Thirty New Roman Sites on the Corinthian Isthmus

I recently finished editing proofs of a chapter for the forthcoming book, “The Bridge of the Untiring Sea”: The Corinthian Isthmus from Prehistory to Late Antiquity”. The piece, which grew out of a paper I delivered in Athens in 2007, offers a new synthesis of settlement patterns on the Isthmus during the Early Roman (44 BC-250 AD) and Late Roman (AD 250-700) periods. The synthesis pays special attention to the findings of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey carried out in the eastern territory of Corinth between 1997 and 2003 and produces a series of maps of new Roman villas, farmsteads, communities, and towns. In the chapter, I challenge the old idea—popularized by Donald Engels’ book on Roman Corinth (1990)—that the Corinthians of the Roman period did not cultivate or inhabit their territory because their town was oriented solely to commerce (an idea that has been undermined by David Romano’s study of centuriation in the region). On the contrary, I argue that a semi-continuous suburbia (what Penelope Goodman has called “urban periphery”) develops in the course of the later first and second centuries AD that extends settlement from the town center to the harbors. The documentation of 30 distinct Roman-era sites in an area of only a few square kilometers shows that the eastern hinterland of Corinth was much more densely inhabited than scholars have previously estimated.

The figure below shows 26 high-density sites of the Late Roman period.


Here’s a taste of the piece from the introduction. When I receive a final PDF copy of the published article, I’ll post a full version to Academia or Research Gate.

Since Thucydides wrote his famous account of the growth of Corinthian naval power (1.13.5), the Isthmus has been central to historical interpretations of the ancient city. In the Roman era, for example, every educated person knew that a narrow neck of land had shaped the rise and fall of the Greek city and the birth of the Roman colony. Writers like Strabo claimed that the city grew wealthy due to its position on a bridge linking the maritime worlds of Asia and Italy. Others linked Corinthian geography to the city’s port-town reputation, sexual immorality and general loose living—so the proverb ran “It is not for every man to go to Corinth.” In pinning Corinthian myth, image, and fortune on the city’s eastern landscape, writers of the Roman era followed earlier Greek writers in finding historical consequences in a connecting Isthmus.

Given the frequent mentions of territory in ancient discussions of Corinth, it seems paradoxical that textual sources provide so little information about actual land use and settlement in the Greek or Roman era. Ancient writers discussed Corinthian territory frequently enough, but their interests lay in a few places like Isthmia, Kenchreai, and Lechaion that were famous by association with historical events and people. For example, when Pausanias described the route from Isthmia and Kenchreai to Corinth in the mid-2nd century a.d. (2.1.6–2.2.3), he noted nothing in-between except for Helen’s Bath and a few noteworthy tombs. No writer of the Roman period gave serious attention to patterns of land use or habitation in Corinthian territory.

Scholars who have read such sources literally have interpreted Corinth as a commercial town, lacking agricultural orientation and rural dwellings. Most scholars, however, have highlighted the biases of ancient sources and developed alternative views based on the study of the territory’s natural resources and archaeological remains. In his survey of the Archaic and Classical city, for example, Salmon argued that literary sources mislead: arable land, rather than commerce, was the fundamental economic resource base for the Hellenic city. Studies of centuriation patterns have shown the Roman colony’s agricultural orientation from its foundation, despite the near absence of written testimony. Other recent scholarship has pointed to the array of natural resources in the territory, such as timber, limestone, clay, honey, and marine resources. None of these resources appear prominently in the ancient textual tradition but each was an important component of the local economy.

The archaeological investigation of regions has contributed to this discussion by producing independent and localized evidence for settlement and land use. Archaeological investigations in the Corinthia in the last half century have filled out the territory with towns, villas, farms, sanctuaries, churches, graves, baths, and fortification walls (Fig. 14.1). The investigations that brought these sites to light have included rescue excavations by the Greek Archaeological Service, official excavations by the Archaeological Service and Ministry of Culture, the American School of Classical Studies’s excavations at Kenchreai and the Isthmian Sanctuary of Poseidon, extensive topographic surveys by Sakellariou and Faraklas and Wiseman, and intensive surveys directed by Gregory, Kardulias, and Pullen. Yet, despite all this work and its implications for interpreting the social, economic, and cultural character of Roman Corinth, there have been few attempts to synthesize the findings.

