Wondering which is the perfect place for your day-trip from Athens? Choose the site of ancient Corinth and learn some facts that will definitely amaze you before your visit!
Corinth was one of the most important ancient Greek city-states in the whole region of Greece. With a history stretching for more than 8000 years, it is safe to say that it played an important role not just to Greek history but also to the rest of the world. Wondering why Corinth is so special? Here are 5+1 facts that will make you realize that this city is more important and relevant to you that you might have thought of.
Corinth is one of the most ancient cities in Greece
Ancient ruins at the archaeological site of Ancient Corinth - credits: David H.Seymour/Shutterstock.com
There is no doubt that ancient Corinth was one of the most important cities to be found around Greece and actively shaped the ancient history of Greeks, holding quite an important role in ancient politics.
Its prestigious position among the Greek city-states was shown even more through the vast history of the city. Extensive archaeological research has shown that people reside in this area since Neolithic times. With artifacts dated as early as 6500 BCE, the settlement of Corinth gradually developed and grew into a dominant trade center of Greece since the early Bronze Age. The era of Kings in Corinth resulted in a powerful state not only able to control its nearby territories but also rich enough to raise the interest of its enemies. The 8th century for Corinth brought the invasion of the Bacchiadae, a Doric-clan that put an end to the succession of Kings and established an aristocratic regiment with them as the rulers of Corinth. A new phase of construction and prosperity begun and the population of the city-state rose up to 5000 individuals, quite a substantial number for this time-period.
Through the centuries Corinth was continuously inhabited since Neolithic times up until today, only with a small pause during Roman times. Therefore, the naming of Corinth as one of the most ancient places to be in Greece is more than fair considering its history of about 8500 years!
Corinth was the birth city-state of one of the Seven Sages of Greece
Acrocorinh; the Acropolis of Ancient Corinth - credits: Pavel Kirichenko/Shutterstock.com
In Plato’s work Protagoras, we discover the listing of seven names after the title, “The Seven Wise Men”. According to tradition, these men were considered to be wisest Greeks of all that shaped their generation and the others to come through their pioneer, advanced work. One of them was Periander of Corinth, who lived during the 6th century BCE. He was the son of the first tyrant of Corinth Cypselus and got immortalized through a series of actions that made him and the city of Corinth a formidable force. During his ruling, the city expanded and colonized faraway places, the first coins of the city were struck, and he even conceived and started a huge construction programme to create a canal to connect the Saronic to the Corinthian Gulf. After he realized the sheer scale of the project and faced the limit of the existing technology, he changed his plan by creating the Diolkos, a strip of land with appropriate infrastructure to drag ships and other vessels from the eastern to the western coast. The unprecedented influx of money coming from tolls allowed him to invest in his city’s infrastructure, decorating it with lavish public buildings and temples and spend even more as a patron of literature and philosophy.
Corinth had institutionalized, sacred prostitution.
Statue of Aphrodite, the ancient Greek god of beauty - credits: markara/shutterstock.com
At the top of the imposing hill of Acrocorinth, there used to be a temple dedicated to the goddess of love, Aphrodite. The temple was located right next to the mythical spring that according to legend Asopus gave as a gift to Sisyphus. This temple was renowned in the ancient world and was described by Strabo when he visited Corinth in 2 BCE. According to him, the temple already had over 1000 slaves-courtesans both male and female, who have dedicated their lives in the service of the goddess. It was known back then, that getting the services from such a courtesan was quite costly and thus a saying which is mentioned by Strabo was: “The voyage to Corinth is not for every man”. Stories of rich captains losing their living and ships for spending one night with a temple-courtesan were numerous and known to every corner of the Greek world. One really famous prostitute of the 4th century BCE was named Lais and charged high amounts for her services. According to some sources, she asked from Demosthenes 10.000 drachmas just for a night with her, an unthinkable sum of money considering the fact that an average day pay was 1 drachma. She was so beautiful that even the famous painter Apellis hired her to pose for him for some of his works.
Corinth hosted the Panhellenic Isthmian Games
Corinth canal, -or 'isthmos' in Greek- the place that gave Isthmian Games their name - credits: EleniMac/Shutterstock.com
The Isthmian Games were one of the four Panhellenic Games that existed in antiquity. Just like the Olympic Games, athletes from all over Greece and the Greek region rushed to participate in the Games honoring the patron god, Poseidon. According to the legend, the founder of the Games was Sisyphus himself and an Isthmian Truce (just like the Olympian one) was declared before the start of the festival to ensure the safe passage of the athletes to Corinth. The prize for these games were wreaths of celery and later on made out of pine.
Only during the 2nd century BCE, Romans were allowed to take part in the festival and eventually the games stopped after the decision of Theodosius I in the 4th century AD. The ancient stadium of Isthmia is still preserved right next to the temple of Poseidon.
Corinth was destroyed to the ground and refounded by the Romans
The archaeological site of Ancient Corinth - credits: Tatiana Popova/Shutterstock.com
After the destruction of Carthage in 146 BCE, the Romans proclaimed to the rest of the world their hegemony and unquestionable rule. In Greece, the Achaean League reacted to the provocations of the Romans and later that year a decisive battle between those two parties happened outside of the city of Corinth. Despite the minor victories of the Greeks, the commander Lucius Mummius vanquished the Greek army and continued by destroying to the ground the city of Corinth. Not only that, but he captured all the male population of the city and executed them on site while women and young children were sold as slaves. This dramatic event shook the reality of the Greeks that observed everything in horror. The destroyed city was left in ruins for almost a century when Julius Caesar, re-founded the city under the name Colonia Laus Iulia Corinthiensis (colony of Corinth in honor of Julius) in 44 BC before his assassination. After some years, Corinth recovered, reintroducing itself as one of the most dynamic harbors of the Mediterranean with a huge population of Greeks, Romans, and Jews.
Apostle Paul lived and preached in Corinth
Anyone that has read the New Testament knows the Epistles to Corinthians of Apostle Paul. It is believed that Paul arrived in Corinth in 49 or 50 AD and organized the first Church of Corinth making it an Apostolic See. In Corinth, he met Priscilla and Aquila which later on came to be two of the Seventy Disciples. He lived and worked with them for more than eighteen months in the city, where he frequently visited and preached at the local synagogue. The fact that he lived for that long in Corinth shows the well-established Jewish community of Corinth that allowed him to worship and preach in their synagogue. Although two Epistles to Corinthians have been included in the New Testament, scholars claim that during his life he wrote probably more than four, showing the dynamic character of this new Church and his investment on the city for the spreading of Christianity.
From colossal construction projects and sports festivals to a founding city of the Christian faith, Corinth has it all. Think no more and pay a visit to ancient Corinth to enjoy the impressive ancient ruins, walk around its imposing landscape, and listen to stories that will definitely captivate your imagination. Plan your own visit to Corinth or perhaps check out one of our Greece tours.