Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.02.25

Richard M. Rothaus, Corinth: The First City of Greece, An Urban History of Late Antique Cult & Religion.   Leiden:  Brill, 2000.  Pp. 173.  ISBN 90-04-10922-6.  $65.00.  

Reviewed by Paul D. Scotton, Department of Classics, University of Washington (
Word count: 1076 words

[[For a response to this review, see BMCR 2002.09.18.]]

(As a fellow specialist working in the Corinthia, I have known Richard Rothaus for the past ten years.)

This is the formal publication of Richard Rothaus' 1993 Ohio State University dissertation. It is a study of late antique cult in the Corinthia which seeks to document that paganism did not yield to Christianity and a Christian state but rather that a Christian state and Christianity supplanted and "forced out polytheism". Rothaus reexamines published excavations, offers unpublished evidence from earlier excavations, and reveals findings from recent surveys and excavations. This is presented in nine chapters and two appendices with a preface, bibliography, and index.

The first chapter, "Reconsidering Late Antique Religion", is a discussion of premises and methodology, including the application of set theory. What is significant here is that since the investigation is based on the archaeological record the distinctions between paganism and Christianity blur. That is, although the distinctions in belief are marked, the artifacts of ritual, rite, and cult of paganism and Christianity are quite similar in the late antique/early Christian era. There is, however, one major difference: the monuments of paganism and Christianity, temples and basilicas. It is the activities in these monuments, reflected in the archaeological record, that Rothaus sets out to document.

Chapter Two, "The Late Antique City", is an overview of Corinth as well as the Corinthia. The first half of the chapter comprises preliminary discussions of the social, political, and seismic background, including specific structures damaged by earthquakes. This leads to a description of the remodeled forum and then to a listing of late antique villas in the Corinthia. Chapter Three, "Broken Temples", is an investigation of select pagan temples of the Corinthia. Rothaus offers this as the core evidence of "public, non-Christian religious and cult practices of the city". After an examination of the scant literary evidence, Rothaus turns to physical remains and the archaeological record with especial emphasis on the Asklepieion.

Chapter Four, "Kenchreai, Eastern Port of Corinth", focuses on two structures: the so-called Aphrodesion and the Nymphaeum/basilica, wherein were found the opus sectile panels. Chapter Five, "Isthmia and the Isthmian Games", emphasizes the East Field, the theater, and the Roman bath. Chapter Six, "Christianizing the City", is a catalogue of Early Christian basilicas, their placement in the Corinthian landscape, and an attempt to explain those sitings. Chapter Seven, "Images and Power", describes late antique sculpture and its usurpation and subjugation by Christians and the Christian community.

Chapter Eight, "Nymphs and Angels", the shortest chapter, examines the Fountain of the Lamps in Corinth and the evidence for contemporaneous use by both the pagan and Christian communities. Chapter Nine, "Conclusions", suggests that paganism did not die suddenly in the fourth century but continued at least through the sixth. Appendix A, "Archaeological Evidence", is a brief catalogue of structures in Corinth and the Corinthia. Appendix B, "A Gazetteer of the Late Roman Korinthia", is a thirty-five entry catalogue.

This is something of an odd book. It addresses an important period in the Corinthia, is based upon a valid general premise, paganism did not rapidly disappear in the Corinthia, and examines significant and important structures, most especially the Asklepieion in Corinth and the basilica at Kenchreai. Yet it goes awry in the details. Curiously, it is the details in the archaeological record that seem to interest Rothaus the most. Regardless, the examination and presentation of evidence and data is often frustrating and confusing. A thorough editing could have alleviated many of the problems, but as it now stands the reader is confronted not only with many typos but also with lacunae.

The first citation of physical evidence, a listing on p. 19 of known structures damaged by mid- to late 4th century seismic activity, begins in media res with a fragmented reference to the great Bath on the Lechaion Road. It is impossible to tell whether the well-documented evidence of earthquake damage found in the East of Theater excavations conducted by Charles Williams was meant to be included. The only cited evidence of earthquake damage is an indirect quote of Emerson Swift's 1915 field notebook from the Julian Basilica. This observation has be shown to be based upon a misunderstanding of the architectural layout of the building (Scotton 1997), a misunderstanding that Swift realized as soon as he recognized that the debris in question came from within the foundations below the main floor of the basilica.

The Asklepieion at Corinth and the Aphrodesion and Nymphaeum/Basilica at Kenchreai are apparently where Rothaus' greatest interest lies. The evidence is presented more fully in both, but here too I have reservations. The graves that appear on the north and west sides after the collapse of the Temple of Asklepius are described as "Early Christian". In short order, however, Rothaus presents these graves as "Christian". The former classification is one of date. The later is one of belief and the two are not necessarily equivalent. That such a leap was made is curious, for Rothaus has argued persuasively in Chapter 1 that the archaeological record is a poor indicator of difference between pagan and Christian belief. Until someone has examined the grave goods from these burials and has determined whether or not we can call the interred Christians, we must put on hold Rothaus' thesis that these graves were a conscious, coordinated Christian effort to defile the Sanctuary of Asklepius.

Rothaus' discussions of the Kenchreai structures are the best of the book. Here the difficulty is that he bases much of his arguments on the analysis of architectural form. There are, however, no adequate plans with which to follow his arguments. Those offered are too general and schematic to allow serious consideration. Inadequate plans or plates do the most harm in these discussions, but they are prevalent throughout the work. They are often difficult to read and the labeling puzzling. For instance, Plan 1, which includes both a general plan of the Peloponnessos and one of the Corinthia, Corinth is labeled as "Corinth" on the latter and "Korinth" on the former.

In sum, Richard Rothaus is to be congratulated for addressing a significant era and posing important questions concerning Corinth and the Corinthia. Altough much new material is brought to light, I am not sure that the current presentation of the evidence and arguments can support the conclusions.


Scotton, Paul D.1997. "The Julian Basilica at Corinth: An Architectural Investigation" (diss. University of Pennsylvania).

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