1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Corinth (Greece)
CORINTH, a city of Greece, situated near the isthmus (see Corinth, Isthmus of) which connects Peloponnesus and central Greece, and separates the Saronic and the Corinthian gulfs on E. and W. The ancient town stood 1½ m. from the latter, in a plain extending westward to Sicyon. The citadel, or Acrocorinthus, rising precipitously on the S. to a height of 1886 ft. was separated by a ravine from Oneium, a range of hills which runs E. to the isthmus entrance. Between this ridge and the offshoots of Geraneia opposite a narrow depression allowed of easy transit across the Isthmus neck. The territory of Corinth was mostly rocky and unfertile; but its position at the head of two navigable gulfs clearly marked it out as a commercial centre. Its natural advantages were enhanced by the “Diolcus” or tram-road, by which ships could be hauled across the Isthmus. It was connected in historic times with its western port of Lechaeum by two continuous walls, with Cenchreae and Schoenus on the east by chains of fortifications. The city walls attained a circuit of 10 m.
I. History.—In mythology, Corinth (originally named Ephyre) appears as the home of Medea, Sisyphus and Bellerophon, and already has over-sea connexions which illustrate its primitive commercial activity. Similarly the early presence of Phoenician traders is attested by the survival of Sidonian cults (Aphrodite Urania, Athena Phoenicice, Melicertes, i.e. Melkarth). In the Homeric poems Corinth is a mere dependency of Mycenae; nor does it figure prominently in the tradition of the Dorian migrations. Though ultimately conquered by the invaders it probably retained much of its former “Ionian” population, whose god Poseidon continued to be worshipped at the national Isthmian games throughout historic times; of the eight communal tribes perhaps only three were Dorian. Under the new dynasty of Aletes, which reigned according to tradition from 1074 to 747, Corinthian history continues obscure. The government subsequently passed into the hands of a small corporation of nobles descended from a former king Bacchis, and known as the Bacchidae, who nominated annually a Prytanis (president) from among their number. The maritime expansion of Corinth at this time is proved by the foundation of colonies at Syracuse and Corcyra, and the equipment of a fleet of triremes (the newly invented Greek men-of-war) to quell a revolt of the latter city.
But Corinth’s real prosperity dates from the time of the tyranny (657–581), established by a disqualified noble Cypselus (q.v.). and continued under his son Periander (q.v.). Under these remarkable men, whose government was apparently mild, the city rapidly developed. She extended her sphere of influence throughout the coast-lands of the western gulf; by the settlement of numerous colonies in N.W. Greece she controlled the Italian and Adriatic trade-routes and secured a large share of the commerce with the western Greeks. In Levantine waters connexions grew up with the great marts of Chalcis and Miletus, with the rulers of Lydia, Phrygia, Cyprus and Egypt. As an industrial centre Corinth achieved pre-eminence in pottery, metal-work and decorative handicraft, and was the reputed “inventor” of painting and tiling; her bronze and her pottery, moulded from the soft white clay of Oneium, were widely exported over the Mediterranean. The chief example of her early art was the celebrated “chest of Cypselus” at Olympia, of carved cedar and ivory inlaid with gold. The city was enriched with notable temples and public works (see § Archaeology), and became the home of several Cyclic poets and of Arion, the perfecter of the dithyramb.
The tyranny was succeeded by an oligarchy based upon a graduated money qualification, which ruled with a consistency equalling that of the Venetian Council, but pursued a policy too purely commercial to the neglect of military efficiency. Late in the 6th century Corinth joined the Peloponnesian league under Sparta, in which her financial resources and strategic position secured her an unusual degree of independence. Thus the city successfully befriended the Athenians against Cleomenes I. (q.v.), and supported them against Aegina, their common commercial rival in eastern waters. In the great Persian war of 480 Corinth served as the Greek headquarters: her army took part at Thermopylae and Plataea and her navy distinguished itself at Salamis and Mycale. Later in the century the rapid development of Athenian trade and naval power became a serious menace. In 459 the Corinthians, in common with their former rivals the Aeginetans, made war upon Athens, but lost both by sea and land. Henceforward their Levantine commerce dwindled, and in the west the Athenians extended their rivalry even into the Corinthian Gulf. Though Syracuse remained friendly, and the colonies in the N.W. maintained a close commercial alliance with the mother-city, the disaffection of Corcyra hampered the Italian trade. The alliance of this latter power with Athens accentuated the rising jealousy of the Corinthians, who, after deprecating a federal war in 440, virtually forced Sparta’s hand against Athens in 432. In the subsequent war Corinth displayed great activity in the face of heavy losses, and the support she gave to Syracuse had no little influence on the ultimate issue of the war (see Peloponnesian War). In 395 the domineering attitude of Sparta impelled the Corinthians to conclude an alliance with Argos which they had previously contemplated on occasions of friction with the former city, as well as with Thebes and with Athens, whose commercial rivalry they no longer dreaded. In the ensuing “Corinthian War” the city suffered severely, and the war-party only maintained itself by the help of an Argive garrison and a formal annexation to Argos. Since 387 the Spartan party was again supreme, and after Leuctra Corinth took the field against the Theban invaders of Peloponnesus (371–366). In 344 party struggles between oligarchs and democrats led to a usurpation by the tyrant Timophanes, whose speedy assassination was compassed by his brother Timoleon (q.v.).
