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CORCY´RA (Κέρκυρα, Herod., Thuc.; Κόρκυρα, Strab. and later writers, and always on coins: Eth. Κέρκυρ, Κέρκυρος,, Alcman. ap. Etym. M.; usually Eth. Κερκυραῖος, Eth. Κορκυραῖος, Eth. Corcyraeus: Corfu), an island in the Ionian sea, opposite the coast of Chaonia in Epeirus. The channel, by which it is separated from the mainland, is narrowest at its northern entrance, being only about 2 miles in width; it then expands into an open gulf between the two coasts, being in some places 14 miles across; but S. of the promontory Leucimme it again contracts into a breadth of 4 or 5 miles. The length of the island from N. to S. is about 38 miles. Its breadth is very irregular; in the northern part of the island it is 20 miles; it then becomes only 6 miles; widens again near the city of Corcyra to about 11 miles; south of which it contracts again to about 3 or 4 miles, terminating in a high narrow cape. The island contains 227 square miles.

Four promontories are mentioned by the ancient writers:--1. CASSIOPE (Κασσιόπη, Ptol. 3.14.11; C. St. Catherine), the NE. point of the island. 2. PHALACRUM (Φαλακρόν, Strab. vii. p.324; Ptol. l.c.; Plin. Nat. 4.12. s. 19; C. Drasti), the NW. point. 3. LEUCIMME or LEUCIMNA (Λευκίμμη, Thuc. 1.30, 47; Λεύκιμμα, Strab. vii. p.324; Ptol., Plin. ll. cc.: C. Léfkimo), a low sandy point on the E. coast, about 6 or 7 miles from the southern extremity of the island. 4. AMPHIPAGUS (Ἀμφίπαγος, Ptol. l.c.: C. Bianco), the southern extremity of the island.

Corcyra is generally mountainous. The loftiest mountains are in the northern part of the island, extending across the island from E. to W.: the highest summit, which is now called Pandokrátora by the Greeks, and San Salvatore by the Italians, is between 3000 and 4000 feet above the sea, and is covered with luxuriant groves of olive, cypress, and ilex. From these mountains there runs a lower ridge from N. to S., extending as far as the southern extremity of the island. The position of Mt. ISTONE (Ἰστώνη), where the nobles entrenched themselves during the civil dissensions of Corcyra, is uncertain. (Thuc. 3.85, 4.46; Polyaen. Strat. 6.20; Steph. B. sub voce It was evidently at no great distance from the city; but it could hardly have been the summit of San Salvatore as some writers suppose, since the nobles, after their fortress on Mt. Istone had been captured, took refuge on higher ground. (Thuc. 4.46.) Istone has been identified by Cramer and others with the hill mentioned by Xenophon (Xenoph. Hell. 6.2.7) as distant only 5 stadia from the city; but this is purely conjectural. The only other ancient name of any of the mountains of Corcyra, which has been preserved, is MELITEIUM (Μελιτεῖον, Apollon. 4.1150, with Schol.); but as to its position we have no clue whatsoever.

Corcyra was celebrated for its fertility in antiquity, and was diligently cultivated by its inhabitants. Xenophon (Xenoph. Hell. 6.2.6) describes it as ἐξειργασμένην μὲν παγκάλως καὶ πεφυτευμένην; and one of the later Roman poets celebrates it as “Corcyra compta solum, locupleti Corcyra sulco.” (Avien. Descr. Orb. 663.) These praises are not undeserved; for modern writers celebrate the luxuriance and fertility of its numerous vallies. The chief production of the island now is oil, of which large quantities are exported. It also produces wine, which, though not so celebrated as in antiquity (Athen. 1.33b.; Xen. l.c.), is still used in the town of Corfu and in the adjacent islands.

The most ancient name of the island is said to have been Drepane (Δρεπάνη), apparently from its [p. 1.670]resemblance in shape to a scythe. (Apollon. 4.983, with Schol.; Callimach. ap. Plin. Nat. 4.12. s. 19.) It is further said that its next name was Scheria (Σχερίη), which Homer describes as a fertile and lovely island, inhabited by the Phaeacians, an enterprizing seafaring people, the subjects of king Alcinous. (Od. 5.34, seq.) Although the Corcyraeans identified their island with the Homeric Scheria, and prided themselves upon the nautical fame of their Phaeacian ancestors (Thuc. 1.25), yet it is very doubtful whether the Homeric Scheria ought to be regarded as an island, which ever had any real existence. It is not unlikely that the Phaeacians are only a creation of the poet, to whom he assigns a place in the far distant West, the scene of so many marvels in the Odyssey. (Comp. Welcker, Ueber die Homerischen Phaeaken, in Rheinisches Museum, vol. i. pp. 219--283.)

