David Pettegrew standing on a tower at Lychnari

Return to the Corinthia

This is not really how I had imagined I would return to Corinthian matters–bunkered down in my home near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in the midst of a global pandemic, working on this website while what’s left of Hurricane Zeta dumps rain on central PA.

Only eight months ago, I was in the process of gearing up for (what was surely going to be) a memorable three-week research and teaching jaunt to the real Corinthia. I was going to bring along a group of ten bright students from Messiah University for a series of research ventures from our base in ancient Corinth between mid-May and early June. Plans were in place to join up with colleagues and their students from Michigan State University, Franklin & Marshall College, and Harrisburg University of Science & Technology to tackle a number of interesting archaeological processes and problems, ranging from collecting high-resolution drone photography of the Isthmus to a quest to locate the vanished American-founded colony of Washingtonia to digitization work at the Roman Bath at Isthmia.

The very idea of that trip — and its vast potential set of cultural and archaeological experiences — was gunned down in the wave of cancellations that shocked our world in March and April. Like so many others looking forward to summer travel for archaeology and study in Greece, plans were overturned, students devastated. On the plus side, we had our health and safety, which was certainly not a guarantee.

I still managed to find my way to the Corinthia again this fall through a well-timed leave from my university in the 2020-2021 year. The sabbatical provides the opportunity to undertake some research on Corinthian scholarship and also to breathe a little life into this languishing website after a long hiatus.

I’m working now on the long-delayed study and publication of the datasets and results of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey. We finished that project nearly two decades ago when I was but still a youth, long enough ago that one can rightly call it a “legacy project.” Some people, I think, imagine EKAS as an unpublished project but in fact EKAS staff have generated a slew of publications over the last twenty years. However, there has been no comprehensive and systematic presentation of the data or the results of survey, despite frequent conversations among the project’s staff about its potential value. So with the project directors’ blessing, my goal this year is to publish the datasets with collaborators, and to write an efficient little born-digital book about the project, its methods, datasets, and results. If things go well (Lord willing and the creek don’t rise), we have our eyes set on an edited collection of essays interpreting the results of the survey. But for now, it’s enough to say that Operation Publish EKAS is under way. You can expect some regular updates about the project via the Corinthiaka page.

The work on EKAS this year gives me a new opportunity to reset this website, update its template, and generate some new content. Honestly I grew tired of the template and format of the old website. Corinthian Matters 1.0 centered too much on blogging new scholarship and news and demanded keeping up with the constant flow of information–something that became too difficult as my teaching and research interests moved beyond the Corinthia and as I assumed more administrative roles at my university (like chairing my department, coordinating digital humanities activities, and directing a local public humanities project) — let alone raising a family with small children!

Since I’ll be working on Corinthiaka anyway this year, I’m attempting something of a modest overhaul of the website to convert this overgrown blog site into a dynamic website with stable content–something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. To make things happen, I purchased a new theme, revised the domain name, and reorganized and simplified pages. I’ve begun to update content and am still tinkering with this theme. I’m impressed with how much better WordPress tools are these days than they were a decade ago. Makes the job much easier.

So expect a little more activity here at Corinthian Matters than we’ve had over the last two years. I’ll probably not go back to a rampant posting schedule but I hope to add enough content that you’ll see some improvement in the utility of the site for delivering resources related to Corinthian studies.

Photo of Sarah James, Corinth Excavations, 2005. Photo by David K. Pettegrew

A New Study of Hellenistic Fine Wares at Corinth

Each of the 45 individual volumes that make up the Corinth Excavation Series published by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens marks a labor of love, sweat, and tears. There are specific studies that focus on an individual building, such as the Temple of Apollo, the Odeion, or a Roman villa, unearthed through over a century of excavation and study by archaeologists. There are more general studies of a particular phase of the site, such as Scranton’s study of Medieval architecture, or general areas of the ancient site such as the volumes on the North Cemetery. Then there are systematic studies of classes of objects like pottery, lamps, and statuary. The volumes are consistently large, heavy, and neat, containing copious detail and categorization that aim to establish archaeological knowledge about a building, district, or artifact group. The labor to produce a Corinth volume can last a lifetime, and even those scholars who write them quickly may wait years in the production process.