After the campaign of Chaeronea, Philip II. of Macedon summoned a Greek congress at Corinth and left a garrison on the citadel. This citadel, one of the “fetters of Greece,” was eagerly contended for by the Macedonian pretenders after Alexander’s death; ultimately it fell to Antigonus Gonatas, who controlled it through a tyrant. In 243 Corinth was freed by Aratus and incorporated into the Achaean league. After a short Spartan occupation in 224 it was again surrendered to Macedonia. T. Quinctius Flamininus, after proclaiming the liberty of Greece at the Isthmus, restored Corinth to the league (196). With the revival of its political and commercial importance the city became the centre of resistance against Rome. In return for the foolish provocation of war in 146 B.C. the Roman conquerors despoiled Corinth of its art treasures and destroyed the entire settlement: the land was partly made over to Sicyon and partly became public domain.
In 46 Julius Caesar repeopled Corinth with Italian freedmen and dispossessed Greeks. Under its new name Laus Julii and an Italian constitution it rapidly recovered its commercial prosperity. Augustus made it the capital of Achaea; Hadrian enriched it with public works. Its prosperity, as also its profligacy, is attested by the New Testament, by Strabo and Pausanias. After the Gothic raids of 267 and 395 Corinth was secured by new fortifications at the Isthmus. Though restricted to the citadel, the medieval town became the administrative and ecclesiastical capital of Peloponnesus, and enjoyed a thriving trade and silk industry until in 1147 it was sacked by the Normans. In 1210 it was joined to the Latin duchy of the Morea, and subsequently was contended for by various Italian pretenders. Since the Turkish conquest (1459) the history of Corinth has been uneventful, save for a raid by the Maltese in 1611 and a Venetian occupation from 1687 to 1715.
Authorities.—Strabo, pp. 378-382; Pausanias ii. 1-4; Curtius, Peloponnesos (Gotha, 1851), ii., 514–556; E. Wilisch, Die Altkorinthische Thonindustrie (Leipzig, 1892) and Geschichte Korinth’s (1887, 1896, 1901); G. Gilbert, Griechische Staatsaltertümer (Leipzig, 1885), li. pp. 87-91. (M. O. B. C.)
II. Archaeology and Modern Town.—The modern town of New Corinth, the head of a district in the province of Corinth (pop. 71,229), is situated on the Isthmus of Corinth near the south-eastern recess of the Gulf of Corinth, 3½ m. N.E. from the site of the ancient city. It was founded in 1858, when Old Corinth was destroyed by an earthquake. It is connected by railway with Athens (57 m.), with Patras (80 m.), and with Nauplia (40 m.), the capital of Argolis. Communication by sea with Athens, Patras, the Ionian Islands and the shores of the Ambracian Gulf, is constant since the opening of the Corinthian ship canal, in 1893. It has not, however, attained great prosperity. It has broad streets and low houses, but is architecturally unattractive, like most of the creations of the time of King Otto. Its chief exports are seedless grapes (“currants”), olive-oil, silk and cereals. Pop. (1905) about 4300.
Old Corinth passed through its various stages, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Turkish. After the War of Liberation it was again Greek, and, being a considerable town, was suggested as the capital of the new kingdom of Greece. The earthquake of 1858 levelled it to the ground with the exception of about a dozen houses. A mere handful of the old inhabitants remained on the site. But fertile fields and running water made it attractive; and outsiders gradually came in. At present it is an untidy, poverty-stricken village of about 1000 inhabitants, mostly of Albanian blood. Like the ancient city, it spreads out over two terraces, one about 100 ft. above the other. These were formed in different geological ages by the gulf, which had in historical times receded to a distance of 1¼ m. from the city. At the nearest point to the city was laid out the harbour, Lechaeum, a basin dug far into the shore and joined with the city by long walls. At about the middle of the two terraces, 1½ m. long, the edge of the upper one was worn back into a deep indentation, probably by running water, possibly by quarrying. Here was the heart of the ancient city. At the lower end of the indentation is the modern public square, shaded by a gigantic and picturesque plane tree, nourished by the surplus water of Pirene. As the visitor looks from the square up the indentation he sees on a height to the right a venerable temple ruin, and, directly in front, Acro-Corinth, rising over 1500 ft. above the village. Even from the village, the view over the gulf, including Parnassus with its giant neighbours on the N., Cyllene and its neighbours on the W., and Geraneia on the N.E., is very fine. But from Acro-Corinth the view is still finer, and is perhaps unsurpassed in Greece.
