The Diolkos – Two New Articles

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

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

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

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

The abstract for my piece in AJA:

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

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

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

A Roman Road in the Panayia Field

For most people who visit the site of Ancient Corinth, the Roman forum is the principal (if not only) destination.  Many visitors are unaware of the ancient buildings and ancient spaces scattered about the modern village and enclosed in chain-linked fences.  Temples, tombs, villas, walls, churches, amphitheater all highlight the urban world buried beneath the village.

The Panayia Field is one of these areas recently excavated by teams from the American School of Classical Studies.  While it is located only about 200 meters southeast of the forum, it is not immediately visible to visitors and is enclosed behind a fence that makes it inaccessible.  Nonetheless, it is changing our picture of premodern Corinth.

Panayia Field-labeled

More than a decade of excavations at Panayia Field has revealed important remains from the Geometric to the Modern Period, some of which have been published in a series of reports or studied as part of recent dissertations (see list below).  The area of Panayia Field is important generally because it highlights a residential part of the city in contrast with the public character of the forum.

An article by Jennifer Palinkas and James Herbst in the most recent issue of the journal Hesperia adds to this bibliography by publishing a Roman road from an ‘ordinary neighborhood’.  Here’s the abstract:

“A wide, unpaved, north–south Roman road was established in the Panayia Field at Ancient Corinth in the last years of the 1st century b.c. Over the next six centuries, numerous civic and private construction activities altered its spatial organization, function as a transportation artery, and use for water and waste management. Changes included the installation and maintenance of sidewalks, curbs, drains, terracotta pipelines, and porches at doorways. The terracotta pipelines are presented here typologically in chronological sequence. The road elucidates early-colony land division at Corinth, urbanization into the 4th century a.d., and subsequent deurbanization in the 6th century, when maintenance of the road ended.”

While most people who visit Corinth may have in mind the monumental Lechaion Road (depicted in the photo below) clearly demarcated by limestone pavements, columns, and adjacent buildings, most roads in the ancient city and countryside were simple unpaved roads with earthen surfaces.


The road from the Panayia field as shown in photos in the article is wholly unimpressive in appearance.  And yet, that is the primary importance of this article, for it provides a stratigraphic sequence of an ordinary road with a lifespan spanning some twelve centuries.

The article reports in incredible detail the phases of the 23 meters of road exposed by excavation:

  • The first surface established in the 1st century BC as a two-way street
  • It became better articulated in the later 1st century AD (over 7 m wide, with adjacent buildings constructed, and subsurface water systems)
  • Curbs divided the road from its sidewalks from the mid-2nd century (making it a one-way street)
  • An urban house dominated the streetscape from the mid-3rd to mid-4th century
  • Although the area was slowly changed from the 5th century, the road remained a defined usable path to the 12th century.  Far from indicating the demise of the city in late antiquity, excavation of the road shows that the drain was even functional into the 9th or 10th century.

Anyone who wants to become familiar with the complex nature of urban excavations in Corinth should read this article.  The visitor to Corinth today may imagine he/she is seeing the remains of a city frozen in time but is actually looking at palimpsests of buildings of different times.  This articles discusses the changing contexts of human activity in urban centers over centuries: manholes, cisterns, robbing and construction trenches, tortoise deposits, beddings, among many others.  Real excavation is fraught with interpretive uncertainties reflected in the naming of buildings: “Long Building,” “Building with Wall Painting,” “Early Colony Building,” “Late Augustan Building”, etc..

Second, the article is important for its detailed catalogue of the water systems underlying the road.  Excavations recorded some 31 lines of pipes of different phases from six centuries, all compressed to 1 meter below the road!   The authors are able to create a typology for water pipes and offer a catalogue of the ceramic pipes, which serve to illustrate the nature of water and waste management.

Finally, anyone who has followed the work of Doukellis, Romano, and Walbank on the urban plan and centuriation of the territory will find in this piece a technical overview of how the area of Panayia Field corresponds to the predicted urban grid, especially by the Corinth Computer Project.  The authors conclude that the “implementation of the Roman city grid was ultimately more complex than any of the proposed plans. Circumstantial factors such as topography and, in the case of the Panayia Field, the presence of large urban structures most certainly caused revisions and modifications to ideal geometries.” (324)

My favorite caption from the article: “Broneer type XVI lamp found under the remains of a tortoise, before (left) and after (right) removal of the tortoise.”

