As it is the case with all ancient Greek cities, there is no early
historical information about Corinth. All we have are the legends and
even them, differ.
Actually Corinth appropriated the myths of the near-by ancient city Ephyra,
which Homer tells us was in the valley of Argos. From Homer we learn
also about Sisyphos, that he was king of Ephyra, his son Glauce
and the son of his, Bellerophon, who was acquainted with
the king of Tirynth Proeto. All these stories, as well as the Thessalic
story of Medea and Jason, became topical when the teritory
around Nemea became Corinthian and in this helped also the old
Corinthian poet Eumelos, who was a member of the Doric clan of Bacchiadae.
The Euripides tragedy Medea, which is about a foreign
woman Jason brings to Corinth and who later murders Glauce the
king's daughter, the woman Jason had in mind to marry, and kills her own
children in order to avenge Jason, it is a totally different story from
the Corinthian legend. The tomb of Medea was shown to visitors until the
2nd century AD.
It is the same case with the legendary Sisyphos, whom we
know from Homer's Odyssey, that he was punished in the Underworld, to
roll a big stone to the top of a hill, only to start again when the
The Corinthian legend was different again and for them Sisyphos was a
famous and cunning king, who prospered the city. Greeks though adopted
the story of Odyssey.
The great legend of Corinth was that of Bellerophon, the
grandson of Sisyphos, the hero who killed the Chimaera.
The legend tell us that Bellerophon was sleeping in the temple of Athena
and had a dream in which the goddess gave him a bridle and a bit, to
catch the immortal steed Pegasos. He did that at the
moment the steed was drinking water from the Peirene spring, near
Bellerophon's first name was Hipponous and it was after he killed
a monster or as the Corinthians were saying a man, named Belleros and
fled to Tirynths (Homer says at Corinth), that he took the name.
Anteia (Sthenoboea), the wife of Proetos fell in love with
him, but when he rejected her, she accused him to her husband. Proetos
who was afraid to kill a guest, sent him to his father in law Iobates
at Lyceia, with a tablet, in which it was written to kill the bearer.
Iobates, who failed to read the message immediately and received him as
a guest, he was also unable to harm him and for this, he sent him to
kill the fire breathing monster Chimaera, sure that he would not survive
but Bellerophon with the help of Pegasos succeeded.
In 747 BC kingship ended in Corinth and over two hundred aristocrats
called Bacchiadae, descendants of Heracles as they were
saying, took power and governed the city by electing annually a Prytanis,
a Council and a Polemarchos (head of the army).
(657 - 627 BC)
In 657 BC the Bacchiadae rule ended. The polemarchos Kypselos,
supported by an Oracle of Delphi, took control of the city and he ruled
thereafter for thirty years. The exiled Bacchiadae fled to Corkyra
but also to Sparta and Etruria.
Kypselos in gratitude to Delphi, he built there a treasury.
He was the child of Labda and Aetion from Gonusa, a
town above Sikyon. His mother was belonging to the Bacchiadae clan, but
being lame in one of her legs, none of them wanted to marry her and
finally she took as husband a commoner, even though Bacchiadae forbade
exogamy. When this became known, Delphi with several oracles predicted
the downfall of Bacchiadae and also the ousting of them from the
children of Labda. Consequently Bacchiadae out of fear tried to kill the
newborn child, but his mother hid him in a "Kypsele"
(chest). From this event the boy took the name, Kypselos.
His descendants made an offer at Olympia, the same chest which Kypselos
was hidden by his mother, of cedar wood on which figures were made out
of gold and ivory or engraved in the wood and they were representing
This gold bowl was dedicated by the family of Kypselos at Olympia
with the inscription:
"The sons of Kypselos dedicated this from Herakleia".
Fine Arts, Boston
who was one of the first tyrants, governed the city by favoring the
lower classes and being harsh to aristocrats. Under his rule, the city
developed further its commerce and founded new colonies.
(627 - 585 BC)
Periander, the son
of Kypselos who succeeded him, increased further the power of Corinth.
He ruled ruthlessly for more than forty years.
He devised ways (restricting the number of slaves, etc.) to keep always
busy the citizens, as Aristotle's tells us, in order to prevent them
from conspiring against him. At the same time, he supported greatly the
arts, constracting various buildings and inviting poets and noted
writers like Arion, Aesop and many of the so called
For this and for his famous sayings, he was named one of the Seven Sages.
He also tried to cut a naval passage through the Isthmos but he was prevented
from the Delphic oracle, who warned him not to procceed. The real
reason, that he did not try though, was that such a giant project was
above the technical capabilities of his time. Instead he constructed the
stone road that ships were carried on wheeled platforms from the eastern
port of Cenchreae, in the Saronic gulf, to the western port of Lechaeon,
in the Corinthian gulf.