The first historical fact recorded respecting Corcyra is its colonization by the Corinthians; for we may pass over the earlier Eretrian colony, which rests upon the authority of Plutarch alone. (Quaest. Graec. 100.11.) Archias, the founder of Syracuse, is said to have touched at Corcyra on his way to Sicily, and to have left behind him Chersicrates, one of the Heraclidae, who expelled the Liburnians, then inhabiting the island, and built the city of Corcyra, which he peopled with Corinthian settlers. (Strab. vi. p.269; Timaeus, ap. Schol. ad Apollon. 4.1216.) This event we may place in B.C. 734, the date usually assigned to the foundation of Syracuse. [SYRACUSAE] Corcyra rapidly rose to be one of the first maritime powers in Greece. We are told that it was at variance with the mother country almost from the very time of its foundation (Hdt. 3.49), which was no doubt owing to its being the commercial rival of Corinth in the western seas of Greece. The dissensions between the two states broke out into open hostilities as early as B.C. 665, when a naval engagement took place between them, which is mentioned by Thucydides as the first sea-fight on record. (Thuc. 1.13.) In B.C. 617 the Corcyraeans founded Epidamnus on the Illyrian coast; but notwithstanding their hostility to the mother country, they so far complied with Grecian usages as to choose a Corinthian as the Oekist or founder of the new colony. (Thuc. 1.24.) Periander, who ruled at Corinth from B.C. 625 to 585, reduced Corcyra to subjection in the course of his reign; but of the details of its subjugation we have no account. Herodotus tells an interesting story of the murder of Lycophron, the son of Periander, by the Corcyraeans, and of the cruel way in which Periander attempted to take revenge. (Hdt. 3.49, seq.) It was during the time that Corcyra was subject to Periander, that Apollonia and Anactorium were founded by the two states conjointly.

After the death of Periander the Corcyraeans seem to have recovered their independence; but in the Persian wars they made use of it in a manner little creditable to their Hellenic patriotism. Having promised their aid to the confederate Greeks, they sent a fleet of 60 ships, but with orders to advance no further than the promontory of Taenarus, there to await the issue of the struggle between the Persians and the Greeks, and to join the victorious party. (Hdt. 7.168.) Of their subsequent history till the time of the Peloponnesian war, we know nothing. Having quarrelled with the Corinthians respecting Epidamnus, a war ensued between the states, which was one of the immediate causes of the Peloponnesian war. As the history of this quarrel and of the war which followed is related at length in all histories of Greece, it is only necessary in this place to mention the leading events, and such as chiefly serve to illustrate the geography of Corcyra.

The first fleet, which the Corinthians sent against the Corcyraeans, was completely defeated by the latter off Cape Actium, B.C. 435. (Thuc. 1.29.) Deeply humbled by this defeat, the Corinthians spent two whole years in preparations for retrieving it; and by active exertions among their allies, they were in a condition in the third year to put to sea with a fleet of 150 sail. The Corcyraeans, unable to cope single-handed with so formidable an armament, applied for aid to the Athenians, who concluded a defensive alliance with them, fearing lest their powerful navy should fall into the hands of the Peloponnesians. Soon afterwards the war was renewed. The Corinthian fleet of 150 ships took up its station at Cape Cheimerium on the coast of Epeirus, a little south of Corcyra. The Corcyraean fleet of 110 sail, together with 10 Athenian ships, were posted at one of the islands called Sybota (Σύβοτα), now Sývota, which lie off the coast of Epeirus to the north of Cape Cheimerium, and opposite the coast of Corcyra, between Capes Leucimme and Amphipagos. Their land force was stationed at Leucimme. The engagement took place in the open sea between Cape Cheimerium and the Sybota; the Corcyraeans were defeated; and the Corinthians were preparing to renew the attack in the afternoon, but were deterred by the arrival of a fresh Athenian squadron, and sailed away home. (Thuc. 1.44, seq.) Each party claimed the victory. The Corinthians erected their trophy at “the continental Sybota” (ἐν τοῖς ἐν τῇ ἠπείρῳ Συβότοις), and the Corcyraeans set up theirs at the “insular Sybota” (ἐν τοῖς ἐν τῇ νήσῳ Συβότοις, Thuc. 1.54). We learn from Col. Leake that there is a sheltered bay between the two principal islands, called Sývota, and another between the inner island and the main. The “continental Sybota” was probably the name of a village on the inner strait. (Leake, Northern Greece, vol. iii. pp. 2, 3.) Shortly afterwards the island was distracted by civil dissensions between the aristocratical and democratical parties, in which the latter finally gained the upper hand, and massacred all their opponents with the most frightful atrocities, B.C. 425. (Thuc. 4.46-48.)

