University of Patras Marine Geology

Oceanus, the website dedicated to the Network of Laboratories of the University of Patras, has posted information relevant to a geological fieldtrip to the Corinthia.  The pages have maps and brief summaries of geological processes influencing different parts of the Corinthian and Saronic coastlines, including the harbor sites of Kenchreai and Lechaion and the diolkos, the marine terraces near the Corinth Canal and Corinth, and Perachora marine terraces and wave notches (coming soon).

Another Article on the Diolkos

Back in January, I noted another new article on the diolkos of Corinth by Yannis Nakas and D. Koutsoumba forthcoming in the Loutraki volume (more on this soon).  Since then, I’ve been in contact with Yannis Nakas about the piece and his ideas about the diolkos.  Yannis is a maritime archaeologist in Greece and also a professional illustrator; any archaeologist needing someone to illustrate artifacts or Greek sites may want to look at this outstanding portfolio.

Yannis kindly wrote up a fuller version of his abstract in English, which I include below.  Like my recent piece on the diolkos and Hans Lohmann’s forthcoming article, Nakas and Koutsoumba critically reassess the traditional interpretation of the diolkos as a major slipway for moving ships overland.  They suggest that ships, when moved during episodes of war, could more easily have been transferred over the Isthmus via wooden beams, and that no commercial ship owner in his right mind would have transferred his vessel over the ridge.  Interestingly, they also observe / suggest that the Sector A “platform” relates not to the diolkos road but to Nero’s canal—and is, consequently, Roman in date.  Finally, they conclude, as Lohmann does, that the portage road excavated by Verdelis did not run all the way across the Isthmus!  These three articles together should contribute to new views of the dating and use of the diolkos road in antiquity—and consequently, the commercial economy of ancient Corinth.

So, here’s the extended and enriched abstract of the article “The Diolkos: a significant technical achievement of antiquity” (International Archaeological Conference. Corinthia and the Northeast Peloponnesus: Topography and History from Prehistoric Times until the End of Antiquity”, Loutraki 26-29 March 2009 (under publication) by D. Koutsoumba and Y. Nakas:

For more than a century, the diolkos of Corinth has intrigued scholars and public with the quality of its construction and its function as a unique slipway for the transportation of ships. Certain attributes, however, of the diolkos have received minimum attention from scholars and can shed light on questions concerning the monument’s initial function and use. Here are some of them:

The actual diolkos seems to have covered only part of the Isthmus. No remains of any stone-paved road have been located beyond the Isthmus’ west coast, even when the area was still free of modern structures. Apparently a stone paving was applied only on the parts of the road where the soil was soft and unstable, such as the Isthmus’ west and east coast; the diolkos must have continued as a simple stepped earth road across the central limestone ridge of the Isthmus.

Secondly, the preserved parts of the diolkos belong to at least three different phases of construction. The main part of the road appears to have been built more or less in the same period, sometime before the early 5th century BC, as a Doric capital in secondary use suggests. The west end of the road (today disappearing into the canal), constructed with impressive ashlar blocks set in regular rows is of different construction style but its dating is uncertain. The Π-shaped loading platform also belongs to another phase and could date to the early 4thcentury BC. Finally, the west end of the diolkos structure, a simple paved platform (its inclination is probably caused by the modern canal cut at its edge), is of totally different construction style, indicating a working area, possibly the only surviving remain of Nero’s works (Nero’s canal followed exactly the same course as the modern one).

Another noticeable element is the blocking of the main part of the road by two series of rough blocks (inside the modern Engineers’ Corps School), deliberately placed on the course of the main wheel tracks. It is unknown when this task took place and by whom. The existence of multiple wheel tracks on top of the blocking indicates that the road remained in use for a long time after that. A final element is the possible existence of two stepped earth roads on each side of the diolkos, as reported by the only excavator of the diolkos, N. Verdelis.

The diolkos was beyond doubt a highly sophisticated and elaborate work of craftsmanship of ancient Greece. It was repaired and expanded, due to its continuous use and also possibly incapacitated at one time. What was, however, its original function? Although the hauling of galleys over the Isthmus was a rather common practice during wartime, nothing similar is actually attested for merchantmen, whose transportation on wheels or sledges (both techniques feasible in ancient Greece) would require a disproportionate amount of money compared to the actual cost of the ship and its cargo, not to mention the cargo losses and the ship’s necessary repairs afterward. Nevertheless, the diolkos was worn out by extensive use, as indicated by the deep and multiple wheel marks on it. The Corinthian-controlled ferrying of great and heavy cargoes between both sides of the Isthmus would not only explain the use of the road but would also justify its initial construction.

