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Greek City, pre-146 BC | Roman History | 146 - 44 BC | 44 BC | AD 70s | Roman Forum, AD 150 | Grid Plan

Colonia Iulia Flavia Augusta Corinthiensis, AD 70s (Reign of Vespasian)

Physical vestiges both within the urban center of Corinth and in the surrounding rural area attest to a second Roman land division that may historically be equated with Colonia Iulia Flavia Augusta Corinthiensis, a refoundation at the time of Vespasian. The existence of this name is already known from epigraphical and numismatic sources, but the evidence of a centuriation that can be equated with this new colony has only recently been compiled.

This system has been distinguished as extending over a large area south of the Corinthian Gulf. It covered approximately 220 km² of the Corinthian plain, extending from north of Sikyon eastward to the west shore of the Saronic Gulf and north of the modern Corinth canal to east of Loutraki. It has also been defined in parts of the southern Corinthia. A fan-shaped grid system divided into ten differently oriented units has been identified in the plain immediately to the south of the Corinthian Gulf. This progressive change of orientation is attested in the roads and the property lines visible in the 1:5000 topographical maps and in the rectified satellite images. An example of the evidence available for two specific units appears in Fig. 13. The units are designated on the plan as A1 A10 (Fig. 14), and it will be apparent that the total area of each varies somewhat. Each of the units corresponds to a specific area of the coastal plain, and all except one of the units are linked to each other. All are related by the simple ratio of the arc tangent of ¼ which is equal to an angle of 14° 2' 10" (Fig. 15).

The reasons for the linked orientations of the units within the overall grid must be related to several factors. First, the rivers drain toward the gulf, and many of the individual units of the grid seem to follow the general course of the rivers. Second, each unit is fairly close to being perpendicular to the coastline. This would be an advantage for the subdivision of the larger 16 x 24 actus units into smaller agricultural units and specifically for their drainage into the gulf.

A number of specific locations have been postulated for the physical links between the neighboring units. These locations are suggested as circles on the plan (Fig. 13). They indicate the point from which the agrimensor changed the orientation from one unit to the next during the work of the limitatio. The units are rectangular, composed of 16 x 24 actus divisions, and the links between them are commonly found at intervals of 96 actus on flat and level land, at approximately 1 km (32 actus) from the coastline (Fig. 13). Utilizing the trigonometric origin of the angle of 14° 2' 10" as the arc tangent of ¼ would have made it easy for the agrimensor to create units by measuring one actus along one of the main axes of the centuriation and four actus at a 90° angle to the first (Fig. 15).

The following is a list of the specific topographic regions and the orientation of the individual units.

A1Sikyon N 62° 26' 52"E
A2 Sikyon, coastal region N 48° 24' 42"E
A3 Nemea river area N 34° 22' 32"E
A4 Longopotamos river area N 20° 20' 22"E
A5 Corinth, Lechaion to Cenchreai N 6° 18' 12"E
A6 Corinth to Cenchreai, southern corridor N 20° 20' 22"E
A7 Xerias river area N 7° 43' 58"W
*A8 West of Isthmus N 34° 22' 32"E
A9 West of Isthmus N21° 46' 8"W
A10 East of Isthmus N 35° 48' 18"W

One additional grid is to be associated with the location and orientation of the canal itself that had been begun by Nero and Vespasian:

*A11 Area of canal (parallel to canal) N 48° 20' 02"W

* not linked in the same way

Several units have the same orientation, although in different geographical locations, for example, A4 and A6, A3 and A8. The concentration of evidence for Unit A3 (Fig. 13) is especially intense throughout the central portion of the area under study and extends south into the higher elevations of the interior of the Corinthia (not included in this article). In A3 and A8, which are at one orientation and in A4 and A6 which are at a second orientation, the two pairs of units were surveyed continuously across the plain, but only in specific areas was the land division dictated by the survey. There is considerable overlapping of one unit over its neighboring unit or units.

The Two Systems of Centuriation

The urban and rural land divisions provide a number of clues that help determine the relative dates of the two systems of centuriation and possibly the absolute dates of the latter. Both systems are apparent in the area of urban Corinth. In the northeastern part of the city what I have identified as vestiges of the Caesarian urban plan can be seen in "crop marks," or underground features that determine growth (vegetation) patterns on the surface (Fig. 16). In the same area, vestiges that I consider to be elements of the Flavian plan are still being utilized as modern field lines and property lines.