Corcyra remained in the Athenian alliance till the close of the Peloponnesian war. It was the place of rendezvous for the fleet of the Athenians and their allies, which was destined to invade Sicily, B.C. 415. (Thuc. 6.42.) Whether Corcyra was enrolled a member of the Spartan confederacy after the downfall of Athens, we are not informed; but in B.C. 375 Timotheus brought the island again under the dominion of Athens. (Xen. Hell. 5.4. 64; comp. Corn. Nep. Tim. 2; Diod. 15.36.) Two years afterwards, B.C. 373, a large Peloponnesian force, under the command of the Lacedaemonian Mnasippus, was sent to wrest the island from the Athenians. The Athenian fleet had already quitted Corcyra; and the inhabitants, having been defeated in battle by the invaders, were obliged to take refuge within the walls of their city. Xenophon, in a passage already referred to, describes the country at that time as in the highest state of cultivation, abounding in beautiful houses, the cellars of which were stored with excellent wine. After ravaging the country, Mnasippus laid siege to the city, which soon began [p. 1.671]to suffer from want of provisions; but the Corcyraeans availing themselves of the negligence of the besiegers, who had become careless, through certainty of success, made a vigorous sally from the city, in which they slew Mnasippus, and many of his troops. Shortly afterwards news arrived of the approach of an Athenian fleet, whereupon the Peloponnesians quitted the island in haste. (Xen. Hell. 6.2. 3-26; Diod. 15.47.)

After the death of Alexander the Great the Corcyraeans appear to have taken an active part in opposition to Cassander. In B.C. 312, they expelled the Macedonian garrisons from Apollonia and Epidamnus. (Diod. 19.78.) In B.C. 303 Cleonymus, the Spartan king, who had collected a body of mercenaries in Italy, invaded the island and became master of the city. (Diod. 20.104, 105.) Cleonymus appears to have quitted the island soon afterwards; for it was again independent in B.C. 300, when Cassander laid siege to the city. From this danger it was delivered by Agathocles, the tyrant of Syracuse, who burnt the Macedonian fleet. (Diod. xxi. Eclog. 2. p. 489, ed. Wesseling.) But Agathocles only expelled the Macedonians in order to appropriate the island to himself, which he is recorded to have laid waste, probably in consequence of the opposition of the inhabitants to his dominion. (Plut. de Ser. Num. Vind. p. 557.) Shortly afterwards Agathocles gave Corcyra as a dowry to his daughter Lanassa upon her marriage with Pyrrhus, king of Epeirus. It remained in his hands for some years; but Lanassa, indignant at being neglected by Pyrrhus for his barbarian wives, withdrew to Corcyra, and offered her hand and the island to Demetrius, king of Macedonia. Demetrius accepted her proposal, and, sailing to Corcyra, celebrated his nuptials with her, left a garrison in the island, and returned to Macedonia. This happened shortly before he was expelled from Macedonia by Pyrrhus, B.C. 287. (Plut. Pyrrh. 9, 10; Diod. xxi. p. 490.) Pausanias says (1.11.6) that Pyrrhus conquered Corcyra soon after he had recovered his hereditary dominions; but as Pyrrhus began to reign some years before he deprived Demetrius of the Macedonian throne, it has been conjectured that he may have invaded Corcyra, while it was in the possession of Agathocles, and that the latter was contented to cede to him the island, together with his daughter Lanassa. At a later period, probably after his return from Italy, B.C. 274, Pyrrhus recovered Corcyra by the energy of his son Ptolemaeus. (Justin, 25.3.)

