David Pettegrew standing on a tower at Lychnari

Return to the Corinthia

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

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

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

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

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 Some people, I think, imagine EKAS as an unpublished project but in fact EKAS staff have generated a slew of publications over the last twenty years.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

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

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

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

Corinthian Matters in Corinth

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Doll Heads of the Eastern Korinthia Survey

I no longer remember who found the first doll head in the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey but the discovery brought the unique artifact type to the attention of all. Now it may be that the doll heads were simply denser in the territory we were surveying that season–the Isthmus east of Hexamilia, after all, has substantial modern dumps–but I suspect it was also a case of that documented phenomenon that surveyors find what they are trained to notice. In any case, the summer of 2001 was the season that walkers increasingly discovered, collected, and conversed about Corinthian doll heads.

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There were two things that especially bewildered surveyors about the doll heads. First, the bodies were nearly always missing. It is true that we did find entire plastic play figures in the field such as this torso (left) of the batman figure discovered in 2000, which followed one field team around in their treks through the landscape. But baby dolls (almost) never came with their bodies–the converse of that pattern that Roman statues are so consistently missing their heads.

Second, the dollheads seemed to come in every imaginable shape and size. There were big-head dolls with red hair, small dolls with petite faces and long foreheads, small-headed dolls with Medusa-like hair expressing surprise, and flat-faced sun-darkened dolls without hair.

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If we had discovered these dolls in 1999, there might have been some attempt to collect, analyze, and chronotype them. That was the first year of the survey, and the project initially intended to record in a somewhat systematic way all the modern objects of the landscape. That was a novel idea, which proved impractical on the first day of survey when surveyors noted that plastic Loutraki water bottles (and other modern trash) was found in every unit of the survey territory. Modern ceramic material, not all material, became the principal signature of the modern period in EKAS. There is no reason, however, in principle, that the doll heads could not have been incorporated into our database of finds using our standard taxonomy for describing and typing artifacts. I’m imagining something like this

DollheadsCT

And it certainly would have been interesting to see the distribution of these objects in respect to modern settlement patterns.

By the end of the 2002 season, the doll heads had begun to have strange effects on the field teams. The dolls followed the teams around which means that someone must have collected them. Understand that archaeological survey encourages somewhat different interpersonal interactions than does, say, an excavation trench. Excavation allows for sustained conversation over long periods in a small space. In survey, walkers are spaced 20-40 feet apart and stare at the ground the whole time; conversation is shorter, banter is common. I think it was in this context that the doll heads — ghastly in their disembodied states, scarred by plowing, and corroded by the elements — became part of the running dialogue of the season and entered our discussion about archaeological survey.

Were the doll heads of the Eastern Korinthia “background noise” with an unclear relationship to the modern sites of the region? “Off-site” trash that originated from nearby settlements and was spread on fields through deliberate manuring? Toys dropped by children who accompanied their parents to the field during agricultural season? Or ritually deposited apotropaic objects designed to ward off negative spirits?

The doll heads also became part of an end-of-season plot to sabotage another field team’s near perfect record of collecting the fewest number of rocks (the ceramics teams kept tallies of which field teams mistakenly collected the most number of non-artifacts). At the end of season survey pottery, a presentation revealed how the doll heads carried out the attack and destroyed the good reputation of an archaeological team.

ekas_dollheads5ekas_dollheads6 ekas_dollheads7ekas_dollheads10ekas_dollheads8 ekas_dollheads9

Thanks to my EKAS colleague Tom Tartaron for jarring this repressed memory by requesting the extraction of these priceless photos from deep within the EKAS digital archives.

Bridge of the Untiring Sea (Gebhard and Gregory, eds.)

I finally have my hands on Bridge of the Untiring Sea: the Corinthian Isthmus from Prehistory to Late Antiquityfresh off the press (December 2015) from the Princeton office of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. I wrote briefly about this forthcoming book in June (here and here).

The Bridge has been a long time in the making. It began really with a half century of excavation and survey on the Isthmus (Broneer’s excavations began at Isthmia in 1952). A conference was held in Athens in 2007 celebrating that milestone, which proceeded quickly to chapters in 2008 before stalling out in a long period of revisions (my own chapter on Corinth’s suburbs went through at least eight drafts from conference paper to final proof). So this is a well-edited and thoroughly corrected collection, which means no reviewer should point out spelling mistakes and grammatical inconsistencies in my essay! As I haven’t seen hardly any of these essays since the original presentation in Athens, I’m excited to finally have a copy to read, especially since I’m wrapping up page proofs of another book on The Isthmus of Corinth.

