Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Greeks and Romans in Corinth

Greeks and Romans in Corinth

Ancient Corinth, Apollo temple
Ancient Corinth, Apollo temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Yesterday the two volumes of the Journal of Roman Archaeology 25 showed up in my campus mailbox. It always appears in the fall, and along with college football and Thanksgiving mark the beginning of the indoor-living season. In this year’s volume, Kathleen Slane has two offerings – an article and a book review – that examine and critique the ethnic identity of the city of the ancient Corinth after it was “destroyed” by the Roman general Mummius in 146 BC. As she explains in her review of S. J. Friesen, D. N. Schowalter, and J. C. Walters, eds. Corinth in Context: Comparative Studies on Religion and Society. (Leiden 2010), the history of the city between this sack and the refounding of the city in the 1st century B.C.  Not only is the archaeological evidence complex, but scholars have asked particularly difficult questions of this evidence: namely were the inhabitants of the refounded city Greeks or Romans?  Were they descendants of the original Greek inhabitants of the city who returned after Mummius’s sack or was the population dominated by Roman immigrants from Italy.

Slane considers this tricky issue in a short article titled “Remaining Roman in death at an Eastern Colony” where she looks at evidence from a number of “Roman type” tombs in the immediate neighborhood of the city of Corinth. Work on the National Road and the high speed rail line through the ancient city of Corinth’s chora revealed several new examples of Roman style tombs to go along with some tombs excavated in the first part of the 20th century. The tombs date to second century A.D., some 150 years after the refounding of the city. These tombs featured biclinia or a triclinium that echo Roman dining practices. Vaulted construction and wall painting styles evocative of Italian types particularly those around Ostia (and elsewhere associated with Roman colonies in the Eastern Mediterranean). The tombs featured space for both inhumation and cremations indicating that the two practices probably existed simultaneously. It is notable that the Roman style tombs presented here by Slane are quite different from the recently studied tombs at the site of Koutsongilia near Kenchreai. Slane concludes the article with the observation Corinthian elites continued to have contact with Italy for centuries even into the Medieval and Early Modern period as the Corinthian Gulf remained in the orbit of the Italian Adriatic.
Ancient Corinth, roman fountain
Ancient Corinth, roman fountain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Later in volume 25, Slane reviews the Friesen, Schowalter, and Walters, eds.Corinth in Context. After nice, brief introduction to history and problems associated with Roman Corinth, she pays particular attention of Ben Millis article on Greek and Roman names. From Slane’s review, it would seem that Millis looked at the names and language that appear in Corinthian inscriptions to consider the ethnic (if we can use that word here) make up of the city of Corinth. Slane was rather critical of Millis’s arguments.

Without going into much detail on these two short contributions, they reflect the ongoing interest among archaeologists in the ethnic, linguistic, and cultural make up of the Roman city of Corinth. There remains very little in the way of theoretical discussion in this scholarship, and this is understandable considering the aversion to theory among Mediterranean archaeologists generally and the complexity of issues surrounding ethnicity in social, historical, and archaeological contexts. At the same time, it will strike a reader more grounded in world archaeology as strange and perhaps a bit quaint to see such careful and fastidious study of ancient material unfettered from larger theoretical questions.