Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Steven J. Friesen, Daniel N. Schowalter, James C. Walters (ed.), Corinth in Context: Comparative studies on religion and society. Supplements to Novum Testamentum, 134. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2010. Pp. xxiii, 517. ISBN 9789004181977. $230.00.

Reviewed by Amelia R. Brown,
University of Queensland (a.brown9@uq.edu.au)

Version at BMCR home site


[The reviewer apologizes for the lateness of this review.]

This volume publishes 13 papers from the 2007 UT Austin conference Corinth in Context, the second of three conferences to bring classical archaeologists and New Testament scholars together to exchange methods and evidence for religion and society in ancient (mostly Roman)
Corinth.1 The papers all engage with internal, external and/or temporal issues of context at Corinth, combining multiple strands of evidence. Friesen gives a brief introduction to the conference and papers, and the volume concludes with a common bibliography, index and three maps.

The first section, ‘Imperials: Greek and Roman,’ focuses on questions of identity for four Corinthian groups: colonists, devotees of Asclepius, Augustales, and ‘resistors’ of Rome. Millis’s article sets a high standard; his well-supported conclusions on the identity of the colonists of
Roman Corinth should be heeded by all Corinthian scholars. Millis combines literary sources, prosopography, epigraphy, St Paul’s letters, and colonial comparanda to establish that the Corinthian colonists were mainly Greek freedmen and Romans long resident in the East—not veterans, but people who
used Latin publicly and Greek privately, and held equal status in their colony. Other immigrants joined them: Roman expatriate aristocrats, Jews, and local Greeks; this tipped the linguistic balance firmly to Greek quite soon after colonization, but never fully erased the stereotype of Roman
Corinthians as freedmen.

Wickkiser traces the Corinthian cult of the healing god Asclepius from the 5th c. BC to Late Antiquity, linking its colonial revival to a common interest among colonists in good health, manumission, and (via Apollo) the gens Iulia. She contextualizes challenging archaeological and
literary evidence for the Corinthian Asklepieion with sanctuaries at Epidaurus, Athens and Buthrotum (which was in Epirus, not Achaia), pointing out similarities in the evolution of the cult buildings, votives, use of water and involvement of doctors.

Laird contextualizes the Augustales of Corinth through a (lost) bronze statue of their patron Augustus erected in the Corinthian Forum upon an extant cylindrical stone base with benches. This monument emphasized their loyalty to the emperor, wealth and civic pride, while providing a
public place to sit. Augustales were most prominent in areas with large populations of wealthy freedmen, like Corinth. She restores names of two specific Augustales and the formula ob h(onorem) dd in the base’s fragmentary dedicatory inscription (Corinth VIII.3, no.
53), provides a reconstruction, and connects bases with benches to Greek rather than Roman traditions of honorific sculpture and civic amenities.

Thomas’s paper draws post-colonial comparisons between religious patronage and ‘resistance to Rome’ at Corinth and Ephesus, seeking archaeological and literary evidence for the ‘impact of Roman imperial domination on Greek religion,’ while arguing that ‘Greeks’ and ‘Romans’ at Corinth
inhabited different cities. Yet ‘consensual hybridity’ and competition over the cult of Artemis Ephesia do not find clear parallels at Corinth. She admits Corinth’s sack and colonization make it a different religious situation, but argues new Roman rituals and architectural forms offset
continuity of landscape for Corinthian Asclepius, Apollo, Aphrodite, and Demeter and Kore. There was certainly prejudice against the Roman colonists of Corinth, but the case for divisions between ‘Greek’ and ‘Roman’ Corinthians based on temple style and marble use seems overstated.

The theme of the next four papers is ‘Social Strata’; Hoskins Walbank and Walbank give numismatic and epigraphic evidence from multiple classes, while New Testament scholars Økland and Friesen argue for class divisions between specific Corinthians (devotees of Demeter/Ceres and the Erasti).
Hoskins Walbank covers content and controversies of religious imagery on Corinthian coins of 44/3 BC to ca. AD 205. Previous studies focused on Pausanias, but she broadens her approach to relate coins to other texts, landscape and sculptural finds. Her detailed arguments about specific coins are
too complex to summarize, but she successfully shows how the range of Corinthian coin types reflect choices by city officials, to please local people and the emperor, mainly for local use. It is harder to prove coins represent a Corinthian class division between elite interest in ‘family events,
anniversaries and Eastern cults’ and ‘popular’ affection for Isthmian events, Aphrodite and Tyche.

Økland seeks deities and potential ethnic and class divisions in worship at the three Roman-style podium temples of the imperial-era sanctuary of Demeter and Kore. The mosaic in the central temple names a priestess of ‘Neotera’ (the ‘Younger,’ likely Kore/Persephone as at Eleusis), with
Demeter likely in the second temple. She challenges widespread acceptance of Pausanias 2.4.6 who puts the Moirai (Fates) in the third temple, preferring Dis Pater or Pluto. Her use of curse tablets seems contradictory: she asserts that poetry, writing, politics and public space were upper class,
but also that ancient people of all classes used curse tablets, and they were deposited by poor Greeks at this sanctuary on the lower level. Yet the terrace wall under the temples is needed by the landscape and is not necessarily evidence for conflict between rich Romans using marble above and
poor Greeks below. She makes an attractive suggestion that the centrality of Kore/Persephone symbolized the newly-revived cult and city.

Friesen contributes to a long-running debate: whether Erastus the oikonomos of the city in Paul’s Romans 16:23 and the aedile of inscription Corinth VIII.3, no. 232 were the same. He enters into a broader debate of New Testament scholarship too, about how high up the
social scale Paul’s converts and communities reached. Friesen summarizes evidence for each Erastus, reasonably concluding that the two men were not the same, and that Paul’s community at Corinth didn’t include men of the aedile Erastus’s status. But some of the other evidence is more ambiguous;
for instance, Erastus the oikonomos and the aedile who laid the pavement were both likely men living in first-century Corinth.

Walbank contributes a useful survey of names and occupations on late-antique Corinthian inscriptions, mostly Christian gravestones. Besides a brief introduction and conclusion, he gives a table of occupations, with a short commentary on each, and an alphabetical census of names. From the
fourth to seventh centuries, he collects some 390 names and 107 occupations. This is a helpful introduction to Corinthian late-antique epigraphy, and its publications, findspots, conventions of dating and formulas. Importantly, as Walbank indicates, the range and urban nature of occupations lend
unique insights into political, religious and everyday life for late-antique Corinthians.

The third section, ‘Local Religion’, puts papers on Paul's Corinthian communities alongside studies of Hellenic, Roman and early Christian Corinthian religion. Schowalter’s article surveys efforts of New Testament scholars to connect the archaeology of Corinthian domestic space with the
setting of Paul’s communities. He summarizes well the troubles of finding and interpreting first-century houses at Corinth, or of comparing housing there to Pompeii. He notes specific problems for Anaploga villa and the buildings East of Theater, where archaeologists revised interpretations of
date and function but New Testament scholars continue to cite old data. He concludes with recent research on the right track, which resists linking specific early Christian people or rituals to specific buildings, but instead combines current evidence for types of houses excavated with types of
rituals practiced in texts.

Walters considers restrictions to pre-election banquet-hosting in the Caesarian colonial charter of Orso and orations of Cicero. He concludes this is evidence for concern by Roman authorities about potential misuse of power by hosts of dinners. He connects this with Paul’s emphasis on Jesus
as host of community meals, suggesting that Paul would have been aware of the potential dangers of the dining environment for diverting power to his rivals and promoting inequality among diners. Roman concern for the political dangers of banquets was real, continuing under the early Empire.
Walters makes a convincing argument that Paul shared contemporary concerns about banquet-hosts, and thus positioned Jesus as host of the community meal.

Sanders explores the Classical-era ritual landscape of the Sacred Spring on the south side of Temple Hill, noting long-running problems linking archaeology and Corinthian cults, and introducing a wide range of evidence. The Sacred Spring’s architecture, ritual use and civic context are
discussed, including its relationship to the Temple of Apollo (and Artemis?), Peirene, the racetrack and the Agora. A strength of this paper is its restoration of the Spring’s long-gone natural and built landscape, and potential connections with Corinthian, Athenian and Spartan cults. But
relationships among Artemis Eukleia, the Helloteia festival, Europa and Helen are sometimes unclear. However, this discussion casts welcome light on what was certainly a sacred site for Classical Corinthians, likely linked, as Sanders argues, with Artemis, local heroines, athletics, torchlight
and civic rituals.

Rife focuses on religion at Roman Cenchreae, Corinth’s eastern port, considering literary sources, epigraphy and excavations. This article is valuable for combining old and new discoveries and interpretations. No indubitable sanctuary has been found, but Aphrodite and Poseidon were honoured
at the north mole, Isis and Asclepius at the south. Elite display included villas, tombs, dedicatory inscriptions and mystery cults. Nearby quarries were sacred to Dionysus and Pan; curse tablets include one invoking ‘Force, Fate and Necessity’ as at the Demeter and Kore Sanctuary. Rife points
out how religion at Cenchreae connects with other harbors and distinctly Corinthian cults, also noting evidence for churches at both sides of the harbor.

Gregory draws on survey, excavation and texts to outline social, economic and religious developments in Isthmia and the eastern Corinthia from the first to seventh centuries. He uses Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS) data to support recovery and activity in the ‘early’ Roman
countryside (31 BC to AD 250). Next he considers the end of traditional worship at the Isthmian Sanctuary of Poseidon, circa 220 to 400. He also situates eastern Corinthia in Late Antiquity, using excavations at Isthmia and new post-EKAS results, including up to four early Christian churches
built in the Oneion foothills. He concludes that these churches along with rural villas, late Roman pottery and connections with islands and the Peloponnese support a prosperous and active countryside in eastern Corinthia in Late Antiquity.

In summary, this volume collects a rich assortment of thoughtful, stimulating and often innovative contributions to the contextual study of religion and society in ancient Corinth. All Corinthian scholars will find material of interest here.


1.   Urban Religion in Roman Corinth: Interdisciplinary Approaches, ed. D. N. Schowalter and S. J. Friesen (Cambridge, MA 2005); Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Inequality, ed. S. J. Friesen, S. A. James and D. N. Schowalter (Leiden 2014).

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