The site of ancient Corinth was first inhabited in the Neolithic period (6500-3250 B.C.). It is located at the northern base of the hill of Acrocorinth at the site of today’s agglomeration, Ancient Corinth. Its fertile soil but mainly its strategic location at the intersection of land routes from the Balkan peninsula of Aimos and mainland Greece on towards the Peloponnese and waterways that connect the western Mediterranean to its Eastern counterpart, to Asia Minor and to Syro-Palestine, offered the region from very early on enormous potential for communication, growth and prosperity.
The city, known since the Mycenaean period, Homer refers to as “af?e???” [prosperous] (Iliad, Book 2, line 570) because of her especially fertile soil. The tremendous output of agricultural products, already in earlier historical periods, favored intense expansion in trade activities mainly towards the Western Mediterranean, while in the 8th century BC Corinthian colonies were founded, like Corfu in the Ionian Sea, Syracuse in Sicily, with an important role and contribution in the history of the ancient Mediterranean world. The economic prosperity of the city reached its apogee in the 7th– 6th centuries BC under the administration of the tyrant Cypselus and his son Periander. The strength of Corinth made its mark in a grandiose way in splendid buildings like the Temple of Apollo (560 BC), the elevation of the Isthmian Games, held at the Corinthian sanctuary of Poseidon and Amphitrite at Isthmus, to the status of Panhellenic Games (584 BC) even further increased the fame and influence of the city. However, from the end of the 6th century BC, the rise of Athens and its dominance in the production of ceramic vases and in Mediterranean trade gradually eclipsed the influence of the Corinthians, particularly after the Persian Wars (490-479 BC) where, despite their powerful participation, the Corinthians were forced to yield to the primacy of the Athenians. In the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), Corinth openly allied with Sparta, from the outset exhorting the Spartans to turn their military against the Athenians. Despite the defeat of Athens and despite its involvement in a number of other military campaigns, among which the so-called “Corinthian War” against Sparta (395-387 BC), the city of Corinth did not manage to regain its former force. With the organization of a Panhellenic Conference in Corinth in 337 BC by King Philip the Second of Macedon, the then nascent power in the Greek world, Corinth returned temporarily to centre stage, however it very quickly succumbed to the Macedonians. The casting off of the Macedonian yoke in 243 BC by Aratus of Sicyon was followed by accession to the Achaean League, a union of city-states of southern Greece. Nevertheless, the antagonism between the League and Rome led to the celebrated battle of Leukopetra in 146 BC in the region of Isthmus, where the Greek troops were crushed by the Roman legions under Lucius Mummius. As Greek and Roman authors related, military defeat was followed by the complete destruction and devastation of the city (Cicero, De imperio cn. pompei ad qvirites oratio 11: Orationes de lege agraria 2.87, Strabo, Geography 8.23, Pausanias 2.1.2).
About one hundred years later in 44 BC Julius Caesar dictator of Rome in perpetuity decides to refound Corinth as a Roman colony, acknowledging its particular geographical importance in his broader strategy for the eastern Mediterranean. His violent death that same year did not dash his grandly inspired far-reaching plan as it was carried out by his successor Octavian, the future Augustus. The new city was called “Colonia Laus Iulia Corinthiensis” or “Clara Laus Iulia Corinthus” or “Iulia Corinthus Augusta”, as the colony of the Julian family of Caesar and Augustus (Gens Iulia) and it was decreed in 27 BC the capital of the Roman province of Achaea (Provincia Achaiae), which comprises a large part of mainland Greece, the Peloponnese and numerous islands. Because of its depopulation following the battle of Leukopetra, the city was settled primarily by Roman freedmen and veteran soldiers who were rapidly encircled by Greeks who in their turn exploited the especially fertile soil that was seized by Rome (“ager publicus” = public land) and distributed to the young landless inhabitants. The goal of Rome was on one hand the creation of a stable Roman base in the tumultuous East, and on the other hand, a more rapid passage of the Roman fleet via Diolkos, the only paved portage road for the conveyance of ships that crossed the Isthmus; the incident is attested in a Latin inscription from 102 BC describing the haulage of a fleet to head off pirates en route towards Side of Pamphylia in Asia Minor under the command of the orator Antonius Marcus, grandfather of Mark Antony, companion of Queen Cleopatra and mortal enemy of Octavian in the War for Succession to the power of Julius Caesar.
Very rapidly the population of the city grew significantly as agriculture developed again, along with livestock-breeding and trade, with corresponding exports, such as woven material, textiles made of dyed wool, olive oil and honey as well as wood and metal objects. On the other hand, the needs and the customs of the Roman inhabitants of the new city, as well as its international role, led to the importation of commodities from other regions in the Empire like wine and construction materials (marble, granite) which were necessary for the new luxurious buildings.
According to scholars the city was redesigned following the Hippodamian system (grid-plan) that is to say with vertical and horizontal street axes (cardines and decumani) which demarcate urban islets (insulae). Around its Forum were erected resplendent public edifices and private monuments in honor of the affluent Greeks and Romans who wished to emphatically proclaim their presence in the capital of the province. Accounts of the construction of buildings can be found in numerous inscriptions while representations of them exist primarily in local coins of a later date. Horace’s adages “non cuivis homini contingit adire Corinthum / non licet omnibus adire Corinthum” (Epistles 1.17.36) “It falls not to every man’s lot to go to Corinth / not everyone can go to Corinth” and Strabo’s “?? pa?t?? a?d??? e? ???????? es?’ ? p????”/ “Not for every man is the voyage to Corinth” (Geography 8.6.20) reflect the prosperity of the city and high cost required of residence there. About the middle of the 1st century AD when the Apostle Paul visited, Corinth was already an important Roman city in the Empire, ruled by two local leaders, the duoviri, following the prototype of Roman consuls, a miniature of the capital that constituted a point of reference in the thought and the journey of Romans towards the East.
Despite the invasion of the Heruli in A.D. 267 and the damages caused by a destructive earthquake in A.D. 375, the city remained strong and prosperous and later became the capital of the Helladic Province of the eastern Roman Empire. In 1204 the city was seized by the Franks and later, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, by the Ottomans, For a short period the city remained under Venetian occupation, soon replaced by the Ottomans, until the liberation of Greece in 1830.
Limited excavations were conducted in 1892 and 1906 by the Archaeological Society of Athens under the direction of A. Skias. The systematic excavations of the area, initiated by the American School of Classical Studies in 1896, are still continuing today.