The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Corinth
CORINTH, a city of ancient Greece, in the Peloponnesus, 48 m. W. of Athens, near the S. W. extremity of the isthmus which connects that peninsula with central Hellas, and separates the Corinthian and Saronic gulfs. It was situated some distance from each coast, at the foot of the Acrocorinthus, and in the centre of the Corinthia, a subject territory extending around the city on every side, but of very limited extent, bounded N. by the Corinthian gulf, N. E. by Megaris, E. by the Saronic gulf, S. by Argolis, and W. by Sicyonia. It was in most parts mountainous and barren; the rocky sides of the Geranean range on the north, the sandy plain of the isthmus, and the rugged Onean hills offered no reward for the labors of the husbandman. The plain N. W. of the city, extending along the coast in the direction of Sicyon, was, however, so fertile and valuable for market gardening, that to possess “what lies between Corinth and Sicyon” became a proverbial expression for great wealth. The most striking natural feature in the Corinthia was the Acrocorinthus, the acropolis of Corinth. This is a rocky isolated hill rising abruptly to the height of 1,886 ft., and is in natural defences the strongest mountain fortress of Europe. At the N. base of this stood the ancient city, which was 5 m. in circumference, though its entire perimeter, enclosing the Acrocorinthus, was upward of 10 m. It had two excellent port towns, viz.: Lechæum on the gulf of Corinth, with which it was connected by means of two parallel walls, and Cenchreæ on the Saronic gulf. Of the topography of the city as it existed in the flourishing periods of Grecian history we are comparatively ignorant. Of the Roman city afterward built upon its ruins we have the account of Pausanias, who visited it in the 2d century of our era. He describes many fine buildings and other monuments of the former magnificence of the city. In the port Lechæum he specifies the temple of Neptune and a brazen statue of that god, and at Cenchreæ a temple of Venus and a stone statue. He describes the agora or forum as surrounded by temples and adorned with columns and statues. In this stood the statues of Bacchus and of Diana of the Ephesians; here too was the temple of Fortune, with its statue of Parian marble; here the temple dedicated to all the gods, adjoining which was a fountain surmounted by a brazen Neptune. Near by stood statues of Apollo Clarius and of Venus; also two of Mercury and three of Jupiter; while conspicuous among them all, in the very centre of the agora, stood a Minerva of bronze on a pedestal adorned with a beautiful bass-relief of the muses. North of the agora was the Propylæa, surmounted by two gilded cars, the one bearing Phaëthon, the other the sun. Beyond stood a brazen Hercules, near which was the fountain Pirene, celebrated for the salubrity of its waters, which issued from artificial caverns, and were collected in an open marble basin. From this fountain Pindar characterizes Corinth as the “city of Pirene;” and the Delphic oracle, according to Herodotus, speaks of the Corinthians as “those who dwell around the beautiful Pirene.” The ascent to the citadel was lined on either side with temples and altars, nine of which are mentioned by Pausanias; while on the summit itself stood the famed temple of Venus, to which goddess the entire Acrocorinthus was especially consecrated. In the days of Corinthian luxury and opulence, this shrine is said to have been attended by 1,000 female slaves, who were kept for the use of strangers visiting the city. On the street which led from the agora to Sicyon stood the temple of Apollo, some traces of which still remain in the N. W. outskirts of the modern town. Corinth is now a small town, whose inhabitants carry on a little trade in dried fruits, wheat, and oil, which they export from a port in the bay of Corinth. A concession was granted in 1873 to Theodore Turbini, a banker of Athens, for cutting a canal through the isthmus of Corinth, to be completed in 1879. —
The earliest rulers of Corinth are represented as Æolians, though a large proportion of the population were no doubt Ionians. The reputed founder of the ancient dynasty was Sisyphus. Under him and his descendants the city is represented to have been very prosperous, and to have grown in wealth and power. Thucydides says that the Dorians, when invading the Peloponnesus, took possession of the hill Solygia, near the Saronic gulf, from which they carried on war against the Æolian inhabitants of Corinth, till they reduced the city. Aletes, their leader, became the first Dorian king, and the founder of a dynasty, which, continuing through 12 generations, according to tradition, ruled upward of 300 years. During this period Corinth, though thus ruled by Dorian kings, and regarded as a Dorian city, did not by any means conform to all the severe institutions of the Dorians; the commercial connections and importance of the city, the luxury and wealth which