My purpose in this study is to fill a gap in modern scholarship by offering a summary description and interpretation of Roman settlement patterns on the Isthmus. The substance of this chapter is a discussion of the results of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS) as they relate to patterns in (a) the chronology of land use during the Roman period; (b) the concentration and spatial distribution of settlement; and (c) the types of settlement (ephemeral occupations and farmsteads, villas, communities, and towns). In the final section, I argue that the patterns of settlement documented for the Isthmus—the intensive habitation and cultivation, numerous elite buildings, variety of habitation, and continuous built environment—are not “nucleated” or “dispersed” as scholars have often suggested, but rather, “urban periphery.” This study, then, introduces a new body of evidence relevant to age-old assessments of Corinth’s economy and establishes a building block for subsequent historical discussions and interpretations of the Roman city in its territory.

Roman Tombs in Corinth: Caraher on Walbank on Slane

If you’re a Corinthiaphile who doesn’t read Bill Caraher’s The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World blog, you should check in on it on occasion. Bill has one of the most successful and consistent blogs on ancient Mediterranean world on the interwebs. He has released insightful, smart, and humorous posts almost every day—minus weekends and holidays—since 2007. Bill is also an occasional contributor to Corinthian Matters through cross-posts from his own blog. Now, you’ll get a lot more than Mediterranean archaeology at his blog (he discusses everything from North Dakota Man-Camps to academic life to punk archaeology), but there’s also plenty of new material on Greece, Cyprus, and Corinthiaka specifically.

Some of his recent posts on the Corinthia, for example, include:

Monday’s post had one of the best opening paragraphs I’ve read:

One of the great things about working in and around Corinth is the intensity of the archaeological rivalries. Scholars in the Corinthia and endlessly “getting up in each other’s business.” Over the years this has produced some tremendously exciting, public disputes including the famous “Scotton on Rothaus on Scotton on Rothaus” debate of 2002. So, when an article has a title “A debate with K. W. Slane” and turns Slane’s 2012 article into a question, it is impossible as not to get excited (M.E.H. Walbank, “Remaining Roman in Death at Corinth: A Debate with Kathleen Slane,” Journal of Roman Archaeology 27 (2014), 403-417; K.W. Slane, “Remaining Roman in Death at an Eastern Colony,” JRA 25 (2012), 442-455) . This is like a classic Philadelphia Big 5 basketball game from the 1980s. The stakes are low, but the intensity is high.

I was attracted to the article no only because of the opportunity to get front row seats to a Corinthian showdown, but also because I’ve been thinking about how communities on Cyprus construct identities….

Caraher’s review of Walbank on Slane foregrounds a broad debate (in this case, regarding the interpretation of graves) about how early Roman elite of Corinth constructed identity in light of the complex history of the site: Roman destruction of the Greek city in 146 BC and its refoundation as a Roman colony in 44 BC. A generation or two ago, scholars debated whether the Roman colony reincarnated the previous Greek city, or represented a wholly Roman venture. Further studies have highlighted the complexities of continuity and discontinuity between the former Greek city and Roman colony, and also changes in the way elite constructed identity over time (the second century AD is significantly different than the early colony). This is complex matter. As Caraher sums up the debate,

Slane argues in her 2012 article that Corinthian elites showed a clear affinity for Roman forms suggesting that Early Roman Corinthians continued to look to Italy as they constructed their new Corinthian identities. Walbank suggests, in contrast, that Slane has misread or misunderstood the evidence and, instead, has found much more interleaving of Italian and broadly Greek features in these tombs. In many cases, the debate comes down to different interpretations of features like benches, motifs in wall painting, and funerary practices. The evidence is often ambiguous and fragmentary.

Read the rest of the review here.

Corinthian Scholarship Monthly (December-February). Part 1

With the end of last semester, holidays, and deadlines, I fell a bit behind on the Corinthian Scholarship Monthly posts. Yesterday I started to dig out, sift through emails, and find the gems in the bunch. This will be the first of two posts on new scholarship that went live in December to February. I’ll try to get the second part of CSM Dec-Feb by the middle of the month.

And kudos to the google bots for doing such a good job. While we’ve been sleeping, playing, teaching, and resting, those bots have been working non-stop to bring all sorts of little nuggets to our network. As always, I’ve included a broader range of articles and essays that mention the Corinthia without focusing on the region — on the assumption that you will be as interested as I am in a broader Mediterranean context. There are also a few entries from past years that the bots have just brought to my attention.

You can find the full collection of articles and books related to Corinthian studies at the Corinthian Studies Zotero Page. The new entries are tagged according to basic categories. Version 2 of the library in RIS format is scheduled to be released by summer.

Finally, I am always looking for reviewers of articles or books listed in the CSM posts. If you can write and are qualified, drop me a line.


