Publishing the Eastern Korinthia Survey

One of the long-standing projects I have been working on over the last year is a book-length publication interpreting the results of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey. EKAS was a survey carried out from 1997-2003, with study seasons continuing to recent years. Unlike the more common survey project carried out in marginal territories or regions of small city states of antiquity, our work focused for the most part on the Isthmus of Corinth, one of the busiest and materially richest landscapes of antiquity. Although we made some forays into the southeastern region (with their own surprising results), our main work was on the Isthmus. That work has never been published in a systematic way. With the generous support of the project directors, I began last year to write up the results of the distributional survey.

Fieldwalkers line up on the Isthmus of Corinth in the first season of the EKAS Project in summer 1999

I spent a lot of time in fall refining survey data and also wrote the preface and six chapters. While I have some heavy lifting ahead of me (several period chapters still to write), I estimate that I’ve drafted about 70% of the work at this point — which puts the conclusion well within reach. Over the course of the year, I’ll be floating sections of the manuscript via this site and also writing a bit about some of the challenges of working with legacy data in artifact rich environments. For now, I include the table of contents and the opening part of the preface.

Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations ………………………………………………………………………………………………….  

List of Tables ………………………………………………………………………………………………….  

Preface ………………………………………………………………………………………………….

1. EKAS: A Twenty-Year Retrospective………………………………………………………………………………………………….

2. The Character of a Distributional Survey………………………………………………………………………………………………….

3. Archaeological Datasets………………………………………………………………………………………………….

4. Reflections on Surface Scatters……………………………………………………………………………………….

5. Patterns of Artifacts, Settlements, and Land Use……………………………………………………………………………………….

6. The Prehistoric Corinthia……………………………………………………………………………………….

7. The Protogeometric to Hellenistic Corinthia………………………………………………………………………………………………….

8. The Roman Corinthia………………………………………………………………………………………………….

9. The Medieval to Ottoman Corinthia………………………………………………………………………………………………….

10. The Modern Corinthia………………………………………………………………………………………………….


Nearly two decades have passed since American archaeological field teams completed a major systematic survey of the eastern territory of the city of Corinth. The project, known as the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey, involved over one hundred archaeologists, historians, geomorphologists, and student volunteers collecting cultural and environmental data over a span of six summers (1997-2003). As the first large-scale, intensive systematic survey of the Isthmus and Corinth’s southeastern territory beyond Mt. Oneion, EKAS promised to make significant contributions to Corinthian studies and the broader scholarship of Mediterranean landscape archaeology. The survey of the immediate territory of a major city of classical antiquity was unique in comparison with the more common studies of rural and remote regions of small Greek poleis. The project’s early adoption of innovative methods and tools, including tract-level mapping of artifacts, geomorphological assessments, an operative GIS, and database applications, made it significantly more intensive than other surveys in its day.

A formal and comprehensive publication was scheduled to appear in the years following fieldwork, but problems of execution and interpretation stalled immediate dissemination, while the project’s successes, including major new discoveries, generated trajectories of fieldwork that ultimately deferred analysis and publication. An important multi-authored preliminary report on the project’s methods came out in Hesperia in 2006 hinting at future sequels. An impressive array of individual publications appeared, offering discrete interpretations of particular sites or periods. The idea of a formal publication resurfaced again in 2015 as I was finishing my historical study of the Isthmus of Corinth and gained traction as we approached the twenty-year anniversary of the start of the survey. A plan was devised at last in 2018 with the support of the project co-directors (Timothy Gregory and Daniel Pullen), the field director (Thomas Tartaron) and other project participants (Bill Caraher, Dimitri Nakassis, and Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory), to publish the project’s findings in three distinct formats.

This works marks a systematic publication of the history, methods, datasets, and distributional analysis of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey. Published alongside online datasets, this digital-first book provides a view of patterns of settlement and land use at one of the most significant crossroads of the Greek peninsula from prehistoric times to the modern era. As such, it makes contributions both to Corinthian studies, which has tended to focus on the investigation of particular sites, and to Mediterranean regional survey literature that has most commonly considered the hinterlands of small cities. My scope in this work is an analysis of the surface artifact distributions of the territory, especially the Isthmus, a busy transport corridor with substantial settlements and sanctuaries from prehistoric times and the peri-urban district of a major polis during historic periods. The archaeological landscape has few parallels in mainland Greece or the Aegean basin: artifact-rich, high-density, and suburban. Like the survey work around small cities in Boeotia, Nemea, and elsewhere, this volume contributes especially to a corpus of literature dealing with the abundant landscapes of urban zones.

