Pleiades: A Community-Built Gazetteer

I was pleased to see via a Twitter feed that the Pleiades project received another major round of funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. According to the announcement from the NEH, the Digital Humanities Implementation Grant of $322,615 will support “substantive changes to the technical and editorial infrastructure for the Pleiades gazetteer project, a geographic dataset for the ancient Mediterranean world.”

Pleiades, if you’re not familiar with it, is a “community-built gazetteer and graph of ancient places.” PleiadesCurrently logging nearly 35,000 places, over 30,000 place names, and 39,000 specific locations, the gazetteer “gives scholars, students, and enthusiasts worldwide the ability to use, create, and share historical geographic information about the ancient world in digital form.” Most of the content currently falls within the parameters of the Greek world and the Roman Empire but coverage continues to expand chronologically (into the medieval era) and spatially into northern Europe, the British isles, and the Near East.

The gazetteer was developed from digitized records originally collected for the authoritative Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World (Princeton 2000) but has been supplemented with information added by a growing user community. Pleiades provides an interactive map with clickable places and layers (modern terrain, ancient terrian, Roman Empire, modern streets), simple and complex search features, basic metadata (e.g., names, locations, place type, references), a blog, and downloadable data (for GIS users).  If Pleiades has excellent coverage, the gazetteer can be improved in resolution at the regional scale. PleiadesRomanEmpireA search for Corinth, for example, returns only 27 entries (that number increases to over 100 if one searches via “Corinth*”) that represent mostly items from the Barrington Atlas.


The metadata can also be developed significantly. The entry for Isthmia, for example, looks like this.

Pleiades_IsthmiaContent and resolution will undoubtedly improve as the user community continues to add data sets. Even now, Pleiades provides a useful way of viewing Corinthian places within the wider landscapes of the Greek and Roman Mediteranean.

The NEH Digital Humanities Implementation Grant marks another step forward for digital archaeology / humanities in the Greek and Roman world. And two years in a row for Mediterranean projects. Visitors may recall our announcement last year of the digital humanities implementation grant awarded to Professor Jon Frey for the digitization of excavation records at Isthmia (and Frey’s overview here).

Ten Unexpected Stories of Corinthian Archaeology, 2014

Cozied up at a country house near Granville, Ohio, my family ushered in the new year watching Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future II. This movie was a blast from the past. Released in 1989, I was a 15 year old skateboard punk when the film came out, and I distinctly recall conversations with friends about the (im)possibilities of the “hoverboard” – a wheel-less skateboard that floats on air (one of my friends claimed to have ridden one). In the second movie in the series, Doc Brown and Marty McFly travel 30 years into the strange future of 2015 with flying cars, hoverboards, automatic shoelaces, video conferencing, drones, accurate weather forecasts, and biometric scanners. This visit to 2015 causes a disruption of the space time continuum when the antagonist Biff Tannen borrows the time machine, visits his youthful self in 1955, and creates a new dystopian past and present (which alters the future 2015, of course), which resolves itself ultimately in the year 1885. No doubt Back to the Future II will be a hit this year: there are already a number of stories and videos like this one from the Washington Post, which compare the 2015 depicted in the film with the 2015 of our day.

Some of the stories of Corinthian Archaeology in 2014 remind me a bit of the strange world that the 1985 Marty McFly encounters when he travels 30 years into the future. There’s a kind of improbable, unexpected, or futuristic ring to them from the perspective of classical archaeology practiced a generation ago. How many archaeologists working in the Corinthia in, say, 1984, imagined that the following news stories would comprise the major archaeological events of 2014? If our time traveling archaeologist of 1984 had visited the year 2014 and stolen some tools and returned to the past, imagine the mayhem this would have created for the space time continuum.

