Report on the 2003 Study Season

Projects at Isthmia this year extended from February through August with a focus on conservation of the site, preparation for renewal of the displays in the Isthmia Museum, and study for the final publications. Notable discoveries include indications for the use of a crane/hoist in the Archaic Temple and evidence for food preparation (cooking vessels and grinders) and thus probably dining in the Hiera Nape (Sacred Glen) where dedications of the 4th century B.C. point to a shrine of Demeter. In Late Antiquity final dismantling of the Palaimonion seems to have been completed almost a century after construction was begun in the early 5th century on the Hexamilion Fortress and Wall across the Isthmus.

Staff: Elizabeth Gebhard (director), Fritz Hemans (field director and architect; Archaic Temple), Martha Risser (pottery ca. 550-300 B.C.), John Hayes (pottery, ca. 300 B.C. to the 4th century A.D), Alastar Jackson (arms and armor), Ivan Gotsov (worked stone), Chris Hayward (stone identification), David Reese (faunal remains), Stella Bouzaki (conservator), Jean Perras (site manager and archivist), Jonathon Stevens, Chloe Wardropper, and Jessica Gebhard. Consolidation of the site and preparation of materials for museum displays were carried on jointly with Alexander Mantis and Panaiyota Kassimi of the Fourth Ephoreia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities.

Archaic Temple: F. Hemans, J. Stevens

Oscar Broneer interpreted lines of post holes cut into bedrock in the area of the Archaic Temple as receiving scaffolding for construction of the temple (Isthmia I, 7-11). Further analysis of the diameter, spacing and position relative to the walls of the temple makes it clear that they were not used for scaffolding but probably to help support cranes/hoists that were used to lift wall blocks into place. The idea finds support from the leveling of bedrock over an area three times the size of the structure. Such a space would have been used for delivery of stone and the operation of hoists.
Cleaning operations uncovered a shallow, right-angled cutting that appears to be a bedding for piers placed against the walls at the northwest corner of the cella. Thus, with two points accurately placed, the north wall can be restored with confidence.

Later Archaic, Classical and Early Hellenistic pottery: M. Risser

Visual examination of cooking wares led to the identification of nine fabrics that are similar to 4th century and Hellenistic wares from the Rachi Settlement but with fewer and smaller inclusions and a smoother surface.
The greatest concentrations belong to the 4th century B.C. in the area of dining caves above the theater and in a region west of the main temenos that has yielded dedications to Demeter. The similarity of shapes and date with cooking wares from the Rachi supports Virginia Anderson-Stojanovic’s suggestion that, with establishment of the settlement, an early shrine to Demeter on the Rachi was moved down to the Sanctuary of Poseidon. Dining would have played a prominent role in the cult, as it did in the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore in Corinth, where similar cooking wares have been found. Oscar Broneer (Isthmia II, 113-16) identified the area where the dedications were found with the Hiera Nape (Sacred Glen) mentioned as receiving a Temple of Demeter in the 2nd century A.D. (IG IV.203.15-16).
For the period ca. 550-450 B.C. deposits with dining materials from the Sanctuary of Poseidon yielded fewer cooking wares in comparison to fine drinking vessels.

Late Hellenistic and Roman Pottery: J. Hayes

Figure 1. Double-nozzled lamp, in fragments

An unusual oversize two-nozzled lamp was re-constructed from pieces previously unrelated, two of which appear in Isthmia III, nos. 2337, 2338 (Figure 1). The ware seems closest to that of a Late Republican class noted in South Italy and Rome (Dressel’s lamp type 1), and its long nozzles suggest a date around 120-70 B.C. Such a lamp implies other than everyday use, and may be evidence for minor cult activity during the pre-Roman abandonment period.
Checking of catalogue entries and drawings and adding new drawings occupied much of the time this season.

Arms and Armor: A. Jackson

Study focused on helmet fragments with perforated rims, weapons from the Rachi (with Virginia Anderson-Stojanovic), and iron weapons (with conservator Stella Bouzakis). A second season in the Autumn will be devoted to limb armor and work on the inventory.

Rachi Settlement: V. Anderson-Stojanovic

New research suggested that production of surplus oil in the settlement was linked to the endowment of oil for Isthmian athletes at the games. Description of the physical remains was completed. Fritz Hemans and Jonathon Stevens brought to final form twenty-two drawings of the site.