This book appears, secondly, in conjunction with a new publication of EKAS datasets (Pettegrew et al. 2021), released through Open Context (, a premier website for reviewing, publishing, archiving, and linking research data related to archaeological investigations. The cleaning and refinement of the datasets of the project itself constituted a magnus labor that occupied my attention full time over nearly two months during the pandemic. That cleanup was the precondition both for my analysis and the digital design of this study. The reader of this work will encounter project data at virtually every step—in a dedicated presentation of datasets (Ch. 3), reflections on survey data (Ch. 4), constant tabulated and geospatial analysis (Ch. 5-10), and hyperlinks to images of finds and contexts, scanned images of artifact drawings, original reports, data tables, and so on. The digital format provides in some places the option of drilling down to the underlying data and its spatial attributions. Nonetheless, the publication of EKAS datasets independent of this study means that the reader or user may view, browse, and download the findings directly at the Open Context website; someone with an interest in comparing regional surveys will find data readily available online and may use this book as a key to understanding it.

Finally, this comprehensive presentation of the framework and results of survey, together with datasets, establishes the foundation for a third final product of the survey now in the works: an edited volume presenting a series of essays from different authors interpreting survey results and the landscapes of the eastern Corinthia. While this current study adopts a unified voice and approach, the planned subsequent volume will feature multiple authors outlining the historical significance and interpretations of the discoveries and distributions of the project according to different frameworks and interests. This work, then, lays the groundwork for further interpretive studies of this historically busy region at the heartland of Greece and constitutes another building block toward historic landscape characterization of the territory.

A Week in the Corinthia

I recently returned from a week-long stint in the Corinthia. Every day I spent in the region was amazing. The weather was beautiful and perfect for archaeological fieldwork and the landscape was more stunning than I had remembered.

The research itself was rich, varied, and fruitful. I flew drones. I had coffee and lunch with friends, collaborators, and associates, which generated good conversations, leads, and new pathways. I visited the archives. I worked alongside a wildlife biologist who pointed out the rich landscape of Corinthian insect life that I had not paid too much attention to before. I walked again through the Greek countryside. I discovered things.

I won’t go into all the details here but will, if things go well, write in detail more about the projects this summer. In the meantime, here are some photographic snapshots of the week.

Church of Saint Paul in Ancient Corinth
Church of Saint Paul in Ancient Corinth. Photograph by David Pettegrew, May 27, 2018.


Saint Patapios icon at his monastery above Loutraki.
Saint Patapios icon at his monastery above Loutraki. Photo by David K. Pettegrew, May 27, 2018.

Flowers in a car at the Panorama restaurant on road to Perachora.
Flowers in a car at the Panorama restaurant on road to Perachora. Photograph by David K. Pettegrew, May 27, 2018.

Sunset over the Corinthian Gulf from the Panorama Taverna on road to Perachora.
Sunset over the Corinthian Gulf from the Panorama Taverna on road to Perachora. Photograph by David K. Pettegrew, May 27, 2018.

Photograph of the settlement of Lakka Skoutara in southern Corinthia,
Photograph of the settlement of Lakka Skoutara in southern Corinthia, by David K. Pettegrew, May 30, 2018.

Flying a drone over the trans-Isthmus wall on the Ayios Dimitrios Ridge. Photo by David K. Pettegrew, June 2, 2018.

Vineyard on Isthmus
Vineyard on Isthmus. Photography by David Pettegrew, May 28, 2018.

Beetle-browed Corinthia. Photograph by David K. Pettegrew, May 28, 2018.

Pegasus and a Fountain in New Corinth.
Pegasus and a Fountain in New Corinth. Photo by David K. Pettegrew, June 1, 2018.

The Church of Ayios Dimitrios on the ridge of the same name. Photo by David K. Pettegrew, June 1, 2018.

David Pettegrew, at Perachora, with view to Ancient Corinth. May 27, 2018.

Mapping the Isthmus of Corinth: A Story Map

Last May I had the privilege of working with Albert Sarvis, Professor of Geospatial Technology at Harrisburg University (and a licensed drone pilot), in capturing low-altitude aerial photographs of the Isthmus of Corinth. Albert and I had collaborated for several years previous on the Digital Harrisburg project, an ambitious project that seeks to link all the individuals living in Pennsylvania’s state capital in the years 1880-1940 with encoded historical maps of the city. Our work together in the Corinthia was a new endeavor, designed to both support long-term research related to the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey and learn about the complicated history of the human uses of the Isthmus from antiquity to the present. Although it rained steadily in the region last May, it was still as successful venture in capturing new perspectives on an historical landscape: look at the final image below to compare the ESRI default aerial imagery with the higher resolution drone survey.

