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KENCHREAI Corinthia, Greece.

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 as the 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 declined.

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.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Robert Scranton & Edwin S. Ramage, “Investigations at Corinthian Kenchreai,” Hesperia 36 (1967) 124-86MPI; Robert Scranton, “Glass Pictures from the Sea,” Archaeology 20 (1967) 163-73PI.

ROBERT SCRANTON

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