The excavations begun in 1896 by the American school of Classical Studies at Athens, under the direction of Rufus B. Richardson, have brought to light important monuments of the ancient city, both Greek and Roman.
The first object was the locating of the agora, or public square, first because Pausanias says that most of the important monuments of the city were either on or near the agora; and secondly because, beginning with the agora, he mentions, sometimes with a brief description, the principal monuments in order along three of the principal thoroughfares radiating from it. In the first year’s work twenty-one trial trenches were dug in the hope of finding a clue to its position. Somewhat less than a quarter of a mile to the N.W. of the temple, set back into the edge of the upper terrace, there was found, under 20 ft. of soil, a ruined Roman theatre built upon the ruins of a Greek theatre. This theatre was, according to Pausanias, on the street leading from the agora towards Sicyon, and so to the west of the agora. Another trench dug across the deep indentation to the E. of the temple revealed a broad limestone pavement leading from the very northern edge of the city up through the indentation, in the direction of Acro-Corinth. It required little sagacity to identify it with the street mentioned by Pausanias as leading from the agora towards Lechaeum. It was practically certain that by following up this pavement to its point of intersection with the road from Sicyon the agora would be discovered.
The limestone pavement, with long porches on either side, was found to stop at the foot of a marble staircase of thirty-four steps of Byzantine construction, underneath which appeared a Roman arrangement of the two flights with a platform halfway up. The top flight led up to the propylaea. The remains of the propylaea above ground are few; but the foundations are massive and well laid, at the end of the upper terrace where it is farthest worn back. These foundations are clearly those of a Roman triumphal arch, which perhaps took the name “propylaea” from an ancient Greek structure on the same spot. This arch appears on Roman coins from Augustus to Commodus; according to Pausanias it bore two four-horse chariots, one driven by Helios and the other by Phaethon, his son, all in gilded bronze.
Although a considerable part of the agora has been excavated, none of the statues which Pausanias saw in it have been discovered. On the upper (S.) side are excellent foundations of a long porch. On the N. side, stretching westward from the propylaea, are two porches of different periods. The older one, which still existed in Roman times, was backed up against the temple hill, which was cut away to make room for it. An ancient staircase, 15 ft. broad, led down from the temple hill into the lower area of the broad pavement, from which access to the agora and the Pirene was easy.
To the E. of the paved road and close up against the agora itself, only at a much lower level, was found, buried under 35 ft. of earth, the famous fountain Pirene, tallying exactly with the description of Pausanias, as “a series of chambers that are like caves, and bearing a façade of white marble.” This Pirene originally had a two-storey façade of Roman fashion made of limestone, but, before the time of Pausanias, it had received a covering of marble which has now fallen off, but has left traces of itself in the holes drilled into the limestone, in the rough hacking away of the half columns, and in the numerous marble fragments which lay in front of the façade. This was not, however, the earliest form of Pirene. It was built up in front of a more simple Greek fountain-structure which consisted of seven cross-walls placed under the edge of the stratum forming the upper terrace. Six chambers were thus formed which showed the chaste beauty of Greek workmanship, while the stratum of native rock which covered them gave a touch of nature and made them caves. The walls ended at the front in the form of an anta delicately carved. On a parapet at the rear of each chamber a single slender Ionic column between two antae supported an Ionic entablature. The stuccoed walls were striped horizontally and vertically with red on a blue field, on which appear fishes swimming. The chambers were really reservoirs, filled by the water which flowed along their backs.
We know nothing further about the Greek system, but in the Roman adjustment the water was led from this series of cisterns into a large rectangular basin which formed the centre of a quadrangle 50 ft. square. In the N.E. corner is a hole through which it was drained, and at the N. end a flight of five steps led down into it. Besides the four orifices through which water flowed into it there were two other holes about 4 in. lower down to keep the basin from overflowing. Two uses of water are mentioned by Pausanias, “The water,” he says, “was sweet to drink,” and also good for tempering bronze. It seems clear then, that the basin was at stated times used for the latter purpose, and was converted into a tank. The bronze was plunged into the water in a red hot condition, and thus acquired its peculiar excellence.