Ambraseys, N. N. “Ottoman Archives and the Assessment of the Seismicity of Greece 1456–1833.” Bulletin of Earthquake Engineering 12, no. 1 (February 1, 2014): 5–43. doi:10.1007/s10518-013-9541-5.

Angeli Bernardini, Paola, ed. Corinto: luogo di azione e luogo di racconto : atti del convengo internazionale, Urbino, 23-25 settembre 2009. Pisa [etc.]: F. Serra, 2013.

Baika, Kalliopi. “The Topography of Shipshed Complexes and Naval Dockyards.” In Shipsheds of the Ancient Mediterranean, edited by David Blackman and Boris Rankov, 185–209. Cambridge University Press, 2013. 

Balzat, Jean-Sébastien, and Benjamin W. Millis. “M. Antonius Aristocrates: Provincial Involvement with Roman Power in the Late 1st Century B.C.” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 82, no. 4 (December 2013): 651–672. doi:10.2972/hesperia.82.4.0651.

Blackman, David, and Boris Rankov. Shipsheds of the Ancient Mediterranean. Cambridge University Press, 2013. 

Borbonus, Dorian. Columbarium Tombs and Collective Identity in Augustan Rome. Cambridge University Press, 2014. 

Boyle, A. J., ed. Seneca: Medea: Edited with Introduction, Translation, and Commentary. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Collins, John J., ed. The Oxford Handbook of Apocalyptic Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Docter, Roald, and Babette Bechtold. “Two Forgotten Amphorae from the Hamburg Excavations at Carthage (Cyprus, and the Iberian Peninsula) and Their Contexts.” Carthage Studies 5 (2011) (2013): 91–128.

Forbes, Hamish A. “Off-Site Scatters and the Manuring Hypothesis in Greek Survey Archaeology: An Ethnographic Approach.” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 82, no. 4 (December 2013): 551–594. doi:10.2972/hesperia.82.4.0551.

Frangoulidis, Stavros. “Reception of Strangers in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses: The Examples of Hypata and Cenchreae.” In A Companion to the Ancient Novel, edited by Edmund P. Cueva and Shannon N. Byrne, 275–287. Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons, 2014.

Hall, Jonathan M. Artifact and Artifice: Classical Archaeology and the Ancient Historian. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014. 

Hawthorn, Geoffrey. Thucydides on Politics: Back to the Present. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Heil, Andreas, and Gregor Damschen, eds. Brill’s Companion to Seneca: Philosopher and Dramatist. Leiden: Brill, 2013. 

Hollander, William den. Josephus, the Emperors, and the City of Rome: From Hostage to Historian. Leiden: Brill, 2014. 

James, Paula. “Apuleius’ Metamorphoses: A Hybrid Text?” In A Companion to the Ancient Novel, edited by Edmund P. Cueva and Shannon N. Byrne, 317–329. Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons, 2014.

Jeffreys, Elizabeth. “We Need to Talk about Byzantium: Or, Byzantium, Its Reception of the Classical World as Discussed in Current Scholarship, and Should Classicists Pay Attention?Classical Receptions Journal 6, no. 1 (January 1, 2014): 158–174. doi:10.1093/crj/clt032.

Kamen, Deborah. “Sale for the Purpose of Freedom: Slave-Prostitutes and Manumission in Ancient Greece.” The Classical Journal 109, no. 3 (March 2014): 281–307. doi:10.5184/classicalj.109.3.0281.

Kampbell, Sarah Marie. “The Economy of Conflict: How East Mediterranean Trade Adapted to Changing Rules, Allegiances and Demographics in the  10th – 12th Centuries AD.” PhD Thesis, Princeton University, 2014. 

Klapaki. “The Journey to Greece in the American and the Greek Modernist Literary Imagination: Henry Miller and George Seferis.” In Travel, Discovery, Transformation: Culture and Civilization, Volume 6, edited by Gabriel R. Ricci, 59–78. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2014.

Kolluoğlu, Biray, and Meltem Toksöz, eds. Cities of the Mediterranean: From the Ottomans to the Present Day. I.B.Tauris, 2010. 

Korner, Ralph J. “Before ‘Church’: Political, Ethno-Religious, and Theological Implications of the Collective Designation of Pauline Christ Followers as Ekklēsiai.” PhD Thesis, McMaster University, 2014. 

Kreitzer, L.J. “Hadrian as Nero Redivivus: Some Supporting Evidence from Corinth.” In Judaea and Rome in Coins 65 BCE-135 CE: Papers Presented at the International Conference Hosted by Spink, 13th-14th September 2010, edited by David M Jacobson and Nikos Kokkinos, 229–242. London: Spink, 2012. 

