Isthmia in the Roman Period

The Isthmian Games and the Sanctuary of Poseidon in the Early Empire

Elizabeth R. Gebhard

(This article originally appeared in:


Supplemental Series Number 8
General Editor: J. H. Humphrey


Including the papers given at a Symposium held at Ohio State University on 7-9 March, 1991
Edited by Timothy E. Gregory
Ann Arbor, MI

and is made available electronically with the permission of the editors.)


The aim of this paper is to address certain questions about the Isthmian Sanctuary in the 1st and 2nd c. A.D. It is now 39 years since Oscar Broneer sank his first trench across the central plateau at Isthmia and began systematic excavations of the Sanctuary. In the following decade and a half he uncovered the Temple of Poseidon with its surrounding temenos, an adjacent sanctuary of Melikertes-Palaimon from the Roman period, two stadia for the Isthmian Games, a theater, and smaller structures belonging to the sanctuary.1

In 1989 a major excavation was undertaken within the temenos to document its stratigraphy and to examine a set of other problems that have come into focus since Broneer was last in the field in l967.2 I owe much to the staff of the 1989 season, and especially to J. W. Hayes, who is responsible for publication of the late Hellenistic and Roman pottery.3

Three questions will concern us here:
1. When after the foundation of the Colonia Laus Julia Corinthiensis did the Isthmian Games return to Corinthian control?
2. When did the festival return to its traditional home at the Isthmian Sanctuary of Poseidon?
3. In the Roman period were there two temples dedicated to the hero Melikertes-Palaimon?

1. Return of the games to Corinth’s control

After Corinth’s destruction at the hands of the Romans in 146 B.C., the city lost its autonomy and almost certainly control of the Isthmian Games. Pausanias (2.11.2) reports that the games did not lapse but continued under the administration of neighboring Sicyon as long as Corinth lay deserted. Although no mention is made of their venue while under Sicyonian control, it seems likely that they were held in that city. That they were not held at the Isthmian sanctuary can be inferred from the demolition of Poseidon’s altar and the suspension of public cult activity that it implies.4 Furthermore, the absence from the mid 2nd c. B.C. to the third quarter of the 1st c. A.D. of any significant quantity of pottery in the area of the temple and theater is a further indication that the sanctuary did not act as host to major festivals during that period. Exactly what activities did take place there is difficult to reconstruct, but the massive repairs undertaken in the Temple of Poseidon and the theater show that by the time the colony was founded the major buildings were in ruins.5

The honor of administering the venerable, panhellenic Isthmian Games would very likely have been one of the most important privileges of the new Roman colony, and it is probable that as soon as they arrived the colonists claimed this right, and did not wait for several decades while their neighbors at Sicyon continued to celebrate the festival. The current orthodoxy, however, is that the games were returned to Corinthian control during the agonothesia of L. Castricius Regulus, i.e. between 7 B.C. and A.D. 3. The date rests on a passage in Strabo (8.6.22) and on an inscription honoring Regulus as president of the games.6 Broneer followed this chronology and arranged his interpretation of the sanctuary’s remains accordingly, because he had found no contextual evidence for various stages of reconstruction.

Figure 1 – Restored plan, southeastern area of the Sanctuary of Poseidon

In the Palaimonion he suggested that Pit A was first used for sacrifices under Augustus when the games returned to the sanctuary, and he imagined that the stadium and other athletic buildings were repaired at the same time (Figure 1). The reconstruction of the Temple and altar to Poseidon he dated “probably to the time of Claudius”, and in the same period he placed the first Roman temenos wall enclosing them.7

Material excavated in 1989 now provides evidence that would move these dates about 50 years later, putting the first use of the Palaimonion in the middle of the 1st c. A.D. and the construction of the first Roman temenos wall at the end of the century. The deposits include two layers of sacrificial material within Palaimonion Pit A and portions of floor surfaces both inside and outside the precinct surrounding the pit (Figure 1). Both pottery and stratigraphy place the beginning of the first Palaimonion not before the mid 1st c. A.D. and its end close to 100 when Phase 11 of the Palaimonion was built. On the basis of other deposits construction of the first Roman temenos wall can be dated in the years A.D. 80/90 -100/110. The implications of this shift in chronology from that suggested by Broneer are explored below.