The areas within urban Corinth where the most evidence exists for the Flavian system are shown in relation to the original "drawing board" plan of the Caesarian colony in Figure 17. A comparison of the Caesarian and the Flavian planning systems seems to indicate that the Caesarian plan for the urban area of Corinth was reduced in size in the latter plan. Evidence on both the east and west sides of the city suggest that there was a reduction in the size of the Caesarian colony in the first century A.D. This reduced form shows some correspondence with what has been identified as the Late Roman city (Fig. 17). Apparently, some of the land at the eastern and western extremities of what had been originally planned, as well as some land in the southern urban area, was not being utilized and therefore was reallocated for agricultural use. The city as planned for in the Caesarian colony appears to have been reduced by about 40 percent. One implication of this contraction is that the population of the original Roman colony never became as large as originally anticipated.

Evidence suggests that the limitatio associated with the Flavian colony at Corinth included the urban and rural elements not only of Corinth but also of neighboring Sikyon. It is possible that by the 1st century A.D. Sikyon had fallen on hard times, and it would appear that there was a substantial reallocation of Sikyonian land for the city and its territorium. This is clear from the density of the field lines in the area of Sikyon, both near the coast and the port of Sikyon as well as in the area of the Hellenistic city on the plateau above the coast. These are the units of the Flavian grid A1 on the coastline, and A2, on the plateau (Fig. 14).

Vestiges of the Flavian surveyors' work exist in the area of the Lechaion harbor, where Roman surveyor's lines are still to be seen. A series of remarkable photographs was taken with a low level balloon by Dr. and Mrs. J. Wilson Myers in the coastal region around Lechaion in 1986 (Fig. 18). The agrimensorial lines clearly depicted in these photographs reveal the shallow trenches (furrows) that were dug by the Roman surveyors as a part of the process of planning, land survey, and division. From the orientation and location of the trenches one can assume that the planning was part of the overall organization used for A5 in the urban area (see above pp. 000). Clear evidence of the planning is visible around the Roman harbor installation, where a series of 1 actus-wide insulae is bordered by 30 foot-wide roadways. Figure 19 is a reconstruction of the existing surveyor's lines that can be discerned from the photograph (Fig. 18). The drawing shows a series of seven 30 foot-wide arteries between 6 insulae, each 1 actus wide, with the outline of a street crossing the insulae. One of the north-south streets continues south of the canal that links the inner and outer harbor with a long extension continuing over 300 m farther south.

The orientation of these survey lines also relates to the large scale centuriation of the Flavian period south of the Gulf of Corinth (units A1 A10). The north-south lines observed from rectified balloon photographs are at an orientation of ca. 6° east of north, similar to that of the A5 grid.

The proposed date of the second system of centuriation at Corinth is derived from a combination of literary and archaeological evidence. It has been proposed that the Roman renovation of the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore on Acrocorinth included the construction of three small, parallel prostyle Ionic temples on its upper terrace, as well as the retaining wall, the propylon and the stoa below (Fig. 20). This renovation is dated to the period immediately following the earthquake of the A.D. 70s. An architectural survey of the Demeter Sanctuary has made it apparent that the principal orientation of the three temples was not the same as that of the grid of the Caesarian Roman colony. The best diagnostic element for their orientation is a very clear setting line that is found on the top surface of the east wall of the central Roman temple. This setting line is 6 ° 21' 41" east of north, or only 3.5" of one degree off the orientation of the A5 grid (6° 18' 12" east of north). The upper terrace as a whole, including the three temples, probably was oriented according to the Flavian system of centuriation. Since the temples and the upper terrace of the Demeter Sanctuary can be dated from archaeological evidence, I suggest that the temples, the local unit A5, and the entire system A1-A10 are products of the same period.

Another building in the heart of the Roman city should be mentioned as having been oriented with relation to the Flavian system of centuriation. In the southwest forum, immediately west of the South Stoa, is a long, narrow structure that has been labeled the "Long Rectangular Building." It is dated by ceramic evidence to the period of Nero. The building and the adjacent monumental arch are within one and one-half degrees of the A5 unit orientation of the Flavian survey, and the north wall of the building falls on the line of one of the divisions of the same system at 96 actus from the coastline (Fig. 10). The location and orientation of the building suggest that the architects were fully aware of the Flavian system of centuriation in and near the city and that this building was oriented according to the new division.

Oblique Lines as Roadways and Communications Links

Evidence for long and straight roads, both within and between the Roman grids, has been distinguished in the topographical maps and the satellite images. The roads are related to both the Flavian and the Caesarian centuriation and were designed as a part of one or the other of the systems of centuriation and land division. These roadways are often "oblique" to the grids with which they are associated. One of the most prominent of these is associated with the Flavian system and is 9 km in length, running between the center of the Corinthian plain, near modern Assos, and the area near Sikyon. This roadway, parts of which are still used today, is parallel with the A3 system and 1:4 with the A2 system (Fig. 13, Fig. 14). Visible evidence for this straight and oblique roadway stops on the west side of the Longopotamos river.