In Byzantine times five columns, of various diameters, with no two bases of the same size, bearing Corinthian capitals, were set up about 6 ft. in front of the façade. Blocks of marble which had seen use elsewhere ran from them back into the façade, which was hacked away in rough fashion to receive them. Probably these blocks formed the floor of a balcony, a tawdry marble addition.
Pirene was at all times the heart of the city. Here it was that Athena helped Bellerophon to bridle Pegasus; and hence she received the epithet of “the Bridler,” Chalinitis. The importance of the fountain is attested by the fact that the Greek poets and the Delphic oracle instead of saying Corinth said, “the city of Pirene.” That it was a place of common resort is shown by Euripides (Medea, 68 f.), where it is said that the elders were to be found “near the august waters of Pirene, playing draughts (πεσσί).” The quadrangle, with its walls 20 ft. high, and its three apses probably covered with half domes, provided considerable shade. There is reason for supposing that the marble coating of the façade, and perhaps the erection of the quadrangle, also covered with marble, were the work of Herodes Atticus, and therefore just completed when Pausanias saw them. A base on which stood a statue of Herodes’ wife, Regilla, was found close to the façade, inscribed with fulsome praise, stating that the statue was “set up by order of the Sisyphaean Senate at the outpouring of the streams.” Two inscriptions of Roman times make the identity of Pirene certain, if there could be any doubt in the face of the exact agreement of Pausanias’s description with the structure.
Of the surviving monuments of the Greek city the most important is the temple of Apollo. While it was probably badly wrecked by the Romans at the sack of the city, its massive columns with the entablature survived. That it was restored and was in use in Roman time is shown by the fact that both the seven columns still standing and two fallen columns discovered in the excavations, to say nothing of several fragments of others, have a thick coating of Roman stucco laid over the finer Greek. The style of the temple points to 600 B.C., when Periander was at the height of his power. According to Herodotus he made his doubtful adherents deposit pledges of faithfulness in the temple of Apollo. Quite near the W. end of the temple is the fountain Glaucē cut out of a cube of rock, apparently left standing when the material for the temple was quarried around it. In it were carved out four chambers or reservoirs all connected and a porch consisting of three pillars between two antae in which the side walls ended. The water coming down from Acro-Corinth was introduced from behind. Approached by a flight of steps partly rock-cut, it had at the rear of the porch a balustrade with marble lions’ heads through which the water overflowed. Two of these heads were found. The top of the system of reservoirs was too heavy for the slender cross walls and pillars, only the stumps of which remain; a collapse took place, by which the porch and the W. compartment were carried away. From its location only about 50 yds. from the temple it seems to have been the temple fountain. It was named after the second wife of Jason, Glaucē, who plunged into it to quench the fire of the poisoned bridal garments given her by Medea.
It is not surprising that monuments were found of which there is no record in ancient writings. Such was a very ancient fountain W. of the propylaea, 25 ft. below the surface. Under remains of the Roman city appeared a triglyphon of porous stone with an extent from N. to S. of about 30 ft. At the N. end it turned westward at an obtuse angle and extended about 10 ft. in that direction. The system is about 4 ft. high. While the colours on the metopes and triglyphs had faded somewhat, the border above them, topped with a cornice projecting 6 in., retained a most brilliant maeander pattern of red, blue and yellow, while below these were two bands of godroons of blue and red. On the top of this system as a foundation were set several statue bases, one bearing the signature of Lysippus, which shows that the system stood there at least as early as the 4th century B.C. Some parts of it may have been taken from older buildings, but not the cornice nor the corner metope block which formed an obtuse angle. Near the middle of the long side is an opening; and from it a flight of seven steps led down to a trapezoidal chamber, on the back wall of which are two lions’ heads of bronze, through which water, conducted in long semi-cylindrical channels of bronze, from behind the wall, poured out into pitchers for which holes are cut in the floor. Channels for the overflow were cut along the back and sides of the chamber. All this was once approached from the front at the level of the floor, long before the triglyphon was set up, 7 ft. above it. Considering its depth this fountain must be dated back to the 5th century, probably near the beginning. The style of the lions’ heads would hardly admit a later date. This is the only case of an ancient Greek fountain of such an early date, unaltered and intact. The pains taken to preserve it suggest that it was invested with a sacred character.
