Corinthian Scholarship (February)

Here’s the latest in Corinthian-related scholarship published, presented, or released online in February.  These 13 articles, books, and studies represent about 7% of ca 175 studies that triggered Google Scholar alerts last month.  There are many, many “false positives” that have little to do with ancient or medieval Corinth, or make only passing and insignificant remarks about Corinth.


Roman and Late Antique

New Testament


Touring the Corinth Canal

As my next installment in this canal-themed week, I include below three of my favorite video tours of the Corinth Canal.  Each provides great glimpses of geological stratification, the remnants of low walls that are mostly eroding into the water, the rail and auto bridges,  the rise and fall of elevation, and the vegetation growing out of the rocks.  These are the tip of the iceberg for videos on the Corinthia — hundreds out there.

The first one offers beautiful high-definition shots…

The second video begins on the Saronic Gulf and moves westward in the direction of the Corinthian Gulf.

The final one begins in the Corinthian Gulf and moves eastward toward the Saronic Gulf.  This one condenses to a 4 minute video a journey that takes half an hour.

The Crazy Project – Canal Istanbul

Last spring Turkish news agencies covered  reports and rumors about a new canal proposed somewhere in the vicinity of Istanbul that would connect the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara.  The reports referred to the speech made by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in late April as part of his reelection as Prime Minister of Turkey.  As these reports made repeated reference to the Corinth Canal, along with other famous canals of the world, they triggered google alerts and filled up my inbox.  I set them aside for a later time.

A month or so ago, Seda Kundak and Mete Başar Baypınar, faculty specializing in urban risk assessment and regional planning at the Istanbul Technical University, published an article outlining what is known about the proposed project and assessing the risks involved in its implementation.  The piece is freely available here as a PDF, and makes for a very interesting read.

The article is interesting in many respects, but especially as it relates Erdogan’s “crazy idea” to various contexts.  It firstly relates this particular proposal to a pattern of great Turkish leaders recommending and even attempting to dig canals through Istanbul’s peninsula since Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s efforts in the 16th century.  Whereas previous 7 attempts were tied to specific economic purposes (serving the timber trade to Istanbul), this new Canal Istanbul Project, as the authors note (p. 53), is a much grander one, “not only because of its objectives, but also of the location choice, the financial model to be used in construction and because it provokes international maritime conventions.”  The proposal calls for a canal 50 km long, 150 m wide, and 25 m deep, to be completed in the year 2023.  But that is not the end of it.  The proposal also involves major regional transformations, including construction of a major airport, seaport, auto and rail bridges, residential centers for 700,000, and various other cultural, political, and economic facilities.  Kundak and Baypınar believe the canal will follow the course of the lakes about 40 km west of Bosphorous Strait (in the image below, the area just to right of the E80 marker in the south, extending northward in an arc to Durusu).  The authors note that the prime minister has linked such scale of investment to a destiny 400 years in the making (p. 54).


The piece also makes explicit the prime minister’s comparisons with the other world canals: “….this project, which cannot even be compared to those like The Panama Canal, The Suez Canal, or the Corinth Canal…” (p. 54).  And indeed, the useful table shown in thumbnail below (see p. 57 of article for detail) highlights the comparison of the Istanbul Canal with the world canals in terms of the number of vessels, the alternate route, the time saved in the distance, and the length, depth, and width.Canals comparedWhereas the Corinth canal is a little over 6 km long, 8 m deep, and 24 m wide, the proposed canal would be 8 times the length (50 km), 6 times the width (150 m), 3 times the depth (25 m).  The canal would allow the passage of vessels much greater than the maximum allowance of the Suez canal.  The scale of the proposed project were so great that the prime minister himself referred to it (p. 55) as a “great, crazy and magnificent project.”

Finally, the piece raises questions about the uncertainties and risks involved in such an endeavor.  Whereas Erdogan has linked the proposal to Turkey’s economic development and global role and the return of the Bosphorous Strait to a greater state of quietude and local traffic, the authors offer an assessment of the potential negative consequences on local habitats, vegetation, natural water sources, archaeological, sites, and cultural heritage (p. 58).  For example, how would different salinity levels between the two seas impact the local ecosystem and fish life?  There is also the great uncertainties of investment: will it reinforce or undermine Turkey’s economy?

