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:

 

Holy Fools in Corinth

Corinth always gets the spotlight this time of year in homilies and op-ed pieces about the significance of Christian Holy Week, especially that three-day period known as the “Triduum,” which begins on Maundy Thursday (celebrating Jesus’ last supper), proceeds to Good Friday (the crucifixion), and culminates in Easter Sunday (the resurrection).

Corinth is front and center in this annual cycle largely because of the disbelief and difficulties of the first Christ followers living in the city in the mid-first century, whom the apostle Paul took time to address in a fulsome letter now known as 1 Corinthians. In Chapter 1, Paul seeks to correct the perspective of some in his community who viewed power, status, wealth, and education as the most important values in shaping and structuring their relationships: Paul highlights, rather, how Christ’s death by crucifixion — the “foolishness” of the cross — turned the Roman world, in its orientation to power and dominance, upside down. In Chapter 11, the apostle deals with division and disorder in community meals by reminding them of Jesus’ words on the night of his betrayal: “the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread….” And in the final chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses disbelief of some in the Corinthian community about the Resurrection of Christ.

The letter itself, then, frames the content celebrated in the Triduum, and Christians today hear plenty of reflections on the Corinthian situation between Maundy Thursday and Resurrection Sunday.

This year western and eastern churches celebrated holy week in quick succession, and western Easter coincided with April Fool’s Day for the first time in 70 years. Many of the Easter homilies and op-eds I read concerned the foolishness of the cross. Among the better ones I read:

A new book on Corinth in Late Antiquity

For some time I have been following alerts that Amelia Brown’s book on Corinth in Late Antiquity is almost out. The publisher, I.B. Tauris still lists it as not yet published, and Amazon shows it will be available for order next month. But Google Books still got hold of a copy and has posted parts of the front matter and introduction in a typically snippety way. Here are the details:

Amelia R. Brown, Corinth in Late Antiquity : A Greek, Roman and Christian City , 2018: I.B. Tauris.

 

The abstract indicates a wide-ranging survey of Corinth in late antiquity:

Late antique Corinth was on the frontline of the radical political, economic and religious transformations that swept across the Mediterranean world from the second to sixth centuries CE. A strategic merchant city, it became a hugely important metropolis in Roman Greece and, later, a key focal point for early Christianity. In late antiquity, Corinthians recognised new Christian authorities; adopted novel rites of civic celebration and decoration; and destroyed, rebuilt and added to the city’s ancient landscape and monuments. Drawing on evidence from ancient literary sources, extensive archaeological excavations and historical records, Amelia Brown here surveys this period of urban transformation, from the old Agora and temples to new churches and fortifications. Influenced by the methodological advances of urban studies, Brown demonstrates the many ways Corinthians responded to internal and external pressures by building, demolishing and repurposing urban public space, thus transforming Corinthian society, civic identity and urban infrastructure.

In a departure from isolated textual and archaeological studies, she connects this process to broader changes in metropolitan life, contributing to the present understanding of urban experience in the late antique Mediterranean.

And the outline of chapters shows a thematic approach oriented around key spatial features of Corinth’s urban topography:

Introduction: Significance, Scholarship and Structure

  1. Landscape and Civic Authorities in Late Antique Corinth
  2. The Forum and Spaces of Civic Administration
  3. Commerce, Water Supply and Communications
  4. Spaces of Civic Assembly and Entertainment
  5. Creation and Destruction of Public Sculpture
  6. Sacred Spaces around the Forum
  7. Sacred Spaces in the City and Corinthia
  8. Fortification Walls: Isthmus, City and Acrocorinth

A couple of appendixes follow.

The book revises Brown’s dissertation. Anyone who knows Brown’s scholarship knows her incredible abilities for crafting narratives through synthesis of a wide range of evidence. This should be a fulsome book that sets the record straight on Corinth in late antiquity and dismisses that outdated old idea of a city in decline. Now someone please send me a review copy.

Collapse at the Corinth Canal

May you never find yourself along the Corinth Canal during a rainstorm.

