The Archaeology of Late Antique Korinthia

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.

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  1. 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. 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.

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