For another review of this article, check out my colleague Bill Caraher’s comments in The Rough Roads of Corinth at The New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World.

Recent Scholarship on the Panayia Field:

*This is not an exhaustive list but it does hit on some of the major studies.

  • Geometric
    • Pfaff, C. A. 2007. “Geometric Graves in the Panayia Field at Corinth,” Hesperia 76, pp. 443–537.
  • Hellenistic:
    • James, S. 2010. “The Hellenistic Pottery from the Panayia Field, Corinth: Studies in Chronology and Context” (diss. Univ. of Texas, Austin). Hellenistic pottery.
  • Roman-Late Roman
    • Lepinski, S. 2008. “Roman Wall Paintings from Panayia Field, Corinth, Greece: A Contextual Study” (diss. Bryn Mawr College).
    • Late Roman Pottery:
      • Slane, K. W., and G. D. R. Sanders. 2005. “Corinth: Late Roman Horizons,” Hesperia 74, pp. 243–297.
    • Late Roman House:
      • Sweetman, R., and G. D. R. Sanders. 2005. “A New Group of Mosaics from Corinth in Their Domestic Context and in the Context of the Colony,” in La mosaïque gréco-romaine IX. Actes du IXe Colloque international pour l’étude de la mosaïque antique et médiévale organisé à Rome, 5–10 novembre 2001 (CÉFR 352), ed. H. Morlier, Rome, pp. 359–369.
      • Stirling, L. M. 2008. “Pagan Statuettes in Late Antique Corinth: Sculpture from the Panayia Domus,” Hesperia 77, pp. 89–161.
      • Sanders, G.D.R., 2005. “Archaeological Evidence for Early Christianity and the End of the Hellenic Religion in Corinth,” in Urban Religion in Roman Corinth: Interdisciplinary Approaches (Harvard Theological Studies 53), ed. D. N. Schowalter and S. J. Friesen, Cambridge, Mass., pp. 419–442.
      • Sanders, G.D.R. 2004. “Problems in Interpreting Rural and Urban Settlement in Southern Greece, a.d. 365–700,” in Landscapes of Change: Rural Evolutions in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, ed. N. Christie, Aldershot, pp. 163–194.
    • Late Roman Bath
      • Sanders, G.D.R. 1999. “A Late Roman Bath at Corinth: Excavations in the Panayia Field, 1995–1996,” Hesperia 68, pp. 441–480.
  • Ottoman:
    • Rohn, A. H., E. Barnes, and G. D. R. Sanders. 2009. “An Ottoman-Period Cemetery at Ancient Corinth,” Hesperia 78, pp. 501–615.

Corinth in Context at Society of Biblical Literature, London 2011

Last week I spent conferencing in London at the international meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.  With the exception of one rainy day, the weather was cool and beautiful.  My own visit was improved by the presence of my wife, Kate, and toddler son James, who ensured that I spent more time at London’s best playgrounds and parks than the typical tourist attractions.

At the conference on the Waterloo campus of King’s College, I made it my goal to attend as many of the Corinth papers as possible.  There were a lot of Corinth papers, and I was only somewhat successful.  I have said it before that New Testament scholars have a great deal to say about Corinthian matters – more perhaps by volume than archaeologists and historians (compare the annual corpus of dissertations and publications).  And they are especially interested in understanding the various contexts that might shed light on the Corinthian community to whom Paul writes in 1 and 2 Corinthians.  In my own reading of the papers and abstracts, there were six sorts of contexts or aspects of Corinthians that the presenters discussed.  These are not neat and exclusive categories, of course, but I think they represent some of the main categories of research of NT scholars:

1. Historical and Social Contexts

A number of papers aimed to understand or explain aspects of 1 and 2 Corinthians by seeking, describing, or applying historical and social contexts.  So, for example, two papers dealing with meat and idols address the likely historical situation behind 1 Cor. 8-10 (I regret that my inability to figure out the London Underground led me to miss both of these):

