A Symposium to Celebrate and Reflect on over Fifty Years of Excavation and Survey on the Isthmus of Corinth

15-17 June 2007


Virginia Anderson Stojanović, Wilson College, “The Domestic Architecture of the Rachi Settlement at Isthmia”

During the second half of the 4th century, approximately twenty-five small houses were laid out in a rectangular grid on the ridge or Rachi, directly south of the Sanctuary of Poseidon and above the Southeast Valley. These were rectangular houses of modest size (60 to 80 square meters) constructed in and on the bedrock, and arranged in irregular blocks that were separated by narrow passageways. While the plan and location of the settlement conform to the recommendations of Artistotle (Politics), the houses are unusual for their size and absence of a central courtyard and andron, features considered typical of Greek domestic architecture. The close proximity of the dwellings, their lack of a uniform house design, and the presence of features such as cisterns, basements, and olive presses only in some houses are unusual features of the settlement. The organization of space and the design of the houses raise intriguing questions about the social relations, economy, and status of the inhabitants.

Karim Arafat, Kings College, London, “The Chigi painter at Isthmia?”

This paper discusses a fragmentary late Protocorinthian (mid-7th century BC) alabastron found in the Great Circular Pit at Isthmia. Its figure-scene of a duel and a rider, and its elaborate patterns, are argued to place it in the area of the Chigi Painter, the most accomplished of all Corinthian vase-painters.

Elene Balomenou and Vasili Tassinos, LZ’ Eforeia, “Recent finds from the Isthmus, Corinth: An Early Mycenaean habitation site at Kyra Vrysi’

During the summer of 2006 and at the region of Kyra Vrysi, 150 meters North West of the Isthmia museum ,an area of 600m2 was excavated. Architectural remains were uncovered which seem to form a dwelling. According to the fragmentary pottery which was found in the excavated area, the remains seem to be dated at the early Mycenaean period.  This announcement will focus on the presentation of all the finds and the comparison between the newly discovered architectural remains and others of different areas but of same chronology, in order to shed light on the habitation of the Early Mycenaean period.

William Caraher, University of North Dakota, “Epigraphy, Liturgy, and Imperial Policy on the Justinianic Isthmus”

The inscription from Isthmia naming Justinian and Viktorinos includes a short excerpt from the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.  This paper argues that this refers to the liturgy of the Eastern Capital.  This reference to the Constantinopolitan liturgy on the Isthmus, which during the 6th century remained under the jurisdiction of the Roman See, offers another example of the place of the Isthmus at the crossroads of the of East and West in the Late Roman Period.  Moreover, this text, in combination with the contemporary ecclesiastical architecture on the Isthmus, provides evidence for the central role of liturgy in the expansion of imperial authority.

Daniel Geagan, McMaster University, “The Shapes of Corinthian-Isthmian Victor


In the combined museums at Ancient Corinth and Isthmia some part of twenty victor catalogues survive from celebrations of games, either Isthmian or in honour of the Roman Imperial house or both.  Two of them were inscribed on herm bases, another on a revetment plaque, and the rest on three-sided steles which can be identified as kyrbeis from the description derived by Professor Ronald Stroud, drawing heavily on descriptions in literature. No physical evidence of three-sided kyrbeis was available before the identification of the Isthmian/Corinthian victor catalogues. A single three-sided victor catalogue from Corinth now confirms the physical evidence for a flame rising pyramid-like from the tops of four-sided kyrbeis. There was never any relationship of the three-sided Isthmian/Corinthian monuments with Athenian three-sided choregic victory monuments.

