Corinth

CORINTH (Gr. Korinthos, ornament). A city of Greece on the narrow isthmus between the Peloponnesus and the mainland. Under the Romans, Athens was still the educational center of Greece, but Corinth was the capital of the Roman province they called Achaia and was the most important city in the country. Land traffic between the north and south of Achaia had to pass the city, and much of the commerce between Rome and the East was brought to its harbors.

Corinth occupied a strategic geographical position. It was situated at the southern extremity of the isthmus, at the northern foot of the lofty (2,000 ft. [625 m.]) and impregnable Acrocorinthus, which commanded a wonderful view over the Saronic Gulf on the east and the Corinthian Gulf on the west, as well as over central Greece and the Peloponnesus. From the Acrocorinthus it is possible on a clear day to see the Acropolis of Athens forty miles (sixty-seven km.) away. Corinth had three harbors: Lechaem to the west, Cenchreae and Schoenus to the east. Lechaeum was connected with Corinth by a double row of walls. Because of its highly favored commercial position, in ancient times the city was known as “two-sea'd Corinth.”

Ancient sailors dreaded making the voyage round the southern capes of the Peloponnesus, and this, as well as the time saved caused many of the smaller ships and their cargoes to be hauled across the narrow isthmus on a track. Sometimes the cargo of large ships was removed at the harbor, carried across the isthmus, and then loaded onto another ship on the other side. Several attempts were made in ancient times to cut a ship canal across the isthmus, notably one by Nero about a.d. 66, but none was successful. One was opened in 1893 and is now in use.

Corinth had an ancient and very interesting history. Phoenician settlers were early attracted to it. They introduced many profitable manufactures and established the impure worship of the Phoenician deities. Later, Greeks from Attica became supreme. They probably changed the name of the city to Corinth, and glorified the games held there in honor of Poseidon, the god of the sea. About 1074 b.c. the Dorians conquered the city. After the invention of triremes (ships with three tiers of oars on each side) about 585, a series of important colonies was founded, and Corinth became a strong maritime force. The city was lukewarm in the Persian Wars and opposed Athens in the Peloponnesian War. Except for a brief period the Macedonians held the city from 335 to 197. The Romans declared Greece and Corinth free in 196; but in 146, because of a rebellion against Rome, the city was totally destroyed by the Roman consul Mummius, and its famous art treasures were taken as spoil to Rome. Julius Caesar rebuilt it as a Roman colony and made it the capital of Achaia in 46, and after that it rapidly came into prominence again. The Goths raided it in the third and fourth centuries a.d.; the Normans sacked it in 1147; the Venetians and Turks held it in the Middle Ages; from 1715 until 1822 it remained with the Turks. A severe earthquake in 1858 caused the abandonment of the city and the building of a new town a few miles from the ancient site. Modern Corinth has a population of about 21,000. Until recent times when archaeologists began excavating the ancient city, nothing marked its site except seven columns of an old Doric temple.

In Roman times Corinth was a city of wealth, luxury, and immorality. It had no rivals as a city of vice. “To live like a Corinthian” meant to live a life of profligacy and debauchery. It was customary in a stage play for a Corinthian to come on the scene drunk. The inhabitants were naturally devoted to the worship of Poseidon, since they drew so much of their wealth from the sea, but their greatest devotion was given to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Her temple on the Acrocorinthus had more than a thousand hierodouloi—priestesses of vice not found in other shrines of Greece, and she attracted worshipers from all over the ancient world. Besides drawing vast revenues from the sea, Corinth had many important industries, its pottery and brass especially being famous all over the world. The Isthmian games, held every two years, made Corinth a great center of Hellenic life.

At the height of its power, Corinth probably had a free population of 200,000 plus a half million slaves. Its residents consisted of the descendants of the Roman colonists who were established there in 46 b.c., many Romans who came for business, a large Greek population, and many strangers of different nationalities attracted to the city for various reasons. In the last group was a considerable body of Jews and also some Gentiles brought under the influence of Judaism because of its monotheism and lofty morality.