UntiringBridge_m

The Bridge is a substantial book in paperback form, well-illustrated (160 figures) and carefully edited. It’s significantly smaller and about a third the weight of The Corinthia and the Northeast Peloponnese, another Corinthia conference published in 2014, which included 56 chapters and 558 pages on all aspects of the broad modern region of the Korinthia. While the editors’ introduction is short and efficient, the book just feels much more focused and coherent than The Corinthia and the Northeast Peloponnese with its sprawl of archaeological knowledge. The nearly 17 chapters and 400 pages of Bridge focus especially on the vicinity of the Sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia and, to some lesser extent, the broader region (technically the Isthmus, which has been generously extended in one chapter to the southeast Corinthia). Almost half of the essays (7 of 17) are devoted to the district of Isthmia in the geometric to Hellenstic periods (with chapters on subjects such as the Temple of Poseidon, the Rachi settlement, figurines, pottery, the Chigi Painter, and the West Foundation); another four chapters take on Roman subjects related to Isthmia (sculpture, agonstic festivals, Roman baths, East Field); there are a couple of Late Antique Isthmia essays (on lamps and the Isthmia fortress); and a few chapters consider the entire region (my piece on Roman settlement, Bill Caraher’s essay on the Justinianic Isthmus, and Tartaron’s piece on Bronze Age Kalamianos).

It’s worth noting that this is a collection of solid archaeological and (mostly) empirical essays on different facets of the history of the Isthmus, and especially the district of Isthmia. Some of the essays look like Hesperia articles with extensive catalogues and photos of artifacts. While the work’s scope provides “for the first time the longue durée of Isthmian history” (p. 1), covering the Mycenaean period to the end of antiquity, the editors do not attempt in the introduction (and there is no conclusion) to impose an overarching explanation or central thesis for the long-standing importance of the Isthmus through time. Rather, they offer a short discussion of its different values to ancient writers, an efficient overview of geography and topography of the broad Isthmus, a cursory history of research at Isthmia, and some discussion of recent research programs, publications, and approaches (which is only missing a substantial dicussion of recent efforts at digitization at Isthmia). What the introduction does establish is the long-lasting importance of the Isthmus in ancient thought and the important ties of the landscape to the city of Corinth — points that are discussed explicitly in many of the essays of the volume. But the essays largely stand on their own with little connection between.

In this respect, The Bridge of the Unitiring Sea should be most useful for Corinthian studies in its presentation of a series of state-of-the-field studies of different material classes (pottery, lamps, architecture, terracotta figurines) and sites, some of which are underpublished. Many of the scholars who have contributed essays to the volume have been engaged for years–decades, even–in archaeological research at Isthmia, the Isthmus, and Corinth and their material classes. The collection, for example, offers up-to-date assessments of the architectural development of the Temple of Poseidon, the history of settlement at Rachi, the West Foundation near Isthmia, the Roman bath, the mysterious “East Field” area near the Temple of Poseidon, and late antique lamps–most of which will form the subject of their own specialist publications in the future.

The work is valuable in a final respect in making available numerous up-to-date maps, plans, and illustrations: maps of the eastern Corinthia, the Isthmian district, the Sanctuary of Poseidon, and the Temple proper; maps of Bronze Age and Roman and Late Roman settlement in the Corinthia; state plans and restored views of the temple, sanctuary, and domestic architecture (at Rachi); reconstructed views of men at work; and dozens of photos of materials excavated at Isthmia.

As the Isthmus is central in so many ways to Corinthian history, this edited collection is a most welcome addition to the scholarship of the ancient Corinthia. And since the essays cover every period from prehistory to late antiquity (sadly, no medieval), and often consider the sanctuary’s relationship to Corinth specifically, this is a work relevant to anyone interested in ancient Corinth and Panhellenic sanctuaries.

The Isthmus of Corinth (Coming Spring 2016)

Pettegrew_Isthmus-of-CorinthTo my surprise (and delight), I recently discovered via a Google Alert that my long-labored book on the Corinthian Isthmus had “gone live” on the interwebs. And yesterday, I received page proofs and instructions to return corrections and an index by February 25. The University of Michigan Press has posted this page to advertise the book and slated publication for June 15, 2016. But page proofs, an index, a cover, a web page…all these are good signs that this book is nearing its public debut. Visitors to this site know of my long-time fascination with the Isthmus of Corinth, a subject that once formed the subject of a PhD dissertation (2006) on the late antique Corinthia and now this diachronic study. This forthcoming book is not a publication of my dissertation per se, which focused on the late antique Corinthia, but a kind of broad diachronic prequel, which writes a history of the landscape from the archaic Greek period to the early fifth century CE. Where the dissertation asked “what changed?” in late antiquity, this new study describes change as the essential characteristic of the landscape in diachronic perspective.

