Tracing the Steps of the Apostle Paul Through First Century Corinth
“Non cuivis homini contigit adire Corinthum”
It is not the privilege of every man to go to Corinth - Horace
The site of Corinth has been inhabited since the Neolithic period. Geographically, the isthmus between Greek mainland and the Peloponnese provided Corinth access to two ports: the Cenchreae harbor on the Saronic Gulf in the east and the Lechaion harbor on the Corinthian gulf in the west. Corinth was ideally located for marine trafficking and trade. The two harbors were linked by a paved road - dioklos - constructed in the 7th century BC. Ships and cargo were hauled by means of a wooden track crossing the isthmus, thus avoiding the treacherous sea route around the Peloponnese and saving time.
Corinth’s Waves of Rise and Decline
During the 7th century BC, Corinth declined after the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, but it regained prosperity under the rule of Philip of Macedon in 338 BC. The Romans destroyed the city in 146 BC, when the inhabitants were massacred or sold as slaves. The city lay abandoned until 44 BC when Julius Caesar recognized its economic potential and developed it as the capital of the Roman province of Achaia.
Corinth with Akrocorinth (1847) by Carl Rottman. ( Public Domain )
During the reign of Emperor Claudius of Rome, Corinth had a population of three hundred citizens and four hundred and sixty slaves. It was a bustling metropolis, with a very different cultural composition than Athens. Due to the international trade and ports, Corinth was populated by Greeks, Romans, Jews, Orientals, freedmen, and slaves. Besides trade, the cult of Aphrodite lured sailors who enjoyed the favors of the more than one thousand temple prostitutes, providing a major source of revenue. It also hosted the Pan-Hellenic Isthmian Games in honor of Poseidon, which attracted athletes and merchants.
- Underwater Ruins of Greek Harbor Are Full of Surprises
- Valuable Jewels, Ornate Lamps and Coins Unearthed from 2,000-Year-Old Tombs in Corinth
Poseidon, Paella Museum. (CC BY-SA 2.0 de )
The Apostle Paul Arrives in Cornith
The Apostle Paul traveled from Athens to Corinth in 50 AD. If he arrived by ship, he would have embarked at the port of Cenchreae. Had Paul traveled overland from Athens to Corinth, he would have passed the sanctuary of Eleusis and the town of Megara on his 50-mile (80.47-km) journey. He would have entered Corinth from a north-western direction, along the paved Lechaion Road. This road had fortified walls and Paul would have been greeted by statues of Hermes, Poseidon, and Artemis.
Lechaion Road, entering from the north-west (top) and facing south-east, with Acrocorinth in the background (bottom).
Tired and dusty from the journey, Paul would have stopped at the Baths of Eurykles, on the left flank of Lechaion Road, to wash the dust from his travels.
Baths of Eurykles.
Adjacent to the Baths of Eurykles, Paul would have entered the Peribolos, or Garden of Apollo. In the Garden of Apollo, Paul would have met his hosts, Aquila and Priscilla, fellow tentmakers, who probably lived in a house at the end of Lechaion Road. Tents were very popular for the Isthmus Games.
Peribolos of Apollo.
Corinth’s Healthy Water
After settling in at the house, Aquila and Paul would have been eager to explore the city. At the end of Lechaion Road, they would ascend the steps, leading to the agora.
To his left Paul would have stared in awe at the Fountain of Peirene. Peirene, daughter of Achelous, cried such tears when Artemis accidently killed her son Cenchrias that they became the source of the fountain in Acrocorinth. The water source was rerouted to the city. The water of the Peirene fountain is considered the healthiest in all of Greece. Citizens collecting water took pleasure from the beautiful mosaic fish at the basin. The marble fountain had six arches and fifteen spouts providing drinking water to its citizens.
Fountain of Peirene.
Paul Reaches Corinth’s Agora
Paul and Aquila would have passed through the Propylaea, a 12-foot (3.66-meter) arch spanning the entrance to the agora. Helios, the Sun God, his son Phaethon, and Hercules kept watch over the entrance.
To his left Paul would have gazed at the Julian Basilica, where statues of the family of Julius Caesar stood sentinel. From the steps of the Basilica, Paul had an east to west view of the agora.
Agora: east to west.
In the center of the central stoa on the southern flank of the agora stood the Bema, where the Roman consul would address the citizens. It is also from the Bema where Paul’s trial was conducted by Consul Lucius Julius Gallio in 51 AD, but he was acquitted.