Divers uncover grand scale of ancient Corinth’s harbor

Archeologists Konstantina Vafeiadou and Matej Školc remove a column drum from the harbor front area. (Credit: Vassilis Tsiairis)

Archeologists investigating Lechaion, the main harbor town of ancient Corinth, say the area appears to have been much more important than previously thought.

In the course of three excavation seasons, they have delineated major offshore structures, a monumental entrance canal, and several inland canals connecting at least four harbor basins.

In total, the area is greater than 500,000 square meters—bringing it on par with other major harbor towns of the age, such as Athens’ harbors in the Piraeus and Roman Portus.

“This season topographical and geophysical surveys have made it possible for us to successfully delineate the canal zone between the inner and outer harbors,” says Bjørn Lovén, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen and co-director of the Lechaion Harbour Project. “In the process we discovered that the entrance canal connecting the inner and outer harbors was up to 30 meters wide in the 4th and 3rd century BC, then grew narrower in later centuries. The precise reason why remains to be discovered.”

Conservator Angeliki Zisi carefully cleans and conducts a condition assessment of the bulwark’s wooden posts
Conservator Angeliki Zisi carefully cleans and conducts a condition assessment of the bulwark’s wooden posts. (Credit: Vassilis Tsiairis)

The team mapped the full extent of the mole flanking the eastern side of the entrance canal as far as 46 meters offshore in 1-3 meters of water. Working carefully and methodically for 35 days, divers defined the eastern side of the canal.

At the harbor entrance, and interconnected with this mole, they discovered strong stone foundations, perhaps for a tower that would protect the entrance. Nearby they found two column drums. The precise purpose remains unknown, but such drums found at other excavated Roman harbors supported porticoes on the harbor front. Future explorations promise more discoveries.

“The extremely rare wooden structures we’ve found in the early stages at Lechaion give us hope that we’ll find other organic materials, such as wooden tools, furniture, wooden parts of buildings, and shipwrecks—the potential is immense and it is important to stress that we almost never find organic material on land in the central Mediterranean region,” says Lovén.

About Corinth and Lechaion

Located on the isthmus connecting the Peloponnese and the rest of mainland Greece, Corinth and Lechaion served as a perennial nexus of land and sea routes. From an early date, Lechaion’s wharves swelled with trading goods, helping Corinth to become quite wealthy.

Throughout antiquity, Lechaion played a crucial role in supporting Corinth’s function as a cultural metropolis. Beginning in the 8th century BCE, the waterfront saw Corinthian colonists set out for Corfu and Sicily and elsewhere as they sowed the seeds of Hellenism to the rest of southern Europe.

By the Late Roman period Lechaion, while still linked with Corinth, had developed its own identity as a town and religious center.

Source: University of Copenhagen