For these reasons, there is always cause for celebration when a new volume arrives. While in the Argolid this summer, I ran into Sarah James who seemed relieved that her years and years of study and restudy of Hellenistic fine wares at Corinth had at last made it through the publication pipeline of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.  Titled Hellenistic Pottery: The Fine Wares, the work is 360 full pages of Corinthian ceramic goodness, with numerous illustrations, figures, and plates. I haven’t picked it up yet, but I imagine it’s as heavy as any of the others in the series. James’ work has been groundbreaking both for defining a new chronology for Hellenistic pottery in Corinth and understanding the Hellenistic period in the city more broadly, including the so-called interim period between the sack by the Romans and the foundation as a colony in 44 BC. It’s also important as a presentation of both new material (from the Panayia Field excavations) and older material recontextualized. You can get a sense of the revolutionary argument from pottery in this book description from the publisher’s website (you can find TOC here):

Using deposits recently excavated from the Panayia Field, this volume substantially revises the absolute chronology of Corinthian Hellenistic pottery as established by G. Roger Edwards in Corinth VII.3 (1975). This new research, based on quantitative analysis of over 50 deposits, demonstrates that the date range for most fine-ware shapes should be lowered by 50-100 years. Contrary to previous assumptions, it is now possible to argue that local ceramic production continued in Corinth during the interim period between the destruction of the city in 146 B.C. and when it was refounded as a Roman colony in 44 B.C. This volume includes detailed shape studies and a comprehensive catalogue.

Last month, the ASCSA website posted a short interview with Sarah about the history and significance of the project that is well worth a read.

You can purchase a copy for only $150 — the cost perhaps of a typical archaeological monograph — through the publisher website, or you can pay a little less via Amazon.

A Week in the Corinthia

I recently returned from a week-long stint in the Corinthia. Every day I spent in the region was amazing. The weather was beautiful and perfect for archaeological fieldwork and the landscape was more stunning than I had remembered.

The research itself was rich, varied, and fruitful. I flew drones. I had coffee and lunch with friends, collaborators, and associates, which generated good conversations, leads, and new pathways. I visited the archives. I worked alongside a wildlife biologist who pointed out the rich landscape of Corinthian insect life that I had not paid too much attention to before. I walked again through the Greek countryside. I discovered things.

I won’t go into all the details here but will, if things go well, write in detail more about the projects this summer. In the meantime, here are some photographic snapshots of the week.

Church of Saint Paul in Ancient Corinth
Church of Saint Paul in Ancient Corinth. Photograph by David Pettegrew, May 27, 2018.

 

Saint Patapios icon at his monastery above Loutraki.
Saint Patapios icon at his monastery above Loutraki. Photo by David K. Pettegrew, May 27, 2018.

Flowers in a car at the Panorama restaurant on road to Perachora.
Flowers in a car at the Panorama restaurant on road to Perachora. Photograph by David K. Pettegrew, May 27, 2018.

Sunset over the Corinthian Gulf from the Panorama Taverna on road to Perachora.
Sunset over the Corinthian Gulf from the Panorama Taverna on road to Perachora. Photograph by David K. Pettegrew, May 27, 2018.

Photograph of the settlement of Lakka Skoutara in southern Corinthia,
Photograph of the settlement of Lakka Skoutara in southern Corinthia, by David K. Pettegrew, May 30, 2018.

Flying a drone over the trans-Isthmus wall on the Ayios Dimitrios Ridge. Photo by David K. Pettegrew, June 2, 2018.

Vineyard on Isthmus
Vineyard on Isthmus. Photography by David Pettegrew, May 28, 2018.

Beetle-browed Corinthia. Photograph by David K. Pettegrew, May 28, 2018.

Pegasus and a Fountain in New Corinth.
Pegasus and a Fountain in New Corinth. Photo by David K. Pettegrew, June 1, 2018.

The Church of Ayios Dimitrios on the ridge of the same name. Photo by David K. Pettegrew, June 1, 2018.

David Pettegrew, at Perachora, with view to Ancient Corinth. May 27, 2018.