Since it’s that time of year to compile lists of the greatest archaeological finds of 2014 (see, for example, this one from ASOR and this one from Archaeology magazine), it seemed fitting for Corinthian Matters to publish a ranking of the top ten unexpected stories of 2014. None of the stories below focus on new archaeological discoveries of 2014, which will not appear in journals anyway for at least several years, and none focus on new scholarship that made a splash last year, although your friends at Corinthian Matters are busily updating the Zotero library as we speak and will unleash a slew of new articles and books in the next couple of weeks. The stories below, rather, relate to the archaeological practice of Mediterranean archaeology, and are ranked not by their overall intellectual ramifications or importance per se – although many of them have already had an impact on archaeological knowledge – but according to their shock value – the “Great Scott!” of Doc Brown – from the vantage point of the past. Focusing on archaeological practice, I have had to exclude some pretty awesome stories like daredevil Red Bull pilot Peter Beneyei flying through the Corinth Canal twirling and whirling and plunging and looping. All the same, the ranking in its own way provides some view of the shifting landscape of archaeological practice today, especially as technology has crept into archaeological craft. Now I respect that you might arrange this list in a different order, or might substitute one story for another but here’s the AUTHORITATIVE list of Corinthian archaeology stories (where “Corinthian archaeology” is archaeology that has something to do wi5h the Corinthia).

10. Zigzag Art Discovered in the Panayia Field in Corinth

This story was certainly unexpected. It was one of the most widely circulated but least significant stories of the year which has to be included because it hit so many archaeological channels. The short piece from Live Science highlighted “Zigzag Art” on Geometric vessels from a sarcophagus of Corinth dating to the early 8th century BC. Zigzags are great, but are not overly impressive on Geometric vases (zigzags carved by early humans on 500,000 year old shells, on the other hand, are pretty cool). The author missed the major story – outlined in this recent report in Hesperia – about the early technological achievements of the Corinthian population. Still, the Panayia field excavations got some fine media attention. That the archaeological work reported in the Hesperia article and news piece was carried out a decade ago shows how long it can take for archaeological knowledge to reach the public and why it’s hard to put together a top ten list of discoveries of Corinthian archaeology in 2014. We may not know for many more years the full significance of what archaeologists documented last year.

9. The World’s Largest Solar Boat Arrives in Corinth

Ms-Turanor-PlanetSolar-departs-Monaco-27-September-2010-Photo-courtesy-of-PlanetSolarThis one also I didn’t see coming, but like the zigzags, got a lot of press. In July, the world’s largest solar-powered boat, “Tûranor PlanetSolar,” visited the port of New Corinth for several days and then sailed through the Canal. Operated by researchers from the Swiss School of Archaeology and the Greek Ministry of Culture, the catamaran was on an archaeological enterprise to the Argolid to conduct an underwater survey in search of a putative prehistoric settlement near Franchthi Cave. The boat was equipped with geophysical survey equipment that would map the seabed. The scale of the solar ship, as well as the technology employed for underwater survey, make this story worthy of report even though the archaeological work fell well outside the realm of the Corinthia. I never did hear what they discovered. See also coverage at  this site.

8. Good Luck for the Eutychia Mosaic at Corinth

Screenshot (23)In August, the ASCSA announced plans to restore the Eutychia mosaic through a generous donation. The organization provided this update in October. The restoration of a mosaic is not improbable per se from the vantage point of 1984 (conservation work was taking place at the great monochrome mosaic at Isthmia in the 1980s), but was nonetheless unexpected, and deserves to make the list given its significance for Corinthian archaeology and the publicity of the process (see no. 2 below). The Eutychia mosaic was originally uncovered in excavations of the South Stoa in the 1930s and has in recent decades been enclosed in a dark room off limits to visitors in the southeastern corner of the forum in Corinth. It’s that mosaic you can never really make out when you peer through the fence surrounding it. Since Broneer’s excavation, the mosaic has been interpreted as part of the office of agonothetes: the mosaic show a victorious athlete with a goddess holding a shield inscribed with eutychia, or “Good Luck.” It’s great that Betsey Robinson’s recent article in Hesperia publicized the need for restoration work, and also cool that that the work was recorded with video and publically released in tandem with the conservation.