In returning to the question of when the Isthmian Games returned to Corinthian control, we need to separate the issue of the presidency of the games from the place where they were held. Corinthian presidency was not necessarily linked to a venue at the Isthmian Sanctuary of Poseidon. The festival and contests could have equally well been held initially in the city of Corinth before they were moved back to the Isthmus. During the Classical and Hellenistic periods such a shift between controlling city and sanctuary occurred several times in the history of the Nemean festival.8 Since during the early years of the colony there is little evidence of ceremonial activity in the Isthmian Sanctuary, it will be useful to look again at the testimony usually cited for the return of the games to Corinth, and then to proceed to another class of object, the city’s coinage, that seems to reflect the Corinthians’ resumption of control of the games shortly after 44 B.C. We will address the problem of the games’ return to the Isthmus in the second part of the paper.

Strabo’s reference to the sanctuary of Isthmian Poseidon (8.6.22) has been the basis for putting the date of the return of the Isthmian Games to Corinth after his visit and after the composition of Book 8, because he implies that the games were not at that time being held at the sanctuary. His trip to Corinth occurred in the spring or early summer of 29 B.C. (8.6.22),9 and since he seems to have ceased work on his Geography about 2 B.C., the latter date has been taken as providing a terminus post quem for Corinthian resumption of the presidency.10 Yet, if the games were in Corinthian hands but were being held in Corinth instead of at the Isthmian sanctuary, Strabo’s comment about Isthmia as the place where the Corinthians used to celebrate the Isthmian Games would have no relevance for the question of when the games returned to Corinth.11 Strabo was giving an accurate description of the sanctuary at the time of his visit, but his concern was not with where the festival was being held in that period nor under whose jurisdiction it lay.

Another source may provide a better indication of when Corinth resumed control of the Isthmian festival, the early coins of the Corinthian colony. When the ancient privilege of holding the games was returned to the city, one might expect to see some symbol associated with them on the official coinage. Such an expectation is supported by the fact that in later times readily identifiable symbols of the festival are very numerous. On early issues the representation that can be most securely identified with the games is a pine wreath representing the Isthmian victor’s crown.12 In the pre-Roman period pine seems to have constituted the first wreaths, while a plant called selinon was introduced in the early 5th c. B.C.13

On Corinthian coins the first pine crown appears under Cn. Publilius and M. Antonius Orestes who were duoviri quinquennales in 40 B.C.14 The wreath encloses the name of the city, and a hydria on the obverse symbolizes athletic competitions.15 Pine wreaths may have been used at Corinth for purely cultic ceremonies, but the hydria links this particular representation to the Isthmian victor’s crown. Although the coins are small (sextantes), the tufts of pine needles are clearly distinguishable and are comparable to the larger versions of the same type of wreath that appear on the coins of P. Aebutius Pinnius minted between 39 and 36 B.C.16 The wreath in the latter issue encloses the names of the officials, and the coin carries the head of Poseidon on the obverse. Thus, both issues combine an obverse and reverse with athletic associations, and the presence of Poseidon, god of the Isthmus, on the obverse of the second group makes it clear that the Isthmian contests are meant. We can now say, on the basis of the coins, that it is very probable the Corinthians were in control of the games by the time of their celebration in 40 B.C. It is unlikely that the city would have advertised a festival held by the Sicyonians.