Periander put to death his wife Melissa, daughter of the tyrant
of Epidauros Procles, by listening to slanders of his concubines,
which he later burn them, when he discovered the truth. He had two sons
with her. This incident made his younger son Lykophron to
alienate from him and finally was sent to Corkyra. Near his end
Periander tried to bring him back, but in vain. Lykophron only accepted
to rule Corinth, when his father promised him, that he would come to
stay in Corkyra, in his place. When this was learned by Corkyreans they
put Lykophron to death. Periander to avenge his son, killed 50
Corkyreans and sent 300 of their children to Lydia to become eunuchs,
but at the island of Samos the people gave them sanctuary in the temple
He also killed many outstanding citizens when they opposed him in the
war with Sikyon, in which joined forces with Thrasybulos of Miletos.
From all these, we see that though Periander was a very intelligent man,
he was not at all a wise one and Plato was correct not to consider him,
as one of them.
Periander managed the affairs of Corinth well, by founding new colonies,
among them Naukratis in Egypt.
His aggressive style brought economic wealth in Corinth, the arts
flourished, as well crafts and architecture.
His nephew Psammetichos who succeeded him and was named in
compliment to the second Egyptian Pharaoh with the same name, was killed
by aristocrats three years later, with the help of Spartans. During his
time, Corinth founded new colonies, Potidea at Chalcidice and Epidamnos
and Apollonia, north of the island of Corkyra.
BC - 52 AD
Corinth after the
tyranny was ruled by the aristocrats under a Counsil of eighty members
and developed good relations with all the other city states, becoming a
member of the Peloponnesian league. For a hundred years prospered and
had friendly relations with her antagonist Athens.
During the Persian invasion of Greece, Corinth was chosen as the
headquarters of the Hellenic league and took part in the battle of Salamis
(480 BC), with forty ships under the command of Adeimantos.
It took part also at the battle of Plataea (479 BC) with five
thousands heavy armed infantry, as well in the naval battle of Mycale,
where they came second in valor after the Athenians.
After the Persian wars Corinth prospered most of any other Greek city,
but the expansion of Athens under Pericles broke the good relations
When Corinthians and their allies invaded Megaris at 458 BC, knowing
that the Athenian forces were engaged at Aegina, the great Athenian
general Myronides, formed an army consisted from boys and old men
and marched to help the Megarians. In an indecisive battle against the
Corinthians, when the later left, the Athenians raised a trophy.
Reproached by the people of Corinth, the Corinthian army returned after
twelve days at Megara and started erecting a trophy. When the Athenians
took notice, they came out of the walls of Megara and killed them, as
well other forces, that came to their aid.
Things worsened when Athenians demanded from their colony Potidea to
dismantle their fortifications and dismiss the Corinthian magistrates.
Corinth dispatched 2000 troops under Aristeos who was captured by the
Athenians, sent to Athens and executed. That was the beginning of
Peloponnesian War, on which Corinth did not have much success.
In 429 BC, Corinth was defeated by the Athenians. Admiral Phormio of
Athens with supreme tactics and only 20 ships,
defeated 47 Corinthian ships.
In 421 BC, Sparta and Athens signed a piece treaty, but Corinth refused,
because in the treaty there was no mention of the return of their
colonies Anactorium and Sollium, which have being captured by the
In 415 BC, Athenians sent a big force against their colony in Syracuse.
Corinth sent almost all its naval and ground forces to assist them.
Ariston, a Corinthian seaman, the best pilot of the fleet proposed the
trick that made the Athenians think that the fighting was over and thus
giving the opportunity to the fleet of Syracuse to attack and defeat
When the Peloponnesian war ended, democrats took over the power in
Corinth and made alliance with Argos, Thebes and their past enemy Athens
against Sparta. The oligarchs tried to overthrow the democratic rule,
but the plot was discovered. Democrats decided to kill the oligarchs in
a festival held in February, probably in honor of Artemis, in the year
393 BC. When the market place was most crowded killed the appointed
victims. The sons of the oligarchs were saved because they were outside
the city walls. Oligarchs asked for help from the Spartan army, who was
at Sikyon a town nine miles northwest of Corinth. Spartans and
Sikyonians entered the long walls of the harbor Lechaeon and made
ditches. A battle against Corinthian democrats, Argives and Athenians,
under the leadership of Iphicrates followed and ended in massacre of the
democrats, though the Spartans failed to take control of the city.
Some time later Corinth re-allied with Sparta under an oligarchic
government and prospered.
Corinth did not
take part in the war against Phillip of Macedonia. It was in Corinth
that Alexander encountered Diogenes the Cynic.
In 197 BC, Macedonia was defeated at Cynoscephalae in Thessaly by the
In 146 BC, after a long disagreement with Romans, Mummios
pillaged and destroyed the city, giving most of its territory to Sikyon.
All men were put to death and the women and children were sold as
slaves. For more than one hundred years, the city did not exist.
In 44 BC, Julius Caesar restored Corinth and brought Italians to
Saint Paul visited Corinth in 51 AD, staying for almost two years
and the Christian church flourished there sometime later.