The final person known to have dragged a fleet over the Corinthian Isthmus was Niketas Ooryphas, a Byzantine admiral, who is said to have accomplished the deed around 872 AD. The event most likely did not actually occur but the narrative ascribing a ship crossing to Niketas nonetheless reflects on Byzantine interest in the classical tradition of ship dragging and in the use of ship portaging as a stratagem. The pages linked to this one contain translations of all the Byzantine sources that refer to the event. The most important source is Life of Basil, the mid-10th century biography of Basil I found in Theophanes Continuatus, which clearly influenced all later accounts.
David Pettegrew presented a summary overview of Niketas in four blog entries:
- Niketas Ooryphas and the Diolkos of Corinth, Part I
- Basil’s Thunderbolt: Niketas Ooryphas, Part II
- Did Niketas Drag His Fleet? The Ooryphas Saga, Part III
- The Most Excellent Strategem of Niketas Ooryphas (Part IV)
Those blog entries were based on a talk by the same author titled “Niketas Ooryphas Drags his Fleet: Portaging the Corinthian Isthmus in 872 AD.” Paper delivered at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, San Antonio, TX, January 2011.
He rewrote the paper as “Basil’s Thunderbolt: Niketas Ooryphas and the Portage of the Corinthian Isthmus,” for the Byzantine Studies Conference in October 2011. A version of that paper has been posted to the web here.