The authors highlight two prevailing and contradictory popular attitudes toward the proposal:

“This is a crazy project which will create great shifts in Turkey by the means of rapid development” and “this is a crazy project which will overload of the city and destroy all natural sources of Istanbul”. (p. 62)

Although the authors have their own strong point to make with the article—they call for various institutions and international watchdogs to play a role in the planning—the piece fascinated me for its many direct parallels with canal construction in antiquity, most especially the explicit links between grandness and canal proposals, the uncertainties over consequences, the questions of motivations.  Whereas the Canal Istanbul Project is indeed much more impressive in its scale and linked to an economic and cultural system of an entirely different sort from antiquity, this “crazy idea” still points to the popular perception of monumental canal construction throughout time and space.  We will look forward to seeing whether this canal actually surfaces or whether the mere proposal was the point of it all.

Glider Flights over the Isthmus

The revolution of YouTube and video sharing has ushered in a whole new world of viewing the Corinthia.  Already hundreds of videos can be found online related to the site of ancient Corinth—too many, in fact, to be useful to a person interested in ancient Corinth.  I plan at some point to do a series of highlight posts that feature the most useful gems among the noise. 

The two videos below, which showed up in my Google Alerts this morning, provide low-altitude video footage of the Isthmus.  The first begins near the canal on the Corinthian Gulf, flies over Loutraki, then Mt. Gerania along the coastal road that leads to Perachora, and ends with a flight over the canal approaching the Saronic Gulf.  You cannot make out Isthmia in the video, but there are fantastic views of the Corinthian Gulf and Kalamaki Bay, a point of arrival for ancient visitors to Isthmia. 

Sweet glider video over the Isthmus

The second video shows a flight over the Corinth canal.  At the end of the video, as the glider approaches the Corinthian Gulf, you can see the path of the diolkos running through a clump of pine trees on the right side of the canal.  This is the inaccessible part of the diolkos through the Greek Military Engineers’ School ground.  You can also see the Peloponnesian section of diolkos on the left side of the canal. 

Direct flight over the Corinth Canal.

Corinthian Scholarship (November)

Hard to believe that December is already here – quite a lot of new scholarship delivered electronically in November. 

Bronze Age


New Testament:

Late Antiquity

Early Modern and Modern:



Some varied Corinthiaka to start off the week.

The western liturgical calendar flipped this weekend with the first Sunday of Advent.  Yesterday’s epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 appropriate describes the anticipation accentuated in the advent season. 

More on scholars and students of the New Testament setting the scene for understanding Paul’s Corinthian letters.  Mark Roberts at Patheos gives us a couple of interesting posts on unity and conflict in Paul’s church in Corinth:

After my posts about Rife’s work at Koutsongila last month, I found Katy Meyer’s blog, Bones Don’t Lie, and her recent entry (“Early Roman Chamber Tombs at Kenchreai, Greece”) discussing and responding to several articles by the Kenchreai Cemetery and Excavation Project group.  A couple of images there too.

It doesn’t get much better than a “Write a Caption Contest”.  This one asks to provide a caption for the Minerva cruise ship passing through the Corinth canal.  That canal gets so much press on the web.  My contribution wasn’t selected as one of the five finalists: “You think THIS is slow?  Try carting one of these overland by oxen!”

And speaking of the Corinth canal, this is a nice one from Light and Shadows.

A 16th century painting by Hans Holbein the Younger on the most famous courtesan linked to ancient Corinth. 


IMG_2456 (CM)

“Beachrock” at the western entrance to the Corinth canal, covering the loading platform of the diolkos road.  The authors of the Lechaion tsunami theory (discussed yesterday) have suggested this rock represents “calcified tsunamigenic deposit” caused by a tsunami sometime after the first century AD (Hadler et al. 2011, p. 72).  The beachrock runs 300 m inland in this area.  Photo D. Pettegrew, June 1, 2011.