It remains a mystery why the stone-paved diolkos was completely forgotten by the time of Pausanias or why it never reached any written source of the Greco-Roman antiquity. Was it so mundane a thing not of interest to ancient authors? Was it only used for a few years after its construction and then fell into disrepair and disappeared? Furthermore, who built it and when? Can we rule out totally its use for ferrying ships, or was it actually a slip-way operating only in special occasions? These questions remain unanswered and only further research and excavation at the area might provide some answers in the future.

Ancient Corinth: 2011 Publications

I finally had time this week to gather together the 2011 publications for various aspects of Corinth’s history.  The first installment today includes about 3 dozen publications related to the history and archaeology of Corinth in antiquity, i.e., from the Bronze Age to Late Antiquity.  I will follow the rest of the week with sections on Medieval-Modern, Geology and Environment, and New Testament & Early Christian Studies.

As in my 2010 year in review, I created this list from Google alerts and Worldcat.  Since neither of these is comprehensive, I do not claim that this list is exhaustive.  Nonetheless, it is probably a fair representation of the materials published in the last year.  The list focuses on academic publications (books, articles, and dissertations) that relate directly to the archaeology and history of the Corinthia, or refer frequently to Corinth.  It excludes conference papers, master’s theses, historical fiction, and general works that indirectly touch on Corinth (i.e., some of the material that I do usually include in Corinthian Scholarship (monthly)).

If you published on material in 2011 that is relevant to the list, please send my way along with links if available.  The updated list will live permanently here.

Thanks to Messiah College Historymajor Amanda Mylin for help in putting this together.

Bronze Age

Tartaron, Thomas F., Daniel J. Pullen, Richard K. Dunn, Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory, Amy Dill, Joseph I. Boyce, “The Saronic Harbors Archaeological Research Project (SHARP): Investigations at Mycenaean Kalamianos, 2007-2009,” in Hesperia 80.4 (2011), 559-634.

Weiberg, Erika, “The invisible dead : The case of the Argolid and Corinthia during the Early Bronze Age,” in Helen Cavanagh, William Cavanagh and James Roy (eds.),Honouring the Dead in the Peloponnese: Proceedings of the conference held at Sparta 23-25 April 2009, CSPS Online Publication 2 prepared by Sam Farnham, 2011, pp. 781-796.

Geometric to Hellenistic

Athanassaki, L., and E. Bowie (eds.), Archaic and Classical Choral Song: Performance, Politics and Dissemination(de Gruyter 2011)

Barone, G., P. Mazzoleni, E. Aquilia, V. Crupi, F. Longo, D. Majolino, V. Venuti, and G. Spagnolo, “Potentiality of non-destructive XRF analysis for the determination of Corinthian B amphorae provenance,” in X-Ray Spectrometry40.5 (2011), 333-337.

Burnett, Anne Pippin, ”Servants of Peitho: Pindar fr.122 S“, GRBS 51 (2011).

Coldstream, N., Greek Geometric Pottery. Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Great Britain, Fascicule 25; The British Museum, Fascicule 11. London:  British Museum, 2010. (BMCR review here).

Dawson, A., “Seeing Dead People: A Study of the Cypselids,” Australian Society for Classical Studies, Selected Papers from the 32nd Annual Conference, 2011 (PDF)

Dubbini, Rachele, Dei nello spazio degli uomini : i culti dell’agora e la costruzione di Corinto arcaica, Rome 2011: L’Erma di Bretschneider.

Foley, Brendan P.,Maria C. Hansson, Dimitris P. Kourkoumelis, Theotokis A. Theodoulou, “Aspects of ancient Greek trade re-evaluated with amphora DNA evidence,” in Journal of Archaeological Science 39.2 (2012), 389-398.

Gassner, Verena, “Amphorae Production of the Ionic‐Adriatic Region,” in FACEM (version 06/06/2011).