Receiving a manuscript in page proofs is terrifying since it provides one final time to read the text closely for errors, misspellings, grammatical ambiguity, etc… but usually does not allow opportunity for significant change in content. But at this point, years after I began researching and writing the book, I’m ready to have it out!  Other projects are calling! I’ll be writing more about the discoveries and arguments of the book over the next few months. For now, here’s the book description found at the University of Michigan Press website.

The narrow neck of Corinthian territory that joins the Peloponnese with the Greek mainland was central to the fortunes of the city of Corinth and the history of Greece in the Roman era. This situated Corinth well for monitoring land traffic both north and south, as between Athens and Sparta, and also sideways across the Isthmus, between the Gulf of Corinth to the west and the Aegean Sea to the east.

 

David Pettegrew’s new book investigates the Isthmus of Corinth from the Romans’ initial presence in Greece during the Hellenistic era to the epic transformations of the Empire in late antiquity. A new interpretation of the extensive literary evidence outlines how the Isthmus became the most famous land bridge of the ancient world, central to maritime interests of Corinth, and a medium for Rome’s conquest, annexation, and administration in the Greek east. A fresh synthesis of archaeological evidence and the results of a recent intensive survey on the Isthmus describe the physical development of fortifications, settlements, harbors, roads, and sanctuaries in the region. The author includes chapters on the classical background of the concept isthmos, the sacking of Corinth and the defeat of the Achaean League, colonization in the Late Roman Republic, the Emperor Nero’s canal project and its failure, and the shifting growth of the Roman settlement in the territory.

 

The (Almost) Abandoned Village of Lakka Skoutara

Last Friday, the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology in Greece Interest Group co-sponsored a colloquium in two sessions at the Archaeological Institute of America on the theme of “Deserted Villages.” The first session was devoted to the subject of villages before abandonment and included papers on “The ‘Dead Villages’ of Northern Syria” (Anna M. Sitz), “Village Desertion and Settlement Patterns in the Early Medieval Fayum, Egypt” (Brendan Haug), “Abandoned ‘Palaiomaniatika’ from Ottoman Defters, Aerial Survey, and Field Reconnaissance” (Rebecca M. Seifried), “The Deserted Village of Anavatos on the Island of Chios, Greece” (Olga Vassi), and “Routes and Abandoned Villages in the Western Argolid” (Dimitri Nakassis, William Caraher, Sarah James, and Scott Gallimore). The second session was devoted to villages during and after abandonment, and included papers

As Deb Brown’s and Kostis Kourelis’ abstract for the second session describes,

Each paper thoughtfully considers abandonment and post-abandonment histories traced through years of documentation and investigation of structures and settlements that were abandoned or partially abandoned in the 19th and 20th centuries. Each case study includes evidence from historical documents, photographs, and oral histories to offer a more nuanced understanding of the reasons for abandonment, behaviors associated with deserted villages and rural structures, and significance of deserted villages in cultural landscapes. The combined papers contribute new material for understanding protracted abandonment and postabandonment processes and have significant implications for archaeologists’ interpretation of landscapes, settlements, buildings, and assemblages.

I wasn’t able to attend but heard from friends that the colloquium was successful, and that the double session was audio recorded and will be released soon via the internet. I myself co-wrote a paper with friend and colleague Bill Caraher on Lakka Skoutara, an almost deserted (almost) village of the southern Corinthia. Bill and I have visited the little valley of LS about six different summers over the last fifteen years, together with collaborators Tim Gregory and Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory. A few years ago, we presented a paper about LS at the Modern Greek Studies Association biennial conference, and we’ve put together a substantial draft of an article to submit somewhere sometime soon. In Friday’s paper, we tried to show some good pictures of the slow abandonment of this settlement that began, arguably in the 1960s (!), and continues to this day. There are as many signs of life in this abandoned valley as there are signs of death.

Some images from our paper Friday. If you’re interested in seeing more, Bill has posted 620 photos via the archival platform Omeka. Here are some of images from Friday.

Below, Mr. Perras and donkey pose in front of Perras’ long house, still standing last we checked. Mr. Perras commutes frequently to visit the country house from the nearby village of Sophiko. Note the storage of an older set of tiles (provisional discard) in front of the house.

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The valley of Lakka Skoutara is just east of Sophiko and north of Korphos in the southeast Corinthia.