7. Western Argolid Regional Archaeological Project Begins

P1070124As a landscape archaeologist, it’s inevitable that at least one survey project would make this list. Several friends and collaborators from the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project and the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey teamed up to launch a new distributional survey in the western Argolid with an acronym – WARP – that competes with any survey project of Greece and Cyprus. I had the good fortune of visiting this beautiful survey territory, the Inachos Valley, in the opening days of the project. Now, this isn’t the Corinthia per se, but the team contained so many Corinthian archaeologists that it seemed right to include the project in the rankings. Plus the project came on strong in the blogsophere with committed bloggers like Bill Caraher and Dimitri Nakassis pumping out interesting social media on a daily basis. The idea of a survey is not that unexpected of course from 1984, when some of the major surveys of Greece were fully in motion. Nonetheless, WARP gives us an example of an efficiently run hyper-intensive survey. As their abstract for a conference paper describes their work, the project surveyed some 5.5 sq km using very intensive distributional survey methods in a single season – greater coverage, that is, than the 4 sq km covered by the Eastern Korinthia Survey over three seasons (although EKAS was beleaguered by permit problems). If WARP is this efficient over the next two seasons, the project may end up one of the most efficient, intensive surveys projects carried out in Greek lands.

6. American School Launches New Maps and Spatial Data

Screenshot (27)It’s hard to know whether our classical archaeologist of 1984 would have imagined how important the GIS revolution would be for archaeologists of the future. The concept and technology for geographic information systems was established by the mid-1980s but commercial GIS software did not become widely available until the 1990s. Today archaeologists cannot live without it. In September, the ASCSA announced the dedication of a page populated with free GIS data, which continues to grow into a one-stop shop for free downloadable files related to Greece and the Peloponnese: digital elevation models, roads and cities, topographic contours, and ready made maps. I got to tour a beta version of this page in late August and had planned to blog the news release but the arrival of a little baby boy in early September changed that. This news certainly deserves a place on the list since it makes a major contribution to many different engagements on Corinthian archaeology. I will soon update the maps section of this site to point to this site.

5. The Lechaion Harbour Project Launches

One of the most exciting stories of the year was the launching of the Lechaion Harbour Project (LHP), a Danish-Greek enterprise designed (according to the project’s Facebook page) “to digitally survey, excavate, study, and publish the submerged archaeological remains of Corinth’s main harbor town Lechaion.” Some of the news outlets wrongly reported that Lechaion’s harbor had been discovered (it had never fully been lost). The real story was the use of such sophisticated equipment to map the underwater remains at Lechaion and – this is important – a systematic archaeological study of the harborworks. The project released a series of updates and mini-reports via its Facebook page about the process of an underwater digital survey through the use of dredges and a “3D parametric sub-bottom profiler” (sounds futuristic?). See this brief report from Archaeology magazine, this longer one from The Greek Reporter, and the original press release.

4. Michigan State University Wins NEH grant for Archaeological Resource Cataloging System

ARCS notebook

This story didn’t circulate as widely as I expected it would, but when the news release comes from was the prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities, you know it’s big. Dr. Jon Frey of Michigan State University was awarded a Digital Humanities Implementation grant on the order of $324,586 to develop and expand a tool called Archaeological Resource Cataloging System (ARCS) for digitizing the excavation notebooks at Isthmia, Nemea, Tauric Chersonesos, and Polis (Cyprus). ARCS is an open-source application for preserving and interacting with excavation notebooks and other field documents. This is a boon not only to Corinthian archaeology but also for smaller archaeological projects that are trying to record and preserve data on limited budgets. It’s also unexpected from our vantage year 1984. For a review of grant awarded, see this post, and Dr. Frey’s comments here.

3. The American School Launches its Virtual Field Trip App to Corinth

2014-08-25 09.21.32After a fifty year hiatus in publishing edition after revised edition of the official guidebook to Corinth and its museum, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens announced the imminent publication (now in production) of a seventh edition of Ancient Corinth: A Guide to the Site and Museum, plus – and here’s the kicker – a now available digital tour of Ancient Corinth via the Field Trip app available for iPhones and Androids. As I wrote in my review of the product, the Field Trip app enhances and greatly changes the user’s experience of Corinth. Visitors to the site who make use of the app can jump in and out of tour from anywhere on site (freeing them from the linear tour of the old guidebooks) and – really cool – anyone anywhere in the world can “tour” Corinth. This kind of public and digital archaeology product deserves a high rank not only for being unexpected a generation ago but also for making a major contribution to the study of ancient Corinth.



Now, ranking two most unexpected stories of 2014 was a tossup. It could have gone either way, but this is, I think, the right order, if you accept that the last one qualifies.