Greene, Elizabeth S., Justin Leidwanger, and Harun A. Özdaş, “Two Early Archaic Shipwrecks at Kekova Adası and Kepçe Burnu, Turkey,” in IJNA40.1 (2011), 60-68.

Howan, V., “Three Fleets or Two,” in Australian Society for Classical Studies, Selected Papers from the 32nd Annual Conference, 2011 (on the Corinthian War)

Krystalli-Vosti, Kalliopi, and Erik Østby, “The Temples of Apollo at Sikyon,” in Bolletino di Archeologia On Line 2011.

Leenen, M., “The Evolution of Roman Diplomatic Interaction with the Achaean League, 200-146 B.C.E.,” in Australian Society for Classical Studies, Selected Papers from the 32nd Annual Conference, 2011 (PDF)

Mannino, M.R., and S. Orecchio, “Chemical characterization of ancient potteries from Himera and Pestavecchia necropolis (Sicily, Italy) by Inductively Coupled Plasma-Optical Emission Spectrometry (ICP-OES),” in Microchemical Journal97.2 (2011), 165-172.

McPhee, Ian D., and Elizabeth G. Pemberton, Corinth VII.6. Late Classical Pottery from Ancient Corinth: Drain 1971-1 in the Forum Southwest, Princeton 2011? (in production): American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Morgan, C., “Isthmia and beyond. How can quantification help the analysis of EIA sanctuary deposits?,” in Samuel Verdan, Thierry Theurillat and Anne Kenzelmann Pfyffer (eds.), Early Iron Age Pottery: A Quantitative Approach. Proceedings of the International Round Table organized by the Swiss School of Archaeology in Greece (Athens, November 28-30, 2008), BAR International Series 2254 (2011), 11-18.

Pettegrew, David K., “The Diolkos of Corinth,” AJA 115.4 (2011), pp. 549-574. Images here.

Rhodes, Robin, “The Woodwork of the Seven Century Temple on Temple Hill in Corinth,” in Alexander von Kienlin (ed.), Holztragwerke der Antike : Internazionale Konferenz 30. März – 1. April 2007 in München, Byzas Vol. 11, Istanbul 2011: German Archaeological Institute.

Robinson, Betsey, Histories of Peirene: A Corinthian Fountain in Three Millennia, Princeton 2011: American School of Classical Studies at Athens. (Reviews at Corinithianmatters and the New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World)

Tsiafakis, Despoina, “The Ancient Settlement at Karabournaki: the Results of the Corinthian and Corinthian Type Pottery Analysis,” in Bolletino di Archeologia On Line 2011.

Roman Corinth

Flament, C., and P. Marchetti, Le monnayage argien d’époque romaine: d’Hadrien à Gallien, Athens 2011: French School of Athens.

Frangoulidis, Stavros, “From impulsiveness to self-restraint: Lucius’ stance in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses,” Trends in Classics3.1 (2011), pp. 113–125

Friesen, Steven J., Daniel N. Schowalter and James C. Walters, Corinth in context: comparative studies on religion and society, Supplements to Novum Testamentum vol. 134, Leiden 2010: E. J. Brill. Reviews at Journal of Roman Archaeology (Dennis E. Smith), Journal of Theological Studies (David Horrell), Religious Studies Review (Richard S. Ascough), and The Expository Times(Jane Heath).

Melfi, Milena, “Uestigiis reuolsorum donorum, tum donis diues erat (Livy XLV, 28): the Early Roman Presence in the Asklepieia of Greece,” in Bolletino di Archaeologia On Line 2011

Palinkas, Jennifer, and James A. Herbst, “A Roman Road Southeast of the Forum at Corinth: Technology and Urban Development,” in Hesperia80 (2011), 287-336.

Papaioannou, Maria, “East Meets West: the Pottery Evidence from Abdera,” in Bolletino di Archaeologia On Line 2011

Pettegrew, David K., “The Diolkos of Corinth,” AJA 115.4 (2011), pp. 549-574. Images here.

Quercia, A., A. Johnston, A. Bevan, J. Conolly and A. Tsaravopoulos, “Roman Pottery from an Intensive Survey of Antikythera, Greece,” in Annual of British School at Athens106 (2011).

