On Monday I posted a general overview of the conference Corinth in Contrast and today I want to comment on a few of the specific papers that focused on material culture. Defining which papers fit into the category of material culture is not straightforward. Most of the papers, including those by New Testament scholars, made some use of archaeology, but not all the archaeologists (e.g., Sanders and myself) focused on archaeological evidence per se. Moreover, some presenters (Ben Millis, Dan Schowalter, and Ron Stroud) focused on inscriptions that belong to overlapping evidence categories of text and material culture. And even the explicitly archaeological papers did not focus on the normal stratigraphic grit of archaeological research. A few highlights:
For the urban center, Sarah James gave an important paper (“The Last Corinthians? Society and Settlement from 146 BCE to the Roman Colony”) synthesizing the evidence for continuing settlement and society in the so-called interim period between the city’s destruction in 146 BC and refoundation as a Roman colony in 44 BC. James discussed an enormous amount of evidence (adding up to half a metric ton of pottery!) suggesting that activities continued in the urban center in the late 2nd to early 1st centuries BC. She presented a number of ceramic deposits showing evidence for imports and trade and production of ceramic crafts that indicates continuity with preexisting populations. This paper, which draws on conclusions reached in her dissertation, will have significant ramifications for understanding the interim period in Corinth. Start discontinuity, the blank slate, and the squatters are all going to have to go away.
Ben Millis was not physically present at the conference but he did make several appearances via Skype and in this capacity presented a paper on “The Local Magistrates and Elite of Roman Corinth.” The paper complemented an earlier paper that he gave in 2007, recently published in Corinth in Context, by discussing the role of freedmen in promoting their commercial interests in the newfound colony. In his talk, Millis discussed the origins and careers of Roman Corinth’s first elites whose names appear in inscriptions in the city. Three distinct elite groups appear frequently: 1) Greek provincial elite, which formed the smallest elite group; 2) Romans, who were also a numerically small group but formed a more significant core of Corinthian elites; and 3) freedmen, who made up the largest group of the colony’s ruling class. Millis suggested that the latter group clearly had the most potential for upward mobility, but that personal connections were important in achieving this mobility. Freedmen who became part of the new local elite formed a very closed system that was nearly impossible to break into. There were, in other words, social and economic impediments and requirements to office holding in the new colony.
Sarah Lepinski discussed the evidence from wall painting in the Roman city and considered the question of whether painting practices reflected Greek or Roman themes, styles, and tastes. Her presentation highlighted the practices, tastes, and decorative programs that point strongly to western connections, especially during most of the first century after Christ. However, her presentation also highlighted the complexities of such connections for in the later 1st century a break with western practices led to more localized decorative programs.
Bill Caraher gave a paper on the final day on the subject of the “The Ambivalent Landscape of Christian Corinth: The Archaeology of Place, Theology, and Politics in a Late Antique City.” The paper provided a very useful overview of the “building boom” of the fifth and sixth centuries AD in the Corinthia that included monumental church architecture (e.g., Lechaion basilica), villa culture in the territory, and urban and trans-isthmus fortification walls. Bill suggested that this building activity created a medium for various groups of the population to communicate theological messages and local expression. His discussion of local “resistance” provided some interesting and lively audience feedback.
Ronald Stroud presented an interesting paper called the “Varieties of Inequality in Corinthian Magic and Ritual,” which examined the evidence for “black magic” at Corinth around 50 AD, especially the inscribed lead curse tablets found at the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore on the lower slopes of Acrocorinth. Before official cult was reestablished in a Roman manner at the sanctuary, women were practicing nocturnal rites associated with a space connected to Kore, goddess of underworld. Such practices blend the distinction between religion and magic. This paper will be very interesting for those interested in the kinds of cults and religious practices that formed a backdrop to St. Paul’s mission in the city.
All of these papers will appear in expanded form (6,000-8,000 words) in a volume that should be published relatively quickly.