After the death of Pyrrhus Corcyra again enjoyed a brief period of independence; but the Illyrian pirates, in the reign of their queen Teuta, conquered the island after defeating the Achaean and Aetolian fleets which had come to the assistance of the Corcyraeans. Almost immediately afterwards a Roman fleet, which had been sent to punish these pirates, appeared before Corcyra; whereupon Demetrius, the Pharian, who had been left in charge of the island with an Illyrian garrison, surrendered it to the enemy without striking a blow, B.C. 229. (Pol. 2.9--11.) From this time Corcyra continued in the hands of the Romans, and was an important station for their fleet in their subsequent wars in Greece. The Romans made the capital a free state (Plin. Nat. 4.12. s. 19); but its inhabitants were so little liked even at this period, as to give rise to the proverb ἐλευθέρα Κόρκυρα, χέζ ὅπου θέλεις (Strab. vii. p.329). It is unnecessary to follow further the history of the island. In the reign of Justinian it was still called Κέρκυρα (Procop. B. G. 4.22). It is now one of the seven Ionian islands under the protection of Great Britain, and the seat of government.

Corcyra, the capital of the island, was situated upon the eastern coast, upon a peninsula a little S. of the modern town of Corfu. This peninsula is formed on the one side by a small gulf or lagoon, called the Peschiera, or Lake of Calichiopulo; and on the other side by a bay, which separates the pe. ninsula from the promontory occupied by the modern citadel. The peninsula is called Palaeopoli, but the only ancient remains which it contains are the ruins of a small Doric temple on the eastern shore, facing Epeirus. Of the two ports mentioned by Thucydides (2.72), the Peschiera seems to be the one which he calls Hyllaicus (Ὑλλαϊκός); and the bay between the peninsula and the modern citadel to be the one which he describes as lying towards Epeirus. Scylax speaks of three harbours, one of which was most beautiful: hence it would appear that the present harbour, although at some distance from the ancient city, was also used in ancient times. The small island of Vido, in front of the present harbour, is probably the island of PTYCHIA (πτυχία), where the leaders of the aristocratical party were placed after their surrender in B.C. 425. (Thuc. 4.46.) We learn from Thucydides (2.72) that the Acropolis was near the portus Hyllaicus, and the agora near the other harbour. The ancient Acropolis is the long undulating promontory south of the modern town, and did not occupy the site of the modern citadel, which is a nearly insulated rock, with its summit split into two lofty peaks. These two peaks must have been always a striking object from the ancient town, and are probably the “aerias Phaeacum arces” of Virgil (Aen. 3.291), a passage from which Dodwell and others erroneously concluded that they were the Acropolis of Corcyra. In the middle ages these two rocks, which then became the citadel, were called Κορυφὼ or Κορυφοὶ, from whence has come, slightly corrupted, (Κορφοί) the modern name of the town and of the island. We have no further information respecting the other localities of the ancient city. Among its public buildings mention is made of temples of Zeus, Hera, Dionysus, the Dioscuri, and Alcinous. (Thuc. 3.70, 75, 81.)

The only other city in the island was CASSIOPE (Κασσιόπη), situated upon the north-eastern extremity of the island, opposite a town upon the coast of Epeirus of the same name. Cassiope possessed a harbour, and was distant, according to Cicero (Cic. Fam. 16.9), 120 stadia from Corcyra. It was celebrated for its temple of Zeus Cassius, or Casius, at whose altar Nero sang: the head of the god, with the epigraph Ζεὺς Κάσιος, frequently occurs on coins. (Suet. Nero 22; Plin. Nat. 4.12. s. 19; Procop. B. G. 4.22; Eckhel, vol. ii. p. 179, seq.) There are remains of the ancient town near the village, still called Cassopo. (Marmora, Historia


[p. 1.672]

di Corfu, Venice, 1672; Mustoxides, Illustrazioni Corciresi, Milan, 1811--1814, 2 vols. 8vo.; Dodwell, Classical Tour, vol. i. p. 32, seq.; Mure, Tour in Greece, vol. i. p. 1, foil.; and especially G. C. A. Müller, De Corcyraeorum Republica, Göttingen, 1835.)

hide References (40 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (40):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 16.9
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 15.36
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 15.47
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.168
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.49
    • Homer, Odyssey, 5.34
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.25
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.47
    • Thucydides, Histories, 4.48
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.24
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.30
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.54
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.81
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.85
    • Thucydides, Histories, 4.46
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.42
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 6.2.26
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 6.2.3
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 6.2.6
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 5.4.64
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 6.2.7
    • Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 4.1150
    • Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 4.1216
    • Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 4.983
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.13
    • Thucydides, Histories, 2.72
    • Suetonius, Nero, 22
    • Cornelius Nepos, Timotheus, 2
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.12
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.29
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.44
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.70
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.75
    • Plutarch, Pyrrhus, 10
    • Plutarch, Pyrrhus, 9
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 1.33
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.78
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 20.104
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 20.105
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.14
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