Report on the 1990 Season

Elizabeth R. Gebhard, Director

In June we began the second part of a three-year program for excavation and final publication, supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The summer session lasted from June 1 to September 30. We are grateful for the continued assistance of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens in making arrangements for our work. Dr. Charles K. Williams and Dr. Nancy Bookides, Director and Assistant Director respectively of the Corinth Excavations, and Professor Timothy Gregory, Director of the Ohio State Excavations at Isthmia kindly made available materials from their excavations for study purposes.

Archaic Temple
Prepared by Fritz Hemans

1. Inventory of Archaic Temple Blocks

Fritz Hemans and Ilse Müller inventoried over 500 fragments of stone blocks from the temple and made 150 new drawings. It is clear that many of the blocks must have been reused in the construction of the Classical Temple, and many of the remaining blocks show signs of having been recut. As a result of this later construction activity, the only type of blocks preserved in large numbers are those that had special fittings which made them less useful as a source of building material. The Type 6 blocks (with cuttings to support roof beams) are especially abundant with ca. 90 examples preserved. Fortunately, those with special cuttings are most useful for our work in reconstructing the temple. Of the approximately 1,500 blocks originally in the temple, 20-25 % have been recovered, varying from less than 10% for some types (e.g. stylobate blocks) to perhaps as much as 60-70% for others (e.g. Type 6 blocks).

2. Reconstruction of the Temple Plan (Figure 1)

Interpretation of features discovered in the 1989 excavations enable us to reconstruct the major elements of the temple’s plan. We conclude that the temple was peripteral with 7 columns on the ends and 18 on the flanks. The stylobate was ca. 39.25 m. long and 14.10-14.40 m. wide. The cella, with a center row of columns, measured ca. 7.90 m. in width and ca. 32 m. in length. Buttresses were found to have stood on the outside of the cella walls at intervals of 2.26 m.(on centers).

Figure 1. Archaic Temple Plan

We have now traced the foundation for the south wall of the cella to its full preserved length. Immediately adjacent and partially overlapping its south edge, a series of 10 evenly-spaced pits are preserved along the western end of the wall. Their spacing can be measured rather precisely at 2.26 m. from center to center. The spacing of these pits is symmetrical with the overall length of the temple, and they are related to the interior columns in the cella. A reasonable interpretation is that they mark the location of buttresses against the cella wall. Broneer, in his study of the wall blocks from the temple, had noticed that vertical bands, ca. 0.32 m. wide on some blocks, had been unaffected by the fire that destroyed the temple. The vertical bands framed panels of painted stucco, and several blocks still retain small patches of stucco adjacent to these bands. The presence of buttresses explains how these vertical bands on the walls were protected from the damage of the fire.

The buttresses on the cella walls would have supported the roof beams that extended from the outer colonnade across the cella walls. They would have, therefore, corresponded to the columns along the flanks. The buttresses also had a symmetrical relationship with the interior columns that held up the ridge pole. A row of holes in bedrock marks the location of the center colonnade. Each column was located midway between a pair of buttresses, and the distance between them is twice the distance of the buttresses, ca. 4.52 m.

Archaic Temenos Wall

Remains of an Archaic temenos wall were recognized and its several phases restored, together with two gates that gave access to the immediate area around the Temple of Poseidon. The wall originally bordered the Corinth-Isthmus road along the northwest side of the sanctuary plateau. It closely followed the east side of the Long Altar and the south flank of the temple. In later years gateways were added at the north and east, and construction of the stadium caused modifications in the area of the altar. The North Propylon, of which foundations exist, was restored by Broneer; this season the bedding for a comparable gate was recognized on the east. Since it was located directly on the axis of the Archaic Temple and along the east side of the major sacrifical terrace of the Archaic period (Terrace 3), it should belong in the second half of the 6th century B.C. Visitors would have been approached it through the gully along the northeast side of the central plateau. About 300 B.C. the entrance was replaced by another, more massive gateway on the same axis, but moved eastward to accommodate a new terrace (Terrace 8). The Hellenistic gate itself was rebuilt in Roman times. The sacred character of the East Gateway is revealed by the fact that its location never changed with respect to the axis of the Archaic Temple of Poseidon, although that temple was destroyed about 470 B.C.

Greek Painted Roof Tiles

Like the Panhellenic sanctuaries at Olympia, Delphi, and Nemea, Poseidon’s sanctuary at Isthmia also held a number of small, treasury-sized buildings, but only fragments of their architecture including several complete Doric triglyph-metope blocks and cornices have been recovered without any remains in place. The best information on the number, location, date, and appearance of the original buildings comes, however, from the painted terracotta roof tiles. Many of the tiles were found on the northeast side of the sanctuary plateau where the excavation dump now lies, and it is very likely that the small buildings where located in that area, probably bordering the Corinth-Isthmus road.

