Gorinth was one of the most prosperous cities in ancient Greece. Its wealth was the result of the city’s advantageous location on the isthmus of Corinth, a thin strip of land that joins central Greece to the Peloponnese*.
Although settled since Neolithic* times, Corinth did not develop into a city until the late the 900s B.C., at which time it rapidly became a center of pottery making. Skilled crafts workers were valued members of Corinth’s society and helped develop the Doric order, an architectural style that was used extensively in temples in northwestern Greece.
Corinth was initially ruled by a king. Then, in about 747 B.C., an aristocratic* clan called the Bacchiads gained power. The Bacchiads governed until the 650s B.C., when a series of tyrants took control of Corinth. This period marked the high point of Corinth’s power and prosperity. Its ships sailed both the Aegean and Adriatic seas. Colonies were established, and silver coins were minted. These coins, with their distinctive stamps of Pegasus, the mythological winged horse, served as the main medium of exchange throughout the Mediterranean world.
The economic power of Corinth began to decline around 550 B.C. as Athens grew in economic and political strength. Rivalry and conflict between the two city-states* contributed to the causes of the Peloponnesian War in 431 B.C., a conflict in which the Corinthians allied themselves with Sparta. In the 330s B.C., Philip II established the League of Corinth in the city. The League consisted of all the Greek states except Sparta, and its purpose was to keep the peace and support Philip’s attack on Persia.
Corinth was defeated and destroyed by the Romans in 146 B.C. About a century later, Julius Caesar founded a colony for former soldiers on the ruins of the city, and Corinth soon regained its role as a major port. In A.D. 50, the Christian missionary St. Paul addressed Corinthian Christians in a series of letters. Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians form an important part of the New Testament of the Bible. (See also Architecture, Greek; Christianity; Cities, Greek; Pottery, Greek; Pottery, Roman; Trade, Greek.)
* Peloponnese peninsula forming the southern part of the mainland of Greece
* Neolithic referring to the latter part of the Stone Age, and characterized by the use of polished stone implements
* aristocratic referring to people of the highest social class
* city-state independent state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory