On the E
coast of the Isthmus of Corinth about 11 km E of
the center of ancient Corinth and 4 km S of the
Isthmian Sanctuary of Poseidon at the E end of the
modern Corinth Canal. It was the port of Corinth
communicating with the Aegean and the East. References
to it in Greek literature are few and slight. It is mentioned twice in the New Testament, especially in the
conclusion of the Epistle to the Romans, which speaks
of one Phoebe, a “diakonos” of the church at Kenchreai.
It figures colorfully in Apuleius' Metamorphoses
site of the transformation of Lucius from ass to man and
his further spiritual regeneration in a Sanctuary of Isis
there. It suffered violently from earthquakes in A.D. 365
and 375, and perhaps in the Avar invasions of the end
of the 6th c., but survived at least as a vestigial port
until the present day.
Topographically the site consists of a triangular alluvial plain about 600 m deep facing on a broad straight
beach about 500 m long. Along the N side of the valley
is a steep bluff, which extends E beyond the beach. In
the cove formed by the beach and the bluff are remains
of ancient moles forming a small harbor about 250 m
in diameter. At various points on the slopes and top of
the bluff are numerous marks of quarrying, slighter remains of construction, and many tombs, chiefly Roman.
There is reason to suspect that the alluvial plain marks
the site of the harbor in Greek times; to what extent it
may have silted up by Roman times is moot. Investigation of the harbor, whose moles are visible in the sea,
and its periphery on land, have been made by excavation
both on land and underwater. The study of the results has
not been completed, and the following account must be
taken as tentative. Most of the features examined, so far
as explored, are of Roman date.
Among the points of interest is the evidence for the
rise and fall of the land on several occasions during
historic times. Most conspicuously, it is clear that along
the present shore the land is today some 2 m lower in
relation to the sea than it was in the time of Christ.
The harbor was artificially improved by the construction of two moles, now totally submerged, one extending S from the NE end; the other, about E from the
SW end. These moles, so far as has been determined,
are simply masses of broken rock and earth, rising at
the harbor mouth some 30 m above the harbor bottom.
The SW mole springs from a broad artificial pier of
similar construction, whose seaward end was a complicated system of fish tanks. Thence NW, facing the harbor,
a homogeneous block of warehouses extended for more
than 200 m. Along the NW side of the harbor were
other, less homogeneous, commercial structures, facing
on a broad quay. On the N was a plain stoa facing on
a plataia beside the harbor.
On the pier, S of the warehouses, there developed
through the Roman period a complex assumed to belong to a Sanctuary of Isis. A prominent feature of the
complex was a sunken apsidal structure, with mosaic
floor and a fountain, beside what has been taken to be
a temple with a cellar. At the NE end of the harbor
was a series of complexes, the earliest from perhaps the
4th c. B.C., the latest a large, handsome structure of
brick of Roman Imperial times with features in its plan
resembling a palatial house—though at least half of it
has been lost to the sea. It is tentatively thought that
throughout its history this site may have been a Sanctuary of Aphrodite.
After the earthquakes of A.D. 365 (or 375, or both)
most of the structures dwindled in extent, but an ecclesiastical complex began to grow over the Sanctuary of
Isis, reaching an acme in the 6th c., after which it too
In the apsidal basin of the Isis sanctuary were found
remains of over 100 panels of glass opus-sectile, dating
from ca. A.D. 370. The panels (the largest ca. 1 x 2 m)
are made of a kind of plaster; and the glass, in various
colors and shapes, is affixed to it to make formal designs
or representational pictures. The latter include scenes of
buildings along the sea, swamps with flowers and birds,
human figures in large scale—up to about half life-size.
The panels were intended to be mounted as the decorative
facing of the walls of some building, but had never been
installed. They were found in shipping crates, presumably
delivered but abandoned because of some catastrophe. In
the fill covering them were many pieces of wooden furniture, some veneered with engraved tortoise shell, and
quantities of carved ivory. In the cellar of the temple were
quantities of building materials and tools.
Robert Scranton & Edwin S. Ramage,
“Investigations at Corinthian Kenchreai,” Hesperia
; Robert Scranton, “Glass Pictures
from the Sea,” Archaeology
20 (1967) 163-73PI