Similarly, Oh-Young Kwon (A Glimpse of Greco-Roman Practice of Collegia Sodalicia in 1 Cor 8 and of Collegia Tenuiorum in 1 Cor 15) suggested that Christian participation in voluntary collegia would help to explain passages in 1 Corinthians dealing with eating meat sacrificed to idols and the resurrection of the dead, while Sin Pan Daniel Ho’s paper (Unmasking a Scandalous Taboo or Taking a Stand Against the Streams? A Counter-cultural Reading of 1 Cor 5:1 and its Implication for the Theme of 1 Cor 5) examined attitudes to sexuality in the first century to argue that incestuous unions were not all that shocking to the early Corinthian Christians!

Other papers along these lines:

Listening to the papers and the audience feedback suggested suggested several difficulties in doing this kind of work:

a) Establishing the general context, whether it be a ‘social ethos’ or patronage networks, is not at all easy.  For example, did inhabitants of Roman colonies really think incestuous unions were acceptable or even good?  How does one convincingly make that sort of case given our extant textual and material forms of evidence?

b) Knowing whether a probable general context (e.g., collegia) of the Greco-Roman is the actual particular situation implicit in 1 and 2 Corinthians, especially when alternate explanations are possible.

2. Literary, Rhetorical, and Inter-textual Contexts

A few papers dealt with literary issues like the form of the letters, its composition, Paul’s use of rhetoric, intertextuality, and theological formulation:

  • Jeffrey Peterson, for example, suggested in  Inclusio and Integrity in 2 Corinthians 2:17 and 12:19 that the phrase “we are speaking before God in Christ” in chapter two and twelve of 2 Corinthians represents an inclusio that frames the letter and supports an argument against partition theories of 2 Corinthians.
  • Tobias Hagerland considered in Paul’s Elaboration of a Jesus Chreia whether 1 Cor. 11.23-25 might qualify as a ‘chreia’  used in progymnastic rhetoric.
  • Matthew R. Malcolm of cryptotheology fame gave a brilliant paper (Beyond Greco-Roman Rhetorical Criticism) highlighting the limits of classical rhetoric for understanding the form and content of 1 Corinthians.  He argued rather that the experience of a died-and-raised Messiah shaped and structured the overall form of the letter: death – ethical instruction – resurrection.  This paper will be published in the near future and sounds like a balance to the recent emphasis in NT studies on classical rhetoric.
  • See also:

3. Paul’s Mission

Several papers dealt with aspects of Paul’s mission, ministry, and teaching evident in 1 and 2 Corinthians and known by comparison with other documents of the New Testament (Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles).  In this case, the context is created by reference to other NT texts that makes meaningful particular passages of the Corinthian correspondence:

4. Early Christian (and Christian) Contexts

A number of papers used passages in 1 and 2 Corinthians to inform our knowledge of early Christianity, or indeed, Christianity generally:

5. Modern Contexts

Then there were papers applying, addressing, or critiquing modern contexts or theory for interpreting the letters.

6. Archaeological Context

Finally, there were papers dealing with archaeological context.  While I was only able to hear a portion of the Corinth-related papers outlined above, what I heard suggested that material culture played a small role in understanding the Corinthian correspondence.  A session on the last day of the conference called “Becoming Roman Corinth: New Research” was designed to do exactly that.  Rather than reading the text of 1 and 2 Corinthians and seeking historical or material contexts to explain problem areas (as in #1 above), this session aimed to establish the sort of place Corinth was in the late Hellenistic to Early Roman era.  While all of the following papers contribute to our understanding of NT studies, the papers do not aim to solve or address specific problems in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.  This session re-presented in modified form papers delivered elsewhere, at the “Corinth in Contrast” conference in Austin, TX, in October 2010, with one addition (Melfi’s paper).  Expect to see most of the following papers published in 2012 in Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Inequality (eds. Friesen, James, and Schowalter).  See my previous comments on that conference here, here, and here.

