The Resplendent City of Corinth
OUTSHINING all the other cities of Greece by its artwork, ancient Corinth, a city in which the Christian apostle Paul had great success in his missionary work, has been called the ornament of Greece. Its paintings, its sculpture work and especially its castings in bronze were done with the greatest of skill. Describing it, the historian John Lord states in Beacon Lights of History: “Corinth was richer and more luxurious than Athens, and possessed the most valuable pictures of Greece, as well as the finest statues; a single street for three miles was adorned with costly edifices.” Its fine artwork reflected its great prosperity. As might be expected, where there is great prosperity, a spirit of materialism gripped the Corinthians. The Christians of the first century, when the apostle Paul was there, had to fight it constantly.
Due to Corinth’s location on the isthmus or neck of land that joins the southern part of the Greek peninsula with the mainland, it became an outstandingly prosperous city. It had two harbors. One was Lechaeum on the western side of the isthmus. The eastern one, Cenchreae, was eight and a half miles from Corinth and was the departure point for the apostle Paul when he returned to Syria by ship at the end of his second missionary tour.—Acts 18:18.
Merchant ships would dock at one of these harbors and unload their cargo. It was then transported across the several miles of the isthmus to the other harbor, where it was loaded on another vessel and its journey continued. Small ships were not even unloaded but were pulled across the isthmus on the Diolcus or tramroad.
The trade route through Corinth was one of the three great routes that linked the West with the East. Persons traveling from Ephesus in Asia Minor, for example, could sail to Cenchreae, cross the isthmus and then board a ship for Brundisium on the east coast of what is now Italy. There was a good reason why travelers and merchants preferred the route through Corinth. It avoided the dangerous storm-swept capes of the Greek peninsula, which they would have to sail around if they did not go by way of Corinth.
A ship canal cutting across the isthmus was greatly desired by the Romans who saw its advantages. In 67 C.E., an attempt was made to dig one, but the project failed. At last in 1893 a canal was successfully dug, and it is still in use today.
The city of Corinth was located at the base of a mountainous rock that rose to a height of 1,857 feet. On the flat top of this rock Corinth had its acropolis or fortified portion of the city. Here too was the temple of Aphrodite or Venus, the goddess of sensual love. Although the Corinthians worshiped many other divinities, they gave their greatest devotion to her. In her service were a thousand female temple slaves who served her as prostitutes. They contributed measurably to Corinth’s reputation for immorality. Wealthy men considered it an honor to dedicate their most beautiful slaves to the service of this goddess.
Surrounded by gross idolatry and degenerating immorality, Corinthian Christians needed strong admonitions to help them maintain cleanness in the eyes of God. That is why the apostle Paul spoke so strongly about idolaters and moral uncleanness in his letters to them.—1 Cor. chaps. 5, 6; 2 Cor. 6:14-18.
Being a very ancient city, possibly one of the oldest in Greece, Corinth was a place where many divinities were worshiped. There was a sanctuary of the Ephesian Artemis, a shrine to Athena, a sanctuary of the Capitoline Zeus or Jupiter, sanctuaries of Isis and Serapis, altars to Helios, several sanctuaries to Apollo, a shrine to Poseidon or Neptune, a shrine to Hera or Juno, a temple of All the Gods, a temple of Herakles, a temple of Hermes, a temple to Octavia and a temple of Asklepios. Statues of gods and heroes lined the streets and public squares of the city.
At the temple of Asklepios archaeologists have found terra-cotta likenesses of body parts that ailing people brought to the temple as a thank offering to their god. Asklepios was regarded as the god of healing. These likenesses of parts of the body that were troubling the worshipers were painted in natural colors. A similar practice of offering replicas of ailing parts of the body to a divinity is carried on today by Roman Catholics in Honduras. There people present to an image of the “Virgin of Suyapa” likenesses of ailing parts of their body. These likenesses are fashioned in gold or silver. Hundreds of them hang on the walls of the church. Unlike these Roman Catholics, the Christians of Corinth refused to adopt the religious practices of the pagans.—1 Sam. 5:12; 6:4-11.
The marketplace or Agora of Corinth was paved with marble and lined with public buildings and shops. It was here that the apostle Paul was brought by persecuting Jews to appear before Proconsul Gallio. At Acts 18:12 we find the record of this: “Now while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews rose up with one accord against Paul and led him to the judgment seat.” The judgment seat was a raised speaker’s stand in the marketplace. It was called the Bema and was a richly made structure, covered with marble and delicate carvings. On each side of the Bema and on the level of the Agora were two waiting rooms with mosaic floors and marble benches. Here the people waited their turns to present petitions or have cases presented to the proconsul.
The city had a good water supply. The subterranean flow of water was tapped by tunnels that conducted the water to four reservoirs with a total capacity of more than 100,000 gallons. From its principal spring, underground water channels passed beneath the shops on the Agora. A well in each shop connected with one of these channels. By lowering wine and foods into these wells, the merchants were able to keep them cool.
In a materialistic way Corinth was a resplendent city, but this did not preserve it. Those who lived for its materialism and licentiousness cannot be helped by it now that they are part of its dust. Neither can their many false gods do anything for them. But those persons in Corinth who held fast to the Christian truths proclaimed by Paul had the sure hope of being resurrected from the dead as heirs of the kingdom of heaven with their Lord Jesus Christ.—1 Cor. 15:12-57.