Channel of Corinth

The current channel of Corinth was almost preceded by a predecessor built by Emperor Nero, in one of his two attempts to win over Greece. Work on this channel, started four months before Nero’s violent death to promote navigation, was stopped after Nero’s death. There was a ship’s bridge over the Isthmos for centuries before Nero, with ships (after being unloaded) on a giant cart pulled by oxen on a (still visible) paved road, the Diolkos. The current Corinth Canal was dug in 1882-1893, and is one of the most important engineering works of the time. Currently it is mainly used for smaller cargo ships and for pleasure craft.


The ancient city of Corinth (Arkhaía Kórinthos), easily accessible via the Athens-Patras highway, lay at the foot of the so-called Akrokorinthos, the mountain top on which the practically impregnable citadel of Corinth lay in ancient times, and on which the Byzantines and Frankish crusaders later have built their ever-imposing fortress. Its location exactly between two seas has made the city an early node in trade between east and west, and is an explanation for its enormous prosperity and power in early antiquity. In the Mycenaean period, the city depended on the largest city on the Argolis, Mykene, but after its “re-establishment” by the Dorians, the city quickly flourished, and was already a trading nation among the oldest historical kings, the genus of the Bacchiaden.
Overcrowding has led to the founding of colonies in Syracuse and Kerkyra (Corfu), but the spread of early Corinthian pottery in almost all countries around the Mediterranean and the oldest known naval battle, that of Corinth against the rebellious Kerkyra, testify to the power of the city at sea. Halfway through the sixth century BC the last king of Corinth was pushed aside by the tyrant Kypselos, who managed to bring the city to greater prosperity, as well as his son Periander, who ruled it from 629 to 585 BC, a period in which many new colonies were founded on the shores of the Black Sea, and the Isthmian Games were established.

In the Persian wars, Corinth was a reliable ally of the anti-Persian camp, but the emergence of Athens as a trading nation has hampered the city in its commercial potential and driven into the arms of Sparta during the Peloponnesian wars. After the death of the Spartan General Lysander, Corinth joined his former enemies Athens and Argos against Sparta, but withdrew there at the shortest end, as well as (eventually) joining the Achaean League (after expelling the Makedonian garrison): in the disastrous war of the Achaeic League against the Romans, the Roman commander Mummius made it in 146 BC. the city rigorously razed to the ground, draining its remaining residents into slavery.

The place was deserted until Julius Caesar restored the city in 44 BC by housing thousands of Roman veterans. The city soon flourished, and various emperors adorned the city with new buildings, as did Herodes Atticus, making the Roman-Greek city one of the most beautiful in Greece. Severe earthquakes in the 6th century have led to the decline of Corinth (although the city suffered just as much from the plundering Herulians in 267 and the Goths in 395) and the plundering of the site for building material by the Franks (for the construction of the Akrokorinthos) have vanished much of its former glory. Important remains of the buildings of the Roman city remain, but only meager remains of the Greek city, although the imposing columns of the temple still impress the many visitors.


The temple shown on the right is known in archeology as Temple E. It was one of the most important temples of Roman Corinth, towering above the agora. The columns of the temple have very beautiful Corinthian capitals. The temple is probably dedicated to Octavia, the sister of Emperor Augustus. However, the discussion about this temple is not over yet, especially in view of the very rich decoration, which (together with the prime location) suggests a temple for Jupiter..

The archaeological park of Corinth houses the most important buildings around the ancient agora, the central square with the most representative buildings. Here is also the Corinthian museum, which contains many of the most beautiful finds from the excavations and is regularly expanded. Given the often excellent guides available from the city, only limited information will be given here. Of the buildings on the map on the left, the Odeion and the theater fall outside the archaeological park. They are therefore less accessible than the buildings discussed here.


The west side of the agora was filled with many smaller temples and other buildings. A few remains of the monuments discussed by Pausanias can still be found, in particular the Babbius monument, a round temple (?), Where possibly one or more classical Greek statues have stood (photos on the left). Note the use of Latin, a clear sign that Corinth was a Roman colony. The photo on the right shows a fragment of temple F (the text is usually supplemented to (VE) NERI, with which the temple must be dedicated to the goddess Venus. Below that is a fragment of a fountain, which was also built by Babbius The text CN BABBIVS PHILINVS NEPTVNO SACR makes it clear that the fountain was dedicated to Poseidon-Neptune Pausanias mentions that the fountain had a bronze statue of Poseidon, with a dolphin spouting water under its feet.