Torrential rains last Monday led to massive collapse of stones and debris about the midpoint of the canal, just beyond an old pedestrian bridge and near the old German bunkers. The canal is scheduled to be out of service for fifteen days while crews clear the blockage of enormous limestone blocks and heaps of sediments and mud. Collapse occurred to the east of the location shown on the map below.

 

Thanks to drone footage by Up Drones, you can appreciate the bird’s eye view of the damage and the effort already underway to clean it up.

This is certainly not the first time we have seen collapse over the last 120 years. The German destruction of the canal’s bridges at the end of WWII led to massive blockage within. And if you ever sailed through or walked along the Canal, you can see the irregular walls that were at one time straighter than they are now.

 

For further coverage, check out:

Ancient Corinthia and the American School of Classical Studies

Kostas Pliakos, a video journalist at CNN Greece, has produced a little three minute clip on the work of the American School of Classical Studies in Corinth and Nemea. Some nice recent footage here from those sites along with interview clips of Ioulia Tzonou-Herbst and Steven Miller. Check out the video below.

Corinthian Matters on Twitter

A busy and full summer has yielded to an even busier academic semester as classes begin here in south-central Pennsylvania. My plate is full, but I have a little hope that I’ll be able to write an occasional blog this semester — and turn this site into a place for slow blogging and more substantive content. I’ve had some productive encounters with the Corinthia in recent months including drone photography near the Canal, EKAS survey data, and research related to a 19th century refugee colony on the Isthmus called Washingtonia (see Kostis Kourelis’ blog here). I’m also working with a student this year to develop our GIS data for the Isthmus and translate saints’ lives from Greek and Latin, among other things. Plus, I continue to encounter interesting stories about the ancient Corinthia via alerts and feeds.

In the meantime, I’ve created a twitter account for Corinthian Matters  (@corinthmatters) which is perfect for the modicum of time that I actually have to devote this semester. If you are on twitter, you can follow Corinthian Matters there. If that’s not for you, just scroll down and you’ll see the twitter feed embedded here on this website on the left side.

Corinthian Matters in Corinth

Next week I’ll be coming to Ancient Corinth for a week of study and research about which I’ll write more soon. I’ll be bringing 9 Messiah College history students as part of a course called “The History and Archaeology of Greece and Cyprus.” The class is designed to introduce history students to the history and culture of two very different Greek countries, and teach the value of employing archaeological methods for historical reconstructions. After our time in Corinth, we will head to Larnaca, Cyprus, to complete our final season of studying the excavated finds from the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project.

If you’re in the Corinthia between May 16 and 21 and are interested in discussing matters of interest related to Corinthiaka, drop me a line: dpettegrew at messiah.edu. I had some great conversations last year about tourism in the region, which I’d love to follow up on.

Embracing Ancient Corinth(ia)

This short piece in New Europe surveys a management plan that would cast a broader tourist circuit linking the remains of ancient Corinth in the forum with the acropolis to the south and the northern harbor Lechaion on the north. It is sad that tour groups that deposit hundreds of people at the entrance of the Roman forum each day often miss all the other remains of the village including Roman baths, the unexcavated amphitheater, the Asklepieion, the ring of early Christian churches, even the theater–to say nothing of the extensive sites in the territory such as Isthmia, the diolkos, the trans-Isthmus walls, quarries, and the ancient canal remains.

Some great quotes here from Dr. Guy Sanders, director of the Corinth Excavations.

CORINTH, Greece – An ambitious plan to unite all the archeological sites of Ancient Corinth would make them more accessible to tourists, allowing them to embrace the history of one of the largest and most important ancient cities of Greece, British Archeologist Guy Sanders, director of the American School of Classical Studies, told New Europe at the main archeological site of Corinth.

“One of the things we’ve been working on over the last couple of years is to make a management plan for the whole of Corinth that will embrace the whole city within the walls, which includes the Castle of Acrocorinth, which was the acropolis of the city and the main archeological site of Corinth, which includes the Temple of Apollo and the Harbour of the Ancient City, which is down on the coast,” Sanders said, referring to the ancient port of Corinth in Lechaion where impressive findings were revealed.