2. Corinthian Archaeologists Record Excavations of Frankish Quarter with Google Glass


This one knocked my socks off. In April the ASCSA announced that it was conducting its excavations of the Frankish quarter in Corinth using Google Glass. The excavations of the Frankish quarter marked their own interesting story, but were not surprising in their own right (excavations of the Frankish quarter began at Corinth in the late 80s). Yet the futuristic wearable technology in recording contexts (image left) takes the ASCSA Back to the Future (image right). Not sure that Google Glass will be the wave of the future, but this clearly marked one of the year’s most unexpected stories that expands upon a range of new directions in digital recording systems. As the ASCSA’s final news release describes the experience, “For our purposes, the students used Glass to create an interesting series of FPV (first person view) videos summarizing their excavations at regular intervals. This not only challenged them to present their excavations in a different medium but also forced them to question different audiences and how video might supplement the existing excavation record.” And my favorite quote: “Some [students] also found talking to their glasses disconcerting.” 

Some of these FPV videos are available on Google Plus:

This story certainly would have been number one unexpected story of the year had it not been for an even more bizarre story that narrowly edged it out.

1. Corinthian Archaeologists Excavate Atari Burial Ground in Alamogordo, New Mexico (and launch Punk Archaeology)

Atari-Graveyard-ControllerI really have few words for the winner. It was truly and completely unexpected. Even if our hypothetical archaeologist in 1984 had predicted all of the above, she/he could never have predicted that a group of archaeologists who had spent so much of their careers working in Greece would have been part of an excavation of a landfill in New Mexico to dig up the dump of the worst video game of all time, the 1983 Atari flop, E.T. New Mexico is a long way from the Corinthia, but three members of the archaeological team – Andrew Reinhard, Richard Rothaus, and Bill Caraher – were trained in Corinthian archaeology through ASCSA projects, published on Corinthian materials (in the case of Rothaus and Caraher), and (in the case of Reinhard) oversaw ASCSA publications. Some may disqualify this piece from Corinthian archaeology, but using the logic of association (see no. number 7 above), I think it deserves its place in the ranking. The story appeared in the major news outlets like Archaeology Magazine and CNN, and exploded in the blogosphere, so that even the ASCSA promoted (and has continued to promote) the story on its website. Two fun articles on this Atari dig include this one in Harper’s Magazine about the new punk archaeologists, and this one in The Atlantic by the punk archaeologists. This is not mainstream classical archaeology by any means, but rather “punk archaeology” – whatever that phrase means. Like the other stories outlined above, the run of the punk archaeologists in a New Mexico landfill offers another telling example of the unpredictable practice of archaeology today.

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.

Corinthian Scholarship (monthly): June-August

The second installment of Corinth-related scholarship that went digital in June-August. Happy reading!



Roman-Late Antique

New Testament and Early Christianity

Medieval and Post-Medieval

Historical Maps via Trove

Trove, the National Library of Australia, provides a search engine and metadata for a wide range of textual, audio, and visual sources. Searching by the subjects “Corinth” and “Corinthe” pulls up numerous records for books, pictures, and articles. While most of the bibliography are common to other databases like Worldcat or Google Scholar, I did find useful the separate section on historical maps of the Corinthia (here and here) dating to the 17th-20th centuries.

Another look at Land of Sikyon

One spring day in 2005, I ran into Yannis Lolos at the Blegen Library in Athens carrying around his recently completed monograph on the history and archaeology of the region of Sikyon, the polis immediately west of Corinth. He told me at the time that the hundreds and hundreds of freshly printed pages in his hands, destined for the publication desk of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, had required a tremendous amount of work. Now that I’ve seen the final product, Land of Sikyon: Archaeology and History of a Greek City-State (Princeton 2011), I can see he wasn’t exaggerating. This is truly a magnum opus representing a massive undertaking that could only have required thousands of hours of work. I spent a couple of days last week working through the volume, but I felt like one only scratching the surface—much like Caraher’s cat attacking a sofa

The most impressive aspect of Land of Sikyon is its comprehensiveness. Lolos has produced the first topographic study of the entire region of Sikyonia (360 km) from prehistory to the Early Modern period. He mines and discusses all relevant ancient and medieval texts and early modern literature, summarizes relevant excavation finds, and presents page after page of original observation and interpretation of the finds from his reconnaissance survey of the territory. While he claims in places that his work is not the final say for the history of the region but only a new beginning, it is most certainly comprehensive in its regional framework, diachronic perspective, and attention to a wide range of evidence. One might compare it to James Wiseman’s The Land of the Ancient Corinthians, but double the word count and twice the number of photos, maps, plans, and tables. At 635 pages, it rivals in size any regional survey volume, but, unlike most survey volumes, Land of Sikyon was authored (almost) entirely by one person.

