Other Byzantine Bodies

When most of us think of the Byzantine body today, we image the ethereal bodies that grace the walls of painted churches, the emaciated bodies of the Byzantine ascetic, or even the body of the emperor or bishop. At the same time, there has been valued work in the last few years focusing on the bodies of ordinary individuals.  Buried bodies have come to dot the landscape and new works on the poor, travel, labor, and domestic space in the Byzantine centuries have come to locate the body outside of the theoretically fertile ground of the church and crown and return it to the dirt and dust of everyday life. Recently, I’ve made an effort to reflect on the role of the Byzantine body in the architecture of domination and everyday forms of resistance.  In short, the body continues to find a place in almost all parts of the study of Byzantine society.

This past month, C. Bourbou,B.T. Fuller, S. J. Garvie-Lok, and M. P. Richards, have continued this trend by offering some important observations on the diet of Greek Byzantine populations from the 6th-15th centuries (“Reconstructing the Diets of Greek Byzantine Populations (6th-15th centuries AD) Using Carbon and Nitrogen Stable Isotope Ratios,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, preprint). While I won’t pretend for a moment that I understand the science involved in analyzing carbon and nitrogen isotopes in the body, I do grasp that the ratio between these two isotopes in human remains can reveal significant information regarding local diets. Bourbou et al. have analyzed the remains of Byzantine bodies from all across Greece including the Corinthia (Nemea, Corinth, and Isthmia), Crete, Northern Greece, and the Peloponnesus. Many of the bodies that this team studied came from burials around churches making the parallel between the Byzantine body in art and the Byzantine body in the flesh all the more obvious. The work of this team complements recent efforts to determine the diet of Byzantium through the study of ceramic vessels, and this represents another effort to move from the sublime bodies of Byzantine art and texts to the mundane bodies of everyday life.

FishFarmsFish farms near Vayia in the Corinthia

The work of Bourbou et al. confirms many of the standard reading of the Byzantine diet. They find ample evidence for the prominence of the Mediterranean triad of grain, olive oil, and grapes in wine. At the same time, their studies suggested the importance of dairy products or perhaps meat in the Byzantine diet. While it is not possible at present to distinguish between animal products like milk and cheese and meat itself, the evidence from stable isotope analysis leaves open he possibility that meat appeared consistently in Medieval cuisine .

The most interesting aspect of their study, however, involves the presence of fish on the Byzantine table. In Medieval Western Europe, scholars have long noted an increase in the consumption of fish in the 11th and 12th centuries. Some have associated this increase with the promotion of fasting and other dietary restriction by the Church in these centuries. In the east, however, the presence of fish in the diet of ancient and Medieval Greeks has been less conclusive. Bourbou et al., however, have suggested in their study that Byzantine (and Late Antique) Greeks may have consumed a good bit of fish. It is particularly interesting to note that bodies from Kenchreai dating to the 1st – 3rd centuries and the fortress at Isthmia from the 4th-8th centuries in the Corinthia showed the ratio of isotopes related to the consumption of fish. These sites must have taken advantage of the long coastline of the Corinthia to harvest fish on a significant scale (just as they do today). Elsewhere in Greece, however, these scholars argue that the consumption of fish during the Byzantine centuries likely relates to religious restrictions on diets that prohibited the consumption of meat on particular feast days and over important stretches of Orthodox religious calendar (as well as improved fishing techniques).

With this study, then, the Byzantine body comes full circle. The body of the emaciated saint and the august body of the bishop represent just another form of the fish-fueled bodies found in Byzantine burials. Just as the routine of the liturgical year would have shaped the movement of individuals through the landscape of the village, countryside, and town, so the diets of the religious calendar left its traces in the very bones of the Byzantine.

Cross-posted with the New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World

Corinthian Scholarship (September)




New Testament

The Diolkos – Two New Articles

When I was a PhD student at OSU, there was a common joke among the grad students that if you had arrived somehow at a good dissertation topic, writer beware: the study had probably already been written in German.  And so, when I was wrapping up the revisions of a forthcoming article called simply “The Diolkos of Corinth” for the American Journal of Archaeology (October 2011), I was shocked when I learned of an article in German by Hans Lohmann called “Der Diolkos von Korinth — eine antike Schiffsschleppe?” (in English, “The so-called Diolkos – an ancient slipway?”).  How had I missed this one? 