2. Return of the games to the Isthmian sanctuary

As noted above, the traditional view of the games’ return to their original location on the Isthmus is based on Strabo’s saying that they were not held there when he visited the sanctuary in 29 B.C. and presumably not before he ceased writing and revising Book 8 of his Geography in about 2 B.C.17 Since it has always been thought that the return of the games to Corinthian control was contemporary with their resumption at the Isthmian Sanctuary, a terminus ante quem for the event was supplied by a list of Isthmian victors from A.D. 3.18 Now that we have seen from representations of the Isthmian wreath on Corinthian coins that the festival returned to Corinthian control much earlier, the victor list of A.D. 3 need no longer apply to games on the Isthmus. Before they returned to the sanctuary, the contests would have been held in the city stadium and theater, and there would have been arrangements for horse and chariot racing in a hippodrome nearby. For official sacrifices and ceremonies there must have been a city altar and shrine to Poseidon and perhaps also to Melikertes-Palaimon.19

The next step is to examine the Isthmian shrine itself for some archaeological evidence of their return. Although Broneer drew attention to the likelihood that the Temple of Poseidon, athletic facilities, and stadium would have needed rehabilitation, and some type of altar to Poseidon would have been required for public sacrifices, he found no direct evidence for any reconstruction and repair.20 Yet, if the festival had been permanently returned to the Isthmian sanctuary in late Augustan times as has been supposed, we should expect to find at least some contemporary pottery in the deposits around the temple and altar and in the shrine to Palaimon.

Figure 2 – Trench Plan of 1989 Excavations

In 1989 we tested the stratigraphy at the N and SE sides of the temenos where post-Hellenistic layers are preserved (Figure 2).21 North of the Temple of Poseidon the earliest Roman deposits antedate the thick layer of terrace fill that can be associated with landscaping around the temple and construction of the first Roman temenos wall in the time of Domitian or shortly after. The pottery ranges from Classical to early Roman with the latest pieces no later than 60-80. What is remarkable is the lack of an appreciable number of sherds from the period of Augustus or succeeding emperors until the reign of Nero.22 Immediately below these deposits the final Greek layer contains destruction debris of the 2nd c. B.C.

The surfaces in the SE area at the E side of Palaimonion Pit A and outside the enclosure wall to the E held fewer sherds but with the same chronological range.23 In this section of the temenos, however, the Roman floors lie directly over Classical strata without layers from the intervening centuries. Landscaping operations are probably responsible for the gap. Since the area was first occupied by the spectators’ embankment of the Archaic Stadium, the removal of the stadium in the early 3rd c. B.C. was probably followed by grading to create a level surface.24 Another episode of leveling may have taken place in the early Roman period when, after a long period of neglect, the site was first rehabilitated. Perhaps more detailed analyses of the Roman deposits excavated by Broneer will alter the picture suggested here, but at present there is no evidence to show that the area around the Temple of Poseidon and the first Palaimonion precinct was the scene of large festive gatherings before the middle of the 1st c. A.D.

Figure 3 – Restored Contour Plan, c. 60 AD

On the basis of the pottery in the floors near Palaimonion Pit A and outside its enclosure, the cult installation appears to have been built around 50 or shortly thereafter (Figure 3). The ceramics that accumulated on the surfaces of the floors span the second half of the century and represent the period of use. The sacrificial deposits within the pit cover the same time span, although we cannot be certain whether the material represents all the sacrifices made there or only the final two or three offerings. In 1989 we excavated 3 separate deposits. The first layer in the bottom of the pit contained pieces of one or more mugs but no obviously votive vessels, and the latest piece belongs to at least the middle of the 1st c. A.D. The pottery in the deposit above was almost entirely votive (phialai, cups, mugs, grey jugs), and the latest vessels should be placed in the years after 60 to 70/80. The capping strosis was similar in composition, reaching slightly later in date and providing evidence that the pit ceased to be used before the end of the century.25 The vessels were mostly shallow bowls (phialai) and one-handled mugs of a thin-walled, Italian-derived type. Pottery and bones were densely packed in an ash matrix. In Broneer’s and in the 1989 excavations a total of 13.5 kilograms of burnt cattle bones were recovered from the 5.92 cubic meters of the pit. From the area outside the pit many small, hand-held lamps were recovered where they had probably been set down by worshippers.26