Mapping the Isthmus of Corinth: A Story Map

Last May I had the privilege of working with Albert Sarvis, Professor of Geospatial Technology at Harrisburg University (and a licensed drone pilot), in capturing low-altitude aerial photographs of the Isthmus of Corinth. Albert and I had collaborated for several years previous on the Digital Harrisburg project, an ambitious project that seeks to link all the individuals living in Pennsylvania’s state capital in the years 1880-1940 with encoded historical maps of the city. Our work together in the Corinthia was a new endeavor, designed to both support long-term research related to the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey and learn about the complicated history of the human uses of the Isthmus from antiquity to the present. Although it rained steadily in the region last May, it was still as successful venture in capturing new perspectives on an historical landscape: look at the final image below to compare the ESRI default aerial imagery with the higher resolution drone survey.

It was also a successful collaboration of students and faculty of the humanities and digital technologies. I brought along 9 Messiah College students (mostly History majors and minors), and Albert brought one senior student in Geospatial Technologies, John Nieves-Jennings. My students had the rewarding experience of learning how drone survey works (and some exposure to the software Pix4D) while Albert’s student was able to connect digital applications to historical questions. John Nieves-Jenning not only ran many of the drone flights but captured the process of work through still images, textual description, and videos. For a senior project, John put together this interactive ESRI Story Map with videos and images of the Corinthia and the drone survey. If you turn on the volume, you can hear the whirring buzz of the drone as it hovers up and above the fields and quarries of the Isthmus. You can also see some live footage of our work and me trying to remember what I could about the history of Corinthian quarries.

We have received a permit from the aviation authority to undertake a second season of drone photography the week after next. Albert and I will be returning with one of his colleagues and students for additional fieldwork. Stay tuned for some updates from the field.

Corinthian Matters in Corinth

Corinthian Matters will be on its (mostly) annual tour to the Corinthia three weeks from now (May 26-June 2). I will only be in the Corinthia for a week this year because I have to get back for a digital proficiency workshop in early June, but that still allows seven full days of Corinthiaka goodness. If you will be around and have the time to get together, shoot me an email.

I’ll be working on several projects while in the region with a number of good collaborators and friends:

1. Drone Photography and EKAS: Since 2017, I have been working with Professor Albert Sarvis, a geospatial technologist at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, to capture low-altitude drone photographs of parts of the Isthmus surveyed by the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey in 1998-2002.  Our work is designed to contribute to a longer-term goal of publishing the EKAS data sets, and to understand the large-scale transformations of the Isthmus between antiquity and the present such as canal construction and the trans-Isthmus fortification walls. This will mark our second season of drone photography.

2. Washingtonia: I have teamed up with Kostis Kourelis (Franklin & Marshall College) and others to study the vanished settlement of Washingtonia, somewhere in the vicinity of the village of Examilia. This colony of refugees of the Greek War of Independence was founded in 1829 by American philhellene and philanthropist Samuel Gridley Howe with clearly great prospects in mind. Last year, my students from Messiah College carefully studied Howe’s letters and journal entries to discern the location of the village and nature of settlement.  I’ll be visiting Examilia this summer to learn what I can but also have a history student at Messiah who will be conducting archival research in Boston to try to dig up some new documents.

3. Lakka Skoutara. Toward the end of my time in the Corinthia, I’ll have the privilege of connecting with Bill Caraher before he heads to the Argolid. We’re going to head to an abandoned village of Lakka Skoutara between Korphos and Sophiko and document this abandoned village one final time. We’ve studied formation processes at the settlement for some 20 years now and we’ll be submitting our article to a forthcoming collection with the Digital Press on abandoned villages. We may also capture drone photographs of the village.

4. Kodratos. I’ve been working this year with Jonathan Werthmuller, a graduating senior at Messiah College, to produce an English translation of the 17th century Latin life of St. Kodratos by Jesuit scholar Reinhold Dehnig, based on a Greek original by the 14th century historian Nicephorus Gregoras. We’ve worked from both the Latin and the Greek as part of a semester-long project. It’s been a blast, and I hope to visit again the church of Kodratos in Corinth, which features prominently in the vita.

