Ancient Corinth: from Sisyphus to Caesar
Ancient Corinth is a historic site in Greece dating back over 5000 years and is located on the Isthmus of Corinth. It grew to become the greatest of all the Greek city-states. A major ancient site for Greece, the Temple of Apollo is the most famous building still standing within the large archaeological zone.
What is the Acrocorinth?
The remains of Ancient Corinth sit at the base of the Acrocorinthus, a massive rock formation that rises 300 feet above sea level. Upon the Acrocorinthus was an almost impenetrable fortress that protected the land route into the Peloponnese.
The akropolis of Ancient Corinth – the “Acrocorinth” – is believed to be the highest and largest of the akropolis of Ancient Greece. It has been fortified by many over the centuries but today most of what can be seen was built by the Venetians and the Franks.
Tourism to Greece began in the early part of the 19th century. From that time onwards, the ruins of Archaia Korinthos with its temples, fountains, theatre, agora, shops, and paved streets have attracted many visitors. It is one of the most significant sites of the Ancient World and is a must-see for a visit to mainland Greece.
Where is Ancient Corinth and Acrocorinth located and how to get there
Corinth, which is the modern city, is about a 2-hour drive from Athens and around 40 minutes from the town of Nafplio from which you can take tours of Ancient Corinth and the Acrocorinth. Corinth is 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) northeast of the ruins of Ancient Corinth.
One of the most famous sites in Ancient Corinth is the Temple of Apollo which dates back to the 4th Century BCE. Just south of this temple you will find the remains of the Agora. To the north of the Agora, you can walk down Lechaion Street which was where the Corinthians shopped. Around Lechaion Street is where the Byzantine royals built their extravagant homes.
To the south, the Agora is bordered by a Stoa which is a covered walkway or portico for the use of the public, that framed the Agora. Just off Lechaion Street lies the Fountain of Peirene which was famous throughout Greece for its clean clear water.
The legend of Peirene is that she transformed into a spring because of the number of tears she cried. She was mourning her son Cenchrias who was accidentally killed by Artemis.
You can see these main structures on the Map of Ancient Corinth below.
Ancient Corinth Map
Ancient Corinth Government
Ancient Corinth entered the map of significant political places in Ancient Greece when the group of 200 Bacchiadae that collectively ruled Corinth was overthrown by a man who came to be known as Cypselus the tyrant. He built the premiere city-state in Greece and Ancient Corinth became a great cultural and trade center.
Cypselus and his son Periander, who inherited the throne, helped to develop and stabilize Ancient Corinth’s trading systems with the creation of a system of coins. Periander also changed the system of rule from tyranny to monarchy and developed a very successful public works program that provided prosperity and peace for the people of the city.
Sadly this was not to last as Periander suffered great criticism due to his drastic ways of improving Corinth. The criticism was said to have driven him mad and he killed one of his mistresses and exiled his own son. The leadership of Ancient Corinth then passed into a stable oligarchy with a King and his advisors.
Leadership and control of Ancient Corinth went through many hands from the ancient Greeks, Macedonians, Alexander the Great, Goths, and Herulians. The destruction of Ancient Corinth came during a battle between the Romans and the Achaean League. It resulted in the complete devastation of the City. All the men were killed and the women and children were sold into slavery. It took over 100 years and in 44 BCE Corinth was re-founded by Gaius Julius Caesar as a Roman Colony.
Ancient Corinth eventually became incorporated by Byzantium. This was accomplished by 1202 but Byzantium’s hold on Corinth was not to last and it was the Crusaders who took over the city in 1210 at which time it became part of the Latin Empire.
Ancient Corinth Religion and the Great Myths of Corinth
Of course, all that exhausting ancient history of Corinth happened after the time of the gods in Ancient Greek mythology! Corinth seems to have been a popular retirement spot in Ancient Greece. A bit of a Who’s Who of the Ancient World lived there, including Sisyphus, Jason, Theseus, and Ephyra.
At Ancient Corinth we learn about that important western concept of hubris. According to early Greek mythology, Ancient Corinth was founded by King Sisyphus. The King had offended both Zeus and Hades with his cunning and trickery that allowed him to escape death twice, and by giving away Zeus’s secrets. Zeus became so annoyed at his boasting and self-importance that he doomed him to roll a large boulder uphill in Hades (hell) for eternity.
King Sisyphus’s grandson eventually became the ruler of Ancient Corinth and his symbol, Pegasus the winged horse, became known as the symbol of Corinth. It can be found on ancient Corinthian coins.