Robinson, Betsey, Histories of Peirene: A Corinthian Fountain in Three Millennia, Princeton 2011: American School of Classical Studies at Athens. (Reviews at Corinithianmatters and the New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World)

Spaeth, Barbette Stanley, “Imperial Cult in Roman Corinth: a Response to Karl Galinsky’s ‘The Cult of the Roman Emperor: Uniter or Divider?,’” in J. Brodd and J.L. Reed (eds.), Rome and Religion: A Cross-disciplinary Dialogue on the Imperial Cult, Atlanta 2011, 61-82: Society of Biblical Literature.

Stover, Tim, “Unexampled Exemplarity: Medea in the Argonautica of Valerius Flaccus,” Transactions of the American Philological Association141.1 (2011).

Tilg, Stefan, “Religious Feasting in Apuleius’s Metamorphoses: Appetite for Change?,” in
Transactions of the American Philological Association 141.2 (2011), 387-400.

Ubelaker, D.H., and J.L. Rife, “Skeletal analysis and mortuary practice in an Early Roman chamber tomb at Kenchreai, Greece,” in International Journal of Osteoarchaeology21.1 (2011), 1-18.

Late Antiquity

Brown, Amelia R., “Banditry or Catastrophe?: History, Archaeology, and Barbarian Raids on Roman Greece,” in R.W. Mathisen & D. Shanzer, eds., Romans, Barbarians, and the Transformation of the Roman World: Cultural Interaction and the Creation of Identity in Late Antiquity, Farnham 2011: Ashgate, pp. 79-96.

Cherf, William J., “Procopius De aedificiis 4.2.1–22 on the Thermopylae Frontier,” in Byzantinische Zeitschrift 104.1 (2011), 71–113.

Curta, Florin, “Still Waiting for the Barbarians?  The Making of the Slavs in ‘Dark-Age’ Greece,” in F. Curta (ed.), Neglected Barbarians, Turnhout Brepols Publishers: 2010, published online November 2011.

Friesen, Steven J., Daniel N. Schowalter and James C. Walters, Corinth in context: comparative studies on religion and society, Supplements to Novum Testamentum vol. 134, Leiden 2010: E. J. Brill. Reviews at Journal of Roman Archaeology (Dennis E. Smith), Journal of Theological Studies (David Horrell), Religious Studies Review (Richard S. Ascough), and The Expository Times(Jane Heath).

Hadler, Hanna, Andreas Vött, Benjamin Koster, Margret Mathes-Schmidt, Torsten Mattern, Konstantin Ntageretzis, Klaus Reicherter, Dimitris Sakellariou, Timo Willershäuser, “Lechaion, the Ancient Harbour of Corinth (Peloponnese, Greece) destroyed by Tsunamigenic Impact,” pp. 70-73.   [Article reviewed at Corinthian Matters]

Quercia, A., A. Johnston, A. Bevan, J. Conolly and A. Tsaravopoulos, “Roman Pottery from an Intensive Survey of Antikythera, Greece,” in Annual of British School at Athens106 (2011).

Robinson, Betsey, Histories of Peirene: A Corinthian Fountain in Three Millennia, Princeton 2011: American School of Classical Studies at Athens. (Reviews at Corinithianmatters and the New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World)

The Diolkos: A Significant Technical Achievement of Antiquity

I wish I had attended that Corinthia Loutraki conference in 2007.  I continue to discover interesting paper titles and abstracts in the forthcoming publication.  I noted previously Hans Lohman’s “Der Diolkos von Korinth — eine antike Schiffsschleppe?.”  And now I learned of another paper on the diolkos titled “The Diolkos: A Significant Technical Achievement of Antiquity.”  The piece by Giannis Nakas and D. Koutsoumba is forthcoming in the Loutraki volume.  Here’s the abstract:

“The ancient stone-paved road, located around the west end of the Isthmus of Corinth has been firmly and widely identified already from the end of the 19th century with the ancient diolkos, a road especially made for the transportation of ships over the Isthmus, which was built by the tyrant Periander (6th century BC). However, a more thorough study of the ancient sources and the archaeological remains shows that it is unclear whether the diolkos was used for the transportation of ships or for the transportation of heavy cargoes or even if it was ever completed as a technical work. Furthermore, there are doubts concerning its dating, which varies between the 6th and the 4th centuries BC. In any case, the diolkos is one of the most important technical achievements of Ancient Greece, a masterpiece of engineering and a unique public work of archaic and classical Greece. Its preservation and further study is essential for our understanding of ancient technology and craftsmanship.”