As it turns out, I had not missed a published piece.  Lohmann’s article is forthcoming in a volume titled The Corinthia and the Northeast Peloponnesus: Topography and History from Prehistory Until the End of Antiquity, which publishes the Corinthia Loutraki conference of 2007.  It also turns out that our articles offer complementary revisions of the diolkos thesis and yet arrive at very different conclusions. 

Compare the two abstracts.  Lohmann’s article (as translated by that author into English):

“Instead of a regular timetable-like organized transport of ships over the Isthmos at Corinth, the extant literary sources testify to sporadical large-scale military operations during which a limited number of warships – mostly triremes – were brought from the Saronic to the Corinthian gulf or vice versa. This did not happen on the road of unknown but doubtless postarchaic age excavated by N. Verdelis in the 1950th but over land by means of wooden rolls and draught animals. The road consists of reused blocks of a large archaic, classical or even hellenistic building, perhaps from the so called Long Walls of Corinth, the hellenistic Isthmus wall or a similar construction. Considering the lack of clear stratigraphical evidence its age remains uncertain. For the time being it seems most plausible that such demolition waste was most likely at hand after the demolition of Corinth by the Romans in 146 B.C. Whether the road replaced the harbours of Corinth during the period of obliteration or dates even after the refoundation of the city as Colonia Laus Iulia Corinthus by Julius Cesar in 44 B.C., it served the transport of goods by means of vehicles but not the transport of ships in any case.”

The abstract for my piece in AJA:

“Since the mid 19th century, the paved portage road known as the diolkos has been central to interpreting the historical fortunes of the city of Corinth and the commercial facility of the Isthmus of Corinth. In this article, I reevaluate the view that the diolkos made the isthmus a commercial thoroughfare by reconsidering the archaeological, logistical, and textual evidence for the road and overland portaging. Each form of evidence problematizes the notion of voluminous transshipment and suggests the road did not facilitate trade as a constant flow of ships and cargoes through Corinth. The diolkos was not principally a commercial thoroughfare for transporting the goods of other states but facilitated the communication, transport, travel, and strategic ends of Corinth. The commercial properties of the Isthmus of Corinth subsist in its emporion for exchange, not in a stage for transshipment.”

What the two articles share is radical revision of the consensus belief about the diolkos, which holds that this great portage road was constructed by the tyrant Periander and was used throughout antiquity to haul ships and cargoes over the Corinthian Isthmus.  Based on a critical rereading of texts, logistics, and archaeological evidence, we both conclude that ships were rarely moved over the Isthmus in antiquity.  At this point our interpretations go in different directions.  Lohmann concludes that the road was probably constructed sometime in the Hellenistic–Early Roman era and used for hauling cargoes; ships were carried over not on this road but via wooden rollers.  I accept that warships were occasionally carried over on the road but emphasize that the Isthmus was not the great thoroughfare for trade we usually imagine it to be; I am uncommitted on the date but lean toward a Classical-period construction. 

In the end, it was a great benefit and reassurance to read Lohmann’s article, and I look forward to seeing how both pieces advance in new directions the debate over the mysterious diolkos.

SBL – Day 3-4

More good 1 and 2 corinthians papers today at the SBL International:

Kar-Yong Lim, Seminari Theoloji Malaysia, “Paul’s Use of Temple Imagery in the Corinthian Correspondence and the Formation of Christian Identity: A Contextual Reading from the Perspectives of A Chinese Malaysian”

Jeremy Punt, Universiteit van Stellenbosch – University of Stellenbosch, “Foolish Rhetoric in 1 Cor 1:18-31: Paul’s Discourse of Power as Mimicry”

Mary Phil Korsak, Society of Authors-Translators Association, “Glad News from Mark”

Matthew R. Malcolm, Trinity Theological College (Perth) “Beyond Greco-Roman Rhetorical Criticism”

The final Corinth session will be tomorrow: “Becoming Roman Corinth: New Research.”

