Temple of Apollo at Corinth.

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.

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.

Poseidon, Paella Museum.

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).
Lechaion Road, entering from the north-west (top) and facing south-east, with Acrocorinth in the background (bottom).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Raised behind the central stoa, was the southern stoa, a double story construction. At the time of Paul, these shops were being demolished and replaced by administrative buildings. It is estimated a hundred statues paraded in front of this stoa. One of the administrative buildings was the Bouleuterion, where laws were promulgated.

Southern stoa.

Southern stoa.

Positioning themselves in front of the Bema and gazing to their left (west) Paul and Aquila would frown upon the western temples, dedicated to Fortuna, Hercules, and Poseidon. A fountain, adorned with a statue of Poseidon and a dolphin, and statues of Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes, and Zeus looked down upon the agora.

Temple of Poseidon (top) and water canals feeding the fountains at the western temples (Bottom).
Temple of Poseidon (top) and water canals feeding the fountains at the western temples (Bottom).

Temple of Poseidon (top) and water canals feeding the fountains at the western temples (Bottom).

Slightly raised above the western temples, lay the western stoa.

Western stoa.

Western stoa.

Behind the western stoa, stood the Temple of Octavia, sister of Caesar Augustus.

Temple of Octavia.

Temple of Octavia.

The Sacred Spring and Most Famous Temple in Corinth

Diagonal to the Bema was the north-western stoa, housing several little shops, but the main attraction here was the Sacred Spring, located next to the Propylaea. Seven steps led to the Sacred Spring, but its water was reserved only for religious purposes.

North-western stoa.

Paul and Aquila could have decided to inspect the most famous Temple of Apollo, located on the hill behind the north western stoa. The monumental temple was constructed in 550 - 525 BC in Doric style, with 6 columns each on the eastern and western flanks and 15 columns on the northern and southern flanks. It housed a bronze statue of Apollo.

Temple of Apollo.

Temple of Apollo.

Paul and Aquila were probably curious about the legend of the Fountain of Glauke, situated west of the Temple of Apollo. Glauke was the daughter of Creon, King of Corinth and second wife of Jason.  Jason’s first wife, Medea, had sent Glauke a wedding dress, which burst into flames and Glauke jumped into this fountain to douse the flames.

Fountain of Glauke.

Fountain of Glauke.

Paul and Aquila were most likely hungry and decided to buy food at the northern stoa, before returning home.

The Return Home

On their way home, they would raise their eyes to Acrocorinth, the mountain fortress protecting Corinth, but also the location of the main temple of the cult of Aphrodite. Paul often preached against the immorality of the practices at this temple. A temple of Demeter and her daughter Kore was located at the foot of the mountain, where fertility rates were practiced.

Demeter with her daughter by her side.

Demeter with her daughter by her side. (Public Domain)

The site of ancient Corinth was never lost to antiquity as the site of ancient Troy, but by the late 19th century, only 7 columns of the Temple of Apollo enticed archaeologists to excavate. The site is an accessible excavation where the public can wander among the ruins and where the winds of the Corinthian and Saronic gulfs still whisper the secrets of a 1st century cosmopolitan port city.

Top image: Temple of Apollo at Corinth. Source: Public Domain

Unless otherwise noted, all images © Micki Pistorius 2010

By Micki Pistorius

References

Hadjifoti, L 2004. Saint Paul his journeys through Greece, Cyprus, Asia Minor and Rome. Athens: Toubis Editions.

McRay, J 2008. Archeology and the New Testament.  Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Meletzis, S & Papadakis, H 1985. Corinth, Mycenae, Tiryns, Nauplia, Epidauros. 7th ed. Athens: Art Editions Meletzis & Papadakis.

Meinardus, OFA 2006. St Paul in Greece. 7th ed. Athens: Lycabettus Press.

Perego, G 1999. Interdisciplinary atlas of the Bible. London: St Pauls.

Reader’s Digest Association Inc 1989. Jesus and His times (ed) Ward, K. New York: Reader’s Digest.

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