It was also a successful collaboration of students and faculty of the humanities and digital technologies. I brought along 9 Messiah College students (mostly History majors and minors), and Albert brought one senior student in Geospatial Technologies, John Nieves-Jennings. My students had the rewarding experience of learning how drone survey works (and some exposure to the software Pix4D) while Albert’s student was able to connect digital applications to historical questions. John Nieves-Jenning not only ran many of the drone flights but captured the process of work through still images, textual description, and videos. For a senior project, John put together this interactive ESRI Story Map with videos and images of the Corinthia and the drone survey. If you turn on the volume, you can hear the whirring buzz of the drone as it hovers up and above the fields and quarries of the Isthmus. You can also see some live footage of our work and me trying to remember what I could about the history of Corinthian quarries.

We have received a permit from the aviation authority to undertake a second season of drone photography the week after next. Albert and I will be returning with one of his colleagues and students for additional fieldwork. Stay tuned for some updates from the field.

A Coin Hoard at Lechaion is not the Real Story

Some more Corinthian clickbait hit us last week in a series of news articles about a coin hoard from Lechaion. We have heard quite a bit in the past about the Lechaion Harbor Project (LHP), a Danish and Greek operation to document the underwater remains at Lechaion since 2013. Their press releases, which come at the end of each calendar year, find their way into media outlets around the world just in time for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. We covered the work of the 2014 and 2015 seasons herehere, and here (2015), and press releases of their work in 2016 and 2017 can be found here and here.

The coin hoard, however, was found by the other Lechaion Project. Yes, that’s right, the other project. There are two separate, ongoing archaeological projects at Lechaion these days. While the Danish-Greek project has been investigating the underwater remains since 2013 and has received global coverage, the American-Greek Lechaion Harbor and Settlement Land Project (LHSLP) has been studying all the remains on land since 2014 and only begun excavation more recently. The results of their work are just beginning to circulate in archaeological conferences. It was this project that discovered the coin hoard.

Now, coins and coin hoards are always exciting to discover in an excavation, but they are not particularly mysterious, even (especially?) when discovered beneath the floors of collapsed buildings. LiveScience and Newsweek headlines suggest otherwise:   “1,500-Year-Old Coin Stash Leaves Archaeologists with Mystery”  and “RARE DISCOVERY OF 1,500-YEAR-OLD BRONZE COINS IN GREEK HARBOR PUZZLES SCIENTISTS”.  Archaeology magazine and Neos Kosmos toned down mystery and exception with more descriptive titles  “1,500-year-old bronze coins found at Greek harbour” (Neos Kosmos) and “Coin Hoard Unearthed Near Corinth’s Harbor” (Archaeology). According to these reports, the hoard includes coins from as early as the reign of Constantine century and as late as the reign of Anastasius, so it is interesting to think about the curation of coins and the longevity of circulation over nearly two centuries–and another reason for a little skepticism about dating excavation contexts from coins alone.

But there should be some bigger and more interesting stories to come out of the work of the LHSP, especially if results are coordinated with those of the LHP. As the LiveScience article reported, based on recent talks at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and interviews with Paul Scotton and Michael Lerardi, the hoards were found in a putative work yard, which includes slag, iron, a basin, and animal bones. The Neos Kosmos  piece reports the discovery of “two large Roman civic basilicas….Believed to have been government buildings, one dates to all the way back to the end of the 1st century, meaning they are likely from the early Roman colony founded by Julius Caesar.” The work of the LHSLP, which includes survey, excavation, remote sensing, and geophysics, could contribute eventually to outstanding debates about Lechaion and, indeed, about Corinth herself, including: the origins of the harbor and the history of the visible works; the growing importance of Lechaion during the century-long interim period following Rome’s devastation of Corinth in 146 BC; the patterns of land division documented by David Romano dating to the third quarter of the first century AD that point to planned neighborhoods; the role of the harbor and its refurbishment during the visit of the emperor Nero and the reign of Vespasian; the relationship between Corinth and Lechaion in the Roman era; the environment of the famous Lechaion basilica church, an early Christian church excavated long ago by Dimitrios Pallas; and the “abandonment” of the harbor in the Byzantine period (there is an ongoing debate, after all, among geomorphologists and geologists about whether Lechaion was destroyed by tsunami or not, but that’s another story). And I will also note that in a region characterized by archaeological fiefdoms–where individuals, institutions, and ambitions lay claim to particular buildings, sites, and classes of material–it would be a great (touching even) human story if these projects found a way to share their data and build a complementary study of the harbor over the period of a millennium.