Steven Ellis, University of Cincinnati, “Towards a Spatial, Functional, and Chronological Understanding of the Buildings East of the Temple of Poseidon at Isthmia”

Half a century of excavations have shed much light on Isthmia’s sacred landscape, in particular its monumental structures: its temple precinct, theatre, and Roman bath-house.  In the area to the east, however, are a series of much less understood buildings, where it was believed that Pausanias wandered in the 2nd century CE, telling of a line-up of portrait statues of successful athletes from the Isthmian Games; it was for these statues that this eastern area was first excavated in 1970. Finding nothing of the sort, the excavations wound down a few years later, though not before a labyrinth of variously constructed walls was revealed. In spite of the patent importance of these spaces and their associated activities to the operation of the sanctuary, the walls themselves have never been comprehensively delineated into recognizable buildings.  The East Isthmia Archaeological Project recently undertook a systematic investigation of the architecture of these buildings.  This paper introduces the methodologies that were developed by the project to analyze a complex series of poorly preserved architectures, and highlights the earliest results.  Through the identification and digital recording of the stratigraphic relationships among all of the walls, and by expressing these spatially through GIS, we are now able to define, for the first time, not only individual buildings, but also significant phases of building construction.  This revised approach to the built environment east of the temple precinct reveals an area of rather large and complex units in contrast to the conventional interpretation of a series of small and unimportant structures.  Moreover, we are closer to clarifying the spatial and social relationship between secular and sacred space at Isthmia.

Liane Houghtalin, University of Mary Washington, “Numismatic Discoveries at Isthmia”

In the 55 years of excavation at Isthmia, over 2000 coins have either been found in the course of digging or been turned in from the region at large to the site museum.  While the latter have their own interest, it is the former-those coins retrieved during properly recorded archaeological excavations-that contribute to our understanding not only

of the site but also of numismatic history.  This paper will focus on selected examples from the coins found in the excavations at Isthmia that, through their context, shed special light on numismatic questions, including the role of the coins found in the Archaic temple, how the site’s history and phases have assigned newly refined dates to certain coin types, and the use and reuse of the Pegasus-Trident series.

David K. Pettegrew, Messiah College, “Surveying the Isthmus: Patterns of Settlement in the Roman-Late Roman Corinthia”

In this paper, I discuss recent archaeological research from survey and excavation for patterns of Roman settlement on the Corinthian Isthmus.  Focusing especially on the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS), I highlight ways that recent work is changing our understanding of the form and distribution of settlement between the first and seventh centuries A.D.  Contrary to previous depictions, our new evidence demonstrates that villas, farmsteads, and buildings were dispersed across the territory east of Corinth, thickening at major crossroads like Kromna, Kenchreai, and the sanctuary at Isthmia.  In addition to offering new assessments about these settlement patterns, the paper considers how the broader inhabited Isthmus played significantly into the life of the famous commerce town.

Daniel Pullen, Florida State University, “Where’s the palace? Long-term settlement stability and Mycenaean states in the Corinthia”

This paper examines regional patterning in the Bronze Age Corinthia and raises general questions about the development of first generation secondary states. Although in the Late Bronze Age the Corinthia was a geo-political periphery contested by the island state of Kolonna, with its early dominance in sea transport, and Mycenae, with its extensive land resources, it was the heterarchical nature of the Corinthian socio-economic landscape which precluded the development of a hierarchical network-based state such as at Mycenae.

J. L. Rife, “Burial and Society in the Late Antique Greek Countryside: the Evidence from the Isthmus in Context”

This paper will summarize the results of recent research on the graves and human remains from Isthmia chiefly dating to the Late Roman to Early Byzantine periods (5th-7th centuries or later).  Excavation by the American School between 1954 and 1976 uncovered 30 graves, numerous associated artifacts, and the bones of over 70 individuals, many well preserved, mostly in the area of the fortifications but occasionally among  the ruins of the Sanctuary.  These remains attest not only to the funerary rituals, social structure, and ideology of local residents, but also to their physical appearance, familial relations, diet, health, and occupational activities.  The graves and bones from Isthmia reveal a community of Christian Corinthians who engaged in the vigorous activities of an agrarian village and showed a degree of innovation and resilience in the face of momentous historical changes.  In this respect, Isthmia joins Pyrgouthi, Nemea, Olympia, and Messene as a site of great importance in understanding the passage from Classical Antiquity to the Byzantine Middle Ages in southern Greece.  Furthermore, comparison of the Isthmian remains with remains from surveyed and excavated contexts across the Corinthia, including Corinth, Kenchreai, Solygeia, Zygouries, and Nemea, can begin to trace regional variability in social complexity between settlements of different orders.

