Peirene, Pegasos and Bellerophon


History of Corinth


The legend. 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 stone fell.
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 Acrocorinth.
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 mythological themes.   
Bowl of Kypselidae
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

Kypselos, 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)

PerianderPeriander, 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  "wise men".
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 Diolcos, a 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 of Artemis.
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.

582 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 between them.
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 Athenians.
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 them.
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.
Diogenes, the Cynic philosopher (414 - 323 BC).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 Romans.
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 colonize her.
Saint Paul visited Corinth in 51 AD, staying for almost two years and the Christian church flourished there sometime later.


An engraved gemstone of the Roman age. Diogenes, the Cynic philosopher (414 - 323 BC), in his jar holding a stick with a dog sitting near and a seated follower reading from a scoll.

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