Ancient Corinth chose Poseidon, the lord of the sea, as their patron god and much of the archaeological evidence within the agora includes temples to Poseiden, Apollo, Athena, Hero, and Juno. There is also a massive sanctuary that was dedicated to the healing god Asklepios just north of the city.
Artifacts have also included a lintel that reads “Synagogue of the Hebrews” in the excavations. Contrary to a great deal of archaeological literature that focuses on the male deities such as Asklepios, Dionysos, Poseidon, Apollo, Zeus, and Pan, excavations show that the people equally worshipped equally female goddesses. Temples have been excavated on the northern slope of the Acrocorinth that are dedicated to Athena, Nike, Tyche, and Aphrodite.
Ancient Corinth was one of the most important centers for the worship of Aphrodite, the “goddess of love”. Anthropologists have discovered sources that state that there were more than a thousand maidens serving in the Sanctuary of Aphrodite.
Saint Paul and the Corinthians
Ancient Corinth is also associated with Saint Paul and the New Testaments’ First and Second Corinthians. With the help of Jewish Christians, Priscilla and Aquila, Paul worked to bring Christianity to the Romans in Corinth.
Ancient Corinth Military
Corinth was involved in the Persian Wars when it joined Athens in the Battle of Salamis. Later however war was declared by Ancient Corinth when the Athenians crossed Corinth territory without permission. It took several years for a peace treaty to be agreed upon with Athens.
The Corinthian military served under Agamemnon during the Trojan War. It fought with Sparta in the Peloponnesian War and later joined with Athens to defeat the Spartans in the Corinthian Wars, in which Sparta was victorious.
Over the centuries Corinth has been involved in even more wars and conflict and as such has been ruled by various countries until the Greek War of Independence. In the mid-1800’s Corinth was going to be the capital of the free Hellenic state, but in 1858 Corinth was destroyed by a major earthquake and the modern-day Corinth was rebuilt five kilometers to the northeast.
Ancient Corinth Culture, Life and Architecture
During its ascension, Corinth was the wealthiest city-state in the ancient Greek world. Surrounded by natural springs and fertile plains it was a bustling wealthy city with traders arriving from around the known world.
One feature that made trading much easier in Corinth was the diolkos or “haul across” a paved road that connected across the gulf allowing for quick and easy trade of goods.
Corinth became known for its distinctive pottery which used light yellow clay and painted decorations in black. These pots were made for both daily use and to hold the oils and perfumes that Corinth became famous for producing. The pottery was traded all around the Mediterranean and in places where the Hellenic empire was found.
Ancient Corinth’s architecture is also one of the most popular throughout the world. The Corinthian style is the most ornate in the classical world. Corinthian columns are recognized by 24 flutes on the shaft and two rows of acanthus leaves and four scrolls these columns are considered the most elegant of the three kinds of Grecian columns.
Before the Olympic Games, there was the Isthmian Games! These Games took place in Ancient Corinth. Competitions included music and poetry for both men and women and for men only there was boxing, chariot racing, and of course, Greek wrestling.
Every citizen of Corinth would attend the marketplace or Agora to trade and buy goods and the Corinthians themselves were masters of pottery, vases and the sculpting of busts and statues as you can see below in the Museum on site.
Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth
As a result of the excavations during the 1930s, the Museum of Ancient Corinth was built to house the numerous objects found at the site. The Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth exhibits findings date from prehistoric to Roman times.
Ancient Corinth Facts and Frequently Asked Questions
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Best Tours of Ancient Corinth and Acrocorinth
Where to Stay in Corinth
There are some great places to stay here and I have divided the best accommodation into those right next to the ruins, a few on the beach but very close to the ruins, as well as a few of the large hotels on the beach just a little further away. You’ll find this small collection of accommodations have excellent reviews for their service, cleanliness, facilities, and locations.
Next to Ancient Corinth
Petra Luxury Apartments (4 star)
On the Beach near Ancient Corinth
La Terra Nostra (4 star apartments)
Resorts and Apartment Hotels on the Beach
See all Ancient Corinth accommodation here
Best AirBnb Stays in Corinth
Links and Further Information
- There are so many things to do in Greece. See all of the best things to do in Greece from Get Your Guide here
- For where to stay near the Acropolis, see my post on Everything you Need to Know About Visiting the Acropolis
- If you’re planning a trip to Greece, check out my Greek posts here
- And for the things you need to know before you book your trip to Santorini, including the best time to visit Santorini, see my travel guide here
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