Who You’ll Meet There
It’s probably best to visit Corinth during its prosperous, independent era in antiquity. It is very likely you will meet men who work in shipping and/or trade and women that were housewives or temple prostitutes. During its fall to the Romans (who at the time had controlled much of modern-day Europe, Turkey, and North Africa), Corinth’s men were killed and women and children sold into slavery. The city was destroyed and left abandoned for the next 100 years. It would not be recommended to visit Corinth during this time; the city was stuck in limbo. If you were to visit, you would only meet squatters.
Eventually, people returned and reestablished the area. If you were to visit during this time, you would meet the slaves the Romans had freed and released into the city. These founding immigrants applied the skills they had acquired during their slavery into rebuilding the city.
They built up Corinth on the foundation of the previous society and again the city prospered. Because of its geography on the isthmus, trade again became the dominant industry. It was like most major cosmopolitan cities – a melting pot; you could meet people here that had been slaves in any area of the empire.
Ready to visit? For more information, check out the “Corinth: The City and Its History” chapter in Joseph Fitzmeyer’s book First Corinthians.
How You’ll Get There
Corinth would be fairly easy to get to because of its location between two major gulfs. According to ORBIS estimates, coming in from Athens you would travel for about a day and a half via boat or ship through the Saronic Gulf. If you continue your travels to visit the Oracle at Delphi, you can depart from the west side of Corinth and travel for a little more than half a day through the Gulf of Corinth. This would actually be the ideal itinerary of the common trip from Athens to Delphi, anyway. By sea, non-stop, the trip would take about two days. By land, the trip would take over five days.
Now, if you made arrangements with a particular captain of a certain ship and it is inconvenient to just hop onto another on the other side of the isthmus, it might be possible to take a shortcut by carrying the ship over dry land through use of a paved roadway known as the Diolkos. This is not a guarantee, though! Recent scholarship has suggested it would not be an option to cross the isthmus and you would just have to hop aboard another ship on the other side.
Ready to visit? For more information, check out the “Diolkos of Corinth” article by David Pettegrew in the American Journal of Archaeology.
Why You Should Go There
Corinth was a cultural hub of Greece. Its arts scene rivaled that of Athens. Any art aficionado interested in delving more into the greater Greek culture – independent of the culturally-dominating Athens – would vastly enjoy Corinth. It is known for its elaborate style of columns. Also, black-figure pottery was a style developed in Corinth.
It was also a trade and manufacturing hub. Corinthian pottery was exported all over the Mediterranean (until Athens hijacked the market with their better materials and skills). The vases were not simply decoration the way we view them now. At the time, they were functional – they contained olive oil which was sold/traded for grain (Hemingway). They were also known for their bronze, however, it’s believed it was exclusively for the locals and was not exported (Witherington 9-10). According to Thucydides, the Corinthians also were responsible to the development of the trireme (so often associated with the grandeur of Athens) (Meijer).
The temple courtesans were also a popular attraction. (Think: Amsterdam’s red light districts.) Strabo even attributes this sexual business as Corinth’s source of wealth: “And therefore it was also on account of these women that the city was crowded with people and grew rich; for instance, the ship captains freely squandered their money, and hence the proverb, ‘Not for every man is the voyage to Corinth.'” A retrospective account on the history of prostitution from William Sanger explains that “the first-class hetairae [courtesans] of Corinth charged as much as a talent for a single night’s company… For the common sailors, the commercial shrewdness of the Corinthians had established a temple to Venus, containing a thousand young slaves” (58).
Corinth was also host to the Isthmian Games in honor of Poseidon. Held every other year and the second most popular next to the Olympics, Pausanias points out their perseverance even through the devastation brought on by the Romans: While in ghost-town limbo, they found a temporary site nearby until Corinth could be resettled and the games could return.
It is especially advised to avoid travel to Corinth during the Achean War (which began in 147 BC). After the Romans wiped out the population, Corinth was deserted. If you want to experience an ancient ghost town, this would be the time to visit. However, at your own risk! It would not be recommended to visit until after the colony was reestablished in 44 BC. It would be best, though, to travel after the new residents had broken more ground in rebuilding the city’s infrastructure.
Say What?! Contrary to our cultures view of prostitutes, the hetairae were aristocracy! Read more in William Sanger’s The History of Prostitution: Its Extent, Causes, and Effects Throughout the World.
“black-figure pottery.” Encyclopedia Britanica. Encyclopedia Britanica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopedia Britanica Inc., 2013. Web. 10 May 2013.
Fitzmeyer, Joseph. “I. Corinth: The City and Its History.” First Corinthians. Yale UP; 2008. pp. 21-28. Google eBook.
Hemingway, Colette, and Seán Hemingway. “Ancient Greek Colonization and Trade and their Influence on Greek Art.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. Web. 10 May 2013.
List, Herbert. Torso of a Robed Statue and Temple of Apollo, Temple of Apollo, Ancient -Corinth. 1937. Magnum Photos, New York. Web. 4 May 2013.
MapMaster. “Isthmus of Corinth in Ancient Greece.” 12 Jan. 2010. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 10 May 2013.
Meijer, F. “Thucydides 1.13.2-4 and the Changes in Greek Shipbuilding.” Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte. 37.4.4 (1988): pp. 461-463. JSTOR. Web. 10 May 2013.
National Capitol Columns at the National Arboretum, Washington, D.C. Personal photo by Kristen Brown, 2011.
Pausanias. “Corinth and the Aroglid.” Guide to Greece. Peter Levi, trans. Vol. 1. Great Britain: Chaucer, 1971.
Pettegrew, David K. “The Diolkos of Corinth.” American Journal of Archaeology 115. 4 (2011): 549-574. JSTOR. Web. 06 May 2013.
Sanger, William W. The History of Prostitution: Its Extent, Causes, and Effects Throughout the World. New York: Harper & Bros., 1876. Google eBook.
Scheidel, W. and E. Meeks. 2 May 2012. ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. Stanford Univ. Web. 01 May 2013.
Sting. “Model of a Greek Trireme.” 3 Feb. 2006. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 10 May 2013.
Strabo. Book 8, Chapter 6, Section 20. Ed. H. L. Jones. Geography. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1924. Perseus Digital Library. Tufts Univ. Web. 10 May 2013.
Witherington, Ben. Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary of 1 and 2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm B. Eerdsman, 1995. Google eBook.