Martha K. Risser, Trinity College, Hartford, CT, “Late Archaic and Classical Ceramic Assemblages at the Sanctuary”

During the Late Archaic and Classical periods, the panhellenic sanctuary at the Isthmus grew and prospered with the increasing popularity of the games. A series of terracing projects expanded the ridge to the north and east to accommodate new buildings and address the need for additional space. Around 460-450 BC, the temple burned, charring the dedications and offerings that had been stacked within, and destroying others that had been displayed outside. A building that resembled the Temple of Zeus at Olympia was soon built on the same spot. In 390 B.C. the second temple also burned and remained in ruins until the late 4th century.

Are these developments represented in the ceramic material culture of the sanctuary, and if so, how? To what extent is it possible to understand uses of sacred space through examination of the site’s sherd-laden fills?  Is the identity of Isthmia as a panhellenic sanctuary reflected in the pottery found during excavations of the site? How did cult activities change over time? These are the questions that this paper attempts to answer, drawing on a study of ceramic assemblages at the sanctuary.

Guy Sanders, Corinth Excavations, “Merbaka: a Monument to Romanization and its importance to the Archaeology of Medieval Greece”

The chronology of medieval pottery in Southern Greece is now so developed that accuracy of +/- 10 years is possible. At one end the chronology is anchored by coin dates and at the other by bowls built into the walls of a church at Ayia Triada (Marbaka) near Tiryns in the Argolid. This chronology has not been generally accepted because the suggestion that the church was built by William of Moerbeke, bishop of Corinth between 1278 and 1286, is at odds with the stylistic dating of its architecture. This paper puts the attribution of the church to William beyond question. It shows that the immured inscriptions, reliefs and even the immured bowls refer to the Second Council of Lyons at which the Byzantine Emperor and prelates of the Eastern Church agreed to incorporate the filioque clause into the Nicene Creed and to acknowledge the primacy of Rome.

Mary Sturgeon, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “New Sculpture from the Palaimonion at Isthmia”

New work on sculptures from the Palaimonion Sanctuary at Isthmia is occasioned by rediscovery of a group of sculpture fragments under debris from construction of the Archaeological Museum at Isthmia. In 1987 I presented the sculptures found during the excavations of Oscar Broneer (1952-1967) conducted on behalf of the University of Chicago. Later, in preparation for stratigraphic tests and new excavations, Elizabeth Gebhard conducted a cleaning of the site and discovered five baskets of marble fragments stacked against a scarp long hidden from view.

Joins between the new fragments and those previously known make possible reconstruction of two over life-size statues, which are important additions to the corpus of sculptures from Roman Greece. The first wears a short-sleeved tunic and a Greek mantle, and dates from the mid to second half of the 2nd century A.D. The second wears a short-sleeved tunic, traveling cloak, sandals. This is one of three figures that appear uniformly attired and that carried torches that pertain to nighttime rites for Palaimon. These sculptures would have stood outdoors in the Palaimonion of the Antonine period together with statues of Blastos, the Prophet, and Sisyphos, the legendary founder of the Melikertes-Palaimon games and cult.

Thomas F. Tartaron, University of Pennsylvania, “Bronze Age Small Worlds and the Saronic Coast of the Southeastern Corinthia”
Recent research in the rugged Saronic coastal zone south of the Isthmus, undertaken as part of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey, has revealed much new information about Bronze Age activity in this understudied area. This segment of the Saronic coast, which has seemed peripheral in modern times of land-based travel and perspectives, was in fact embedded in a Saronic “small world” of coastal settlements orbiting around Kolonna on Aigina in the Bronze Age, at least until Mycenae apparently incorporated the region into its own political sphere in Late Helladic III. In this paper I describe our recent discoveries, focusing particularly on the region of Korphos, where a new project, the Saronic Harbors Archaeological Research Project (SHARP), seeks to examine a newly discovered Bronze Age site at Kalamianos. This settlement, marked by a tholos tomb and an extensive architectural complex of buildings in cyclopean masonry, is situated on the Saronic coast roughly midway between Kolonna and Mycenae. One principal aim of the project is to discern the process by which settlements like Kalamianos were incorporated into larger political, social, and economic networks, and how such sites may show the effects of competition between large, powerful polities.