So, we can celebrate the finds that make clickbait, but hold out for a better story or two. Not any time soon, mind you, as archaeological study takes years, even decades, and the real significance and results of programs of fieldwork are even then not always obvious.

For more information on the work of the Lechaion Harbor and Settlement Land Project:

Digitizing and Droning Isthmia

Several years ago I wrote about the interesting work Professor Jon Frey of Michigan State University was doing with collaborators at Isthmia to digitize the excavation notebooks as well as the associated finds and context data. Over the last couple of weeks, MSU has spotlighted Frey’s recent work at the site including his discovery of a gymnasium at the site (now published in Hesperia, with Timothy Gregory).

The article, “Digital Dig: A New Discovery from Ancient Greece,” also includes a video of a drone survey at Isthmia carried out in the fall with James Herbst, Timothy Gregory, and others. This is a great example of innovative technology and digital tools shedding light on old data sets.

Here’s a taste of the cover piece:

Through the careful study of excavation records dating back some 40 years, Michigan State University’s Jon Frey has discovered an ancient gymnasium at the archaeological site of Isthmia, Greece.
 Frey and his team are performing a “digital dig” of sorts. Rather than using shovels and tools to excavate the site, the researchers are studying a backlog of evidence housed in remote storage.

“The neat part is there are many moments when we discover things that the original excavators missed,” says Frey, assistant professor of classical studies in the College of Arts and Letters. “So it’s kind of like our research has shifted from digging to detective work. We’re essentially re-excavating the archives.”

You can find additional videos about the work at Jon’s website, and The State News at MSU also did a separate writeup.

I embed one of the videos below.

Box of Isthmus

Corinthian Matters is officially in vacation mode as our site’s regular visitors participate in archaeological fieldwork and travel, sip frappes or lie on beaches, and generally take some vacation time. I myself am teaching an online history class, working on a new research project, spending time with the kids, and taking it a little easier. But don’t worry: I’ve got my eyes on new Corinthian scholarship andnews items (including that big story about the Return of the Kouroi), and will deliver relevant Corinthiaka starting early September.

But I couldn’t resist interrupting my summer blogging break with this picture of this box of isthmuses which landed at my house two weeks ago. Yes, The Isthmus of Corinth: Crossroads of the Mediterranean World has been officially published by University of Michigan Press. I’ll say more about this in coming weeks. You can order your hard cover version today for the low monograph price of only $85.

On the Remains of Nero’s Corinth Canal Project

Few remains survive today from the Roman Emperor Nero’s great endeavor to cut a canal through the Isthmus of Corinth. This is surprising and unfortunate since the initiative marked one of the most ambitious undertakings of Nero’s reign and arguably one of the emperor’s principal reasons for touring Greece in 66-68 AD. The work at the Isthmus probably lasted well over a year and involved a work force numbering as many as 10,000 slaves, political prisoners, soldiers, and conscripted laborers. The emperor and a labor force this substantial must have transformed the region in ways that it are hard for us to grasp today.

Venetian map of the Isthmus of 1697 AD used by Richard Chandler in Travels in Greece, or an Account of a Tour Made at the Expense of the Society of Dilettanti. Oxford: 1776, p. 241

Before the late 19th century construction of the Corinth Canal (1881-1893), one could still see vestiges of the ancient remains. European travelers commonly reported ditches, trenches, pits, and mounds on both the eastern and western sides of the neck. A late 17th century map included with Richard Chandler’s overview of the territory (1776), for example, shows a line of ditches and mounds over the western third of the Isthmus. Colonel Martin Leake measured the width of the canal trench near the Corinthian Gulf at about 200 feet wide and 1,200 yards long , extending across the low coastal zone and terminating where the land begins to rise. Other travelers noticed towering mounds of earth and debris that were many meters high.

The only person to conduct a systematic survey was Béla Gerster, the architect from Hungary who was largely responsible for planning and executing the modern Corinth Canal. Gerster carefully investigated the ancient remains as part of his planning for constructing the modern canal and documented trenches on both sides of the Isthmus and pits across the ridge. He published his findings initially in a BCH article, which he later revised and expanded in his 1896 book on the modern Corinth canal.