Slide2

 

We have counted 18 houses, house foundations, or storage buildings in the valley, plus a little church. There are numerous little agricultural valleys in the Corinthia and Argolid, which attracted seasonal or permanent habitation in the 19th and 20th century. LS was mostly seasonally inhabited except during the hard times such as World War II when settlement was more permanent.

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The table below shows that most of the houses correspond to the Balkan-style “long house” type.

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Many of the buildings today (or at least in 2012, when we were last there) look like this. They have lost their roofs and are quickly collapsing. When the former owner saw his house like this in 2005, he was moved to tears (he had not visited the house in years). This house also shows the mixed style of the later 20th century, which included traditional fieldstone construction combined with concrete cinderblocks. The feature in front of the house is a large cistern.

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Another image of collapse. Archaeological site in formation.

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The interior of another house which still stands and functions for seasonal work reveals a basin and provisional discard (tiles).

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The next three images show how quickly these abandoned houses can change. The first one shows a house with a full set of tiles in 2004, and the second and third show the house robbed of tiles by 2005. Very few of the houses had significant artifact assemblages associated with them. Most were depleted of material during or after abandonment.

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Another good sequence of collapse. The still standing building was being reused as an animal pen the first time we visited the valley. It then began to collapse.
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Collapse continued and worsened by 2009.
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But today, it’s still in use by an area shephered, who makes use of the well associated with the house.
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If the audio for these sessions should go up in the next month or so, I’ll post a link.

 

 

Coming Soon: The Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey Data

One of the projects I have been working on this summer is the publication and online presentation of the data sets of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey, an intensive archaeological survey of Corinth’s eastern territory carried out between 1997 and 2003.  The EKAS project has been a frequent point of discussion here at Corinthian Matters, of course. Although the project covered a relatively small area (ca. 4 sq km), and focused primarily on the Isthmus, the research team affiliated with EKAS has produced a significant record of presentation and publication over the last decade, and moved on to start subsequent projects at Kenchreai, the Southern Corinthia, the western Argolid, and Pyla-Koutsopetria in southeast Cyprus. The EKAS data has been a major focus of my own scholarly attention over the last decade and will be a main feature of the forthcoming Isthmus book.

The directors of EKAS, Timothy Gregory and Daniel Pullen, generously agreed last spring to release the project survey data via Open Context, a site that reviews, refines, curates, publishes, and shares archaeological research data. Open Context already hosts about 40 project data sets at its site, and the EKAS data will soon join more than a dozen forthcoming data sets. I am working now with friend and collaborator Bill Caraher to refine the data sets for public presentation and to create links between a range of different data types, including survey database tables, the material from finds database, images, and illustrations.

More soon as we move the data into the queue for Open Context.

The Isthmus of Corinth Project (Coming Spring 2016)

One of the research projects I will not be working on all summer is my long-labored book, The Isthmus of Corinth: Crossroads of the Mediterranean World. I put the final touches on the manuscript during my fieldseason in Cyprus (with the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project) just in time for the deadline with University of Michigan Press. I’m happy to report that the manuscript is now out of my hands at last and will enter the production queue with a scheduled publication of Spring 2016. That’s all good news of course since this project required a full sabbatical to complete along with the better part of my summers for the last three years. I’ve updated the project page to reflect the final state of the manuscript. There may be small changes in the next few months, but nothing major.

IsthmusAerial_KRP

Here is my description of the work from the project page:

The Isthmus of Corinth: Crossroads of the Mediterranean World is a study of the relationship of local, regional, and global interactions in the Roman Mediterranean. Its starting point is the ancient and modern view that the land bridge was a constantly connecting and essential landscape throughout Corinth’s history that altered its economy and character in consistent ways. From the destruction of the Greek city by the Romans to the end of antiquity, historians, poets, orators, and preachers characterized Corinth as an exceptional kind of maritime city made prosperous and powerful from its crossroads, facilities for traffic, commercial markets, pilgrim sites, naval fleet, and decadent pleasures.  The ancient consensus that a timeless landscape determined the history, wealth, and character of the city, was adopted almost wholesale by European travelers and the first classical and biblical scholars of the 18th-19th centuries.

The book argues against the timeless view of the Corinthian Isthmus and shows instead how the landscape changed frequently in its connection to a wider Mediterranean world. The chapters of the work survey the extant Greek and Latin literature for the Isthmus  and synthesize archaeological evidence, especially the data from the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey. The chapters begin with the sixth century BCE and step in chronological increments to the fifth century CE.

The table of contents with brief summary:

List of Illustrations

List of Tables

Preface

1. Introduction

Outlines the problem of the essential or timeless view of the Corinthian Isthmus. Makes the argument for contingency.

