Isthmia: city of elusive ancient Greece

world | Jun 21, 2007 | By Elizabeth R. Gebhard

Massive column drums and blocks are still conspicuous in the walls of the late antique fortress that guarded the Isthmus, and early travellers imagined that the temple and its precinct lay inside the walls. In the 1930s, the British archaeologist RJH Jenkins and his young architect, H. Megaw, set out to test the prevailing theory. Since they found only Roman remains beneath the fortress, they looked for the temple elsewhere in the vicinity but did not locate it.


The present excavations have their origins in discussions that took place during the Second World War at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton. It was home to a group of scholars exiled from their work in Greece. They included the Swedish-born, American archaeologist Oscar Broneer and Paul Clement. The exiles entertained themselves by discussing what archaeological tasks particularly needed to be performed in Greece after the war was over. There was agreement that the one major Panhellenic site that still needed exploration was the Sanctuary of Poseidon on the Corinthian Isthmus, the site of the Isthmian Games.


In 1946, Oscar Broneer returned to Greece to be acting director of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, a post he held until he was appointed to a professorship of Classics at the University of Chicago in 1948. It was at the urging of the University of Chicago that he organised excavations on the Isthmus.


Swedish-born, American archaeologist Oscar Broneer conducted excavations on the site from 1954 to 1967


The project began in April of 1952. A survey of the topography led Broneer to conclude that the only possible site in which a large temple could have stood was a plateau at the foot of a small ridge, known locally as the Rachi (Ράχη). It was there that he laid out a long and narrow trench to reveal whatever lay concealed beneath the surface. On the first day, the characteristic ground plan of a Doric temple emerged.


Broneer, however, did not, as he had expected, encounter the blocks of the foundations but simply the empty trenches where they had once lain. The temple had been almost completely destroyed, its blocks mov



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