The sanctuary for Tychè, which according to Pausanias is also located on the west side, has been identified both with temple F (as Venus-Tychè) on the basis of the discovery of the head of Tychè (museum) near this temple, and with temple D depending on the walking direction of Pausanias S > N or N > S.

Impressive remains of the south stoa that closed off the agora (under photo 1) and mainly served as a shopping gallery; What is particularly striking here is a large apsidal room / room that is usually interpreted as bouleuterion (a council room, photo 2). The sanctuary for Artemis suggested by Pausanias is identified on the basis of a coin (left) with a small triple-space at the end of the south stoa. This shrine can only be recognized with difficulty (photo 3).

The north side of the agora gave access to the Lechaionweg, through a monumental gate. A coin (taken from Papachatzis) shows the gate as described by Pausanias, with on top two groups of statues, one of the sun god in his four-in-hand, and one of his son Phaethon in the four-man of the sun god. Next to it is the Prisoner of War facade (see the barbaric on the right) and next to it the covered shopping gallery of the north stoa. The image of Pallas Athena in the center is clearly visible on the reconstruction drawing; the great temple of Apollo towers above everything else.

The most important monument on the middle stoa is without a doubt the Bèma, the public gallery. From this bèma the magistrates spoke to the assembled people and from it the apostle Paul spoke to the Corinthians. As a result, a church was built on the site of the Bèma in the Middle Ages. In recent years, Corinth is busy making this monument more visible through a stronger reconstruction.


The Lechaionroad that ran from Corinth to Lechaion, one of its ports, is nowadays often the end point of a visit to Corinth. In the photo on the far left an overview of the marble-clad road, with left and right of the road originally standing again with shopping galleries. At the very end you can see the stairs that lead under the great triumphal gate of Corinth.
To the right of the Lechaionroad was one of the most luxurious fountains of Corinth, the Peirenefountain. The fountain was radically renovated from the Hellenistic period to the Roman period, as can be seen on both reconstructions on the left. The Roman version (probably built by Herodes Atticus just after Pausanias’ visit) has a huge facade with columns. To prevent damage to the monument, it is unfortunately no longer possible to enter the complex nowadays.

The holy court for Apollo is still a clearly visible complex, characterized by a peristyle (surrounded by colonnade) courtyard. It goes without saying that the paintings mentioned by Pausanias have disappeared, like all paintings. The baths of Eurykles, which Pausanias mentions immediately after, are currently no longer recognizable. The benefactor Eurykles from Sparta is also known from other sources as a very rich Spartan from the time of August and later.


The many images that Pausanias mentions along this way have of course also disappeared, which is an additional pity, since they could not do much more with it than melting it for bronze coins or devoid of whitewash (for marble statues).


The Apollo temple in Corinth is one of the few buildings that destroyed the destruction of Corinth in 146 BC. and have survived the reconstruction by Caesar. Festivals in honor of Apollo sometimes offered so many animals that the priests and the guests could not eat all of the meat. The rest was then sold cheaply at the market, which could be a problem especially for the Jewish-Christian congregation because the meat was “unclean.” Paul, who visited Corinth three times, judged that Christians could eat the meat unless the host where they were offered emphasized the origin.
What is striking about this archaic temple (the assignment to Apollo is purely based on the text of Pausanias), is that the columns here are carved in one piece, in contrast to the columns of all other Greek temples, which are composed of separate pieces as standard ( pillar drums)

In the classical and pre-classical period a sacred spring, which disappeared under the north stoa on the agora in Roman times, lay at the foot of the archaic Apollo temple. This is probably more about a sanctuary than a point for the water supply. In the oldest phases the whole consisted of a simple source house, which was later decorated with a show facade. In the third century BC. the source house was demolished with the rise of the living level, and the source was only accessible via stairs from the higher terrace. This staircase was closed with a metopen-and-triglyphic wall with a secret entrance through one of the metopen. There was an open area with altar and wooden stands in front of the well. The source was connected via a subterranean corridor to a much older sanctuary (“apsidal structure”) dating from the eighth century BC. The entire site was probably used for cult purposes. In the Roman period the sanctuary was no longer in use. A staircase led up to the Apollo temple.

Left: the metopen-and-triglyphic wall for the Holy Source; the stairs to the Apollo temple can just be seen. The apsidal building has disappeared under the north stoa. Below: The grounds of the Holy Source in the 4th century (left, with source house) and the 3rd century (right, without source house). Click to enlarge.