Paul visited Corinth for the first time on his second missionary journey (Acts.18.1-Acts.18.28). He had just come from Athens, where he had not been well received, and he began his work in Corinth with a sense of weakness, fear, and trembling (1Cor.2.3). A special revelation from the Lord in a night vision altered his plans to return to Thessalonica (Acts.18.9-Acts.18.10; 1Thess.2.17-1Thess.2.18), and he was told to speak freely and boldly in the city. At his first arrival, he became acquainted with Aquila and Priscilla, fellow Christians and, like himself, tentmakers. During his stay of a year and a half he resided in their home. He labored with his own hands, so that his motives as a preacher would be above suspicion. Soon after his arrival, Silas and Timothy rejoined him, Timothy bringing news from the church at Thessalonica (1Thess.3.6).

Every Sabbath Paul preached in the synagogue, but before long he met with strong opposition from the Jews, so that he turned from them and for the rest of his stay in Corinth gave his attention to the Gentiles (Acts.18.6). He was then offered the use of the house of Titus Justus, a God-fearing Gentile who lived next door to the synagogue. Many turned to Christ and were baptized as a result of Paul’s preaching, among them Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, and all his house. None of the baptisms in Corinth were performed by Paul himself, except those of Crispus, Gaius (Paul’s host on his later visit, Rom.16.23), and the household of Stephanas, who were Paul’s first converts (1Cor.16.15).

During Paul’s stay in Corinth, Gallio, the elder brother of the Roman philosopher Seneca, came to govern Achaia as proconsul. This was about the year a.d. 51, as an inscription found at Delphi in 1908 shows. The Jews brought an accusation before Gallio against Paul, charging that he was preaching a religion contrary to Roman law. Gallio, however, refused to admit the case to trial and dismissed them. It is evident that he looked on Christianity as being only an obscure variety of Judaism and that to him the quarrel between the Jews and Paul had its origin in nothing more than differing interpretations of the Jewish law. Following Gallio’s decision, the Greek bystanders vented their hostility against the Jews by seizing and beating Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and Gallio paid no attention to them. Gallio’s action was highly important, for it amounted to an authoritative decision by a highly placed Roman official that Paul’s preaching could not be interpreted as an offense against Roman law; and from this experience Paul gained a new idea of the protection the Roman law afforded him as a preacher of the gospel. After many days, Paul left Corinth to go to Jerusalem and Antioch, on his way stopping off briefly at Ephesus.


About a.d. 97, Clement of Rome wrote a letter, which survives, to the church at Corinth. It shows that in his time the Christians there were still vexed by divisions.——SB


One of the great seaports of ancient Greece, it was situated at the western end of the isthmus linking central Greece and the Peloponnesus. It was sited some five miles southwest of the modern canal that cuts the isthmus. Its important location thus enabled Corinth to control the trade between N Greece and the Peloponnesus and across the isthmus. It had two harbors: its eastern harbor, Cenchreae, was on the Saronic Gulf, an arm of the Aegean Sea; its western harbor, Lechaeum, was on the Gulf of Corinth, an arm of the Ionian Sea. The Corinthian canal conceived by Nero to cut through the isthmus, and so avoid a lengthy and dangerous sea voyage around the Peloponnesus, was completed only in 1893. So the two harbors of Corinth, with ox cart transference of goods between the two, had to suffice in classical times.

Corinth had a checkered history, being twice destroyed by earthquakes; this old city was about two miles inland on an elevated plateau at the foot of the Acro Corinth (about 1,886 feet above sea level). Depopulated and destroyed after a cruel siege in 146 b.c., it was rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 46 b.c., and settled with freedmen from Italy, Orientals, and Jews. The mixed population, scorned by the proud Athenians, was licentious and tumultuous, as Paul learned to his sorrow. His two epistles to the Corinthians are vivid evidence of this unruly church. Paul stayed eighteen months in Corinth during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-18). This has been dated by an inscription from Delphi which shows that Gallio came to Corinth as proconsul in a.d. 51 or 52 (Acts 18:12-17). His bemma, judgment seat, has been excavated (Acts 18:12), as also the meat market (1 Cor. 10:25). An aedile Erastus is mentioned on an inscription near the theater, who has been identified with the treasurer of Roman 16:23. It was from Cenchreae, seven miles from Corinth, that Paul sailed to Ephesus, after he had written 1 Thessalonians, the oldest preserved Pauline letter.

J.G. O'Neill, Ancient Corinth, (1930); O. Broneer, “Corinth, Center of Paul's Missionary Works in Greece,” BA XIV (1951), pp. 77-96; Corinth I-VIII (1951 ff.).


