholarship Monthly (November 2012)

Good Monday morning to you. Here is the latest body of scholarship that went digital last month and came to my attention. If you know of material that should be on the list, feel free to send via email or comment to this post. All of these entries have been added to the Corinthian Studies Digital Library (for info about the library, see this page).


Archibald, Zosia. “Archaeology in Greece, 2011–2012.” Archaeological Reports 58 (2012): 1–121.


Hasaki, Eleni. “Craft Apprenticeship in Ancient Greece: Reaching Beyond the Masters.” In Archaeology and Apprenticeship: Body Knowledge, Identity, and Communities of Practice, edited by Willeke Wendrich, 171–202. University of Arizona Press, 2013.

Scahill, D. “The South Stoa at Corinth: Design, Construction and Function of the Greek Phase”. PhD Thesis, University of Bath, 2012.


Laurence, Karen A. “Roman Infrastructural Changes to Greek Sanctuaries and Games: Panhellenism in the Roman Empire, Formations of New Identities.” PhD Thesis, University of Michigan, 2012.


Brown, Amelia R. “Medieval Pilgrimage to Corinth and Southern Greece.” HEROM: Journal on Hellenistic and Roman Material Culture 1 (2012).

New Testament

Anderson, R. Dean. “Progymnastic Love.” In Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture: Social and Literary Contexts for the New Testament, edited by Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts, 1:551–560. Leiden: Brill, 2013.

Coutsoumpos, Panayotis. “Paul, the Corinthians’ Meal, and the Social Context.” In Paul and His Social Relations, edited by Stanley E. Porter and Christopher D. Land, 285–300. BRILL, 2012.

Elliott, Neil. “Diagnosing an Allergic Reaction: The Avoidance of Marx in Pauline Scholarship.” The Bible and Critical Theory 8, no. 2 (2012).

Folarin, George O., and Stephen O. Afolabi. “Christ Apostolic Church Women in Dialogue with 1 Corinthians 14:34-36.” Verbum Et Ecclesia 33, no. 1 (2012).

Harrison, James R. “The Imitation of the ‘Great Man’ in Antiquity: Paul’s Inversion of a Cultural Icon.” In Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture: Social and Literary Contexts for the New Testament, edited by Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts, 1:214–254. Leiden: Brill, 2013.

Kuwornu-Adjaottor, J.E.T. “Spiritual Gifts, Spiritual Persons, Or Spiritually-Gifted Persons?: A Creative Translation of Twon Pneumatikwon in 1 Corinthians 12:1A.” Neotestamentica 46, no. 2 (2012): 260–273. 

Land, Christopher D. “‘We Put No Stumbling Block in Anyone’s Path, so That Our Ministry Will Not Be Discredited’: Paul’s Response to an Idol Food Inquiry in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13.” In Paul and His Social Relations, edited by Stanley E. Porter and Christopher D. Land, 229–284. BRILL, 2012.

Lim, Sung Uk. “The Political Economy of Eating Idol Meat: Practice, Structure, and Subversion in 1 Corinthians 8 Through the Sociological Lens of Pierre Bourdieu.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 34, no. 2 (2012): 155–172. 

Moss, Candida R. “Christly Possession and Weakened Bodies: Reconsideration of the Function of Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh (2 Cor. 12:7–10).” Journal of Religion, Disability & Health 16, no. 4 (2012): 319–333.

Plummer, Robert L., and John Mark Terry, eds. Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013.

Porter, Stanley E. “How Do We Define Pauline Social Relations?” In Paul and His Social Relations, edited by Stanley E. Porter and Christopher D. Land, 7–34. BRILL, 2012.

Rogers, Guy MacLean. The Mysteries of Artemis of Ephesos: Cult, Polis, and Change in the Graeco-Roman World. Yale University Press, 2012.

Stenschke, Christoph. “The Significance and Function of References to Christians in the Pauline Literature.” In Paul and His Social Relations, edited by Stanley E. Porter and Christopher D. Land, 185–228. BRILL, 2012.

Welborn, Larry L. “Towards Structural Marxism as a Hermeneutic of Early Christian Literature, Illustrated by Reference to Paul’s Spectacle Metaphor in 1 Corinthians 15:30-32.” The Bible and Critical Theory 8, no. 2 (2012).