It is clear that some of the roadways of the Caesarian colony definitely were constructed along the limites of the city, especially some of the major decumani, which appear to have been related to east and west gates of the Greek period. Many of the cardines were laid out, but perhaps not all of the lesser ones. Another long road, which is a part of the Caesarian system of centuriation, is ca. 8 km long and leads from the Corinthian Kenchreai gate to Kenchreai; parts of it are still in use today. A number of other "oblique" roadways of the Caesarian system have been suggested in the areas surrounding Corinth (Fig. 12).

One line to the east of Corinth, oblique to the Caesarian centuriation, was not a roadway, but a canal across the isthmus. Rich literary evidence documents the digging of a canal by the emperor Nero. Philostratos writes that the emperor conceived of the digging of the canal during a visit to Greece, probably in the year A.D. 66/67. He presided at the initiation of the project following his victories in the Isthmian Games of 67. The original trenches of Nero and Vespasian included a trench ca. 2 km long extending from the Corinthian Gulf and one ca. 1.5 km long projecting inward from the Saronic Gulf. Gerster reports in 1884 a trench at both ends of the Isthmus, varying 3-30 m in depth and 40-50 m in width. The two were aligned on the same axis, and between them were found two parallel rows of deep pits. The excavated earth had been dumped in great mounds on both sides at the west end of the canal trench and was reported to be as high as 20 m in some areas. The fact that the project was unfinished is related to Nero's death as well as to the vast expense required by the project, although the ancient fear of different sea levels for the Corinthian and Saronic Gulfs is cited by some authors as the reason it was never completed.

The siting of the canal is related to the two schemes of land planning and centuriation that have been defined in the first part of this paper. The canal as designed by Nero's engineers was ca. 6 km long and was placed across the narrowest part of the Isthmus. The siting and orientation of the canal follow a very specific, straight line within the existing 6 x 24 actus system of centuriation that extended eastward from the Roman city of Corinth (Fig. 12). The canal follows an oblique line of the centuriation in a ratio of 1:1 and therefore could have been fitted fairly simply into the agricultural land plan that was already in use in the area. Unit A11 is related to the A series grid in a ratio of 2:9 but may have been created as a result of the digging of the canal.

It is likely that the Flavian centuriation originated in the area of the city of Roman Corinth, for the planning of a 1-actus wide reserved strip that is visible in the Lechaion harbor continues into the heart of the city (Fig. 14). This may have served as the axis, the cardo maximus, which generated the whole coastal survey of the Corinthia.

A summary of the sequence of events in the area of the canal, as here envisioned, is as follows:

A.D. 66-67Nero authorizes the construction of the canal and work begins. His surveyors lay out an oblique line along the narrowest part of the Isthmus. This is determined by the existing centuriation of 16 x 24 actus units. This centuriation is the limitatio begun in the 2nd century B.C. (lex agraria) and later incorporated into the Caesarian colony, Colonia Laus Iulia Corinthiensis.
A.D. 68 ? Vespasian continues the project after Nero leaves Greece.
A.D. 70 77Vespasian as emperor initiates a new centuriation, the A grid, that most likely originates in the city of Corinth, probably at the southern limes of the city. This new division of the land is part of the reorganization of the colony along with the elimination of the colonial rights of the city.
A.D. 70 - 77A new colonial foundation, Colonia Iulia Flavia Augusta Corinthiensis, is established under Vespasian. A new division of the land (units A1 A10), is completed at this time, probably after the earthquake of the 70s.

I propose that during the reign of Vespasian a major reallocation of land was made south of the Corinthian Gulf and that this was a part of, or related to, the newly established colony at Corinth, Colonia Iulia Flavia Augusta Corinthiensis. It is a distinct possibility that the large-scale system of centuriation, units A1 A10, was begun and possibly made in preparation for the foundation of the Flavian colony. It is also likely that several long and straight (oblique) roads were constructed through the countryside as a part of the same process. The urban area appears to have had some of its land, once assigned to the Caesarian colony of 44 B.C., reassigned in the Flavian colony plan. I presume that the Lechaion harbor plan was carried out at this time. I suggest this theory because the canal construction implies a new focus on maritime traffic and trade in both the Corinthian and the Saronic Gulfs, probably necessitating new harbor installations at Lechaion. The construction of the canal and inner harbor at Lechaion would have occurred at this time or later.