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CORINTH kôr’ ĭnth (ἡ Κόρινθος). Capital city of the Rom. province of Achaia.

Topography.

The city was one of the most strategically located in the ancient world. It was situated on a plateau overlooking the Isthmus of Corinth about two m. from the Gulf. It lay at the foot of Acrocorinth, an acropolis which rises precipitously to 1,886 ft. and was so easily defended in ancient times that it was called one of the “fetters of Greece.” So impregnable was the fortress that it was never taken by storm until the invention of gunpowder. It commanded all of the land routes from central Greece into the Peloponnesus along the Isthmus.

There were good harbors on both sides of the Isthmus: Cenchreae on the Saronic Gulf to the E and the Lechaeum on the Gulf of Corinth to the W. A coin of the Emperor Hadrian represented the harbors by two nymphs facing in opposite directions with a rudder between them. In ancient times ships were dragged across the isthmus on rollers in order to avoid the long and dangerous passage around Cape Malea at the southern tip of the Peloponnesus. Periander the tyrant (c. 625-585 b.c.) planned to breach the Isthmus and the Emperor Nero actually began the project, but a canal was not completed until 1893.

History.

The first inhabitants of the site were Neolithic and Early Bronze Age settlers, who seem to have moved to a site closer to the coast at Koraku near the Lechaeum. By the Late Bronze Age Koraku was a prosperous settlement in comparison with the site of classical Corinth at the same time. It is assumed, therefore, that the “wealthy Corinth” of the Iliad (Bks. 2 and 13) was Koraku, also called Ephyra in book six. Archeological evidence indicates that the Bronze Age settlement was abandoned by the Dorians in favor of the classical site.

The prosperous city-state of Corinth emerged in the 8th cent. b.c. It gained control of the Isthmus and southern Megara. Colonies were sent to Corcyra, Ithaca and Syracuse. The expansion of the city was led by the clan of the Bacchiadae. During this period a school of poetry led by Eumelus developed and the Proto-Corinthian style of pottery appeared, which was heavily influenced by contact with the E. The Bacchiadae were overthrown by the tyrant Cypselus (c. 657), whose house ruled until 582 b.c. During this period Corinth reached the zenith of its prosperity and power. Periander, the last and greatest of the tyrants, built a stone passageway (δίολκος) across the isthmus for the transfer of ships and cargo. Corinthian ships sailed to both the E and W with their products contained in beautiful Corinthian ware.

In the early 5th cent. b.c. Athenian mercantilism and imperialism caused the city to decline. The two vied for influence on Samos, at Megara and along the Corinthian Gulf. A dispute over Corcyra and Potidaea led to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War in 431 b.c., which was disastrous for both. In the early 4th cent. the city allied itself with a number of stronger powers. It sided with Athens, Argos and Boeotia against Sparta. Soon afterward (395-386 b.c.) a short-lived democratic government was established which was replaced by an oligarchy. After the battle of Chaeronea (338 b.c.) Corinth lost its independence. Philip II of Macedon garrisoned Acrocorinth and made the city the center of his Hellenic League.

In the Hel. period Corinth was a center of industry, trade and commercialized pleasure. It became a member, and for a time, the chief city of the Achaean League during the period between Alexander’s death and the rise of Rom. influence in Greece. After a brief campaign which resulted in the conquest of Greece in 196 b.c., the Romans declared Corinth a free city. However, they were soon forced to curb the influence of Corinth and the league, and the city was completely destroyed by Mummius in 146 b.c.

Corinth day in ruins for one hundred years, until Julius Caesar decreed in 46 b.c. that it should be rebuilt. A Rom. colony was founded on the site, which later became the capital of the province of Achaia. Its population was made up of local Greeks, orientals including a large number of Jews, freedmen from Italy and Rom. government officials and businessmen. The city became a favorite spot of the Rom. emperors. Nero displayed his artistic prowess at the Isthmian games and in a moment of exuberance declared the city free. He, Vespasian and Hadrian were patrons of the city and made it the finest city of Greece. Pausanias, the Gr. traveler and geographer, visited Corinth in the 2nd cent. a.d. and wrote a concise description of the monuments of the imperial city.