 

On Phoebe, Honored Courier of St. Paul (Michael Peppard)

We’ve mentioned Phoebe of Kenchreai here at Corinthian Matters as an individual who was not simply a “helper” to St. Paul — one translation of the Greek diakonos) — but also a prostasis, an influential member of some wealth and authority in the earliest Christian community of the region.

Michael Peppard has recently published an article in Commonweal  (Household Names: Junia, Phoebe, & Prisca in Early Christian Rome“) about Phoebe and two other significant women named in the final chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Peppard’s piece discusses the high status of these women and their importance in the mission of Paul. It’s a thoughtful piece of which I include a few snippets below.

But pay closer attention to whom Paul addresses and a surprise emerges: the status of women in the early church in Rome. Specifically, three women: Junia, Phoebe, and Prisca. They are not household names. They are not mentioned from pulpits on Sunday morning. But they were undeniably important to Paul—and to the Christian assemblies in Rome and Corinth, where they were authoritative leaders….

…Back to the first-century Phoebe: a more powerful translation than “benefactor” for prostatis would also be more faithful to the Greek term in its social context. When used in the masculine form prostatês, its semantic range covers “leader,” “ruler,” “presiding officer,” “administrator,” “protector,” “guardian,” or “patron.” Certainly the possession of wealth and the concomitant powers of benefaction could be related to one’s role as a leader, presider, or protector. But generosity alone does not capture the meaning of the term that Paul uses for Phoebe…

…As an honored and trusted courier, Phoebe could have had the sender’s blessing to explain her letter and its author’s intention as well. The social context thus suggests that, in addition to being a diakonos, a prostatis, and the courier of the most important theological text in Christian history, Phoebe may also have been its first authorized interpreter….

Thus when Phoebe arrived in Rome with Paul’s letter, it was into Prisca’s hand she most likely placed the scroll. Prisca had known Paul for years, and she was one of his most trusted partners, just as Phoebe was a trusted courier. So when we envision the very first discussion of the letter to the Romans, both scriptural and historical evidence suggest the same thing: it was women who were doing the talking.

 

 

Dropping into Ancient Corinth (the CyArk and Google Partnership)

Years ago, a visitor to ancient Corinth (and other sites of Greece) had immediate access to most of the archaeological remains within the site. One could stand directly next to one of the standing columns of the Temple of Apollo, or even climb within the Fountain of Peirene, as I know a group of university students did two decades ago. Open access provided physical contact with remains thousands of years old, and the first-hand experience of exploring the complexities of ancient architecture, but this was not necessarily all good. There were dangers in letting visitors climb in and among the site’s entire remains, and the monuments themselves undoubtedly suffered for the wear. Eventually, the ropes, rails, and fences came, which bounded and directed the visitor’s experience, restricting access and keeping the visitor at a distance. At some sites, such as the fenced Lechaion basilica, fences effectively barred visitors from any access except during those rare times when the site opened its gates.

Digital environments are changing all of this again. While we cannot physically touch an archaeological site remotely, the advent of new tools for exploring sites from a distance mark an exciting development in archaeology today. You may recall that at the end of the excavation season in 2015, the ASCSA Corinth Excavations reported on efforts by members of CyArk — a non-profit that preserves cultural heritage sites through 3D modeling — to recreate the Peirene Fountain and Temple of Apollo. Last week CyArk and Google Arts and Culture announced a new partnership to make 3D models of Corinth and other archaeological sites around the globe available through its free digital archive. A gallery called Open Heritage features online exhibits and 3D models of sites and monuments. As the blog for Google Arts and Culture noted,

As part of this new online exhibition you can explore stories from over 25 iconic locations across 18 countries around the world, including the Al Azem Palace in war-torn Damascus, Syria and the ancient Mayan metropolis of Chichen Itza in Mexico. For many of the sites, we also developed intricate 3D models that allow you to inspect from every angle, using the new Google Poly 3D viewer on Google Arts & Culture.

 

Greek Reporter provides this brief overview of the work in Greece, with links to a TED Talk with Ben Cacyra, founder of Cyark.

