Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.5.15

Nancy Bookides and Ronald S. Stroud, The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: Topography and Architecture, Corinth XVIII, part 3. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies, 1997. Pp. xxiii, 510, figs. 109, pls. 66, plans 12. $125.00. ISBN 0-87661-183-8.

Reviewed by Susan I. Rotroff, Dept. of Classics, Washington University in St. Louis,

Exploration of the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore on the northern slopes of Acrocorinth began in 1961 and continued on a nearly annual basis until 1975, first under the direction of Ron Stroud, then of Nancy Bookides. The scale of the excavation was relatively modest, with rarely more than 10 workmen, but over the years they logged more than 100 weeks of fieldwork, ultimately uncovering a trapezoidal area measuring some 55 by 90 meters. Because of the steep slope and the long history of the site, this was a very exacting excavation, but not beyond the extraordinary talents of the Corinth team, which includes some of the best excavation workers in Greece -- from the directors to the pickmen. Although the sanctuary has not been revealed in its entirety (and severe erosion in some areas makes that goal an impossibility), the excavations provide a rich body of evidence for both the physical features of the shrine and for the activities that were carried out there.

The two project directors have collaborated on this, the third in a series of substantial volumes devoted to publication of the results of the excavation. It is preceded by two volumes on ceramics;1 still to come are studies of the terracotta figurines, sculpture, metal, inscriptions, bones, and, of course, the definitive work tying all of this evidence together and elucidating cult practice at the sanctuary. In this dense and closely reasoned book the authors present, in painstaking detail, the evidence for the architectural development of the site. While they drop tantalizing hints about ritual and function, their aim here is to reconstruct the architectural and topographical setting and to trace its development over the millennium or so during which the cult functioned.

Throughout its history the sanctuary was divided into three terraces, each of which served a different function. Stroud has concentrated on the middle terrace, apparently the location of the earliest temple and a focus of intensive cult activity in the form of sacrifices and votive deposits. He also provides an account of the literary sources and a concluding summary of the architectural development of the sanctuary as a whole. Bookides presents the structures of the lower and upper terraces. The lower terrace was devoted to ritual dining throughout the Greek period, although its function seems to have changed in Roman times. The upper terrace, where the remains are much scantier, seems to have served at first as a theatral area, but by the early Hellenistic period it had probably become the site of the temple, a function that was expanded in the Roman period. Bookides also contributes discussion of the pre- and post-sanctuary remains of the Mycenaean to Geometric and the Late Roman periods respectively, and a catalogue of 109 architectural fragments from the site. The authors stress, however, that the writing of the book was a fully collaborative project, and they take collective responsibility for all of its conclusions.

A brief first chapter summarizes the location of the site, ancient testimonia, and the history of excavation. The testimonia are few. Pausanias mentions a sanctuary of the goddesses on the slopes of Acrocorinth, but no ancient author provides any information about the nature of the cult. Even the Pausanias passage is not without difficulties, which have a direct bearing on the interpretation of the remains in the Roman phase. Chapter 2 briefly discusses Mycenaean and Geometric remains; no architecture can be associated with any cult function this early, although a Mycenaean structure, possibly a farmhouse, once stood here, and in his concluding summary Stroud speculates that legends associated with this building might have drawn later worshippers to the site. Late Geometric pins and rings suggest that worship may have begun as early as the middle of the 8th century, but large numbers of miniature ceramic votives, which were to become the typical dedication here, do not occur until a century later. A lone 7th-century rooftile from a substantial building hints at architectural embellishment of the site at this early date.

The first structures incontrovertibly devoted to cult were built in the early 6th century on both the lower and the middle terraces. Architectural development in support of the cult continued from then until the 4th century CE, interrupted by a century-long gap after the Roman destruction of Corinth in 146 BCE. The bulk of the book (Chapters 3-12) is devoted to this development, as divided into four main periods: Archaic, 5th century, 400-146, and Roman. For each of these there is a chapter on the lower and the middle terrace. The history of the upper terrace, where earlier remains were extremely difficult to identify, has been divided more broadly into the Greek and the Roman period. Each chapter contains extensive and meticulous building-by-building descriptions of the architectural remains, sometimes almost stone by stone, including substantial detail about state of preservation and means of construction, stratigraphy, proposed reconstructions, and chronology. The buildings are designated by their grid coordinates rather than by conventional labels, a system that takes a little getting used to, but which works well, particularly for the lower terrace, where the configuration of the architecture changed substantially from period to period as structures were repeatedly built over, expanded, combined, and reconfigured. To keep one's bearings, one can refer to the general period plans and well chosen photographs at the back of the book, and to a large actual-state plan of the lower and middle terraces at a scale of 1:100. The third dimension is supplied by abundant sections. Descriptions are easy to follow, although one minor inconvenience is that Stroud sometimes uses older designations for walls and areas that are not marked on the published plans. For the lower terrace, excellent drawings of individual buildings have been placed within the text, giving state plans, restored plans, and volumetric diagrams, along with a sketch locating the building in question within the sanctuary. These are a godsend, for one would be hard put to follow the development of this complex area without their aid. Because of the different levels and the poor preservation of many structures, it often takes considerable effort to reconstruct the site in the mind's eye. Some reconstruction sketches would have been very helpful here, especially for the middle terrace; perhaps we can look forward to them in a future volume.