The Rom. city was ravaged by Gothic hordes in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Its destruction by Goths in a.d. 521 prompted Procopius to remark that God was abandoning the Rom. empire. It was refounded by the Emperor Justinian and held in the nodetitle by Normans, Venetians and Turks. The ancient site was abandoned in 1858 because of a severe earthquake. A new city was built near the gulf and further to the E.

In Rom. times the city was notorious as a place of wealth and indulgence. “To live as a Corinthian” meant to live in luxury and immorality. As a seaport it was a meeting place of all nationalities and it offered all of the attendant vices. The temple of Aphrodite on Acrocorinth was unique in Greece. Its priestesses were more than a thousand hierodouloi “sacred slaves,” who engaged in prostitution. Its wealth was derived from its commercial traffic by sea and by land, its pottery and brass industries, and its political importance as the capital of Achaia. At its height it prob. had a population of 200,000 free men and 500,000 slaves.

Monuments.

The site of the ancient city has been extensively excavated by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Most of the ruins which have been uncovered are from the Rom. city which was begun in 46 b.c. Situated on a natural terrace between Acrocorinth and the sea, the city was joined to both by fortification walls. A broad, paved road connected the Lechaeum to the city. Entrance to the agora (“market place”) was gained by the propylea, a Rom. triumphal arch which replaced an earlier Gr. building. On the E side of the Lychaeum road near the propylea was the peribolos of Apollo and the famous fountain of Peirene which supplied water to that section of the city. The present remains of the fountain building are from the elaborate remodeling of Herodes Atticus (c. a.d. 175). To the W was a large basilica, a rectangular hall divided by two lines of columns. Behind the basilica and on a separate terrace stood the temple of Apollo (c. 540 b.c.), of which seven Doric columns and the foundation remain. To the W of the temple there was a Rom. odeon and immediately to the N of it a large theater. Further N against the city wall were the sanctuary of Asclepius, god of healing, and the fountain of Lerna. In the ruins of a small temple there were found numerous representations of parts of the human body in various materials ranging from terra cotta to gold. These were votive offerings to the god. They now make up an interesting display in a room of the museum at Corinth.

The agora itself was bounded on the W, NW and S by long porticoes, the longest of which is the S stoa 525 ft in length. The boundary of the agora to the E was the Julian basilica. Behind the south stoa was the senate house and another large basilica. From here began the road to Cenchreae. In addition to the shops that were in the stoas to the SW and NW, there was a line of shops which ran through the middle of the agora. In the center of these was the “bema” or forum, which was a large, raised platform in front of the residence of the proconsul.

About a half mile W of the agora a Rom. villa with exceptional mosaics was uncovered and still further to the SW were found the remains of the “Ceramaicus” the potters’ quarters.

Biblical importance.

There are three items of archeological interest which relate to the account in Acts of Paul’s visit to Corinth. The Rom. tribunal to which he was dragged (ἐπὶ τὸ βη̂μα, Acts 18:12) by the mob to appear before Gallio has been uncovered in the center of the agora. It was a high platform supported by two steps. It was faced with blue and white marble. On either side were enclosures with benches and beyond these passageways which led from the lower to the upper portion of the agora. It fits perfectly the Rom. conception of a rostrum, a public speaking platform.

To the S of the theater there is a large, paved area which dates from the middle of the 1st cent. a.d. On one of the paving stones is the inscr., Erastus, pro aedilitate sua pecunia stravit, “Erastus, in return for the aedileship, laid [the pavement] at his own expense.” Paul, writing from Corinth, mentioned in the epistle to the Romans (16:23) an Erastus, whom he described as ὁ οἰκονόμος τη̂ς πόλεως, “treasurer” or “administrator of the city.” Although there is some doubt as to whether οἰκονόμος, G3874, is a proper equivalent of aedile, usually ἀγορανόμος in Gr., it is generally held that this is the same Erastus, a convert or friend of the apostle.

An inscr. found near the propylea reads ΓΩΓΗΕΒΠ which has been identified as Συνα γωγη ̔Εβρ αίων [“synagogue of the Hebrews”]. It was prob. the lintel block of a nearby building. Although it is generally dated in the 3rd cent. a.d., it attests to the existence of a Jewish community at Corinth.