It was interesting to hear members of the audience try to connect the conclusions of the individual papers with issues of Paul’s Corinthian community.  Ben Millis’ paper, for example, has significant implications for understanding the kind of hierarchical society Paul came to and the question of elite Christians—and the audience was particularly interested in his thoughts on questions of social dissonance (Meeks), stratification, and patronage.  In my own conclusions that the Isthmus was not the commercial thoroughfare we have often imagined it to be, I was asked the interesting question what the take-away would be for someone preaching from 1 Corinthians.  I will have to give that some more thought!


Overall, it was great to sit in on another set of conversations about Corinthiaka and better understand NT methods and contexts.  And for an ancient historian, it was interesting to see participants flipping through their Greek New Testaments (or the computerized versions) and grill each other on the particular meaning of a verse challenging the presenter’s interpretation.  But as an archaeologist who works with chronologically coarse materials like ceramics and coins, my favorite line from the conference was a presenter who said she favored the “late dating of Galatians, Autumn 55 AD”!  What, then, is the early dating: winter?

SBL – Day 3-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel N. Schowalter, Carthage College, Response


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

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

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

Dissertating Corinth

The American School of Classical Studies’ website has a nice piece on Angela Ziskowski’s recently defended dissertation The Construction of Corinthian Identity in the Early Iron Age and Archaic Period. As Angela describes her work there:

My work on this topic focused on whether or not archaeological remains and literary testimonia from the city and region of Corinth could provide evidence for the construction of civic and cultural identity.  My study considered the topography and resources of the region, production practices, ceramic and epigraphic remains, iconography, as well as cultic institutions to allow the question of identity construction to be considered from many angles.  Through this synthetic approach, I tried to offer a fuller, more comprehensive understanding of how the early city of Corinth created its own civic identity and successfully differentiated itself from neighboring regions.

Angela joins a number of recently completed PhD dissertations in different fields (Classics, Classical Archaeology, and History) that have brought together archaeological, textual, epigraphical, and environmental evidence to speak to broad cultural issues.

The ASCSA website lists five other dissertations on Corinth completed in the last two years.  I was curious about the dissertations on the Corinthia (broadly defined) over the last decade and ran a search in Worldcat on doctoral dissertations with keywords Corinth*, Kenchreai, Nemea, Isthm*, and Lechaion. The search generated 454 hits!  Some of these hits are redundant probably because the dissertations are owned by several universities that have classified them differently.  A few relate to medical studies (isthm* is responsible here) and the Battles of Corinth (the American civil war, not that of 146 BC).  But the great majority of those dissertations–say, 75% or more–center on some aspect of 1 and 2 Corinthians.  I’ve said it before: it must be tiring for New Testament scholars to keep up with the scholarship.

So, as I often do, I compiled a list of archaeology and history dissertations completed since 2000.  No doubt incomplete and I’m sure I have left off some (your!) important study. But the list gives you a sense of some of the trends in the field.  Of the 21 dissertations in process, defended, or completed, some patterns:

1. Archaic-Hellenistic: Studies of the  Corinthia / NE Peloponnese of the period of the polis dominate but these studies cover the full range from the Early Iron Age to Hellenistic.

2. Late Antiquity: some 7 dissertations focus on the late Roman Corinthia or deal with it as part of the study of the Roman Corinthia, although that number could in part reflect my own knowledge of the dissertations.  Only 3 studies focus on the Earlier Roman period.  Most “Roman” studies go into Late Antiquity.

3. Materials: Ceramic studies are most common (n=4) but in general, we find variety: wall paintings, coinage, architecture, fountains, walls, baths

4. Landscape: countryside, territory, and cultural landscapes are the focal points of several studies and frame / complement many of the other studies.  Corinth in broader context.

5. Archaeology and history: more archaeological discussions here than historical but many of the studies consider the textual evidence, and most of the archaeological studies frame their studies within broader contexts (social, economic, cultural): “a contextual study,” “the culture of water,” “mortuary practices”, “language of reuse”, “production and distribution”

Corinth at the Archaeological Institute of America – January 2011

The annual meeting of the AIA in San Antonio is now only 3-1/2 weeks away.  As usual, there will be a range of papers related to the archaeology of Corinth and the Corinthia.  A summary below, and I include abstracts when available.

