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The Archaeology of Late Antique Korinthia 11 August 2005

Posted by Troels in : Late Antiquity , trackback

In terms of iconoclasm-related literature that I read over the break, the most interesting was without a doubt Richard M. Rothaus’ Corinth: First City of Greece. He deals with the archaeology of late antique religion in the Korinthia in a most admirable way, while continually challenging common assumptions and too eagerly made links between literary sources and the archaeology. Monuments in Corinth, Kenchreai and Isthmia are thus re-interpreted. I’m not totally convinced by his argument that cult at the Asklepieion and Temple E at Corinth continued after their demolition and into the sixth century CE. The evidence for this consists only of a few lamps found among the rubble. Excavations at the so-called Fountain of the Lamps, however, have revealed thousands of lamps, dated from the late fourth to the mid-sixth century CE. These lamps have both pagan and Christian motifs, showing how fluid the borders were between religions in late antique cult and ritual. Lamps were the main votive objects of late antiquity, and their presence in several caves around Greece show how vital pagan cult was through to the sixth century CE, although these cults now had to take their activities outside the towns.

Overview of the Lechaion Road and the temple of Apollo, Corinth. Photo: TMK, October 2004.

Rothaus also has a short survey of mutilated sculpture in the Korinthia. I will need to take a closer look at these examples soon.

The book tries to tie the archaeological evidence into a wider hypothesis that early Christianity was anything but monolithic. This might be too broad a conclusion for such a short book (and a regional survey at that), but Rothaus shows how much potential there is in re-interpretation of the archaeological material. Some additional copy editing would have been nice, though (cf. Alun’s recent blog entry).

Richard M. Rothaus. 2000. Corinth: First City of Greece. An Urban History of Late Antique Cult and Religion. Leiden.


1. Søren Handberg - 12 August 2005

Hi Troels,

Just wanted to make two short comments. First of all I find the shift in the dedication pattern in the late antique periode interesting, why were lamps so favoured at this time? I suppose this question falls somewhat outside your thesis, but maybe (with the relative abundant literary evidence from the period) an investigation of this phenomenon could tell us something of the connection between the mentality of the dedicator and the objects dedicated. This seems to me to be an excellent case study for material culture studies.
Secondly the intrusion of later material at a site is always difficult to interpret, it reminds me of the Olynthos problem. The city was destroyed by Phillip in 348 BC. but later coins were found at the site, even so the terminus ante quem for the dating of the pottery has been maintained. I guess it’s all a matter of how much material it takes to argue for continued use.

2. Troels - 12 August 2005

Yes, it seems to be the pattern in Greece at least that lamps become the most common votive objects. However, I think that the picture has been somewhat distorted. Obviously in town centres it’s more difficult to establish the function of other kinds of pottery.

3. Towards an Archaeology of Iconoclasm » Continuity of Pagan Cult: The Shrine of Liber Pater at Cosa - 16 August 2005

[…] Last week, I was discussing the work of Richard Rothaus and the question of continuity of pagan cult in the early Christian period. In Corinth, most of the sites that show continuity are extraurban, and at many rural sites in Greece (especially caves) non-Christians continue to give votives. An example of urban continuity of pagan cult comes from Cosa, where the shrine of Liber Pater at Cosa was excavated as part of the American project in this Italian town. The shrine, that has been interpreted as the meeting place of a Bacchic cult association (for more on late antique associations, see the excellent website by Philip Harland, assistant professor of religion at Concordia University), was constructed in the fourth century directly facing the city’s forum, where there also was a Mithraeum. Part of the old basilica was at the same time converted to a church. In general the fourth and fifth centuries CE seem to be a period of renewed prosperity in Cosa after a couple of centuries of decline. […]

4. Towards an Archaeology of Iconoclasm » Thesis Status and Things to Come - 20 December 2005

[…] Another development is that I’ve decided to leave the material from Greece for later. There are several potential sites, ranging from the obvious cases at Corinth and Athens (that have been dealt with at length by many others) to new interesting cases at Messene, Nikopolis and elsewhere. More importantly, I decided that a ’survey’ approach just wasn’t appropriate for my project. I still use the Greek material as comparanda in the other chapters though. […]