Historical Summary:

Vespasian sailed from Alexandria for Rome in the spring of A.D. 70. He traveled by way of Rhodes and Greece, not arriving in Rome until the summer of the same year. Possibly Vespasian came through Corinth on this trip, although there is no extant proof that he did so. It is not known when Vespasian canceled the freedom granted to Greece by Nero in A.D. 66/7, making Achaea once again a senatorial province. Comments by two ancient authors suggest that the date to be A.D. 70. The reason for this act, according to Pausanias, was that the Greeks were fighting among themselves and had forgotten how to be free. Suetonius suggests that the revocation of the liberty of Greece was financially based. It is possible that Vespasian withdrew the right of coinage from Corinth at the same time that he withdrew its colonial rights. The institution of the new limitatio (the A grid) of Corinth and the Corinthia, and Sikyon, may also have occurred at this time.

Literary and epigraphical sources reveal that Vespasian was interested in rehabilitating the finances of the Empire following the extravagance of the Julio-Claudian emperors. This interest manifested itself in several forms. Early in his rule, Vespasian increased taxation and reorganized the financial structure of the empire in order to make the state solvent. He also was interested in public property and particularly in subseciva, unalloted land in a colony. This subseciva could either be land lying outside the areas of centuriation or land that was not cultivable within the centuriation, but which, over time, had been occupied by squatters.

Following the major earthquake of the 70s, which apparently inflicted great destruction upon the city of Corinth, Vespasian may have been responsible for a number of rebuilding projects in the city. Modern scholars generally credit him with the paving of some of the Roman roads of the city, and, among various projects, he or Domitian may have been involved with the construction of the Odeum and reconstruction of the Theater. The right of minting coins was probably returned to Corinth under the reign of Domitian. It was Vespasian, however, who granted the title Colonia Iulia Flavia Augusta Corinthiensis to the city, although when the colonial name was introduced is not clear. We may assume that the new colony was founded following the destructive earthquake of the A.D. 70s and after the limitatio of the Corinthia and, probably, the Sikyonia.

Comparative Systems of Centuriation

Roman land planning and systems of centuriation are known from many parts of the Roman world. In Greece several systems have been discovered and reported, including those at Dyme and Patras in the Peloponnesos and at Arta and Nikopolis in the north. In addition some evidence of Roman planning has been reported in the area of Hymettus near Athens.

The systems that most closely resemble that of the Corinthia - in their trigonometrically juxtaposed cadastral layout - are in northern Italy and in southern France. In the regions of Turin, Brescia and Piacenza, a series of contiguous centuriations have been discovered that are linked by a common angle of 11° 18' 35" or the arc tangent of 1:5, which is similar to the Flavian system of centuriation at Corinth. At Béziers, in southern France, several systems of centuriation have been reported. The cadastral system A (Flavian date) is in a relationship of 1:2 with a major roadway, the Via Domitia, creating a very clear, oblique line through the system. A trigonometric relationship also exists within two of the systems, Béziers C1 and C2. Examples of roadways running obliquely to Roman systems of centuriation are also attested for Britain. These comparative examples suggest that the cadastral schemes found at Corinth are not out of keeping with the attested evidence found in other parts of the Roman Empire.

Historical Implications

Numerous historical implications are to be noted in a study of the kind being presented in this article. The most basic and obvious fact is that the influence of the Romans in the Corinthia from the later 2nd century B.C. onward is much more substantial, thoroughly organized, and pervasive than has heretofore been realized. The process of Romanization of the Greek city and countryside of the Corinthia can now be documented and even quantified for a period of more than 200 years, starting with the destruction of Corinth in 146 B.C. and ending with the activity of the Flavian emperors. By means of examining the vestiges of the agricultural field systems and the roadways of the successive Roman periods, it is possible to see elements of the growth and evolution of a part of the Roman province of Achaea.

I hope this article presents convincingly the evidence for the Roman limitatio of large portions of the Corinthia before the founding of the Caesarian colony of 44 B.C. and again before the founding of the Flavian colony of the A.D. 70s. Although perhaps surprising, the partitioning was both reasonable and practical, because the limitatio was intended to create a cadaster for taxable income. It would have been a great advantage to have the division of the land completed when the colony was founded, and this is apparently what the Romans did.

It is difficult to know for certain the extent of the centuriation of the Corinthian land before the colonization of 44 B.C. It would seem likely that this process was accomplished over a long period of time, beginning with the lex agraria of 111 B.C. and possibly continuing again later, sometime before 44 B.C.

It seems probable that the Flavian centuriation would have taken place when Corinth and Greece had been deprived of their freedom by Vespasian and when Sikyon was economically depressed. Elements of this last scheme of centuriation have also been found in the southern Corinthia, suggesting that the unused or underutilized land could still be reallocated at the time of Vespasian.

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