Sarah James, American School of Classical Studies in Athens, “The Last Corinthians? Settlement and Society from 146 BCE to the Roman Colony”

Milena Melfi, University of Oxford, “Greek Cults in a Conquered Land: Corinth and the Making of a Colonial Pantheon (146- 44 BCE)”

Benjamin W. Millis, University of Oxford, “The Elite of Early Roman Corinth: Social Origins, Status and Mobility”

Steven J. Friesen, University of Texas at Austin, ” Theodora: An Elite Woman in Early Roman Corinth”

David K. Pettegrew, Messiah College, “The Diolkos, Emporium, and Commercial Corinth”

Daniel N. Schowalter, Carthage College, Response


Two other Corinthians-related papers tomorrow at the same time as the session above:

James Gawley, Miami-Dade College, “Should They Stay or Should They Go? Traveling Prophets and the Split-Authorship of the Didache”

Kari Latvus, Helsingin Yliopisto – Helsingfors Universitet, “Who used the money in the early church?”

Corinthian Scholarship (May-June 2011)

It’s been a couple of months since the last Corinthian Scholarship update, so we have a full list here.  The following list compiles the works I happened to see and the (imperfect) results of various google alerts.  If you have material to add to these monthly compilations, send to corinthianmatters@gmail.com

As usual, 1 and 2 Corinthians scholars win the prize for productivity.

1 and 2 Corinthians:


Archaic to Hellenistic Corinth


Corinthian Myth and Image:


Coastal Archaeology:



  • A few from the publication office of the ASCSA:
  • The following books were up for review at the Journal of Roman Archaeology – surely they are taken now.
    • Nancy Bookidis, Corinth volume XVIII.5. The sanctuary of Demeter and Kore. The terracotta sculpture (American School of Classical Studies at Athens; Princeton, NJ 2010). Pp. xxv + 317, pls. 126. ISBN 978-0-87661-185-2. $150.
    • Steven J. Friesen, Daniel N. Schowalter and James C. Walters, Corinth in context: comparative studies on religion and society (Supplements to Novum Testamentum vol. 134; E. J. Brill, Leiden 2010). Pp. xxv + 517, figs. 102, tables 13, maps 3. ISSN 0167-9732; ISBN 978 90 04 18197 7. $230

Abstracts from Paul, People, and Politics Conference

As a follow up to my last post on the “Corinth – Paul, People, and Politics” at Macquarie University, I have just received from Cavan Concannon a PDF document of the paper abstracts.  Check out the Corinth Conference Abstracts.  The papers covered a wide range of issues relating in some way to Pauline or early Christian Corinth. We have Pausanias and coins, the chronology of the letters and Paul’s visit, the language of economy in the letters, Dionysios bishop of Corinth, imperial cult, and the legacy of Paul, among others.  

SBL International – London, July 4-7

The Society of Biblical Literature has posted its schedule of papers for the international conference in London, July 4-7, 2011.  There are three sessions that focus entirely on Corinth and many scattered papers that touch on Corinthian matters.  Clicking on the links below will pull up the abstracts from the SBL website.  

First, the Corinth sessions, which have all been assigned to the generic category “Paul and Pauline Literature”

The first Corinth session (4-12), held on July 4, 8:30-11:30 AM, will focus on “Corinthian Correspondence.”  The program:

The second session, “1 Corinthians,” will be held the following day, July 5, 8:30-11:30 AM. The program:

The final Corinth session on Thursday, July 7, 8:30-11:30 AM, is called “Becoming Roman Corinth: New Research.”  The program includes several papers first presented last October at the Corinth in Contrast conference in Austin, TX, as well as one addition (Melfi):

Papers that discuss Corinth and Paul’s Corinthian letters are scattered here and there in the rest of the program.  No doubt the following list does not grab all of them, but it does include all papers whose abstracts note a Corinthian example, emphasis, or connection:

I will be attending some of these and hope to give highlights either during the conference or afterwards.

Corinth – Paul, People, and Politics

Macquarie University has posted a description and schedule for a conference on May 14 called “Corinth – Paul, People and Politics,” sponsored by the Society for the Study of Early Christianity.  The abstract for the conference:

In Paul’s letters to the Corinthians we see an early Christian society dealing with factionalism arising from varied interpretations of the Christian message. At the same time, Christianity was trying to define itself within the context of a cosmopolitan Roman city. Who were the main players in Corinth during Paul’s mission there? What role did politics play in the early Christian church?

The posted SSEC conference brochure (PDF) provides a program for the day that lists presentations on 1 and 2 Corinthians as well as Corinthian economy and culture. Since the lectures are of broad interest to Corinthian scholars, let us hope that someone will blog or report on the conference.