2. The Isthmos

Surveys the conceptions and definitions of the isthmus in the Classical and Hellenistic era and offers a new interpretation of the famous passage in Thucydides about how the Isthmus made Corinth wealthy and powerful

3. The Gate

Surveys the physical landscape of fortifications and settlements that the Romans encountered in the late third century BCE. Outlines the physical developments of the regional structures from the archaic to Hellenistic periods, with special attention to the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey data.

4. The Fetter

Surveys the central place of the Isthmus in the interpretation the Roman destruction of Greek Corinth and the great catastrophe of the loss of Greek freedom.

5. The Portage

Analyzes the changing historical significance of ship portages over the Corinthian Isthmus in antiquity. The center of the chapter is the remarkable portage of the orator Marcus Antonius, grandfather of the famous triumvir, in 102/101 BCE. The chapter contextualizes Marcus Antonius in light of the frameworks of Roman aristocratic values and imperialism during the interim period.

6. The Bridge

Studies the important place of the Isthmus for the first century of the Roman colony’s history. Offers a new interpretation of Strabo’s influential interpretation of the landscape.

7. The Center

A study of the meaning of canalization in antiquity, and especially the Emperor Nero’s failed canal effort. Situates Nero’s enterprise within the particular imperial frameworks of the 50s-60s CE. Also discusses the long-term effects of the canal enterprise on the landscape during the later first to early third centuries CE, including settlement documented in the Eastern Korinthia Survey.

8. The District

A study of the fragmentation of the essentializing conception of the Corinthian Isthmus in the later third to early fifth centuries, including the later Roman transformation of the panhellenic sanctuary at Isthmia.

9. Conclusion

****************************************************************

I’ll be posting more on this project in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

 

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.

LRLocas

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.

“The Bridge of the Untiring Sea”. A New Book about the Isthmus

The closest I came to the Corinthia this year was a flight over the Isthmus en route to JFK from Athens. A very busy spring semester led directly to a productive field and museum season of the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project in May-early June. Now that I’m back in the US and the summer stretches before me, I have a little more time to release some Corinthiaka updates, news items, and reviews.

One important update is that the long-awaited book titled “The Bridge of the Untiring Sea”: The Corinthian Isthmus from Prehistory to Late Antiquity, has now entered proof stage and is scheduled for publication in late August. Edited by Elizabeth R. Gebhard and Timothy E. Gregory, this work publishes a conference held in 2007 at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens to celebrate 50 years of archaeological work at Isthmia and across the broader Isthmus. Here’s the book cover and description:

Pindar’s metaphor of the Isthmus as a bridge spanning two seas encapsulates the essence of the place and gives a fitting title for this volume of essays on the history and archaeology of the area. The Isthmus, best known for the panhellenic sanctuary of Poseidon, attracted travelers both before and after Pausanias’s visit in the 2nd century A.D., but only toward the end of the 19th century were the ruins investigated and, after another half century, finally systematically excavated. More recently, archaeologists have surveyed the territory beyond the sanctuary, compiling evidence for a varied picture of activity on the wider Isthmus and the eastern Corinthia. The 17 essays in this book celebrate 55 years of research on the Isthmus and provide a comprehensive overview of the state of our knowledge. Topics include an early Mycenaean habitation site at Kyras Vrysi; the settlement at Kalamianos; the Archaic Temple of Poseidon; domestic architecture of the Rachi settlement; dining vessels from the Sanctuary of Poseidon; the Temple Deposit at Isthmia and the dating of Archaic and early Classical Greek coins; terracotta figurines from the Sanctuary of Poseidon; the Chigi Painter; arms from the age of Philip and Alexander at Broneer’s West Foundation on the road to Corinth; new sculptures from the Isthmian Palaimonion; an inscribed herm from the Gymnasium-Bath complex of Corinth; Roman baths at Isthmia and sanctuary baths in Greece; Roman buildings east of the Temple of Poseidon; patterns of settlement and land use on the Roman Isthmus; epigraphy, liturgy, and Imperial policy on the Justinianic Isthmus; and circular lamps in the Late Antique Peloponnese.

I’m jazzed to see this volume in print. I have not seen any of these pieces other my own (obviously!) and Caraher’s piece on the Justinianic Isthmus. Most of the essays in the volume naturally focus on areas where the most fieldwork has occurred, especially in and around the Panhellenic sanctuary at Isthmia. A few consider the broader landscape of the eastern Corinthia including even places that are not on the Isthmus such as Kalamianos in the southeast Corinthia. 

Here’s the publication page for the book at the ASCSA website. The book is available for pre-ordering at Oxbow and Amazon, among other places.