Remote visitors to the Ancient Corinth Exhibition may with this slideshow “Explore Ancient Corinth Expedition” which explains how CyArk created their 3D models of Peirene Fountain and the Temple of Apollo (through LiDAR and photogrammetry) and showcases videos of late antique frescoes within the fountain of Peirene.

The expedition also links to pages that allows anyone to download the data. Here’s the lead page for the expedition:

In collaboration with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, CyArk documented the mythical Peirene Fountain and the Temple of Apollo in the city of Ancient Corinth, Greece. Survey of the extant structures was conducted primarily with LiDAR and both terrestrial and aerial photogrammetry. The surviving frescoes within the Peirene Fountain were surveyed with an Artec scanner, which measures the 3D shape of a surface using pulsating light and a camera system. CyArk’s digital documentation of the temple and fountain provided the ASCS with accurate and precise data on the current state of preservation for both architectural complexes. In particular, it was important to record Peirene which is currently closed to the public due to concerns surrounding its preservation. This work was made possible through the generous support of the Macricostas Family Foundation

Then go on to explore the interactive map that allows any viewer to drop the little yellow street view figure onto any of the photogrammetry points. Voila — anyone can actually move within the Fountain of Peirene for the first time in decades. You can also explore 3D models of the Temple of Apollo and Peirene Fountain.

Recall that Google has already made available interactive imagery of Ancient Corinth through its street view feature: you can drop into almost any street in the village anytime you want. Through its “photo sphere”, you can also drop into the archaeological site and have a look around.


The Open Heritage collection along with Google Maps provides another great opportunity for teaching students and the public outside of Greece about ancient Corinth.

More Extreme Sports: Aerial Dancing over the Corinth Canal

I missed this event last but it certainly deserves a place among my growing collection of extreme sports on the Isthmus of Corinth. Modern dancer Katerina Soldatou aerial dances over the Corinth Canal. The Greek Reporter noted that “dancer and yoga instructor Katerina Soldatou…carried out a breathtaking performance of extreme aerial dance suspended above the Corinth Canal, as part of the “Greece Has Soul” programme. The event was held in order to raise awareness of the environment and the need to respect the history of each place.” As Katerina says in her video, “Experiencing a place of great history throughout is a most fulfilling way of understanding its true value…Sometimes the time is now.”

 

Soldatou has continued her tour recently dangling from the Rio-Antirrio bridge.

If you’ve missed my earlier series on adventure sports at the Isthmus, check out the following:

A Coin Hoard at Lechaion is not the Real Story

Some more Corinthian clickbait hit us last week in a series of news articles about a coin hoard from Lechaion. We have heard quite a bit in the past about the Lechaion Harbor Project (LHP), a Danish and Greek operation to document the underwater remains at Lechaion since 2013. Their press releases, which come at the end of each calendar year, find their way into media outlets around the world just in time for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. We covered the work of the 2014 and 2015 seasons herehere, and here (2015), and press releases of their work in 2016 and 2017 can be found here and here.

The coin hoard, however, was found by the other Lechaion Project. Yes, that’s right, the other project. There are two separate, ongoing archaeological projects at Lechaion these days. While the Danish-Greek project has been investigating the underwater remains since 2013 and has received global coverage, the American-Greek Lechaion Harbor and Settlement Land Project (LHSLP) has been studying all the remains on land since 2014 and only begun excavation more recently. The results of their work are just beginning to circulate in archaeological conferences. It was this project that discovered the coin hoard.

Now, coins and coin hoards are always exciting to discover in an excavation, but they are not particularly mysterious, even (especially?) when discovered beneath the floors of collapsed buildings. LiveScience and Newsweek headlines suggest otherwise:   “1,500-Year-Old Coin Stash Leaves Archaeologists with Mystery”  and “RARE DISCOVERY OF 1,500-YEAR-OLD BRONZE COINS IN GREEK HARBOR PUZZLES SCIENTISTS”.  Archaeology magazine and Neos Kosmos toned down mystery and exception with more descriptive titles  “1,500-year-old bronze coins found at Greek harbour” (Neos Kosmos) and “Coin Hoard Unearthed Near Corinth’s Harbor” (Archaeology). According to these reports, the hoard includes coins from as early as the reign of Constantine century and as late as the reign of Anastasius, so it is interesting to think about the curation of coins and the longevity of circulation over nearly two centuries–and another reason for a little skepticism about dating excavation contexts from coins alone.