a vast foreign trade introduced, exerted a powerful influence upon the fortunes of the state. About 747 B. C. the powerful Dorian family known as the Bacchiadæ succeeded in abolishing royalty, and in electing one of their own number as annual prytanis, or president. Thus was established an oligarchy which lasted till about 657, when it was overthrown by Cypselus. Under the Bacchiads Corinth was already distinguished for commercial enterprise, wealth, and power; and at this time Syracuse and Corcyra were colonized by the Corinthians. It was probably under them also that the first navy of triremes, or war galleys, was launched upon the Grecian waters. Thucydides expressly assures us that the Corinthians were the first of the Greeks to use triremes or galleys with three banks of oars. Cypselus established a new dynasty, which for 74 years ruled Corinth with great energy and skill. The sway of Cypselus was mild and popular; that of Periander, his son and successor, cruel and oppressive. But both unquestionably did much to advance the prosperity of the state. The numerous colonies planted in their time fully attest the growing strength of the city, which was now the first maritime power of Greece, and the centre through which passed the trade between Europe and Asia. Periander patronized letters and art, and welcomed to his court the poet Arion and the philosopher Anacharsis. By some he was classed among the seven sages of Greece. Psammetichus, the last of the despots of Corinth, was deposed by the Spartans. From this time Corinth became the firm ally of Sparta, and a prominent member of the Peloponnesian confederacy. Its government became a mild and moderate aristocracy, and long enjoyed the greatest internal tranquillity. Its relations to Athens were also friendly, till the growing prosperity and power of the latter state subsequent to the Persian wars began to excite jealousy. Megara was long a subject of contention between them; and when Athens aided Corcyra against the mother city, Corinth exerted all her influence to induce the Peloponnesian confederacy to declare war against her powerful enemy. Thus commenced the Peloponnesian war, throughout which Corinth acted an important part; at first, indeed, she furnished almost the entire Peloponnesian fleet. When the peace of Nicias was concluded in 421 Corinth positively refused to ratify it, and after the defeat of the Athenian fleet at Ægospotamos urged the confederacy to raze Athens to the ground. But it was not long before the Spartans by their progress in power began to excite the jealousy of the other Grecian states; and the Corinthians united with the Bœotians, the Argives, and Athenians in a war against them. This contest, known in history as the Corinthian war, lasted from 394 to 387 B. C., when the peace of Antalcidas restored Corinth to the Lacedæmonian alliance, to which she remained faithful in the Theban war. About 346 Timophanes, attempting to establish tyranny, was killed by his brother Timoleon. After the battle of Chæronea the Macedonians took possession of the city, and stationed a strong garrison in the fortress of the Acrocorinthus; but after the defeat of Philip at Cynoscephalæ, in 197, Corinth, now declared free by the Romans, was again united to the Achæan league, which it originally joined in 243. At the head of the league, Corinth struck the last blow in defence of Greece, and then fell herself before the conquering legions of Rome, in the year 146. Mummius, the Roman consul, on entering the city as victor, put the men to death, and sold the women and children into slavery; he plundered the city of its precious treasures, and consigned it to the flames. From this time Corinth remained desolate for a century, when a colony was planted there by Julius Caesar, which made it once more a prosperous city, the population rising to about 100,000. It was this Roman city which St. Paul visited a century later, which he made for almost two years his home, and where he founded that important church to which he afterward addressed two epistles. It continued for many years afterward to be the capital of Achaia, but finally fell before the devastating march of Alaric the Goth. In modern times, it was taken in 1458 by Mohammed II., transferred to the Venetians in 1687, and retaken by the Turks in 1715, who held it till 1823, when it passed into the possession of modern Greece. It was almost destroyed by an earthquake, Feb. 21, 1858. — Corinth in the day of Grecian greatness was distinguished more for commerce and the arts than for war. Architecture was early cultivated; sculptors and artists were honored and rewarded. It not only gave name to the most elaborate order of Grecian architecture, but also claimed the honor of having invented the art of painting. The Corinthian vases of terra cotta were among the finest in Greece; and such was their beauty that all the cemeteries of the city were ransacked by the colonists of Julius Cæsar, who sent them to Rome, where they brought enormous prices.