Legarreta-Castillo, Felipe De Jesus. The Figure of Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15: The New Creation and Its Ethical and Social Reconfigurations. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014.

Matz, Brian J. “Early Christian Philanthropy as a ‘Marketplace’ and the Moral Responsibility of Market Participants.” In Distant Markets, Distant Harms: Economic Complicity and Christian Ethics, edited by Daniel Finn, 115–145? New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Mitski, Efterpi. “Commodifying Antiquity in Mary Nisbet’s Journey to the Ottoman Empire.” In Travel, Discovery, Transformation: Culture and Civilization, Volume 6, edited by Gabriel R. Ricci, 45–58. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2014. 

Morhange, Christophe, Amos Salamon, Guénaelle Bony, Clément Flaux, Ehud Galili, Jean-Philippe Goiran, and Dov Zviely. “Geoarchaeology of Tsunamis and the Revival of Neo-Catastrophism in the Eastern Mediterranean.” Rome “La Sapienza” Studies on the Archaeology of Palestine & Transjordan 11 (2014): 61–81.

Ong, H. T. “Paul’s Personal Relation with Earliest Christianity: A Critical Survey.” Currents in Biblical Research 12, no. 2 (February 7, 2014): 146–172. doi:10.1177/1476993X12467114.

Pachis, Panayotis. “Data from Dead Minds?  Dream and Healing in the Isis / Sarapis Cult During the Graeco-Roman Age.” Journal of Cognitive Historiography 1, no. 1 (January 23, 2014): 52–71.

Pallis, Georgios. “Inscriptions on Middle Byzantine Marble Templon Screens.” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 106, no. 2 (January 2013): 761–810. doi:10.1515/bz-2013-0026.

Polinskaya, Irene. A Local History of Greek Polytheism: Gods, People and the Land of Aigina, 800-400 BCE. Leiden: Brill, 2013. 

Priestley, Jessica. Herodotus and Hellenistic Culture: Literary Studies in the Reception of the Histories. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 

Punt, Jeremy. “Framing Human Dignity through Domination and Submission? Negotiating Borders and Loyalties (of Power) in the New Testament.” Scriptura 112 (2013): 1–17. doi:10.7833/112-0-82.

Rankov, Boris. “Slipping and Launching.” In Shipsheds of the Ancient Mediterranean, edited by David Blackman and Boris Rankov, 102–123. Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Reed, David Alan. “Paul on Marriage and Singleness:  Reading 1 Corinthians with the Augustan Marriage Laws.” PhD Thesis. University of St. Michael’s College, 2013. 

Saliari, Konstantina, and Erich Draganits. “Early Bronze Age Bone Tubes from the Aegean: Archaeological Context, Use and Distribution.” Archeometriai Műhely [Archaeometry Workshop] (2013): 179–192.

Shpuza, Ermanl. “Allometry in the Syntax of Street Networks: Evolution of Adriatic and Ionian Coastal Cities 1800–2010.” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design (2014). doi:doi:10.1068/b39109.

Siek, Thomas James. “A Study in Paleo-Oncology: On the Identification of Neoplastic Disease in Archaeological Bone.” Master of Arts Thesis, University of Waterloo, 2014. 

Thein, Alexander. “Reflecting on Sulla’s Clemency.” Historia 63, no. 2 (April 1, 2014): 166–186.

Toffolo, Michael B., Alexander Fantalkin, Irene S. Lemos, Rainer C. S. Felsch, Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier, Guy D. R. Sanders, Israel Finkelstein, and Elisabetta Boaretto. “Towards an Absolute Chronology for the Aegean Iron Age: New Radiocarbon Dates from Lefkandi, Kalapodi and Corinth.” PLoS ONE 8, no. 12 (December 26, 2013): e83117. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083117.

Waterfield, Robin. Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Williams, Drake, and H. H. “‘Imitate Me’: Interpreting Imitation In 1 Corinthians in Relation to Ignatius of Antioch.” Perichoresis 11, no. 1 (June 1, 2013): 77–95.

Wright, Christopher. The Gattilusio Lordships and the Aegean World 1355-1462. Leiden: Brill, 2014.

Corinthian Scholarship (monthly): March-May

Here is the first installment of Corinth-related scholarship, or scholarship discussing Corinth, which appeared in digital form in March to May. I will post the second installment for June-August on Friday.

[Reposting this at 11:00 as I accidentally deleted the original]




Roman-Late Antique

New Testament and Early Christian

Medieval and Post-Medieval