This outline and structure of the book shows Lolos’ thematic breaks, which, as he notes in the intro, correspond to the stages of his research (For a descriptive summary, see Bill Caraher’s BMCR review):

Introduction (pp. 1-6)

Ch. 1. Physical Environment and Resources (pp. 7-58): topography; boundaries and resources of ancient polis, land use in the premodern era

Ch. 2. Sikyonia from Prehistoric Times to the Ottoman Era (pp. 59-92): a history of the region based mainly on textual evidence

Ch. 3. Land Communications (pp. 93-180): a reconstruction of the road network of the territory based on Lolos’ topographical survey (1996-1998 )

Ch. 4. Defenses (pp. 181-268): discussion of the region’s fortifications based on topographical survey in 1996-1998 (forts, guard houses, patrol houses)

Ch. 5. Settlements: The City and its Countryside (269-376): diachronic reconstruction of settlement system based on extensive survey in 2000-2002

Ch. 6. Sacra Sicyonia (pp. 377-414): sacred landscapes based on survey, excavation, and textual evidence

Ch. 7. Conclusion (pp. 415-418)

There follows seven appendixes. The most detailed and extensive covers the register of sites (pp. 419-548), while there are also chapters by Lolos on aqueducts, public land, and a building inscription, and chapters from his colleagues on the Cave of Lechova, roof tiles, and an inscribed sherd. Six neat maps show political boundaries, topography, rivers and streams, fault lines, geological strata, vegetation patterns, modern settlements and toponyms, archaeological sites, ancient roads of the Sikyonia and the western Korinthia, and the features and sites of the Ancient Sikyon plateau. These are freely available for downloading as PDF files via their DOI names (listed at the end of the book).

The structure of the work reveals Lolos’ principal interests. The introduction and the first two chapters establish the context for understanding Sikyonia’s history, while the subsequent chapters of the monograph (3-6) detail the results of the topographical survey and the extensive pedestrian survey.  For the general reader interested broadly in the history and archaeology of the northeast Peloponnese but with no knowledge of Sikyon per se, chapters 1 and 2 could be the most useful in the volume. The first discusses agriculture and the natural resources of Sikyonia while the second provides a summary of Sikyon’s political and cultural history over four millennia. Both highlight how Sikyon’s and Corinth’s history were entangled in many different ways —by natural resources (e.g., the famous coastal plain between Corinth and Sikyon, the flora and crops of the regions) and parallel political developments (neighboring poleis in the Archaic-Hellenistic periods, complex interactions with external powers in the Hellenistic period). From the Roman period to the early modern era, Sikyon’s history, in fact, was directly overshadowed by the megalopolis Corinth. Indeed, the selection of Carl Rottmann’s oil painting, Sikyon-Corinth (1836-1838), for the cover of the book, draws attention to this theme of Sikyon’s relationship and interaction with neighboring Corinth, its acropolis visible in the distance.


Chapters 3-5 are without question the heart of the monograph, each numbering 80-100+ pages. These do not make for light or easy reading but require attention to Lolos’ topographic arguments (based on the maps at the end of the volume), archaeological arguments (based on references to scattered remains of roads, fortifications, and settlements), and textual arguments about the interpretation of ancient literature and early modern sources. The general reader can gain a quick overview of Lolos’ arguments through the useful summaries at the end of each chapter, but will still benefit from dipping into particular sections of interest and examining the images, figures, and tables (cf., for example, the walking distances and travel times from Corinth in Table 3.1). The scholar of the northeast Peloponnese will want to spend some time wading through Lolos’ arguments. For example, the author reconstructs an extensive road network across the Sikyonia from wheel ruts (most of which, he argues, are deliberately cut), natural corridors, road bed cuttings, historical sources, bridge locations, and graves, and argues that almost all of these roads originated in antiquity, primarily the era of the polis. The connection between these scattered bits is necessarily speculative as most of these features are not especially diagnostic, but the author’s arguments are still compelling. I found convincing his argument (pp. 98-110) for the existence of a Roman road across the coastal plain connecting the regions of Corinth and Sikyon, especially as it corresponds to modern village locations and lines up nicely with David Romano’s observations about an artery that structured the Roman centuriation of the Corinth’s western territory. Lolos’ arguments about the functions of rural towers and fortifications in the territory—mostly for the defense of the polis, mostly guarding interstate roads—are balanced, coherent, and defensible.