Another sign that must surely mark the return of the Isthmian Games to the sanctuary is the renovation of the theater for resumption of musical and oratorical competitions. The pottery follows the same pattern as we have seen in the central temenos and Palaimonion. Sherds recovered from the construction deposits for the first Roman remodeling of the skene building place the rebuilding in the middle of the 1st c. A.D. or a little later.27

Other monuments can be associated with the first period of Roman activity at the sanctuary, although there is no contextual evidence of their date. At the W side of the first Palaimonion was a low stepped terrace wall that separated the little enclosure from the higher rock beyond (Figure 3). The wall, possibly constructed in Hellenistic times, marked the W boundary of the sacred area and replaced the Classical temenos wall.28 To the NE, a row of 5 post holes cut in the ground (c.0.20 to 0.30 m in diameter and c.0.30 m deep) ran diagonally across the corner of the enclosure as if to enclose it in the same space as the altar of Poseidon (Figure 3). Posts set in blocks were used in the Classical period to separate the stadium from the sacred space around the altar, and the Roman posts here may have functioned similarly to mark the eastern boundary of the sacrificial area.

Since official sacrifices to Poseidon were a necessary part of the festival, we can assume with Broneer that, when the games returned to the sanctuary, the Corinth-lsthmus road ceased to run in front of the Temple of Poseidon and returned to the course that it had followed in Hellenistic times (Figure 3). In the absence of any remains of Roman rebuilding over the N half of the Classical altar foundation where the Hellenistic road had crossed, it seems likely, as Broneer suggested, that only the south end was rebuilt for official sacrifices.29 At this first period of ritual activity, although we have no evidence for a temenos wall or other boundary, a fence or perhaps horos stones could have been put up to define the sacred area around the temple and altar. The line they followed may have been much the same as that traversed by the Roman temenos wall built at the end of the 1st c.30 If so, the space surrounding the temple was very limited. It had been restricted in this fashion since Hellenistic times when a road to the southeast encroached on the Classical precinct. I mention this point because it is unusual for a major Classical temple to have such a narrow enclosure. Apparently, large crowds did not gather there, and the restricted temenos may be an indication that the central part of the sanctuary retained a largely symbolic function, while the majority of activities connected with the games took place in and around the later stadium, theater, bath, and possibly other buildings not yet located.

Let us turn now to Corinthian coinage of the 1st c. for evidence of some special interest in the Isthmian Games. The issue of Ti. Claudius Optatus and C. Iulius Polyaenus, minted in 57/58 or 58/59,31 draws particular attention to the festival with a reverse type carrying the name ISTHMIA in large letters encircled by a wreath of selinon.32 Cor[inth] occurs below and the name of one of the duovirs around the outside. The obverse exhibits a portrait of the young Nero. This representation of the Isthmian crown labeled with the name of the festival is the first appearance of a type that was widely used under Domitian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, and Julia Domna. Its appearance, coinciding with the first archaeological evidence for Roman activity around the temple and theater and the construction of a new cult place for Melikertes-Palaimon, makes it likely that the issue commemorated the return of sacrifices and other official ceremonies to the sanctuary, although their first celebration there may well have occurred before A.D. 59.

