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.
This weekend I spent some quality time with Y. Lolos newly published tome, Land of Sikyon. Hesperia Supplement 39 (Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2011). It runs to close to 650 pages and provides a nearly comprehensive view on (as his subtitle states) the archaeology and history of a Greek City-State. With a book of this size and level of detail, I feel a bit like a cat attacking a sofa. The best I’ll be able to do is attack various parts of it and then race off. That being said, over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting my observations on the book as I work my way through it. Scholars interested in the history, archaeology, and topography of the Corinthia and the northwest Peloponnesus have eagerly awaited this book (so eagerly, in fact, that it’s listed in World Cat as having been published in 2006, 2009, and 2011).
This weekend I took particular interest in Lolos detailed description of the history and land routes through the region. My very first article looked at a series of fortifications on the far eastern end of Mt. Oneion. In this article I discuss briefly the idea that an army could cross the eastern end of Mt. Oneion in order to enter the Peloponnesus while avoiding the fortifications around the city of Corinth.
From that article:
In addition, once an army crossed the mountain’s eastern end and moved south, it had bypassed the defenses of Acrocorinth and gained ac cess to a complex network of roads leading toward the population centers of the southwest Corinthia, such as Tenea, Kleonai, and Phlius, as well as the Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea. Thereafter, an army could link up with routes into the Argolid or move toward the west through the uplands of the northeastern Peloponnese to descend into Sikyonia, Arkadia, and Achaia.
When I wrote this, however, I had only the faintest idea how a force could descend into Sikonia. Historically, I knew it was possible, as Xenophon tells us (Hell. 7.1.18-19) that the Theban general Epaminondas did just that during his second invasion of the Peloponnesus in 386, despite efforts by the Athenians, Spartans, and Pellenians to hold the eastern side of the mountain.
Lolos’s book provides some crucial clarification on the route of this invasion. It seems likely that the Thebans must have marched to Phlious before moving south to Sikyon along the route of the Asopos river or alternately veering slightly further west and passing the sanctuary of Titane on a decent to the Sikyonian plateau. Lolos’ book provides significant evidence for these routes through his thorough compilation of evidence for wheel ruts and road cuttings that suggest the presence of cart roads. Of course, the army of Epaminondas probably had very few carts as they had entered the Peloponnesus through a rather tricky march over the eastern part of Mt. Oneion.
While Lolos has worked out the routes west and south in Sikyonia and R. Bynum Jeanie Marchand, and Mike Dixon (all under the watchful eye of Prof. Ron Stroud) have pieced together the road networks of the southern and western Corinthia, as far as I know, no one has worked out the roads running south of Mt. Oneion from the area of Solygeia (and the modern village of Loutro Elenis) to the Xeropotamos River valley. This is a relatively small area, but one where one might expect to find areas of exposed bedrock that would preserve wheel ruts. Moreover, it’s tempting to imaging that the hills further south had watch towers to monitoring traffic obscured by the mass of Oneion.
As a side note, it feels strange to blog on ancient Greece at a time when the modern Greece is in such turmoil. I wonder whether reading, thinking, and writing about ancient Greece provides me with a safe way to keep that place in my head without incurring the emotional cost of reflecting on its current troubles.
Costposted to the New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World
I was twice dragged up to the top of Mt. Oneion, the range that marks the visual southern boundary of the Isthmus. While Dimitri Nakassis and I were walking survey teams around the plain of the Isthmus in 2000 and 2001, Bill Caraher was driving all over the eastern Corinthia doing “extensive survey” in remote and hard to reach locations. One spectacular discovery Bill made was a set of fortification walls in one of the saddles of Mt. Oneion dating to both the late Classical and Venetian periods. He published these (with T. Gregory) as Caraher, W. R. and T. E. Gregory. “Fortifications of Mount Oneion, Corinthia,” Hesperia 75 (2006), 327-356. The abstract to their article:
Recent investigations on the Isthmus of Corinth by the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS) have revealed a series of relatively humble fortifications situated along the ridge of Mt.Oneion, which forms the southern boundary of the Isthmus. These Late Classical-Early Hellenistic walls, along with a nearby series of later Venetian fortifications, were designed to block access to the south through several low passes. Controlling the passage of northern armies through the Isthmus to the Peloponnese was clearly a long-term strategic concern for diverse regional powers.
In 2002 and 2003, I journeyed with Bill and Tim up to the easternmost peaks of Mt. Oneion to document those remains. The hike was well worth it for it afforded spectacular views of Corinthian territory including the Isthmus, Acrocorinth, and the Saronic coastline. Views of Kenchreai are especially good. I have added new gallery pages of those trips to the top of Mt. Oneion:
- Views of Isthmus
- Views of Saronic Coastline
- Views of Southern Corinthia
- Views to Corinth
- Walls and Sites
Thanks to Cindi Tomes of Messiah College’s Faculty Services for scanning these. I include a few of the highlights below.
Bill Caraher at the top of the Corinthia.
Bill takes GPS readings with the Isthmus in the background.
Saronic coastline along plain of Solygeia.
I love this view of Kenchreai harbor and Koutsongila
The Saronic coastline from Kenchreai (bottom-right) to the Bay of Kalamaki (middle-left) to the narrow coastal pass of Gerania (middle-right).
The Oneion backbone which ends in Acrocorinth (center).