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The Corinthian Isthmus and the Isthmian Sanctuary

  • Oscar Broneer

The peloponnesus came so near to being a true island (Island of Pelops) that the neck of land (FIG. I) which joins it to the northern half of the Greek peninsula is less than five miles wide. This became a natural crossroads of the Greek world. Several routes converging on this landbridge connected the Peloponnesus with the rest of Greece. Communications by sea between the east and the west, through the Saronic and the Corinthian Gulfs, were interrupted by the Isthmus, and attempts were made early to pierce or overleap the barrier. The southern sea-lane encircling the Peloponnesus was much longer, and weather conditions made the journey hazardous. For this reason cargoes were unloaded at the two harbours, Kenkreai on the Saronic and Lechaion on the Corinthian Gulf, and carried by land across the Isthmus. Naval vessels, and perhaps the empty freight carriers, were transported over a paved roadway called Diolkos. The western end of this portage has long been recognized on the Peloponnesian side of the Corinth Canal, and recently longer stretches of pavement have been laid bare on both sides of the Canal. The Diolkos here did not run straight but ascended the steep slope in great sweeping curves (FIG. I and PLATE IX (c) ). The pavement has a width of 3-50-5 m. and is made with large poros blocks well fitted together. Two deep ruts, 1-50 m. apart, show that the ships were hauled on wheeled cradles, not on rollers, as was formerly assumed. The excavation, conducted by the Archaeological Service of the Greek Government, is still in progress, and the exact course across the Isthmus will not be known before this work is completed.

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1 See article by Nicholas M. Verdelis, Illustrated London Nevis, 19 October, 1957, pp. 640-651. MrVerdelis has kindly furnished the photograph for PLATE IX (C).

2 This wall was first noticed by Chrysoula Kardara in 1954 while supervising excavation on the Rachi. I was then under the impression that this piece of Cyclopean masonry was part of a supporting wall for a road. See Hesperia, XXVI, 1955, p. 124.

3 Hesperia, VIII, 1939, pp. 424 ff.; A.J.A., LII, 1948, pp. III ff.; Antiquity, XXX, 1956, pp. 9-18.

4 This expression seems to indicate that Nero contemplated a change in the name of the peninsula from Peloponnesus to Nerononnesus; see I.G., VII, No. 2713, p. 478.

Professor Oscar Broneer of the University of Chicago has been in charge of the excavations at Isthmia near Corinth since 1952, working on behalf of Chicago and the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Here he describes some of his recent results including the ‘enigma’, as he called it in two recent articles in Archaeology (June and December, 1956) and which he interprets as a complicated device for starting runners on their course.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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