I was less convinced by Lolos’ reconstruction of settlement patterns (Ch. 5), based on his extensive survey of the territory.  While the discussion is nuanced and sensible, recognizing (p. 272) the major methodological differences between extensive survey and intensive survey, he nonetheless attempts to reconstruct demographic patterns on the basis of relative changes in the number of sites identified for each period. So, for example, he sees a mostly empty Geometric countryside (9 sites), a surprisingly sparse Archaic period (26 sites), a spike in the Classical era (45 sites), a decline in the Hellenistic (22 sites) to Early-Middle Roman (34 sites), and a spike in the Late Roman period (61 sites), etc..—archaeological patterns that seem out of sync with the picture from textual sources (e.g., the early Hellenistic period is a bright phase in Sikyon’s history under Aratus). Whether or not these could reflect true demographic change or the changing demographic relationship of town and country, as Lolos ponders, I found two main weaknesses in his assessment of the pattern.

First, Lolos’ survey was not intensive, and therefore not likely to detect the smaller farmsteads, tenant residences, and seasonal habitations that must have been common throughout Sikyon’s history. The investigator followed the kapheneion method: his research began at the village cafes and pursued local knowledge of farmers and inhabitants.  This method was a certain path to locating sites but also led him inevitably to examine the most visible sites of the territory. By my count, 94 of the 148 habitation sites listed in the catalogue are associated with structures or architectural fragments like cut stone, rubble, and ashlar blocks; only 1/3 of the sites in the volume were identified from pottery scatters alone. There can only be an enormous corpus of unidentified smaller sites in the Sikyonia that escaped detection from Lolos’ survey. When Lolos completes an intensive survey of a sample of the territory, we will have a much better sense of the range of settlements in the region. But until he does so, his results based on extensive survey cannot be reliably compared with that of intensive survey projects. 

Lolos, of course, recognizes the important methodological difference between extensive and intensive survey (p. 272) in this work as well as in his decision to undertake a high-resolution urban survey of the Sikyon plateau, but maintains that the chronological layers documented in his extensive survey are still meaningful relative to one another.  In recent years, I have come to doubt our ability to reconstruct demographic changes from simple changes in the quantity of “sites” of different periods.  As several of us have argued from the Eastern Korinthia Survey data (here, here, and here), knowledge of ceramic periods is always differential: the Late Roman period, for instance, has much greater visibility than the Hellenistic or Early Roman because of its more identifiable coarse ware body sherds with their characteristic combed and grooved surface treatments. One cannot reliably assess change in rural settlement without also assessing the degree to which successive periods within a region are differently visible during survey. While Lolos acknowledges these issues and also notes some of the artifacts identified at each site, he does not give the reader enough information about the artifacts to determine whether the patterns are really a product of changes in deposition of artifacts over time, or simply a result of the biases of identification. I left this chapter wondering whether the 61 Late Roman sites were really an indication of “the return of the population to the countryside” (p. 367), or just a result of greater visibility in diagnostic tiles and “hundreds of ribbed body sherds” (p. 366). I also wondered whether 22 Hellenistic sites and 34 Early Roman-Middle Roman sites were really much less than 45 Classical sites. In some regions of Greece and the Aegean, after all, changes between these periods have been much more drastic. Could not one put a more positive spin (e.g., settlement continuity) on these patterns? 

These sorts of methodological questions can best be answered in subsequent phases of intensive survey which Lolos plans to undertake eventually in the territory (p.272). They do not detract from this volume’s major accomplishment, which is to move the history and archaeology of Sikyon from political history of the urban center to the broader framework of territory and landscape.


Further Reading:

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!