Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.11.43 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.11.43

Amelia Robertson Brown, Corinth in Late Antiquity: A Greek, Roman and Christian City. Library of classical studies, 17.   London; New York:  I. B. Tauris, 2018.  Pp. xiv, 341; 10 p. of plates.  ISBN 9781784538231.  $120.00.  ISBN 9781786723581.  ebook.  


Reviewed by Ine Jacobs, University College, Oxford (ine.jacobs@univ.ox.ac.uk)

Preview

A couple of year ago, I read Amelia R. Brown’s doctoral thesis The City of Corinth and Urbanism in Late Antique Greece (available online here) with great enthusiasm and, since then, have impatiently awaited the ensuing monograph. This book certainly does not disappoint. It is an all-encompassing and thorough overview of the late antique cityscape of Corinth that pays attention to all buildings, old and new, present or built between AD 300 and 600 and traces their development throughout this period. Its main body—an introduction, eight easily navigable thematic chapters and conclusion—is followed by two appendices, one summarizing the pertinent epigraphic evidence and one giving an overview of all archaeological activities carried out on site since 1886 until the present day. The book, moreover, has a bibliography of more than 60 pages.

After a brief setting of the scene in the Introduction, Chapter 1 deals with two aspects that shaped the city of Corinth. In a first part, the climate, landscape and natural phenomena, especially earthquakes, are dealt with. The second part comments on the men in power, local and imperial, that put their stamp on the city. Thus the question of whether or not the city was actually the capital of the province of Achaia is revisited, and the numerous literary and epigraphic sources for the Christian figures of authority in the city are discussed. It has always been somewhat puzzling that in a city with a Christian pedigree going back to apostolic times no churches (discussed in Chapters 6 and 7) could be dated to before the sixth century.

Chapter 2 focusses on architecture, and the occasional statue, related to persons of power within Corinth. After dealing with the area of the forum and the buildings of civic administration between the early third and the sixth century, the shift from the more traditional venues of power to Corinth’s many richly embellished villas is pointed out. Chapter 3, “Commerce, Water Supply and Communications”, bundles data on the infrastructure of the city and the surrounding countryside, including streets, shops, aqueducts and water sources, bath buildings, as well as roads and harbours connecting Corinth to the outside world. The chapter ends with a somewhat odd two pages on the Justinianic plague and its potential effects.

In the next chapter, “Spaces of Civic Assembly and Entertainment”, the reader can find all information on the renovations and changes as well as the eventual abandonment and dismantlement of large-scale public buildings including Corinth’s theatre, odeum, amphitheatre, hippodrome, running track and gymnasium, as well as the sanctuary of Poseidon where the Isthmian games took place. The fifth chapter focuses on sculpture found at Corinth, from their creation to their destruction and reuse in a variety of forms, a topic on which the author has produced insightful articles before.1 This chapter probably has the most original observations and also the most illustrations.

Chapters 6 and 7 then shift to pre-Christian and Christian sacred spaces respectively in the city centre near the forum, and the wider city, its harbours and surrounding territory. They are numerous and only a few of them have been studied in depth so far. In the first section on temples near the forum, Pausanias is given a big role and, like many have done before her, Brown attempts to match material remains to Pausanius’ naming of temples in Corinth. In the second half of the chapter 6, non-pagan remains become the focus of attention, but they are very few in this central area. The temples here were dismantled, with only their concrete foundations remaining, but they were not converted. By contrast, a dozen late antique churches were found in the rest of the city, its harbours and the Corinthia. Brown carefully but convincingly suggests that the late antique cathedral church of Corinth was located to the east of the forum based on a number of sixth-century Christian architectural elements and liturgical furniture discovered in the area, infrastructural surroundings and archaeological remains of a potential associated building, either an ecclesiastical warehouse or part of a bishop’s palace. As mentioned, an enigma that is not dealt with explicitly is why, in a city with a Christian pedigree going back to apostolic times, no churches can be dated to before the sixth century.

The difficult question of Corinth’s fortifications forms the subject of Chapter 8. After a brief overview of the remains and literary sources of the Hexamilion Wall, Brown lists and analyses the wall stretches that may have defended the city centre and the citadel of Acrocorinth, where late antique interventions are difficult to attest but which logically remained part of the defensive system of the area.

Gathering all this information is no mean feat and the author is to be commended on her diligence. Each building known to have been present at Corinth through archaeological research, epigraphic attestation or mention in literary sources that was in some way still relevant in Late Antiquity is mentioned in this volume. But the quantity of data in this book also means that Corinth in Late Antiquity is not an easy read. The text is very dense. Previous publications pertaining to a certain building or statue are referred to and opposing opinions are mentioned, but often only very briefly; there is no space for extensive discussions of arguments pro or contra. In addition, one sometimes wonders what the author’s own opinions are on the dating of monuments, their changing functions, adaptations and reception. This is regrettable, since the author’s expertise on the city as a whole probably means that she is extremely well placed to do so.

Finally, some notes on presentation and appearance: the page margins of the book are small, amplifying the feeling that there is too much information squeezed onto its pages. More importantly, the number of figures — all black and white — is rather low: 10 pages of plates precede the introduction, 19 additional figures are placed in the text itself, 12 of which belong to the statuary chapter. The plans are small and do not show much detail. Some of the figures are difficult to understand (for instance Figure 1.4) or of bad quality (Figure 2.1). It is somewhat regrettable that a text as informative as this one is not accompanied by illustrations of the same quality. Because Corinth in late antiquity is an outstanding overview of the late antique development of one of the most important cities of the classical world. It is a must-have for anyone interested in the history of Corinth, late antique Greece or late antique urbanism.


Notes:


1.   Brown, Amelia R. (2012) "Last Men Standing: Chlamydatus Portraits and Public Life in Late Antique Corinth." Hesperia, 81 1: 141-176. doi:10.2972/hesperia.81.1.0141; Brown, Amelia R. (2016). "Crosses, Noses, walls, and wells: Christianity and the fate of sculpture in late antique Corinth" in Troels Myrup Kristensen and Lea Stirling (Ed.), The Afterlife of Greek and Roman Sculpture: Late Antique Responses and Practices pp. 150-176 (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press); Brown, Amelia (2016). "Corinth", in R. R. R. Smith and Bryan Ward-Perkins (ed.), The Last Statues of Antiquity pp. 174-189 (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press).

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