Back in 2009, the ASCSA uploaded a program of the conference here, and abstracts here.

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.


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.

Corinthian Scholarship (October)

Bronze Age



New Testament

Geology, Geomorphology, and Environment in the Corinthia and Gulf of Corinth

  • Panayotis Papadimitriou, George Kaviris, Andreas Karakonstantis & Kostas Makropoulos, “The Cornet seismological network: 10 years of operation, recorded seismicity and significant applications” in Hellenic Journal of Geoscience
  • C. Grützner, T. Fernández Steeger, I. Papanikolaou, K. Reicherter, P.G. Silva, R. Pérez-López, and A. Vött (editors), Earthquake Geology and Archaeology: Science, Society and Critical Facilities, Athens 2011.  These short articles feature the research presented in late September at the Second International Workshop on Active Tectonics, Earthquake Geology, Archaeology and Engineering 19th-24th September 2011.  Articles that may be of interest to readers interested in the ancient Corinthia and Gulf of Corinth:
    • Gielisch, Hartwig, “Acrocorinth – Geological History and the Influence of Paleoseismic Events to Recent Archaeological Research,” pp. 57-59.
    • Hadler, Hanna, Andreas Vött, Benjamin Koster, Margret Mathes-Schmidt, Torsten Mattern, Konstantin Ntageretzis, Klaus Reicherter, Dimitris Sakellariou, Timo Willershäuser, “Lechaion, the Ancient Harbour of Corinth (Peloponnese, Greece) destroyed by Tsunamigenic Impact,” pp. 70-73. 
    • Koster, Benjamin, Klaus Reicherter, Andreas Vött, Christoph Grützner, “The Evidence of Tsunamigenic Deposits in the Gulf of Corinth (Greece) with Geophysical Methods for Spatial Distribution,” pp. 107-110.
    • Nomikou, P., M. Alexandri, V. Lykousis, D. Sakellariou, and D. Ballas, “Swath Bathymetry and Morphological Slope Analysis of the Corinth Gulf,” pp. 155-158.
    • Papanikolaοu, Ioannis D., Maria Triantaphyllou, Aggelos Pallikarakis, and Georgios Migiros, “Active Faulting towards the Eastern Tip of the Corinth Canal: Studied through Surface Observations, Borehold Data and Paleoenvironmental Interpretations,” pp. 182-185.
    • Sakellariou, Dimitris, Lykousis Vasilis, and Rousakis Grigoris, “Holocene Seafloor Faulting in the Gulf of Corinth: The Potential for Underwater Paleoseismology,” pp. 218-221.
    • Valkaniotis, Sotiris, George Papathanassiou, and Spyros Pavlides, “Active Faulting and Earthquake-Induced Slope Failures in Archaeological Sites: Case Study of Delphi, Greece,” pp. 255-258. Also available here.
    • Vött, Andreas, Peter Fischer, Hanna Hadler, Mathias Handl, Franziska Lang, Konstantin Ntageretzis, and T. Willershäuser, “Sedimentary Burial of Ancient Olympia (Peloponnese, Greece) by High-Energy Flood Deposits – the Olympia Tsunami Hypothesis,” pp. 259-262.
    • Wiatr, Thomas, Klaus Reicherter, Ioannis D. Papanikolaοu,  & Tomás Fernández-Steeger, “The Discontinuity of a Continuous Fault: Delphi (Greece),” pp. 276-279.

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? 

Niketas Ooryphas Strikes Again

This last weekend, I had a chance to go to Chicago, see some old friends, and participate in the Byzantine Studies Conference.  I heard some excellent papers at the BSC including one on the monastic clothing in Byzantium, the historical and linguistic bases for Catholic and Orthodox conflict (with the hope for better modern dialogue), mathematics in Byzantium, a new theory on the theme system, and an iconoclastic paper redating the Arab conquest of Syria.  Diana Wright, fellow blogger at Surprised by Time, gave an excellent presentation about the throne room in Mistra, arguing convincingly from documentary and archaeological evidence for a Venetian commission and production. 