But were all the games then held at Isthmia? We receive some help from inscriptions honoring the victors. Sometimes the Isthmian and often the Caesarean Games, held in honor of the imperial house under the same agonothetes, are designated as being in Corinth. The phrase “Isthmia and Caesarea held in Corinth” is used on a statue base honoring the chariot victory of a certain Herakleitos from Samos.33 It is not altogether clear from the Greek whether the participle refers only to the Caesarea or to the Isthmia as well.34 If Herakleitos participated in the games before 59 and we are correct in thinking that the contests of that time were held in Corinth, it would not be surprising to see both the Isthmia and Caesarea designated as held in Corinth. Most frequently it is the Caesarean Games that are specified as being .35 Such a use of a place-name is common in the case of other festivals dedicated to the imperial house, such as the Caesarea in Patras, in Lacedaemonia, in Chalkis; similarly the Eleuthereia in Platea, the Actia in Ephesos, and so forth. When the pancratiast Heliodoros from Seleucia of Calycadnos won twice in the Caesarea shortly after 140, they are specified as being .36 In one instance from the 2nd c. the Isthmian Games are also designated “on the Isthmus”.37 In most cases, however, where the list of victories shows a prize both in the Isthmia and in the Caesarea in Corinth, the location of the Isthmia is not specified.38

The relationship between the Caesarea and the Isthmian Games is somewhat ambiguous. Were they separate festivals held at different times and in different places; or were the Caesarea held in the same season as the Isthmian Games but usually celebrated in Corinth, even after the Isthmian contests returned to the Isthmus? The two sets of contests were certainly related, because they were presided over by the same agonothetes and the Isthmia usually preceded the Caesarea.39 Their programs included the same range of thymelic and athletic events.40 In fact, it seems likely that:
1. the two sets of contests were held together;
2. the Isthmia usually preceded the Caesarea;
3. the Caesarea were often, but not always, celebrated in Corinth.41
There is one further inscription bearing on the question of when the Isthmian Games returned to the sanctuary. It was set up by a certain Regulus to honor his father who was an agonothetes of the Isthmia and Caesarea and of the Caesarea Sebastea, a set of games dedicated to the ruling emperor.42 Unfortunately less than half of the stone is preserved, and the top portion carrying the name of the person is missing. Assuming that the son had the same name as his father, Kent restored Lucius Castricius Regulus, a duovir quinquennalis in A.D. 21/22, although, as he notes, the spacing for the missing praenomen and nomen would equally well allow Cn. Publicius Regulus, a duovir in A.D. 50/51.43 For the emperor in whose honor the Caesarea Sebastea were held, Kent supplied Tiberius from TIB at the end of line 4, and thus concluded that the earlier Regulus was meant and that he presided over the first Isthmian Games to be held on the Isthmus.44 The stone is too fragmentary to allow certainty on this point and on other parts of the text, but the man clearly did something ad Isthmum and he seems to have renovated (novatis) something connected with the Caesarea and completed (peregit) something. In both cases the object of the verb is not preserved. As a final celebration, he hosted a banquet for the citizens of Corinth. His undoubted involvement with the athletic festivals of Corinth makes him an important figure in the history of the games, but his exact identity and the period of his activity cannot be determined from the present state of the text.

Finally, let us consider Nero’s visit to Greece when he granted the Greek states political and economic freedom, participated in all of the major festivals, and began a canal through the Isthmus of Corinth. The chronology of these events has been the subject of much discussion, but it seems most likely that his speech of liberation was made at the time of his arrival in Greece in November 66,45 and the canal was inaugurated just before his departure a year later. Both events probably took place at the Isthmian sanctuary rather than in Corinth, the first in order to recreate and surpass the glorious occasion of Flamininus’ degree of liberation delivered in the stadium at the Isthmian festival of 196 B.C.,46 and the latter because the first trenches for the canal lay nearby. The text of his declaration is preserved in an inscription from Boeotia at Acraephia with the date November 28 in the 13th year of his tribunician power (= 66).47 The speech is also commemorated on Corinthian coins minted by Piso and Cleander during their year of office in 66/67.48 The emperor is shown speaking from a platform with the inscription ADL[ocutio] AVG[usti].49 A celebration of the Isthmian Games accompanied the occasion.50 The games may have been celebrated again in the fall of 67 when Nero inaugurated the Isthmian canal, since he is reported to have sung a hymn to Poseidon and Amphitrite and a short song to Melikertes and Leucothea to celebrate the event.51 The normal celebration of the Isthmia and Caesarea fell in the spring of 67.52 As far as the buildings of the sanctuary are concerned, if they had not been renovated before this time, they were surely repaired for Nero’s visit.