Gerster's plan of the ancient canal cuts, published in an important article in 1884
Gerster’s plan of the ancient canal cuts (1884).

It is hard to appreciate today how much the 19th century canal project transformed the topography of the Isthmus. Through the use of dynamite and locomotives, the work crews extracted 11 million cubic meters of earth and stone over little more than a decade and spread it across the region. Much of the coastal zone on both gulfs today is elevated above sea level through dumping. There are even little neighborhoods close to Isthmia that are built on artificial ridges created from canal debris; in some cases, modern work crews simply used the ancient debris mounds for dumping their own materials. Transformations continued in the 20th century: the strategic importance of the Isthmus to the German occupation of Greece, especially, generated bunkers, camps, and more movements of earth. All of this explains why very little remains today from the ancient canal. A couple of students and I walked across the Isthmus in 2014 to see if we could locate any of the features in Gerster’s 1884 map and were reminded just how extensively humans had remade the territory in the last 130 years.

Sheep graze near the remains of a World War II bunker

There are a few exceptions, which prove interesting. Near the start of the so-called diolkos of Corinth on the Corinthian Gulf, one can see in the water at the canal’s edge a broad sloping “platform” created by flat slabs. When Harold Fowler discussed this area in his topographic survey of the Corinthia (1932, p. 51), he recorded its dimension as about 40 meters long. Scholars have usually associated the zone with the diolkos (Sector A), but Koutsoumba and Nakas have made a compelling case that this actually should date to Nero’s canal project (among other things, they point out that it follows the same orientation as the modern canal and has no clear architectural relationship to the portage road 20 meters to the south).

Sector A.
Sector A, once identified with the “diolkos” with beach rock

On the Peloponnesian side of the canal, as one walks eastward along the canal from the Corinthian Gulf, some of the visible limestone and standstone walls belong to the original (rather than 19th century) canal works of Nero. As Wiseman originally noted, and I have seen myself, one can actually see marks of ancient chiselling. It was on the Corinthian Gulf side that the Roman canal crews made the greatest progress–excavating a canal hundreds of meters through both alluvial sediments and, in higher elevations, sandstone and limestone overburden.

Ancient Canal Wall
Ancient Canal Wall

The most interesting remains of Nero’s project, however, can be found opposite a stone foundation for an old (railroad?) bridge. The photo below, taken from the Peloponnesian side of the canal, shows one of those foundations on the Greek mainland side of the canal. There is a parallel foundation on the Peloponnesian side.


Here is some perspective of that area from the old gravel road on the Peloponnesian side. In the picture below, I have circled in red the stone foundation for the bridge.


Below this bridge foundation is the ancient canal wall and the famous Nero relief [Visitors should take care: the canal wall cliffs in this area are not insignificant], which has eroded even further since James Wiseman’s discussion of it 40 years ago (see figures below). The relief shows a man standing beneath a pediment with left arm resting on a thick object and right arm folded in. The photo can be interpreted (as Wiseman noted in 1978) either as an image of the Emperor Nero, or as a relief of Heracles resting from his labors. The most convincing interpretation in my view (and the argument I advance in The Isthmus of Corinth) is that it represents Nero as Heracles, who is in fact at the end of his labors.

Nero Relief 1978 (Wiseman)
Nero Relief 1978 (Wiseman)

Nero Relief 2014 (Pettegrew)
Nero Relief 2014 (Pettegrew)

While not much remains to this day, the record of remains by Gerster and earlier travelers allows one to reconstruct how Nero’s engineers approached the seemingly impossible task of transforming the maritime properties of the ancient landscape.

Journeys through an Ancient Landscape

I spent Thursday and Friday last week visiting St. Mary’s College of Maryland located on the beautiful site of Historic St. Mary’s City, which served as Maryland’s original state capital and ranks among America’s oldest colonial settlements. It was one of the most interesting campus visits I have had in combining my interests in ancient landscapes and digital humanities. On Thursday morning, I visited a class of students in Historical Methods to discuss the subject of digital history and used examples from our Digital Harrisburg Initiative – a series of projects created by faculty and students at Messiah College and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology on 20th century Harrisburg. In the afternoon, I gave a lecture titled “Journeys through an Ancient Landscape” that outlined some of the main contours of my forthcoming book on the Isthmus of Corinth. The abstract for the afternoon lecture went something like this:

From the Panhellenic games of the sixth century BCE, to the Persian invasions of 479 BCE, the Emperor Nero’s disastrous tour of Greece in 66 CE, and Justinian’s fortifications of the sixth century, the Corinthian Isthmus captured the imagination of kings and emperors, philosophers and orators, traders and merchants, and missionaries and preachers as a place of congregation and competition. In this talk, we will journey through the layers of Corinth’s landscape to explain how its Isthmus became the most famous, consequential, and contested land bridge of the ancient world.