Palaimonion: E. Gebhard

Detailed analysis of the masonry makes it likely that the South Building is contemporary with the enlargement of the shrine in Phase V (ca. AD 161/168) instead of being an earlier addition: Phase IV in O. Broneer, Isthmia II, 104-06.
The significant number of sherds and coins in destruction deposits belonging to the late 5th and 6th centuries points to completion of the dismantling of the shrine some time after construction of the trans-Isthmian wall, which is currently placed in the second decade of the 5th century (T. Gregory Isthmia V, 142).

Faunal remains: D. Reese

Sacrificial and dining practices were investigated through completion of the analysis of fauna in the Great Circular Pit. In the Palaimonion the nature of the pyre on which the holocaustic sacrifice of a young bull was made and the pits in which the remains were found were considered in relation to the logistics of such a holocaust.

Worked Stone: I. Gotsov and assistants; C. Hayward

Tools for food production, floats for plastering ashlar walls, probably of the Classical Temple, and fragments of five gaming boards are included in the study of stone from the sanctuary. A separate catalogue catalogue was prepared for the Rachi Settlement. Christopher Hayward is investigating the sources of the stone.
On the basis of their context most of the 41 grinding stones and querns and the gaming boards from the sanctuary can be assigned to the period before 146 B.C. Four grinders from the Hiera Nape lend support to food preparation in the area (cf. Risser above).

Site Conservation and re-organization of the apotheke: F. Hemans, supervisor

Figure 2.

Figure 3.

Figure 4. Apotheke – north side, looking east

Figure 5. Apotheke – north side, looking west

Workmen from the Corinth excavations removed Archaic roof tiles from the apotheke yard and re-stacked them on the site (Figure 2); they back-filled a number of 1989 excavation trenches and other areas on the site (Figure 3); and they assisted Hemans in the re-organization of storage for the Kenchreai and Isthmia artifacts (Figure 4). Hemans installed new shelves and a new storage facility for inventoried ceramics and re-organized the conservation area (Figure 5). In response to a request from the 4th Ephoreia he cleared space for construction of a laboratory for research on the glass panels from Kenchreai.

Digital photography: Chloe Wardropper

To increase accessibility for study, all un-inventoried metal objects are being photographed in digital format and entered in a database. This season 361 bronze and a few iron pieces were processed.

Museum graphics: Jessica Gebhard

Images for the new museum displays including computer-generated reconstructions of the site at different periods and photographs of the excavations were prepared for submission to the ephoreia for final processing.


The Isthmian sanctuary has been represented in several conferences during the past few years, and the papers are slowly appearing.

Peloponnesian Sanctuaries and Cults, Skrifter utgivna av Svenska institutet i Athen (ActaAth-4), 9th International Symposium, Athens, June 11-13, 1994, ed. R. Hagg, Stockholm, 2002.
Virginia Anderson-Stojanovic, “Demeter and Kore on the Isthmus of Corinth”;
Elizabeth Gebhard, “Caves and Cults at the Isthmian Sanctuary of Poseidon”.
Catherine Morgan, “ Corinthian Aristocracy and Corinthian cult during the Eighth Century B.C.”

Corinth XX, C. K. Williams II and Nancy Bookidis, eds. The Centenary, 1896-1996, Princeton, 2003. Papers from the Centennial Symposium of the Corinth Excavations, Athens, December 5-7, 1996.
Elizabeth Gebhard and Matthew Dickie, “The View from the Isthmus: ca. 200 – 44 B.C.” pp. 261-278.

Aketen des Internationalen Symposions Olympia 1875-2000, ed. H. Kyrieleis, Berlin, 2002.
Elizabeth Gebhard, “The Beginnings of Panhellenic Games at the Isthmus”. pp. 221-137.
Catherine Morgan, “The Origins of the Isthmian Festival: points of comparison and contrast”

International Vasen-Symposion 24-28 September 2001 in Kiel.
Karim Arafat, “The Pottery of c. 700-550 B.C. from the Sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia”

Urban Religion of Roman Corinth: Interdisciplinary Approaches, in honor of Helmut Koester, January 2002. Daniel Schowalter, ed.
Elizabeth Gebhard, “The Rites for Melikertes-Palaimon in the Roman Corintha”; forthcoming, 2004

Respectfully submitted by Professor Elizabeth R. Gebhard
Director, University of Chicago Excavations at Isthmia
Fall 2003