The Apostle Paul first visited Corinth on his second missionary journey (Acts 18). He had just arrived from Athens where he had been poorly received. He says he began his work at Corinth with weakness, fear and trembling. He had intended to remain only a short time before returning to Thessalonica, but the Lord spoke to him in a night vision (Acts 18:9, 10; 1 Thess 2:17, 18). He preached in the city for a year and a half. For a time he resided in the home of nodetitle, Jews who had recently been expelled from Rome by the Emperor Claudius. They, like Paul, were tentmakers and he worked with them during his stay so that his motives as a preacher would not be impugned. Soon after he arrived Silas and Timothy joined him from Macedonia.

He preached in the synagogue on each sabbath until strong opposition arose among the Jews. He then turned to the Gentiles and stayed at the house of nodetitle, a Gentile adherent to Judaism, who lived next door to the synagogue. He made a number of converts during his stay, among them Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue.

At one point a Jewish mob dragged Paul before the Rom. proconsul of Achaia, L. Junius Gallio. His term of office was for the year 51-52 or 52-53 according to an inscr. found at Delphi in 1908 (SIG II3.801). Gallio heard the charges at the tribunal, but refused to judge in a matter regarding Jewish law. Even when the mob released Paul and began to beat Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, he refused to get involved (Acts 18:12-17). This opinion by a highly respected Rom. officer that Paul’s preaching was not contrary to Rom law, no doubt gave him an insight into the protection that Rome would give to him as he preached the Gospel. The account of Paul’s first visit to Corinth closes with the notation that he left some time after this incident for Jerusalem and Antioch by way of Ephesus.

Paul wrote the Thessalonian epistles during this stay at Corinth. Soon after he arrived in the city, Silas and Timothy joined him. The news which Timothy brought from Macedonia prompted Paul to write the First Epistle to the Thessalonians. The Second Epistle was written prob. soon after the first one was received.


The church at Corinth reemerges into literary history at the close of the 1st cent. a.d. In about the year 97, nodetitle wrote a letter, which survives, to the church. It reveals that the church was still vexed by many of the same problems about which Paul wrote to them.

Bibliography

American School of Classical Studies, Corinth, Results of Excavations (1926—); J. G. O’Neill, Ancient Corinth (1930); O. Broneer, “Corinth, Center of St. Paul’s Missionary Work in Greece,” BA XIV (1951), 77-96; American School of Classical Studies, Ancient Corinth, A Guide to the Excavations, 6th ed. (1954).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

A celebrated city of the Peloponnesus, capital of Corinthia, which lay North of Argolis, and with the isthmus joined the peninsula to the mainland. Corinth had three good harbors (Lechaeum, on the Corinthian, and Cenchrea and Schoenus on the Saronic Gulf), and thus commanded the traffic of both the eastern and the western seas. The larger ships could not be hauled across the isthmus (Ac 27:6,37); smaller vessels were taken over by means of a ship tramway with wooden rails. The Phoenicians, who settled here very early, left many traces of their civilization in the industrial arts, such as dyeing and weaving, as well as in their religion and mythology. The Corinthian cult of Aphrodite, of Melikertes (Melkart) and of Athene Phoenike are of Phoenician origin. Poseidon, too, and other sea deities were held in high esteem in the commercial city. Various arts were cultivated and the Corinthians, even in the earliest times, were famous for their cleverness, inventiveness and artistic sense, and they prided themselves on surpassing the other Greeks in the embellishment of their city and in the adornment of their temples. There were many celebrated painters in Corinth, and the city became famous for the Corinthian order of architecture: an order, which, by the way, though held in high esteem by the Romans, was very little used by the Greeks themselves. It was here, too, that the dithyramb (hymn to Dionysus) was first arranged artistically to be sung by a chorus; and the Isthmian games, held every two years, were celebrated just outside the city on the isthmus near the Saronic Gulf. But the commercial and materialistic spirit prevailed later. Not a single Corinthian distinguished himself in literature. Statesmen, however, there were in abundance: Periander, Phidon, Timoleon.




LITERATURE.

Leake, Travels in the Morea, IlI, 229-304; Peloponnesiaca, 392 ff; Curtius, Peloponnesos, II, 514 ff; Clark, Peloponnesus, 42-61; Conybeare and Howson, The Life and Epistles’ of Paul, chapter xii; Ramsay, "Corinth" (in HDB); Holm, History of Greece, I, 286 ff; II, 142, and 306-16; III, 31-44, and 283; IV, 221, 251, 347 and 410-12.

J. E. Harry