Putting the lecture together proved harder than I imagined. Although I was determined not to write out the talk and present simply from the PowerPoint presentation and some notes, I found it challenging to condense the main arguments of the book into a 45-50 minute talk.

I began with the close modern associations of this landscape with congregation, contest, and journey. Whether it is Robbie Maddison’s 200 foot long motorcycle jump over the canal in 2010, Peter Besenyei’s daredevil flight through in 2012, bungee jumping into the abyss, or simply taking selfies on the old national highway bridge, this is a landscape that seems to draw direct engagement.


From there, I laid out the “essential vision” of the Isthmus created by ancient authors and developed in new ways in the modern period. According to the maritime interpretation, Corinth was the quintessential traveler’s town, which gained its unique character from the 4-mile wide Isthmus that linked the Peloponnese with the Greek mainland. This Isthmus was the timeless and essential constant of Corinthian history. An Isthmus could neatly explain the entire trajectory of the city’s historical existence: its foundation and growth as an independent Greek polis from the 8th c BCE; the power and wealth of the Greek polis in the classical period; the importance of the region to the Macedonian monarchs who took possession of it after the conquests of Alexander the Great; and the Roman destruction of Corinth in 146 BCE and then its refoundation as a Roman colony a century later. The Isthmus was the determining force that altered the character of the city’s wanderlust population and determined its historical trajectories until barbarian invasions and earthquakes in late antiquity allegedly decimated the population


The remainder of the presentation took apart the maritime interpretation and offers a view of some of the historical contingencies that altered the landscape over time.

For example, the evidence of archaeological survey (that’s my team from the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey in the picture below) has shown complex and changing patterns of land use, settlement, and trade from the Geometric era to the period of late antiquity that relate in interesting ways to the features in the landscape (the great trans-isthmus walls) or the changing historical context. In general, the discovery of archaeological evidence for habitation and agriculture in the territory disproves the old notion that the Corinthians of the classical or Roman periods had no interest in the agricultural resources of the territory.


Similarly, the ancient road called the diolkos was never the great transit road of the modern imagination. Nor was carting ships over the Isthmus regular ancient practice but reflected unique and extraordinary historical contingencies of the classical and early Hellenistic periods. Conveniently, a reconstructed 17th century ship at Historic St. Mary’s City called the Maryland Dove provided a good reference in point: the ancient triremes that allegedly went over the Isthmus in the fifth century BC were larger even than the Dove.


I also drew attention to the contingencies that framed ancient discussions of the Isthmus. The Greek concept of isthmos was never a static term but changed according to broader conceptions of the place of individual regions within the Mediterranean. Consider three different views of the Corinthian Isthmus as shown in the image below: the narrowest (dark blue) by classical Greek writers; the broader by the geographer Strabo; and the broadest by Pliny the Elder.


And to my delight, I discovered that the college was located on a peninsula that writers like Strabo would have called an isthmus formed by the constriction of land between St. Mary’s River and the Chesapeake Bay.



Once I get settled, I’ll aim to resume the Corinthian religion series this week and push out some more of this new and recent scholarship and news that has come my way. More soon!

The Isthmus from 20,000+ Feet

I always request a window seat when I fly in and out of Athens International Airpot on the hope of capturing good images of the Corinthia. Photographer and archaeologist Jacquelyn Clements shared with me the image below from her flight in December 2013 (and kindly gave permission to share on this site). The beautiful photo clearly shows the constricting neck that defined the Isthmus in antiquity. The ancients, of course, never had this particular aerial perspective of the Corinthian Isthmus but they did have a bird’s eye view from Mt. Gerania, Oneion, and Acrocorinth, as well as the practical experiences of coastal navigation. Until the later Hellenistic era, most Greek writers conceived of the Isthmus as the zone of greatest constriction between Akra Sousaki and Akra Sophia on the Saronic Gulf, and Loutraki and New Corinth on the Corinthian Gulf–the landscape shown in the photo below.

Photo by Jacquelyn H. Clements
Photo by Jacquelyn H. Clements

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.


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.