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Intro | Modern Surveying | Aerial Imagery | Satellite Imagery | Topographic Maps | 3D Modeling | GIS Analysis

GIS Analysis: Amphitheater

Panorama of the Amphitheater in Corinth, looking south

The remains of a large amphitheater are visible approximately 1000 meters to the northeast of the forum. A large (78.6 X 51.6 m.) elliptical depression in the modern fields mark the remains of the ancient facility (figure 1). The floor of the structure, arena, and the stone seats were cut out of the bedrock and it is likely that the original superstructure was constructed of wood. The location of the amphitheater, in the northeast corner of the "drawing board plan" of the Caesarean colony of 44 B.C., would be have been in keeping with the design of Roman cities, where amphitheaters were commonly situated immediately inside or outside the limits of the city. A roadway, cardo XXVII east, approaches the amphitheater from the south and served as the principal access to the structure (figure 2). The point at which the roadway met the amphitheater was likely to have been the Porta Triumphalis that would have served as the entrance to the arena for the gladiators and other performers. At the north end of the amphitheater is a rock cut entrance that likely would have been the Porta Libitinensis, the exit for gladiators and animals. One of the only plans produced of the amphitheater in Corinth comes from Abel Blouet, a French scholar, who published the plan to the right in the 1830's. The plan clearly illustrates the elliptical shape and the seating plan of the amphitheater (figure 3).

The amphitheater was the place where gladiatorial games, munera gladiatoria, were held. Gladiators were usually prisoners of war or condemned criminals and were known to be of four types: the murmillo who carried a short sword, a rectangular shield and a helmet with a fish crest; the Samnite who had a short sword, oblong shield, greaves and visored helmet; the retiarius who fought with a trident and a net and the Thraex who carried a round shield and a curved sword. Other events that likely occurred in the amphitheater included wild animal hunts, venationes.

It is interesting to note that during the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D., both the odeum and the theater near the forum of Roman Corinth were readied for gladiatorial contests. In both cases, the orchestras of the facilities were converted for use. In the theater, wall paintings have been discovered that depict gladiatorial contests and wild beast hunts. Figures 4 and 5 are frescos taken from the theater in Corinth. They depict scenes of gladiators fighting the types of wild beasts that were imported into Corinth for the gladiatorial games. Figure 4 depicts the gladiator highlighted in blue and a lion highlighted in yellow. Figure 5 depicts two gladiators highlighted in blue fighting a bull, highlighted in yellow.

These photographs illustrate the amphitheater in the early twentieth century. Figure 6 shows the northern end of the amphitheater including the subterranean passage. Figure 7 shows the amphitheater floor and aspects of the seats in the eastern section. Figure 8 shows the arena floor, looking southeast.


The illustrations below are 3D models of the amphitheater region that where made by digitizing 1:2000 topographic maps. After digitization in AutoCAD, the contour lines were assigned their appropriate Z value. The 3D contour lines were then imported into ArcView and a either a wire-frame model or a Triangulated Irregular Network (TIN) was rendered. The final stage before analysis was to drape ground level or aerial photograph over this 3D model for further ground cover relief or enhanced visualization.

Figure 9 illustrates the 3D contour lines combined with a TIN skin. Figure 10 illustrates a 3D model with various shades of color denoting elevation change. Figure 11 illustrates the "drawing board plan" of the Caesarean colony of 44 B.C. draped on top of the 3D model.

The figures below (figure 12, figure 13, and figure 14) demonstrate how this type of computerized data can be used for interpretative purposes. These figures show a low level aerial photograph draped on top of the initial 3D model. Remote sensing, slope analysis and historic view sheds are examples of useful research that can be conducted with this type of 3D data.

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Figure 1

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Figure 2

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Figure 3

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Figure 4

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Figure 5

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Figure 6

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Figure 7

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Figure 8

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Figures 9, 10, 11 (above); Figures 12, 13, 14 (below)

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Testimonia: Dio Chrysostom, 31.121 (translation adapted from the Loeb Classical Library)

For instance, in regard to the gladiatorial shows the Athenians have so actively emulated the Corinthians or really have surpassed them and all others in their mad infatuation, that whereas the Corinthians watch these combats outside the city in a gully, a place that can accommodate a crowd, but otherwise is dirty and such that no one would even bury a freeborn citizen there...


Listen to a Real Audio broadcast from Philadelphia's National Public Radio Station WHYY. The show "Radio Times" features a discussion of Roman gladiators. This radio broadcast features Professor Brent Shaw, Department of Classical Studies, University of Pennsylvania. This show was aired on May 6, 2000. Fast forward to the 1.05 hour mark to hear the discussion on gladiators. Click on the Real logo to download and install the free plug-in.


H.N. Fowler and R. Stillwell, Corinth I, Introduction, Topography, Architecture, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Cambridge, Mass. 1941, pp. 89-91; figs. 54-56.

K. Welch, "Negotiating Roman Spectacle Architecture in the Greek World: Athens and Corinth," in The Art of Ancient Spectacle, B. Bergmann and C. Kondoleon, eds, Yale University Press, 2000, pp. 125-145.

For Further Reading:

T. Wiedemann, Emperors and Gladiators, Routledge, London, 1995.

Figure Credits:

  1. Hellenic Air Force, 1963, Courtesy Corinth Excavations, American School of Classical Studies.
  2. Corinth Computer Project, 2000 .
  3. Abel Blouet, Expédition Scientifique de Morée, Paris, 1831-1838, 3, pl. 77, fig. II.
  4. Richard Stillwell, Corinth II, The Theater, ASCSA, Princeton, 1952, fig. 77, p. 89.
  5. ibid. fig. 80, p. 91.
  6. Corinth I, Introduction, Topography, Architecture, ASCSA, Harvard University Press, 1932, fig. 56, p. 90.
  7. ibid. fig. 55, p. 89.
  8. ibid. fig. 54, p. 88.9-14
  9. Corinth Computer Project, 2000.
  10. Corinth Computer Project, 2000.
  11. Corinth Computer Project, 2000.
  12. Corinth Computer Project, 2000.
  13. Corinth Computer Project, 2000.
  14. Corinth Computer Project, 2000.

© David Gilman Romano and the Corinth Computer Project.
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