Dissertation Corner: A Guide to “Corinth on the Isthmus”

I recently discovered by accident that my doctoral dissertation on the Late Antique Corinthia was available for free download through OhioLink. When I completed this study in 2006 at Ohio State University, there was concern among graduate students that our university’s decision to disseminate theses and dissertations to the public would jeopardize opportunities for later publication. I wasn’t sure whether would prove true but erred on the side of caution. I delayed publication for five years, imagining that my book would be completed by then.

What I could not have counted on then was how much the main ideas of that little study would change over the next six years as I read more broadly and encountered the complexities of my subject. My interests shifted earlier, the guiding concepts of the study broadened, and I made some surprising new discoveries about how the Isthmus functioned (and did not) to facilitate trade.

The dissertation was at its heart a study of the late Roman countryside, or, as I noted in the abstract, “the continuity, discontinuity, and transformation of Corinth on the Isthmus during Late Antiquity.” My premise was simple: the textual history of Corinth in late antiquity did not correspond to the archaeological evidence for commerce, economy, settlement, and monumental architecture found in the territory. I argued that the visible developments in the landscape between the 4th and 7th centuries AD discounted the 3rd-5th century literary view that Corinth was in decline.

In one sense, the study continued or supported the recent work of scholars like Timothy Gregory, Richard Rothaus, Bill Caraher, Guy Sanders, and P. Nick Kardulias who had highlighted the continuing vitality of the late antique Corinthia from fortification walls, late antique villas, urban center, religious traditions, and churches; my contribution was a study of the evidence for Late Roman settlement documented by the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (1998-2002). In another sense, though, I was doing something a bit different in examining why the vibrant textual tradition for Corinth fragmented in the later Roman era. Why were text and material culture so out of sync? I highlighted how the Roman image of the city was itself a mirage that burst in late antiquity as the broader world changed.

I published some of the chapters of the dissertation along the way and eventually crafted a diachronic study about the changing place of Corinth and its Isthmus within the shifting networks of the Mediterranean world. The shift, I felt, was inevitable, as I could not really discuss the late antique changes in the Roman landscape without proper attention to what that landscape had been in the 1st-2nd centries. Along the way, the dissertation developed into something entirely new, a study of the long-term notion of connectivity and geographic consequence. I now believe that my use of broad temporal categories in the dissertation like “Early Roman” and “Late Roman” actually obscure the dynamic changes in the Roman landscape that occurred on the order of years, generations, or century. The visitor to this blog should hear a bit this year about my book project on the historical contingencies that shaped Corinth and its region from the 2nd c. BC to 7th c. AD.

If you have interest in the late antique Corinthia, the entire dissertation can be freely downloaded here (20 mb). I provide links below to the individual chapters as PDF documents and notes about how these have appeared or will appear in print. This will, I  hope, save the reader from working through outdated text. A brief outline of the dissertation (more detailed outline here):


1. Corinth and the End of the World. Introduction, historiography, approach, and directions. The scholarship overview is recent enough to be of some use and will complement the overview in Amelia Brown’s 2008 late antique dissertation on the urban center (summary here, PDF dissertation here). The main idea of this chapter and the dissertation was published in this book chapter.

2. Corinth in a Landscape. The geological and topographical structure of the Isthmus and its importance for the ancient image of the city. Don’t bother reading: wait for the book which will update it, but there are some nice pictures of the landscape.

3. The Image of the City. A study of the fragmentation of the literary image of the city in late antiquity. I realize some of my conclusions in this chapter are either incorrect or have developed through more sensitive readings (e.g., this article on the diolkosof Corinth), but it still provides a useful critical review of the negative literary tradition about the late antique city. I am completely rewriting this chapter in my book.

4. A Busy Countryside. A study of the evidence for the “explosion” of Late Roman settlement in the Corinthia from the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey data. Perhaps the most important chapter in the dissertation but not worth reading today as it has appeared in polished form in this Hesperia article.

5. The Crossroads. The continuing importance in late antiquity of the ancient crossroads site known as Kromna. Besides supporting a thesis for the continuing dynamism of the territory, the chapter reinterprets the ancient identification of the site of Kromna. I’ve never had time to publish my observations on Kromna other than a short note in this article. I’m not sure I completely agree with my own conclusions re: Kromna, but I think they are moving in the right direction.

6. Inhabiting Time. An examination of excavated villas of the territory and their evident refurbishments over time that indicate a society capable of large material investments. A fun chapter to write, but I have no plans to publish it. New Testament scholars may have interest in the survey of Roman villas in the territory.

7. A Brief Conclusion about Future Directions

Appendix I. Defining (Roman) Sites in a Continuous Carpet. I’ve updated and published this in an article in the forthcoming work, The Bridge of the Untiring Sea.

In the course of this year, I hope to coerce a few other recent Corinthiaka dissertators to talk about their projects and their plans for publication. Dissertators may of course nominate themselves.


Categories: Corinth in the Mind, Dissertations and Theses, Economy, EKAS (Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey), Isthmus, Periods, Roman, Sites, Isthmia, Sites, Kenchreai, Sites, Lechaion, Sites, Lechaion Basilica, Territory, Texts, Trade and Commerce


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