In summary, representations of the Isthmian victor’s wreath and the deities of the sanctuary on the early duoviral coinage of Corinth tell us that the Isthmian festival returned to the city’s control almost immediately after the colony was founded. The absence of substantial archaeological remains around the temenos of Poseidon and the theater in the Isthmian sanctuary makes it likely that the actual celebration of the games remained largely in Corinth until the principate of Nero. The Caesarean games that were held at the same time as the Isthmian appear to have continued to be held in Corinth until at least the 2nd c. The first Palaimonion precinct and Pit A were built in the mid 1st c., accompanied by some landscaping of the temenos and rebuilding of the theater.

The architectural history of the sanctuary following Nero’s visit can be traced only in the archaeological record of the site.53 Toward the end of the 1st c. Pit A of the first Palaimonion was completely filled with remains of sacrifices, and it was replaced by Pit B surrounded by a larger precinct wall (Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Restored plan, southeastern area of the Sanctuary of Poseidon

In the same period the temple and altar of Poseidon were enclosed by a heavy wall supported by buttresses. The excavations of 1989 produced deposits relating to construction of the temenos wall, together with portions of the earthen floors inside and outside the second Palaimonion enclosure. The pottery provides a date of 80/90 – 100/110 for both constructions. It is uncertain whether the temenos was entered from the E or W sides, since the enclosure wall is not preserved above floor level and there are no remains of a gate or its foundations. The isolation of the temple within its very small temenos is conspicuous.

The second Palaimonion almost quadrupled the size of its predecessor. For the first time appear the unusual round lamps that became the standard cult light for the hero. They seem to have been designed and made for use in the cult at Isthmia.54 Through the stratified sequence of floor surfaces excavated in 1989 inside and outside both the first and second precincts, it is clear that the special lamps began with Phase II of the Palaimonion, and they continued through the 2nd c. They were not deposited inside the sacrificial pits but were apparently placed on the ground nearby.

3. The Hadrianic Temple of Palaimon

Not many years passed before new construction was undertaken at the east side of the Poseidon precinct. The major structure was a heavy concrete podium that Broneer identified as the Roman altar of Poseidon (Figure 4).55

Figure 4 – Actual State Plan of Roman Altar

A wall extending from the main temenos enclosed the foundation on the N, E and S sides (Figure 1), (Figure 7).

Figure 7 – Restored Plan 130 AD

The main entrance to the walled area was at the E through a gate built on the foundations of the Hellenistic propylon. At the SW corner a smaller opening led to a ramp that connected the precinct with the second Palaimonion enclosure around Pit B 56.

The identification of the structure within the walled precinct as the altar of Poseidon has always been puzzling. The monument was not built in the first phase of the Roman sanctuary, when we might expect a replacement for the long altar, and it was covered later by the east stoa. It seems more likely that the remains belong to the podium of a small temple. It has several aspects that support this reconstruction. First, the concrete foundation projects on the N side for 2 m beyond the central core of the structure (Figure 4). Such an arrangement suggests that there was a stair at the N, the blocks of which have been removed. The other 3 sides of the core were faced with ashlar blocks, the first course of which remains in place. If we restore 3 steps at the N side, each 0.33 m high and 1 m deep, the top of the uppermost step will be level with the surface of the concrete core. The central portion of the podium was thus a square measuring about 5 m on a side. Only a very small monument could have stood on such a base, and the square shape is appropriate for a circular structure such as a tholos.

