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Roman Corinth

John is a retired librarian who writes articles based on material gleaned mainly from obscure books and journals.

Site of an Ancient Fountain

Site of an Ancient Fountain

The Greek city of Corinth, on the northern shore of the Peloponnese peninsula, west of Athens, was an important trading centre long before the Romans arrived. When they did, in 146 BC, they destroyed the city and left it as a deserted shell.

The revival of Corinth came about as a result of Julius Caesar’s policy of settling retired and discharged legionary veterans in colonies distributed throughout the Empire. The first colonists arrived after Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC and they set about constructing a city very much on Roman lines.

Some Greek elements were retained in the new city, such as the Agora (forum), several stoas (covered walkways) and the Temple of Apollo, but the impression conveyed by what can be seen today is that this was a Roman city that would in time become suitable as the capital of a province, in this case Archaea.

Roman Corinth was very much a commercial centre, with a number of the buildings relating to mercantile activities.

Commerce clearly brought wealth to Corinth, as evidenced by the buildings devoted to leisure and entertainment. The original Greek theatre was converted to accommodate Roman pleasures, such as gladiatorial contests. There was also an odeum – a small theatre designed for musical performances.

Corinth was a religious city, with six temples built to revere the Roman gods during the second century AD. We know that Corinth had a small but active Christian community, from the fact that St Paul wrote two of his best-known epistles to the Corinthian Christians during the mid-first century. Paul is known to have stayed at Corinth for 18 months, during which he worked as a tentmaker and preached.

However, during the third century the fortunes of Corinth went into decline as commercial activity decreased. The Roman city was itself abandoned, with the centre of modern Corinth lying a few miles to the northeast. This has made it possible for extensive archaeological work to be done on the Roman remains, with the result that much has been learned about how a typical colonial capital operated.

The Temple of Apollo

The Temple of Apollo

The Corinth Canal

A notable feature a few miles away from the Roman city is the Corinth Canal, cut through the narrowest point of the isthmus (four miles wide) to provide easier access to the port of Piraeus. Several projects to build a canal were proposed in classical times but abandoned for various reasons, including the difficulty of cutting down through up to 250 feet of solid limestone.

One attempt was made by the Emperor Nero in 67 AD, when on a visit to the region. He instructed the Praetorian Guard to begin work immediately and joined in by shovelling up a bucketful of dirt and carrying it away on his back. However, he soon lost interest in the idea, which was not revived until long after his assassination in 69 AD. The current canal, which follows the same course that Nero had in mind, was begun in 1881 and completed in 1893.

The Corinth Canal

The Corinth Canal

Comments

John Welford (author) from Barlestone, Leicestershire on September 25, 2019:

Liz, Thank you for your comments. I just selected the photos from copyright-free sources - Corinth is one of many places that I have never been to!

Liz Westwood from UK on September 25, 2019:

This sounds like a very interesting place to visit. You have illustrated this article with great photos.