Arne Thomsen, Berlin, “A Preliminary Report on the Terracotta Figurines from the Sanctuary at Isthmia”

The study of the terracotta figurines from the sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia has recently passed from David G. Mitten into the hands of the present writer. Thus, the opportunity to talk about this group of votives arises rather early, and only a preliminary report can be given at the current state of studies. Most of it is owed to Mitten, who wrote an unpublished Ph.D. thesis on the Isthmia terracotta figurines in 1961, and continued studying them until the early 1990s, including new material from the 1989 excavations. Based on his work, a catalog of 628 figurines and fragments has been established in 1998 providing the basis for all further studies. Still, about 200 of them have been merely listed and not fully cataloged. Entries for these are currently added, and this work is providing some first insights into the characteristics and problems of the class of votives under consideration.

Most of the terracotta figurines from the Isthmian sanctuary are handmade and of small size. Features worthy of note are, first,  the predominance of horses, or horses and riders, that make up about half of the entire assemblage recovered; second, the considerable numbers of the elsewhere rather rare Archaic boat models; third, the comparative rarity of human figures, as well as of moldmade figures in general. In an overview, the collection of figurines at Isthmia is fairly small and ‘poor’.  The dedication of terracotta figurines in the sanctuary obviously peaks in the 6th century BC, but some dates may need to be reassessed. Among the dominant group of horse figurines, there are, generally speaking, two distinct groups: the usually quite individual figurines of early and high Archaic date, and a group of mostly ‘standardized’ horses close to the ‘Late Group’ as established in the Potters’ Quarter at Corinth as a lingering archaistic type of 5th and 4th century date. Isthmia is not entirely dependent on the Potters’ Quarter production, and the relation between the two groups and the development of what becomes the typical Late Group horse possibly can be studied more closely and understood better with the figurines from Isthmia.  Questions of interpretation, particularly those concerning votive practices, have to await further study.

James Wiseman, Boston University, “Athletes, Officials, and Emperors: Three Inscriptions from the Gymnasium Bath in Corinth”

The northern edge of the city of Corinth was occupied by several entertainment and athletic facilities during the early Roman Empire. The Old Gymnasium mentioned by Pausanias was thought to be there by early excavators of Corinth, and several inscriptions dealing with athletics were found in the area and reported in publications of the early 20th century. In recent scholarship the circus has been proposed as an element among the athletic facilities there. Excavations in the 1960s-1970s revealed portions of the early imperial L-shaped gymnasium and other facilities. Chief among the latter is a bath-and-fountain complex, nestled into the north face of the plateau of the theater and the gymnasium. Its elaborate facilities for bathing and related activities and its location, to the north and directly below the level of the western limit of the gymnasium practice field, mark it as the gymnasium bath. It was named the Fountain of the Lamps by the excavators, however, because of the thousands of terracotta lamps that were deposited in the main bathing room after the complex had ceased to serve its primary function, beginning in the 4th century A.D. On the other hand, a number of early Imperial statues and inscriptions were excavated that commemorate events and people associated with the bath and athletic facilities of Corinth and the Isthmia. Three inscriptions in particular are considered in this presentation: two herms, one of which included part of a victor’s list, and a building inscription. The discussion includes commentary on the implications of the inscriptions for the study of Corinthians involved in athletics during the reigns of Tiberius and Nero, the festivals themselves, and the activities of the Emperor Hadrian related to the gymnasium bath.