SESSION 1D: Colloquium: Travel to Greece between Antiquity and the Grand Tour (Friday, Jan 7, 8:30 AM-11:30 AM)
“Niketas Ooryphas Drags his Fleet: Portaging the Corinthian Isthmus in 883 A.D.” (David K. Pettegrew, Messiah College)


In 883 AD, the Byzantine admiral Niketas Ooryphas dragged a fleet of ships over the Isthmus of Corinth in a naval engagement with Arab pirates.  The episode, preserved in the chronicles of Theophanes Continuatus and the Chronicon Maius of George Sphrantzes, has always created problems for scholars interpreting the use of the Archaic-period diolkos road between the Corinthian and Saronic Gulfs.  Did Niketas actually portage 100 ships in the ninth century AD on the road built by Periander?  Or is the account a literary invention by clever Byzantine writers aware of their ancient history?  If the former, the portage road remained in semi-use for a period of 1,600 years since its construction; if the latter, the texts suggest nothing about the actual operation of the trans-isthmus road.

In this paper, I explore the meanings of this portage episode in terms of literary contexts, the historical tradition of ship transfers, and the physical remnants of the diolkos road.  On the one hand, the accounts state that Niketas constructed a way across the isthmus that suggests he did not use Periander’s road; we will consider his remarkable feat in light of the texts and physical landscape.  On the other, the chronicles highlight the heroic accomplishment of Niketas dragging his fleet and the strategic role of the isthmus for deciding naval engagements.  The episode fits within an ancient literary tradition of using ship portaging as a device for highlighting brilliant tactical maneuvers at key points in historical narration.

“Medieval Pilgrimage to Corinth and Southern Greece” (Amelia R. Brown, University of Queensland)


Today Christian pilgrims often travel to Corinth and southern Greece in the footsteps of Saint Paul. This modern pilgrimage developed only in the last century, alongside archaeological excavation and mass-market tourism to Greece. The Medieval pilgrims who preceded these modern ones, however, are barely studied at all, though sources for them do exist. In this paper, I explore the textual, epigraphic and archaeological evidence for Christian pilgrimage to Corinth and southern Greece from Late Antiquity into the Middle Ages. Though southern Greece generated few saints or monks, the cults of Corinthian martyrs Leonidas and Quadratus each drew pilgrims from outside of Greece to their basilicas. Awareness of Paul’s ministry is also apparent in Corinthian epigraphy, letters of Byzantine bishops, and the placement of churches at Corinth and Athens. Though southern Greece did not compete with the Holy Land or Constantinople as a pilgrimage destination, Corinthians and Athenians did successfully construct both churches and local stories over several centuries to attract Christian travellers. The tangible results of their efforts deserve study, shed new light on the Byzantine cities of Corinth and Athens, and illustrate the phenomenon of Christian pilgrimage to Medieval Greece.

SESSION 1G: Corinth  (Friday, Jan 7, 8:30 AM-11:30 AM)

“Showing Off for the Neighbors: Wealth and Display in Archaic Corinth” (Angela Ziskowski, Bryn Mawr College)

“The Archaic Temple in Roman Corinth: Civic Identity in the Capital of Achaia” (Ann Morgan, University of Texas at Austin)

“Pre-Roman Remains at the East End of the Forum of Corinth: Recent Findings” (Paul Scotton, California State University Long Beach)

“Urbanization and Roman Residential Architecture Southeast of the Forum at Corinth” (James Herbst, ASCSA Corinth Excavations)

“Further Notes on the South Stoa at Corinth: The Roman Interior Colonnade and the Monumental Entrance to the South Basilica” (David Scahill, University of Bath)

“The Captives Facade at Ancient Corinth” (Aileen Ajootian, University of Mississippi)

SESSION 2F: Greek Pottery (Friday, Jan. 7, 12:30-2:30 PM)

“Kraters and Drinking Practices in Hellenistic Corinth” (Sarah James, University of Texas at Austin)

SESSION 6H: Water Systems and Baths (Saturday, Jan. 8, 2:45-5:15 PM)

