I finally have my hands on Bridge of the Untiring Sea: the Corinthian Isthmus from Prehistory to Late Antiquity, fresh 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.