But there should be some bigger and more interesting stories to come out of the work of the LHSP, especially if results are coordinated with those of the LHP. As the LiveScience article reported, based on recent talks at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and interviews with Paul Scotton and Michael Lerardi, the hoards were found in a putative work yard, which includes slag, iron, a basin, and animal bones. The Neos Kosmos  piece reports the discovery of “two large Roman civic basilicas….Believed to have been government buildings, one dates to all the way back to the end of the 1st century, meaning they are likely from the early Roman colony founded by Julius Caesar.” The work of the LHSLP, which includes survey, excavation, remote sensing, and geophysics, could contribute eventually to outstanding debates about Lechaion and, indeed, about Corinth herself, including: the origins of the harbor and the history of the visible works; the growing importance of Lechaion during the century-long interim period following Rome’s devastation of Corinth in 146 BC; the patterns of land division documented by David Romano dating to the third quarter of the first century AD that point to planned neighborhoods; the role of the harbor and its refurbishment during the visit of the emperor Nero and the reign of Vespasian; the relationship between Corinth and Lechaion in the Roman era; the environment of the famous Lechaion basilica church, an early Christian church excavated long ago by Dimitrios Pallas; and the “abandonment” of the harbor in the Byzantine period (there is an ongoing debate, after all, among geomorphologists and geologists about whether Lechaion was destroyed by tsunami or not, but that’s another story). And I will also note that in a region characterized by archaeological fiefdoms–where individuals, institutions, and ambitions lay claim to particular buildings, sites, and classes of material–it would be a great (touching even) human story if these projects found a way to share their data and build a complementary study of the harbor over the period of a millennium.

So, we can celebrate the finds that make clickbait, but hold out for a better story or two. Not any time soon, mind you, as archaeological study takes years, even decades, and the real significance and results of programs of fieldwork are even then not always obvious.

For more information on the work of the Lechaion Harbor and Settlement Land Project:

Corinth and its Revolution

This recent piece at the Greek Reporter — War and a Greek City: Corinth and its Revolution — discusses Greece’s Independence Day on March 25 from the perspective of the battle between Ottomans and Greeks over and around Corinth in 1822, when “Corinth” was Ancient Corinth, not the modern city to its northeast. News pieces on the 19th century Corinthia are exceptional (in English, anyway), so this one is worth a read. What especially caught my eye was the description of the destruction of Corinth’s countryside in the 1820s:

The failure by the Greeks to hold the city — which would have required only a small force of men in the early stages of the war — had angered independence fighters.

Greek commanders, among them the legendary Theodoros Kolokotronis (called ‘Colocotroni’ by Green) approached from Patras in the west and saw small Ottoman detachments raiding now-abandoned villages on the plain of Corinth.

On July 22, a column of 7,000 Ottoman cavalry and 4,000 infantry rode out to find a scorched-earth landscape, where all edible produce had been destroyed by the Greeks, leaving their forces running out of food.

Between August 4-7, having waited for reinforcements, the Greek forces attacked as the Ottoman commander gave the order for his army to return to Corinth “in great disorder”.

In the narrow mountain passes between Mycene and Corinth the retreating Ottomans’ rear guard was attacked, suffering 5,000 casualties in a few hours.

Twelve-hundred were also killed at the head of the advancing army. Green reports how European volunteers fighting with the Greeks there “expressed astonishment at the tranquil manner in which the Turks, both the infantry and cavalry suffered themselves to be cut down without making the smallest resistance as if they had looked upon themselves as consigned to death by some supernatural power”.

You can read the rest here.

I’ve been working over the last year or so with colleague Kostis Kourelis to document the colony of Greek refugees established by American philanthropist Samuel Gridley Howe at a site known as “Washingtonia,” which was located in the modern village of Examilia on the Isthmus. Howe describes the insecurity and desolation of the countryside after the Greek war of independence and references the battle described above. At some point in the spring or summer, as I have time, I may write more about our work to investigate and locate Washingtonia. You can read more at the idea for the project at Kostis’ blog: