Wednesday, December 5, 2018


Guy D. R. Sanders, Jennifer Palinkas, Ioulia Tzonou-Herbst, James Herbst, Ancient Corinth: Site Guide (7th ed.). Princeton: ASCSA Publications, 2017. Pp. 208. ISBN 9780876616611. $19.95.

Reviewed by David Gill, University of Suffolk (

Version at BMCR home site


This latest edition of the site guide to the ancient site of Corinth is aimed at both the casual tourist as well as the professional archaeologist. First, the guide has a practical function of serving as a handbook for an informed visit to the site. There are two main 'tours': the forum and the area outside the forum. There are also some suggested longer walks to discover wider aspects of the city such as the walls. The guide is thus intended as suitable for the visitor with just a couple of hours to explore to the site, to the one who will want to get to grips with the location over several days. Second, the guide will serve as a handy reference point or prompt when visitors return home. And, as with all guidebooks, it will be a reminder of what to see on a return visit. The key to the guide is a double-sided color fold-out plan inserted in a pocket inside the back cover. The plan of the forum area also marks the positions of the site interpretation points so that a visitor who is trying to orientate themselves can locate their position more accurately. The text of the guide provides detailed information of the forum area, and then the wider city as far as Lechaion and the prehistoric site of Korakou. While there is a brief mention of the eastern port of Cenchreae on the Saronic Gulf, there is no entry; there is merely a passing reference to nearby Isthmia.

This guide replaces earlier editions. The first edition, Ancient Corinth: a Guide to the Excavations and Museum (1928) was prepared by Rhys Carpenter. The previous, 6th edition, was revised by Henry S. Robinson, Ancient Corinth: A Guide to the Excavations (1960), and continued as Corinth: a Brief History of the City and a Guide to the Excavations (Princeton: ASCSA, 1969). A feature of this new edition is that it contains numerous historic images taken during over 100 years of American work in the city. They include the 1914 discovery of the statue of Gaius Caesar in the Julian basilica at the east end of the forum (no. 24; p. 86, fig. 70), and excavators standing on the epistyle of the temple of Apollo in 1901 (no. 4; p. 38, fig. 18). A seated Josephine Platner Shear is shown recording wall-paintings in the Roman theater in 1925 (p. 122, fig. 112). A list of the standard publications in the Corinth monograph series is provided towards the end of the volume. The guide is provided with a numbered gazetteer of individual locations that can then be located on the individual plans, as well as in the brief introductory historical and chronological essays (pp. 16–19). Would the seven chronological plans of Corinth have been more usefully placed at this earlier point rather than as a group at the back of the volume? Thus, a visitor wishing the view the remains of the hellenistic city could access the overview, obtain the topographical orientation, and move straight to the gazetteer.

The site gazetteer describes monuments from temples to latrines (no. 43) and even a base for displaying a bronze quadriga dating to the 4th century BC (no. 32). The modern use of colored gravels to mark Protogeometric graves at the Heroon of the Crossroads is explained (no. 26). Remains of the Classical and Hellenistic racecourse, as well as the platform for contact sports such as the pankration, are explored (no. 23).1 A Roman bath-house, to the east of the Lechaion Road, used green lapis lacedaemonius derived from a benefaction by a member of the Euryclid family (no. 42). Outlying structures, such as the amphitheater in the eastern part of the city (no. 65), are described. Changes to the monuments through time are noted. For example, the reorientation of the sanctuary of Apollo that was no longer accessed from the south-east but rather from the west (no. 4). Post-classical remains include the 11th–12th century church over the site of the Bema (no. 27), the 16th century fountain dedicated by Joseph the Tailor (no. 48), and there is a note in the section on the Panayia Field (no. 62) on 'the debris of an American who had been part of the corps of Philhellenes mustered at Corinth' in 1822 (pp. 166–67). The colored plan showing the water supply for the Fountain of Peirene (no. 37; p. 108, fig. 96) was particularly instructive. The complex remains of Acrocorinth perhaps deserved a little more detail (no. 50). Few inscriptions are referenced although they include one recording a bronze statue by Lysippos of Sikyon that was found near the sacred spring (no. 33; p. 103, fig. 91). Roman benefactions include the dedication of a piazza next to the theatre by Erastus ('in return for his aedileship') (no. 47; p. 122, fig. 113), and the circular monument dedicated by Cnaeus Babbius Philinus (p. 60 fig. 38), former duovir, aedile and pontifex, 'at his own expense'. At the end of most gazetteer entries is a reference to the publication either in the Corinth monograph series, or one of the excavation reports in Hesperia.

There are a several in-text features. Any archaeological guide to Corinth is likely to reference to the 2nd century AD description of the Roman colony by Pausanias (pp. 58–59). The text highlights the problems in relating this description to the structures on the ground. The entry highlights the key buildings that are described in the classical text. Other in-text features discuss the Apostle Paul (p. 93), and Prehistoric Corinth and the Corinthia (p. 176–78). A color map showing the geology of Corinth and its immediate environs is extremely helpful (pp. 48–49). Six topographical notes are included in the text to help the visitor to get the most out of their time at the site: 1. From the northeast corner of Temple Hill (p. 41); 2. To the forum and Panayia (p. 51); 3. View of the forum (p. 99); 4. View down the Lechaion road (p. 105); 5. Monuments near the fountain of Peirene (p. 110); 6. Walks to the Greek city walls (p. 179).

What should a guide for a Roman city look like? Putting aside complex and extensive sites such as Pompeii, Herculaneum, or Ostia, the Roman colony of Philippi in Macedonia is a comparable site. The official Hellenic Ministry of Culture guide, with 93 pages, is introduced with a short history, followed by a "Promenade through the archaeological site".2 It includes illustrations from the finds stored in the site archaeological museum. A plan of the site is included at the start of the tour. A particularly complex urban site in Greece is the late Classical, Hellenistic and Roman city of Messene.3 The official Ministry guide, with 154 pages, takes the visitor from the main public areas, to the walls and up to the top of Mount Ithome. It also includes a section on the museum. These guides, containing a history and a tour, form part of a series for many of the archaeological sites in the care of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. They present more detailed information than the highly useful Oxford Archaeological Guide for Greece.4 Looking eastwards, my guide for Ephesus by Ülgür Önen consists of 168 pages, with a foldout plan inside the front cover with numbered locations that link to the gazetteer catalogue.5 There is an illustrated section on the finds displayed in the Ephesus Museum.

Model guide formats that would be worth considering are provided by two Roman towns in the United Kingdom. The English Heritage guide for Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum) in England by Michael Fulford includes an extensive tour of the site (pp. 1–21).6 A similar format is used for the town of Caerwent (Venta Silurum) in south Wales.7 Apart from foldout plan of the site, and bird's eye view, placed inside the front and back and covers, the tours include thumbnail plans of the town with the specific part of the tour highlighted in red, and cross linked with numbers. One disadvantage of both the English Heritage and the Hellenic Ministry Guides is the size. The Corinth guide is more compact and could easily be slipped in and out of a bag. (I am not sure that the loose plan would survive too many visits.) The volume is comparable to other ASCSA guides produced for the Bronze Age palace at Pylos and the Athenian Agora.8 Equally user friendly are the guides for the Kerameikos (by the German Archaeological Institute), and Nemea.9 One of the dilemmas for any visitor is what to see if time is short. A guidebook can provide assistance with this. The beautifully designed souvenir guidebooks for Historic Environment Scotland include a section at the beginning showing key features and where they can be located (e.g. 'Skara Brae at a Glance').10 This type of feature could be a useful addition to any future editions of the Corinth guide.

The authors as well as the ASCSA design team have produced a highly functional guidebook to help lay and professional visitors to engage with the extensive excavated and visible remains.11 The monuments are brought to life by plans, reconstructions, historic photographs, and color images. This will be an invaluable aid to interpret what can be seen on the ground, and will serve as a model for guides to other archaeological sites.


1.   David Gilman Romano, Athletics and Mathematics in Archaic Corinth: The Origins of the Greek Stadion (Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 206. 1993). Reviewed BMCR 95.09.19.
2.   C. Koukouli-Chrysanthaki and C. Bakirtzis. Philippi. Athens: Ministry of Culture, 2003.
3.   P. Themelis, Ancient Messene. Athens: Ministry of Culture, 2003.
4.   C.B. Mee and A. J. S. Spawforth. Greece: an Archaeological Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
5.   Ü. Önen, Ephesus: Ruins and Museum. The City's History Through Art. Izmir: Akademia, 1983.
6.   M. Fulford, Silchester Roman Town. London: English Heritage, 2016.
7.   Richard J. Brewer, Caerwent Roman Town. Cardiff: Cadw, 2006.
8.   A Guide to the Palace of Nestor, Mycenaean Sites in its Environs and the Chora Museum. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2001; John McK. Camp II, with photographs by Craig A. Mauzy, The Athenian Agora: Site Guide. 5th ed. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2010 (BMCR 2010.12.13); Laura Gawlinski, with photographs by Craig A. Mauzy, The Athenian Agora: Museum Guide. 5th ed. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2014.
9.   U. Knigge, The Athenian Kerameikos. History-Monuments-Excavations. Athens: Krene Editions; Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Athen, 1991; Stephen G. Miller, ed., Nemea: A Guide to the Site and Museum. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
10.   David Clarke, Skara Brae. The Official Souvenir Guide. Edinburgh: Historic Scotland, 2012. The Historic Scotland guides now tend to omit a formal ground plan of the monuments.
11.   For guidebooks aimed more as souvenirs of a visit: David W.J. Gill, "The Ministry of Works and the Development of Souvenir Guides from 1955." Public Archaeology 16 (2018), pp. 1-23.

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