“Old Excavations and New Interpretations: Recent Investigations in the Sanctuary of Poseidon on the Isthmus of Corinth” (Jon Frey, Michigan State University, and Timothy Gregory, Ohio State University)

More Corinth in Contrast

On Monday I posted a general overview of the conference Corinth in Contrast and today I want to comment on a few of the specific papers that focused on material culture.  Defining which papers fit into the category of material culture is not straightforward.  Most of the papers, including those by New Testament scholars, made some use of archaeology, but not all the archaeologists (e.g., Sanders and myself) focused on archaeological evidence per se.  Moreover, some presenters (Ben Millis, Dan Schowalter, and Ron Stroud) focused on inscriptions that belong to overlapping evidence categories of text and material culture.  And even the explicitly archaeological papers did not focus on the normal stratigraphic grit of archaeological research.  A few highlights:

For the urban center, Sarah James gave an important paper (“The Last Corinthians? Society and Settlement from 146 BCE to the Roman Colony”) synthesizing the evidence for continuing settlement and society in the so-called interim period between the city’s destruction in 146 BC and refoundation as a Roman colony in 44 BC.  James discussed an enormous amount of evidence (adding up to half a metric ton of pottery!) suggesting that activities continued in the urban center in the late 2nd to early 1st centuries BC.  She presented a number of ceramic deposits showing evidence for imports and trade and production of ceramic crafts that indicates continuity with preexisting populations.  This paper, which draws on conclusions reached in her dissertation, will have significant ramifications for understanding the interim period in Corinth.  Start discontinuity, the blank slate, and the squatters are all going to have to go away.

Ben Millis was not physically present at the conference but he did make several appearances via Skype and in this capacity presented a paper on “The Local Magistrates and Elite of Roman Corinth.”  The paper complemented an earlier paper that he gave in 2007, recently published in Corinth in Context, by discussing the role of freedmen in promoting their commercial interests in the newfound colony.  In his talk, Millis discussed the origins and careers of Roman Corinth’s first elites whose names appear in inscriptions in the city.  Three distinct elite groups appear frequently: 1) Greek provincial elite, which formed the smallest elite group; 2) Romans, who were also a numerically small group but formed a more significant core of Corinthian elites; and 3) freedmen, who made up the largest group of the colony’s ruling class.  Millis suggested that the latter group clearly had the most potential for upward mobility, but that personal connections were important in achieving this mobility.  Freedmen who became part of the new local elite formed a very closed system that was nearly impossible to break into.  There were, in other words, social and economic impediments and requirements to office holding in the new colony.

Sarah Lepinski discussed the evidence from wall painting in the Roman city and considered the question of whether painting practices reflected Greek or Roman themes, styles, and tastes.  Her presentation highlighted the practices, tastes, and decorative programs that point strongly to western connections, especially during most of the first century after Christ.  However, her presentation also highlighted the complexities of such connections for in the later 1st century a break with western practices led to more localized decorative programs.

Bill Caraher gave a paper on the final day on the subject of the “The Ambivalent Landscape of Christian Corinth: The Archaeology of Place, Theology, and Politics in a Late Antique City.”  The paper provided a very useful overview of the “building boom” of the fifth and sixth centuries AD in the Corinthia that included monumental church architecture (e.g., Lechaion basilica), villa culture in the territory, and urban and trans-isthmus fortification walls.  Bill suggested that this building activity created a medium for various groups of the population to communicate theological messages and local expression.  His discussion of local “resistance” provided some interesting and lively audience feedback.

Ronald Stroud presented an interesting paper called the “Varieties of Inequality in Corinthian Magic and Ritual,” which examined the evidence for “black magic” at Corinth around 50 AD, especially the inscribed lead curse tablets found at the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore on the lower slopes of Acrocorinth.  Before official cult was reestablished in a Roman manner at the sanctuary, women were practicing nocturnal rites associated with a space connected to Kore, goddess of underworld.  Such practices blend the distinction between religion and magic.  This paper will be very interesting for those interested in the kinds of cults and religious practices that formed a backdrop to St. Paul’s mission in the city.

All of these papers will appear in expanded form (6,000-8,000 words) in a volume that should be published relatively quickly.