Sculptures in large numbers, both of the Greek city and the Roman, are collected in the new museum erected by the Greek government near the plane tree. The finest of the Greek sculptures is the head of a youth found in the orchestra of the theatre at a depth of 23 ft. It lacks only the lower part of the bridge of the nose, and has style and character, resembling Myron’s heads in shape and in the hair. A large fragment of a relief also of early date, represents two dancing maenads half life-size. Most impressive is a colossal female figure of grand style and excellent drapery. If not an original of the 5th century it is one of the finest of copies. Of the great amount of Roman sculpture the best single piece is a head of Dionysus under the influence of wine, crowned with a wreath of ivy, his right hand thrown carelessly over his head. The fine execution is all that differentiates it from the numerous copies in various museums. The most important sculptures of the Roman period, however, are a group of colossal figures supporting an entablature, a large part of which has been recovered. One of the figures, a barbarian captive, effeminate like those which appear on Roman triumphal arches, is practically intact. Another, its counterpart, is preserved down to the hips. These differ from Caryatids, which bear the architrave on their heads. Here a pilaster forming the back of the figure receives a Corinthian capital, upon which the architrave rests; and the figures merely brace up the pilaster. Two of these figures stood at the end of a re-entrant curve, several pieces of which are preserved. Two female heads of like proportions belong to the system, since the backs of their heads are cut away in the same manner as the male heads. The building to which the figures belonged, a porch, extended westward from the propylaea; and may be traced for 45 ft. All that is left of it is the core of opus incertum.
The excavations brought to light vases and fragments of vases, of nearly every period except the Mycenaean. On the N. side of the hill on which stands the village schoolhouse, from which one looks across the indentation to the Apollo temple, several vertical shafts in the limestone stratum were found, and underneath it in horizontal passages were bodies surrounded with vases. These are pre-Mycenaean, and their only ornament is scratches, into which white matter has been pressed. There are over fifty of these vases, of multiform shapes. By the side of the Lechaeum road, near the steps leading to the propylaea, were found in deep diggings thirteen early Geometric vases. Proto-Corinthian vases also were everywhere strongly represented. The best find of pottery, however, was an Old Corinthian celebē (κελέβη, drinking vessel), about a foot high, in forty-six fragments, found in a well, 30 ft. below the surface. On one side are a boar and a leopard confronting each other, and on the other side two cocks in the same heraldic arrangement. On the projecting plates supported by the handles are palmettes.
Two inscriptions in the Old Corinthian alphabet came to light. But, on the whole, inscriptions before the Roman times were almost entirely lacking. One inscription, though of late date, deserves mention. On a marble block broken away at both ends, which in a second use was a lintel, we read ΑΓΩΓΗΕΒΡ, which can only be συναγωγὴ Ἑβραίων (synagogue of the Hebrews).
The excavations were confined to a small part of the city, but there is little doubt that it was the most important part. By good fortune the earth here was very deep. On the higher level of the agora and the Apollo temple, where the depth of earth is comparatively slight, there is little hope of important finds. There is no hope of finding the great bronze Athena, which stood in the middle of the agora. To the west, beyond the theatre, one might find the temple of Athena Chalinitis and the fountain Lerna, and somewhere near Glauce, the Odeum and the tomb of Medea’s children; but it is more likely that they have disappeared. On the Lechaeum road, on which a bewildering wealth of fountains and statues is enumerated, only the Baths of Eurycles below the plane tree were found; deep diggings were made into them, and the foundations of the façade laid bare. This great complex was apparently supplied with water from Hadrian’s aqueduct from Lake Stymphalus. On the street going eastward from the agora nothing is mentioned between it and the city wall. This level eastern part was probably given up to fine houses, all traces of which have perished. Outside the gate, apparently, was the famous Craneion, shaded by cypress trees, and near it the tombs of Lais and Diogenes, a precinct of Bellerophon and of Athena Melaenis. The number of temples and shrines enumerated by Pausanias along the road leading up to Acro-Corinth is bewildering. Here were represented Isis and Serapis, Helios, the Mother of the Gods, the Fates, Demeter and Persephone; but no trace of these temples remains. At the highest point of the road, according to Pausanias, there stood the famous temple of Aphrodite, but the remains excavated at this point seem to be those of a late tower, and the few foundations below it do not resemble those of a temple. We are equally unfortunate in regard to Strabo’s splendid marble Sisyphaeum just below the summit. The fountain Pirene, “behind the temple,” still exists, but so much earth has accumulated about it that one now approaches it by going down a ladder. The water is so crystal clear that one inadvertently steps into it. The identity of name with that of Pirene in the city is justified by the fact that the upper spring is the source of the Pirene below.
See, for details, the American Journal of Archaeology (from 1896). (R. B. R.)