IMG_2471 (CM)

Another image of the beachrock at the entrance to the Corinth Canal (facing north toward the Corinthian Gulf).  Photo D. Pettegrew, June 1, 2011.

Antiquities in the Trash

Earlier this week, Facebook friends were circulating and commenting on an article in the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini about the ruin of Greek monuments and sites.  In the critical essay, “Greece’s Debt Mirrors Crisis in Cultural Assets,” A. Craig Copetas argues that Greece’s inability to protect and preserve its most important antiquities not only reflects current political problems but is itself caused by the politicization of the country’s material remains and an undeveloped cultural resource management program.  The opening lines from the piece:

“Plato doesn’t live here anymore.

A pack of feral cats chases the rodents that run past the Gypsy squatters who inhabit the bleak 32-acre Athens park that masks the birthplace of Western civilization. Alexandros Stanas says what’s interred beneath the debris illustrates both a solution to Greece’s 345 billion euro ($473 billion) sovereign debt crisis and why his country roils in catastrophe.

“Economics, politics, philosophy, everything that empowers our reasoning and ability to solve today’s problems was born here at Plato’s Academy,” says Stanas, a former management consultant at the Greek Ministry of Culture and Tourism who is now general director of the Art-Athina International Contemporary Art Fair.

“This is the original holy ground,” Stanas says, walking across the garbage that covers the buried foundation of the 387 BC intellectual incubator. “This is what we Greeks have allowed to happen to our ultimate metaphor for excellence.”

Stanas, 40, says that Plato’s Academy, discovered by a private archaeologist in the late 1920s, is one of hundreds of forlorn historic sites and destitute museums that generations of Greek politicians of all persuasions have failed to turn into attractions with the marketing clout of Versailles, the academic distinction of Harvard University or the influential draw of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.”

Copetas paints a dire picture of Greece’s ruins amidst an “escalating crisis”: Athens, a dump for tourists, drug addicts frightening tourists at the National Archaeology Musuem, rats at Plato’s academy, political rats in office. 

As one friend commented on the article in FB, there is nothing surprising about the entanglement of a country’s archaeological and cultural resource management programs in political and administrative bureaucratic mire—that occurs everywhere.  What is distinct, rather, is the degree of political mining of the material past for the purposes of election to office and the subsequent disregard for programs of cultural management.  Besides this rampant corruption, Copetas also draws attention to the country’s stagnant and uncreative management of its cultural heritage:

“Even the critically acclaimed New Acropolis Museum, which opened in 2009, after 33 years of ideological bickering, lingers as a target. Greek Communist Party Secretary General Aleka Papariga and the Greek Archaeologists Society have issued statements that condemn the 130 million euro facility co-funded by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and by the EU’s European Regional Development Fund as “unacceptable” and “in danger from the most extreme privatization.”

“Neither political party has the will or expertise to manage culture,” he says. “Government culture experts live in a bunker and view any outside help to manage our treasures and make them profitable as a threat to their livelihoods.”

Conventional wisdom dictates that cultural entrepreneurs not affiliated with either of the two main political parties are determined to Disneyfy Greece, Firos says, turning the country into a theme park with water slides on the Acropolis and a roller coaster down Mount Athos. As Geroulanos says, “I will tell anyone who wants to Disneyfy my country to go to hell.”

In the Corinthia, this inadequate management of cultural resources has led to the disintegration of the diolkos road, documented extensively by Sofia Loverdou and discussed in this previous post.  While Sofia has raised awareness of the physical deterioration of the road, the future of that monument seems bleak in this cultural climate.  A radical restart is needed. 

And it is unfortunate since the Corinth Canal, the (ironic) cause of the ancient road’s deterioriation, regularly generates income of public and private kind on a steady stream of traffic of vacationers and tourists, SUPers, party boaters, bungee jumpers, and extreme sports enthusiasts.  If the canal is already a source of money, then why do the ancient monuments benefit so little?