Broneer uncovered a similar foundation at the S side of the main temenos, opposite sacrificial Pit C (Figure 1). It is made in same way as the eastern podium with ashlar facing over a concrete core, although it is slightly larger (Broneer restores the top as a square of 7 m on a side) and a passageway runs through the foundation. Broneer identified the monument as the Temple of Palaimon that appears on Corinthian coins of the 2nd c. The coin representations show small tholos within opening in the base and a statue of Palaimon lying on the back of a dolphin (Figure 4).57

There are actually two groups of coins that show a similar temple with Palaimon lying on his dolphin. The first was minted under Hadrian; the second and most numerous began in the reign of Marcus Aurelius and continued into the 3rd c.58 In the latter group most of the representations include an opening in the podium, and it seems clear that they refer to the temple Broneer found. There has always been some hesitation, however, in associating the Hadrianic coins with the same building.59 New material from deposits recovered in 1989 shows that in fact Broneer’s temple could not have been standing as early as the time of Hadrian, since the sacrificial pit associated with it (Pit C) was not opened until at least the middle of the century and the temple was built some time after that.60 The coins of Hadrian must represent another, earlier temple of the same type and containing a cult statue of the same configuration. The similarities between the two temples can be seen by comparing the Hadrianic coin (fig. 5) with Broneer’s restoration based on the later coins (Figure 6).

Figure 6 – Restored View of the Temple of Palaimon built under Marcus Aurelius

A conical roof ornamented with dolphins is supported by an open circle of columns, and within is seen the prone body of a young boy Iying on a dolphin.61 The youth is certainly Palaimon whose body was carried to the Isthmus by a dolphin and for whom the Isthmian Games were first celebrated.62 Several of the coin representations in the later group include the pine tree and bull that were connected with his cult.63

The monument in the eastern precinct, so similar in form and setting to Broneer’s Temple of Palaimon, was very likely the first shrine to the same god and the one that is shown on the coins of Hadrian. The similarity in size and construction between the two foundations supports the connection, as does the walled precinct and the presence of a sacrificial pit in a separate enclosure nearby. The revised chronology for the enclosure associated with Pit B and the ramp leading to it shows that the eastern complex was in use during the first half of the 2nd c.64 It appears that Pit B was built first and the temple with its precinct wall and ramp followed soon afterwards. The opening of Pit C in the middle of the century marked a change in the layout of the Palaimonion (phase III). As far as we can judge from the placement of the pit within its enclosure and from the walled areas to the west of it that were built at the same time, they were planned in relation to the rear wall of the south stoa (Figure 1). Thus, although some time seems to have elapsed before the stoa was actually constructed, its location is implicit in the original plan of Pit C. It is difficult to reconstruct the precise stages in the replacement of the eastern Temple of Palaimon with its southern successor, but the second building must have been completed before the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180, and the pottery from the surface of the precinct points to a date earlier in his reign.65

In both complexes dedicated to Palaimon the temple occupied its own walled precinct entered by a gate (Figure 1, Figure 7). The pit where sacrifices were offered lay in a separate enclosure, nearby but not adjacent to the temple. The first temple did not have a passage through the foundation, and it would seem that the rituals it served belonged to a later period of cult practice.66 When time came for construction of the east stoa that was to be built over the original Temple of Palaimon, most of the temple blocks were removed, perhaps to be reused in the new temple.


When the games returned to Corinthian control in the early years of the Roman colony, they were celebrated in the city of Corinth. The festival did not come to be held regularly at the Isthmian sanctuary until A.D. 50-60. At that time a new cult place was established for sacrifices to the hero Melikertes-Palaimon. Nero’s wish to recreate the grandeur of the past with a speech of liberation to the Greek cities at a special celebration of the games in 66 added impetus to the sanctuary’s recovery. The reign of Hadrian brought an expansion of Palaimon’s cult place with the addition of a temple and precinct at the east side of the main temenos. The building is illustrated on coins of the period. Finally, in the middle of the 2nd c. plans for the expansion of the area surrounding the Temple of Poseidon made it necessary to move Palaimon to a new shrine at the south side of the main square.