Fritz Hemans inventoried 103 tiles belonging to the latter half of the 6th century through the late 4th century B.C. Three different types of raking sima reveal the presence of at least three separate buildings in the 6th century. Most of the remainder, apparently from at least two additional buildings, belong to the late 4th century B.C. and are very similar to contemporary tiles from Corinth. One other group belonged to a building of the 5th century B.C. Since the tiles are conspicuously absent from the redeposited fills in the terracing in front of the Long Altar (6th through 4th century B.C.), most of the buildings were probably destroyed after the terraces had been completed, very likely in the 2nd century. B.C.

Architectural Drawing

Work continued on drawings that document the 1989 excavations and illustrate the major results. Most of these drawings have been prepared for inclusion in the report on the 1989 excavations that will be published in Hesperia. Complete drawings include a new series of topographical phase plans for the site as well as drawings for each area of the sanctuary investigated during 1989.


John Hayes completed his analysis of Hellenistic and Roman wares recovered in 1989. On the basis of the small number of sherds that can be dated after the middle of the 3rd century A.D. and the absence of wares that occur in Athens in deposits associated with the Herulian destruction of 267, it appears that activity in the center part of the Isthmian Sanctuary had declined by the third quarter of the 3rd century.

Karim Arafat continued his catalogue of the Archaic Corinthian pottery, while Catherine Morgan worked on comparanda for her volume on the Mycenaean Pottery and Early Iron Age Sanctuary. They were admirably assisted by Christopher Kirby. The catalogue of stamped roof tiles with provenance was completed by Michael Mills with new drawings by Karin Hutchinson.

Faunal/Botanical Studies

Julie Hansen made a preliminary examination of the 95 flotation samples collected in 1989 and found significant remains in 49 of them. These soils include samples from all the major cultural deposits excavated in the sanctuary and Rachi settlement with high amounts of ash and other burned remains. They are being sent to Boston for final study. Several samples that can be associated with ritual offerings in the east temenos contain grape and hordeum seeds. From the sacrifical pits in the Roman shrine of the boy-hero Melikertes-Palaimon seeds of triticum, pistachio, fig, olive, and dates were recovered, as well as pine bract (part of the cone) and pine nuts. Pine was used for the Isthmian victory wreath in the Roman period. The presence of dates in six samples from Sacrificial Pit C is notable, as they are rarely found in Greece. From the Rachi settlement in the Hellenistic period there were remains of olives.

David Reese analyzed the bones from the old and new excavations. Of particular interest were burnt animal bones from the sacrifices and unburnt bone, probably from the sacrificial feast. The high proportion of Protogeometric and Geometric sherds in some sacrificial deposits identify them as belonging to the earliest period of the shrine (11th through 8th centuries B.C.); others ranged in date from the 7th to early 5th centuries B.C. In all deposits cattle-sized bones appeared, but their proportion in relation to the bones of sheep, goat and pig increased in the latter 6th and early 5th centuries when prosperity of the Archaic sanctuary was at its height.


Helga Butzer Felleisen catalogued fragments of approximately 90 basins belonging to the Archaic and Classical periods. At least 57 of the terracotta basins and 5 of the marble ones were found in the central sanctuary, most of them in the Great Circular Pit southwest of the temple. On the basis of this concentration, it seems likely that the basins originally stood south and west of the Archaic Temple.

A preliminary investigation of the fabric of the perirrhanteria as a criterion for their date produced encouraging results. The number of inclusions added to the clay appeared to vary according to the dating for the basins that had been established on the basis of their surface decoration and profiles. She distinguished three general categories: (1) a dense fabric in basins from the late 7th c. to about 530 B.C.; (2) a lighter, gritty fabric in those from the mid 6th c. into at least the first quarter of the 5th c. and then again in the 4th c.; (3) a reddish yellow clay with fewer, smaller inclusions in examples confined to the 5th c. B.C.

Stratigraphic Studies

A continuing project is reconstruction of the stratigraphy of the 1952 to 1967 excavations as recorded in the field notebooks. It was carried on this season in the Roman precinct of Palaimonion by James Hanges and John O’Neal. They were able to compile a detailed account of the chronology and objects related to the use of the shrine by integrating the context pottery and the inventoried objects with the deposits recorded in the notebooks. Their excellent work will provide the foundation for a history of the Roman cult of Palaimon.

Other Studies

Liane Houghtalin continued her study of the coins for final publication. Helga Butzer Felleisen assisted Anton Raubitschek with integrating the metal objects from the 1989 excavations into the late Isabelle Raubitschek’s book on metal objects for the Isthmia series.

Conservation of the collection was continued by Stella Bouzaki and Helen Kingsley; the staff photographer was Frank Nesbit. Jean Perras is the secretary of the Isthmia Excavations.

On-going work at Isthmia during fall and winter 1990-1991 will include conservation by Stella Bouzaki, study of the Classical pottery by Julie Bentz, completion of the volume on arms and armor by Alastar Jackson, and further work on terracotta figurines by David Mitten. I will give a public lecture in Athens on November 27, 1990 on the Evolution of the Isthmian Sanctuary.