….“It’s finding new stories from old material. It’s digging basements and storage rooms rather than digging dirt,” he said.

Read the rest of the piece here: “Embracing Ancient Corinth

Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual Published

Virtually anyone who has participated in the American School Excavations at Corinth has become acquainted with the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual. I’m not sure who was responsible for writing the first excavation manual for Corinth, or when it first appeared in print, but having an archaeological manual that guides fieldwork and recording is simply good archaeology. It gives workers and students help in making decisions in the field and ensures that excavation occurs in a responsible and systematic manner — producing data scholars can use to understand cultural deposits, buildings, and contexts and the formation processes that have transformed them. In the case of Corinth, a good printed field manual has been a constant guide for the student regular members of the American School of Classical Studies who come to the site every May-June for training.

2005 Excavations

The Corinth manual has grown over the years into a comprehensive and authoritative guide to open-area, stratigraphic excavation, covering everything from excavation of pits, wells, and robbing trenches to the removal of deposits to inventorying objects in the museum. The cohort of graduate students with whom I worked at the Panayia Field back in 2005 frequently referred to the paper versions of the manual in the field until the processes and guidelines became second nature. When I began excavating Hellenistic and Late Roman Cyprus in Cyprus with fellow Corinthian archaeologists in the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project, we borrowed and adapted much of the Corinth manual to our excavations.

All this to say that the announcement today of the publication of the manual by The Digital Press of the University of North Dakota is great news. The work, authored by Guy Sanders, Sarah James, and Alicia Carter Johnson, with contributions by Ioulia Tzonou-Herbst, James Herbst, Nicole Anastasatou, and Katerina Ragkou is now available for free download at the the Digital Press website, or you can purchase a print paperback addition for a small cost. The publisher page describes the work in this way:

The Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual is the first major field manual published from an American excavation in Greece and among a very small number of manuals published from the Eastern Mediterranean in the last generation. The appearance of this book is timely, however, as there is a growing interest in field methods and the history of excavation practices throughout the discipline of archaeology. Moreover, Corinth Excavations has long held a special place in American archaeology in Greece as the primary training excavation for graduate students associated with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. As a result, the field manual has had a particular influence among American excavators and projects in Greece, among Mediterranean archaeologists, and in archaeology classrooms.

And the preface to the manual begins:

This manual describes the present state of archaeological practice at ancient Corinth, Greece. The system employed here has evolved over five decades of excavation and in response to both the nature of the anthropogenic activities and the ultimate goals of the excavation: a diachronic archaeological and cultural history of Corinth. The practicalities of removing archaeological material from the ground, recording it, analyzing it, and storing it for future use have been developed over the past 100-plus years of archaeological exploration, and they are well-suited to the field here, to the post-excavation methods used, and to the facilities available at Corinth.

I see a number of good, concrete benefits in this publication. It puts into (digital) print / final form the comprehensive methods of a major excavation in Greece at this point in time. There’s a tight relationship of course between process and product in archaeology: how you investigate the archaeological record relates in direct way to what you can say about past human activity. Indeed, I wish this new manual included a little historical and reflective overview of how excavation manual has grown and changed over time. Perhaps this could be included in subsequent editions, and I hope this publication might be followed by the publication of subsequent editions reflecting new developments in archaeological procedures.

The work will also be very valuable as a teaching tool. Besides its immediate uses in training American School students in the Corinth Excavations, I could imagine assigning this in my own class in Historical Archaeology. Certainly other professors who teach classical archaeology or archaeological method could use this work alongside other freely available archaeology manuals online (thanks, Bill Caraher!). But the publication could also be made available even in courses in textual fields such as New Testament studies that devote a little time to how archaeology contributes to our understanding of Roman cities. The work is rich in illustrations mostly produced by architect James Herbst. Check out the two below for examples.  

 
The publication of the Corinth Excavations manual marks another positive step toward a more reflexive archaeology that situates contexts, finds, and buildings in concrete contexts and processes of investigation. Congrats to the Corinth crew and the Digital Press in providing access to their work. For more information about the manual, check out Bill Caraher’s press release today.