There has been substantial erosion on this steep slope, and much must remain conjectural. The conjectures are convincingly argued; extensive consideration is given to alternatives and the reasons for their rejection clearly stated. The authors have tried to provide sufficient data so that the reader can verify their claims and weigh their arguments -- although they have not included, as some recent excavation reports have done, a complete description of the content of every pottery lot. This was simply not a reasonable goal, as it would have expanded an already large volume into many more. This kind of information -- and, some might feel, even some of the detail that the authors do provide about wall construction and stratigraphy -- is more reasonably confined to some form of electronic publication, where it will be available to the handful of specialists who need to delve truly deeply into the evidence for the reconstruction of the site.

In these chapters, and again in the overviews of the dining rooms (Chapter 14) and the historical development of the sanctuary (Chapter 15), the authors show how the shrine grew and changed over the centuries. They have attempted to correlate changes within different parts of the shrine, but have been careful to avoid over-simplification. For instance, erosion has removed much of the stratigraphy that would have provided evidence for chronology of the Roman buildings, many of which cannot be dated on the basis of either stratigraphic or architectural evidence. There must have been a strong temptation to assign all buildings to the late 1st century CE, a date that can be argued convincing for some of the structures. The authors have resisted, however, and have been careful not to argue beyond what the evidence can support.

The history of the sanctuary is punctuated by times of intense building and moments of severe damage. Throughout the Archaic and Classical periods, the number of dining rooms increased and the plan of the sanctuary became increasingly formal, with the eventual addition of a more monumental entrance and a central stairway leading to the middle and perhaps the upper terrace. On the middle terrace, a fairly large structure (neutrally termed an oikos) probably served as a temple, and sacrificial and votive pits bear witness to ritual activities. Major changes occurred in the early Hellenistic period, perhaps in the wake of an earthquake. Dining continued on the lower terrace in more carefully designed and extensively fitted out buildings, now more commonly with kitchens and bathing facilities -- small, house-like structures that provide insight into domestic as well as sacred architecture. A propylon now provided a monumental entryway to the middle terrace and emphasized the division between the two terraces. Sacrifices and dedications continued to be carried out on the middle terrace, but the oikos was dismantled, its function apparently migrating to the upper terrace, where traces of a temple have been identified.

All this came to an end in 146, although the buildings show no sign of deliberate damage. Rather they simply fell into disrepair after the withdrawal of the Roman army. One of the fascinating and still unanswered questions is how soon after the refoundation of Corinth in 44 BCE the new settlers began to use the sanctuary. The meager evidence suggests that rebuilding did not take place until the later 1st century CE, possibly in the wake of the earthquake of 77. Bookides and Stroud suggest, on the basis of coins recovered at the site, that the Romans were already using the sanctuary in the first half of the century, although Kathleen Slane, in her analysis of the Roman ceramics, wrote that the amount of earlier pottery was "insufficient to demonstrate that the Sanctuary was in use before the middle of the 1st century."2 And how did the Romans use the sanctuary? The absence of dining rooms suggests to Bookides and Stroud that ritual meals no longer formed part of the ceremonial. But Slane points to tableware and to the large number of Roman cooking pots, all showing signs of use, which would seem to indicate that meals continued to be prepared and consumed in the sanctuary.3 For the answers to these and other questions, we must be patient and wait until all of the evidence has been put before us.

The sanctuary went out of use at the end of the 4th century CE. Perhaps the first blow was dealt by the earthquake of 375 CE, to be followed by depredations of Christians or of Alaric's Visigoths. Thereafter the area served as a burial ground, probably from the 4th to the 6th century CE (Bookides catalogues the graves in Chapter 13), after which time it was utterly abandoned.

As excavations in Demeter's sanctuary began in the summer of 1961, Stroud recalls (p. 9), local women harvested the wheat in the surrounding fields, one of them singing a dirge for her dead child -- a reminder of just how long the longue durée can be. It has also been a long time between the excavation and this publication -- over 20 years since excavations came to a halt -- a fact for which the excavators feel they need to offer some explanation. The sometimes glacial pace of archaeological publication has become an increasing matter of concern in recent years. Statements of professional ethics have been drafted, calling for "timely" publication. But what is "timely"? The Demeter sanctuary is a site of considerable complexity; it took 15 years to excavate it, and it produced a staggering number of finds, especially of votive pottery and terracotta figurines. Reconstruction of the architecture had to await analysis of the pottery found in association with it, and a valid interpretation of the site as a whole must await the analysis of the other finds as well. In the American academic world, no one is paid to do this work full time; they have to accommodate it to the work that puts bread on the table. The fact is that, given the way the American practice of Mediterranean archaeology is currently constituted, it takes a lifetime to complete a project of this stature. Corinth XVIII, part 3 does full justice to the architecture of the site. It is a monument in the continuing publication of the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Corinth and a firm foundation for the studies that are still to come.  


1. E. Pemberton, The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: The Greek Pottery, Corinth XVIII, part 1 (Princeton 1989) and K.W. Slane, The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: The Roman Pottery and Lamps, Corinth XVIII, part 2 (Princeton 1990).  

2. Corinth XVIII, part 2, p. 5.  

3. Corinth XVIII, part 2., p. 6.