In my own paper, I gave the 9th century Byzantine admiral, Niketas Ooryphas, another spin.  If you followed this blog back in January, I ran a series of posts on Niketas (I, II, III, and IV) based on a paper written for the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America.  In that paper, I tried to separate Niketas from the other known porters of ships over the Corinthian Isthmus in the Greek and Roman world.  I was trying in that paper to problematize the conventional interpretation of the diolkos as a kind of less efficient “ship canal” of the premodern world.  On the other hand, in this paper written for Byzantinists, titled “Basil’s Thunderbolt: Niketas Ooryphas and the Portage of the Corinthian Isthmus,” I strayed from the diolkos and tried to place the legend of Niketas portaging the Isthmus into its Byzantine literary and historical environment.

Niketas is a heroic figure in the Life of Basil who knows devices and tricks like no other.  The best example is the portage over the Isthmus.  But he is also a most troublesome figure of Byzantine history because he punishes his enemies in awful ways by, for example, flaying them alive and dipping them into boiling pitch.  Because the narrator relates these punishments to religious faith (both Christian Orthodox vs. Muslim, and Christian Orthodox vs. Christian apostates), Niketas represents a kind of inverse of the accounts of the martyrdoms of Christians by emperors and provincial governors in the 3rd and early 4th century. 

Madrid Skylitzes_Niketas

Part of an illustration from the Madrid manuscript of John Skylitzes’ Synopsis of History showing Niketas Oorpyhas casting judgments on Christian apostates. 

One rewarding discovery of my research is recognizing that much of what we know about Niketas is legendary.  The portage of the Isthmus is entirely a legend, and I do not doubt that the horrific punishments themselves have been invented to make the Emperor Basil appear mightier than he was.  I hope to demonstrate this by developing the piece into a little article in the future. 

In the meantime, here’s the web version of the BSC paper, stripped of its notes.

The Diolkos Petition

It’s not hard to construct narratives of decline for the paved trans-Isthmus diolkos road.  One only has to compare the monument unearthed by N. Verdelis 50 years ago with modern photos of a road sliding into the canal.  Indeed, Sophia Loverdou has used the tools of social media to launch a “Save the Diolkos” campaign.  She has documented the deterioration of the road by posting dozens of “before” and “after” images of the road since its excavation (see this Facebook page), and marked the ongoing consequences of continuous canal traffic through this Youtube channel

The differences in the before and after photos really are impressive. The following images come from the Facebook page.  The platform at Sector A, for example, has deteriorated significantly even in the last twenty years. 

Platform (sector A)

About a third of the road excavated (Sectors B-E) on the Peloponnesian side of the canal has slipped into the canal.  I imagine, however, that Sector B is preserved under the sand in the image on the right.

Another glimpse of the part of the road (Sectors C-D) that has fared the worst:

sectors C-D to E

And even the part of the road frequently visited by tourists (Sector G) has largely slipped into the canal. 

sector G

As a scholar of Late Antiquity, I’m naturally wary of straightforward narratives of decline.  Indeed, I was struck by Ferrell Jenkins’ post on the diolkos in early July, which includes his scanned slides from the early 1970s that show the upkeep of the road then was actually a bit worse than it is today (even if its overall preservation was better).  The road is covered not only in vegetation (fairly normal of most Greek sites in late spring / early summer) but also in earth.  There has also been some effort in recent years to keep things from getting worse.  The following images capture some basic techniques (mortar and cement) to prevent the soil under Sector G from eroding further into the canal.




These efforts have been partial, however, and are not likely to match the rate of deterioration.  Indeed, it’s the deterioration of the road, caused by episodes of dredging and constant ship traffic, that is the striking and dramatic story here.  While Greece’s crisis of economy may make a fix unlikely anytime soon there’s still good reason to join the campaign to save the road.  This petition letter, which is addressed to the prime minister of Greece, simply runs:

“We declare ourselves against the mentalities and practices that lead to the destruction of the world’s heritage and we ask the Greek Prime Minister to exercise his authority so that, without any further delays and hypocrisy, the Diolkos is finally saved and restored.”

Nearly 7,800 people have signed it so far.  Join the cause by signing here.  I’ve created a permanent place for the petition and these links here.