The Glaukè fountain in Corinth, according to Pausanias the source into which the unfortunate (and dying) princess of Corinth threw himself in the hope of being able to alleviate the horrible pain that emanated from her poison with which her wedding dress and diadem had been smeared by Medea. The myth that Pausanias alludes to is part of the cycle around Jason and the Argonauts. To qualify to inherit the throne of the Mykonian kingdom of Jolkos from his evil uncle Pelias (who had murdered the lawful king, his brother Aeson), Jason and a group of heroes must go get the “Golden Fleece” in the Black Sea . With the help of a local princess, Medea, who happens to be able to do magic, this succeeds: Jason returns to Jolkos, kills Pelias (with the help of Medea), and then flees with his brand new bride Medea to Corinth. Years later Jason wants to put her aside for his new love, Princess Glaukè. However, Medea kills the entire royal family of Corinth and flees to Athens. It is striking that precisely this detail, Glaukè who jumps into the water to counter the hellish pains, is not told in any of the preserved sources. This is probably due to a (lost) tragedy.

Theater and Odeion

The Odeion of Corinth, which was close to the theater, has been renovated several times. The first construction phase (constructed from sandstone or poros) dates from just after the Corinthian reconstruction. After a fire in the 2nd century AD. Herodes Atticus has restored the building and had it (partly) executed in marble. In this phase the theater and the Odeion were taken together by a promenade with colonnade on both sides. After a new fire (after Pausanias) in the beginning of the 3rd century, the Odeion was converted into an arena by chopping away the lower rows of seats.

The theater of Corinth in the time of Pausanias was a fairly normal performance of a Roman theater, as found in many important Roman cities. We see a theater building (skènè) in three floors, decorated with marble columns, several niches and very elaborate sculpture. Much of the sculpture can be seen in the Corinthian museum; the reliefs (red on the overview) show scenes from the struggle between the Greeks and the Amazons, those between the Gods and the Giants and the twelve works of Herakles, each on a separate floor (see below). The theater itself has unfortunately been poorly preserved; Just as with the Odeion, here too in later antiquity the theater was converted into an arena by cutting away the lower rows of the grandstand. In the time of Pausanias there will have been around 14,000 seats in the theater.


Interesting is the (fallen) inscription in which a certain Lucius Vibius Florus is honored who had acted as a comedy actor on many dozens of occasions; readable are victories in Corinth, in Sikyon, in Epidauros (click to enlarge). Perhaps even more interesting is the so-called ERASTVS inscription from Corinth. The text is as follows ERASTVS PRO AEDILIT(itate) S(ua) P(ecunia) STRAVIT, Erastus paid for the pavement out of his own pocket in exchange for his aedilship (an official position. An Erastus as a financial affairs officer in Corinth is known from the Bible (Rom. 16:23). He may have been elected aedile a short time later.

Outside the archaeological park

The various monuments outside the archaeological park deserve special mention. They are often touched on by Pausanias, but are more scattered throughout the current village. They are also often less accessible. Very interesting is the shrine of Asclepius on the outskirts of the Roman city, which forms a combination with a fountainhouse restaurant that Pausanias calls the “fountain of Lerna”. Little remains of the sanctuary than the trenches in which the foundations for the temple were embedded. Some fragments are kept on site, most of the finds have been moved to the Corinthian museum, which has dedicated a special room to this sanctuary. The remains of the well house, which in ancient times consisted of a garden with surrounding cover, dining rooms and (of course) the fountain itself, are uinteresting. Nice are (3) a sacrificial block where the believer could leave his money (photo right), (4) the “snake pits” where the sacred snakes of Asclepios had their burrows and (9) the dining rooms at the Lerna source (photo below) . The entire site around and beyond this complex was used as a burial ground in later antiquity and is therefore pocked with dozens of graves carved into the ground.

The sanctuary that dates back to the 4th century BC. was completely rebuilt after an earthquake, and when Caesar was restored by Corinth, it consists of a small prostyle temple with 4 columns and a cella for the statue of the gods. To the east of the temple lies the altar with sacrificial block, while in a separate room in the west (6 and 7) the sick took place, hoping for healing in a temple sleep. The two rectangular holes on both sides of the temple were probably used as living quarters for the sacred snakes of the deity. A large colonnade in the north served as a storage place for the many votive gifts given to the deity.

To the west of the temple was a lower peristyle courtyard next to the “source of Lerna.” Sources and fountains play a major role in all the shrines of Asklepios to cleanse the sick. In addition, there were three areas for eating and a bathhouse.

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