Lechaeon; the west port of Corinth

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Topography

The area of Corinth was already populated from the Prehistoric period. The ancient settlement, much as the modern city, developed on the ‘bridge’ that connects the Peloponnese with continental Greece. The harbour of Lechaeon is situated to the west of the modern village of Old Corinth, and to the south of the old national road Corinth-Patrae. To the east of the harbour lies the well known prehistoric settlement of Korakou (Blegen, 1921). West of the prehistoric settlement, and south of the road, is situated the necropolis of ancient Lechaeon (7th - 4th century BC). The Roman necropolis is further west, and a Mycenaean tomb is reported to the area west of the harbour, next to the sea.

The excavations of Skias revealed two roads that reached from the city to the harbour. The first is the "Lechaeon Road’ that is commented on by Pausanius, (II, 3, 4), and a second road between the main and western wall. The Lechaeon Road reaches roughly the center of the harbour complex to the south. A modern road still follows the same path as the Lechaeon Road. The second road follows the line of the western wall whereby as section of the road intersects the Lechaeon Road just before the harbour, nowadays in the area to the south of the old national road.




 


Historical Development

An important factor of the area was the ability to access both the Gulf of Corinth to the west, and the Saronic Gulf and the Aegean to the east. The rapid growth of the area is already noticeable during the Geometric Period when the ports of Kenchraie and Lechaeon are formed, each taking the name of one of the two sons of Poseidon and Perini (Pausanius II, 2). As Strabo indicates, it was due to these two strategic harbours that Corinth played the important historical role in the affairs of the ancient world (Strabo VIII, C378, 20). The variety of technical possibilities that the Corinthians developed in relation to the sea can be witnessed by the discovering of trereme (Thucididies History I.XIII.2), the construction of the "diolcos", and the artificial construction of an internal harbour at the marshy site of Lechaeon. The vitality and importance of Corinth may also be understood through her extensive colonies that spread throughout the Mediterranean, her role as the leader of the Achaean League, and the development that was undertaken during the Roman Period.




 


Selected Written Sources

Sources concerning the harbour of Lechaeon vary from Thucididies (Thucididies History I.XIII.2) and Diodorous Siculus (XIV, 86, 4.), who refer to the walls, Xenophon who refers to the ship sheds (Hellenica IV, 13), and Plutarch who comments on the vital atmosphere of the harbour (Moralia, 2). Strabo mentions the importance of the harbours of Lechaeon and Kenchraie (Strabo VIII, C378, 20), as does Pausanius who comments on the road that leads from the harbour to the agora of Corinth and also the myth of the names of the two harbours.




Selected Written Sources


Research

Primarily the American School of Classical Studies and the Hellenic Archaeological Service have undertaken surveys and excavations in the area of ancient Corinth. The site of the harbour of Lechaeon, although a protected archaeological zone, has yet to be surveyed by any official organization. A mapping of the area was undertaken by Georgiadis in 1907, and several archaeological observations were made by Pallas concerning the harbour during the excavations of the Basilica of the Martyr Leonides (Pallas, 1963). A comprehensive bibliographical survey was published in the Enalia (Theodoulou 2002).




 


Basins

According to archaeological indications, the harbour area consisted of two marshy ‘basins’ before any construction was undertaken (Pallas 1963, 75 - 76). Separated from the sea by a narrow stretch of sandy earth, the two basins were further protected in antiquity by the placement of large stone blocks on this narrow earth bank (Pallas 1965, 139-140, Pallas 1963, 75-76). These first constructions took place during the Archaic Period, along with a channel to the west that connected the basins to the sea. A flourishing new period under the Emperors saw the undertaking of large-scale constructions of which the remains are still visible today.

The material excavated to create the harbour was placed either side of the entrance to the port, forming two hills that today survive to a height of 16.5m to the west, and 17.5m to the east. At the peak of the eastern mound are reported to be the remains of a tower, probably dating from the medieval period. The two mounds were most likely raised so as to protect the harbour from the north winds, but also to reduce the visibility from the sea into the harbour.

The fully formed harbour seems to have consisted of two large basins, the eastern (A in plan) most at the point of entry from the channel, and the western basin (B in plan) that was connected to the sea by a second channel. The two basins were connected via a channel of the same proportions with the entrance channel (10 – 12m), which was constructed for the ease of manoeuvrability of vessels that were passing through, with the addition of mooring spaces its length that allowed a clear path in between for inter-basin movement. The eastern harbour was connected to two smaller basins (A1 and A2 in plan) whose function is still unclear. The western harbour seems to have extended even further towards the southwest, an area that is now cultivated (B1 in plan), and where the waters of the area flow into the harbours via a stream.

To the north of the western harbour, along the coastline, there are the remnants of a protective entrance harbour with a double scheme as is evident from the existence of three external moles (Georgiades, 1907, 4-5, Paris 1915, Fig. 1).




Basin


Jetties

On the coast are visible two of the three jetties of the presumed ‘entrance harbour’ with a length of 10 –15m, although the jetties continue under the beach to the south (Fig. 3). The jetties are constructed of large stones upon which may be seen grooves at different points. These grooves and other similar features may have been used for the connection of the stones with the upper layers of the mole, for the placement of the large blocks, or even for the niches from which wooden scaffolds and wharfs would have projected from the moles. The third (eastern) jetty is only visible underwater and is composed of heaped rubble, perhaps indicating a different period of construction and possible function. This mole may have functioned as a protective barrier for the western entrance to the inner harbour from the undercurrents prevalent in the area. At the end of the western jetty a construction, such as a fortified tower or lighthouse, was probably constructed.




Jetty


Quays

During the constructions of the Roman period the quays that are visible today to the north and south of the east harbour, were built or re-constructed and re-enforced with stone ashlars. Similarly, the same construction may be observed on the banks of the surviving harbour’s western entrance. It is possible that these quays did not run completely around the harbour, and were constructed at points that the geological and practical needs required. The quays were necessary for the protection against the effects of erosion especially under the two mounds, but also for the use as platforms. They are constructed from large stone blocks measuring 1 X 0.9 X 0.7m according to Georgiadis, and 1.9 X 0.9 X 0.4m according to Paris, although the dimensions vary. To the north of the eastern harbour where the facade of the construction has fallen, the internal stone fill and mortar is visible. In the same point of the quay stone-bollards (?) are visible.




Quay


Caissons

Some conglomerate formations east and west of the entrance interpreted as caissons by a searcher of the area.




Caissons


Lighthouses

In the southern section of the western basin survive the remains of a four-sided island measuring 8 X 8m. This feature has been interpreted as the base for a bronze statue of Poseidon as mentioned by Pausanius (Pausanius, II, 2, 3). The feature may be dated to the 3rd century BC. The interpretation of the island as a plinth for the statue of Poseidon, holding a flame to act as a lighthouse, is only feasible since the island is situated in a straight line with the entrance to the harbour. The island is constructed from large ashlars (2 X 0.8 X 0.8m).

At the end of the western external jetty a construction, such as a fortified tower or lighthouse, is also evident.




Lighthouse


Defenses

The harbour of Lechaeon was, according to Strabo (VIII, 6, 22) and Xenophon (Hellenica, IV, 4, 5), well fortified and connected to the city of Corinth via ‘long walls’.

The eastern portion of the long walls was discovered during the excavations of the American School of Classical Studies (Parsons 1932, 84-125). According to the excavation results, the wall reached the eastern side of the eastern harbour mound (Parsons 1932, Fig. 55). Segments of the west wall were discovered in 1906 by A. Skias, which terminated to the west of the harbour (Skias 1907, 145-166).

The harbour was also fortified to the south, as mentioned by Diodorus Siculus (ΧΙV, 86, 4). These walls would have formed a protective ‘H’ shaped fortification on the three sides of the harbour of Lechaeon. It is also possible that the harbour was further fortified by a secondary wall facing the sea, and possibly north of the two mounds. There are still visible remains above the level of the eastern reinforcement wall, at the entrance to the harbour, that may well indicate this sea wall (Fig 11, 3).

On the retaining wall of the western’s entrance channel may be seen, according to Pallas (Pallas 1969, 201), a cutting that resembles the niches for a bridge, or possibly a system for the blockage of the harbour. Today, only the grooves that once held the metal clamps, for the connection of the stone blocks, are visible, and can be dated to the first construction phase in the Archaic period.




Defences


Ship Sheds

Ship sheds are mentioned by Xenophon in his description of the battle between Corinth and Sparta in 392 BC, however the specific location is not given (Hellenica IV, 13). There is no evidence to indicate the site of the ship sheds, however it is natural that a harbour complex belonging to one of the strongest naval forces of the ancient world would include this feature.




Shipshed


Function

The harbour complex was used for merchant oriented activities, either supplying the city with goods or loading exports for sale elsewhere, but also as an important naval base for part, if not the largest portion of the Corinthian navy.




Function Commercial


Summary

The marsh that existed in the area seems to have been transformed into a closed internal harbour during the Archaic period. During the Roman period a second phase of construction took place, whose remains are visible today. The construction of other features, as well as maintenance construction of the harbour took place throughout the history of the port. From the inscription on the plinth of a statue, for instance, it is clear that during the 4th century AD the Corinthians honoured, "Φλάβιον Ἐρμογένην τὸν λαμπρότατον ἀνθύπατον... τὸν εὐεργέτην καὶ κτίστην τοῦ λιμένος..."(Kent J.H. 1966, 164, pl. 42). This refers to a Roman officer who undertook a series of constructions at the harbour.

Of the two harbours that Corinth had at her disposal, Lechaeon must have been of prime importance since it offered access to the Gulf of Corinth. The distance from the harbour to the city was small (Strabo IV, C380, 21), and offered access to the colonies founded by Corinth to the west, without the interference of Corinth’s rival, Athens, and her navy. This vast harbour complex is unique in Greece, and offers an example of the similar technical achievements displayed at the harbours of Ostia, Caesarea, and Carthage. A survey and research of the installations built during the Archaic period would certainly shed light on the technical and constructive abilities concerning harbour works of this period. The harbour of Lechaeon was utilised until the Frankish occupation when, due to new trade routes that circled the Peloponnese and the more advanced ships that were used, the harbour began to decline. The decline of the port is further indicated by the construction during the Venetian period of a fort to the west of the harbour. This area was known as "karavostasi" (a place where ships stop), and reveals that the vessels of the period, either due to size or the dilapidated state of the harbour, anchored outside the fort, although the use of the harbour by small fishing vessels would have continued unabated.




 


Author

Θεοδουλου, Θ. /Theodoulou, Th.




 


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