2003 Preliminary Report

Conservation, Consolidation, and the Site at Isthmia:

Protection of the Roman Bath:           

As in the past, we unfortunately cannot report any progress on our request to construct a roof to protect the restored figural mosaic in Room VI of the Roman Baths.  There is agreement among all parties that this roof is of the highest priority, but for some reason the matter has become stuck at the level of the Central Archaeological Council.  Conservation issues are always delicate and difficult, but it is hard to understand why this problem has not been resolved sooner.  The Fourth Ephoreia (now 25th Ephoreia) remains strongly positive, and Mr. Apostolos Papafotiou, Vice-Governor of the Province of the Korinthia, has taken up the cause, he personally appeared at many of the meetings of KAS (the Central Archaeological Council), and sought personally to win the support of various members of KAS.  In the end, the problem seems to have been a political one, and it is hoped, with the change of government in Greece and the replacement of those at the highest levels in the Ministry of Culture, that this issue may move forward once the push over the 2004 Olympics has come to an end.

Conservation of the Mosaic in Room VI, Roman Bath:

During 2003 work continued on the final conservation of the mosaic in Room VI and this is one of the aspects of our project in which we take special pride.  As in the past, this work is being carried out under the supervision of Panagiotis Elias of Kyras Vrysi, an employee of the Ministry of Culture who has worked on the mosaic conservation since 1990.  He is experienced, careful, and concerned about the protection of the monument, and his work is of consistently high quality.  Our first priority—other than the general protection of the mosaic—was the issue of what to do about the absence of black tesserae with which to complete the conservation.  After exploring many avenues, including discussion with conservators at Korinth and elsewhere, we finally decided to make use of commercially-available black stone tesserae, approximately the same size and color of the original ancient tesserae.  These “blend in” well with the restored ancient stones, but a careful eye is able to detect the difference and this is generally in keeping with present conservation principles, which recommend that sections of new materials be distinguishable from older portions.  On the whole we were very pleased with the results of conservation this year; only a few patches remain to be completed and these should be finished during the 2004 season.

Mosaic Before conservation

Mosic before conservation

conservation being carried out on masic

conserved section of mosaic
Figure 4. Conserved section of mosaic

As mentioned in our report of 2002, we erected three explanatory signs in the vicinity of the Roman Bath.  These signs had to be repaired several times and they suffered considerable damage in the severe winter of 2003-2004.  These damages have now been repaired and the signs are in relatively good condition.  The area of the Roman Bath is effectively now open to visitors and many have commented on the helpfulness of the signs.  In the long run, we will need to prepare better signs that are also more resistant to the elements, but this will be part of the larger plans to develop the site mentioned below. 

In July of 2003 we finally received permission from the Ministry of Culture to add a second storey to the Excavation House at Isthmia.  As we have previously noted, the project has suffered from a lack of sufficient storage and work space for many years, and the addition to the Excavation House will help meet that need.  With the permit in hand and with the generous support of the Packard Humanities Institute, we will begin construction in late April of 2004.  This addition will provide an area for study and writing on the (new) second floor of the building, leaving the lower floor available for artifact storage.

We have been working closely with the local Ephoreia of the Archaeological Service to draw up broad-based plans for site presentation, conservation, and maintenance of our study area at Isthmia.  This effort is certainly one that will continue over the next few years.

Small-scale cleaning operation on the south side of the Roman Bath, September 2003

The southern side of the excavated area of the Roman Bath has posed many problems, both of interpretation and of conservation.  On the one hand, we have never had clear archaeological evidence of the location of the entrance to the Bath, although we assumed it must have been from the south side of Room XII, in part because other possible places of entrance were precluded by the presence of benches and other impediments.  In addition, the excavations in this area in 1976-1980 were piecemeal and did not provide a clear picture, although the large numbers of lamps discovered piqued the interest of the excavators.  Finally, in part as a result of the way previous excavations had been conducted (see Plan 2), the scarp along the whole of the south side of the Bath is collapsing, making the area unsightly but more importantly preventing us from learning about the history of this area of the site.

View along f Roman Bath
Figure 5.  View along south side of Roman Bath, from east, before any work was done

As a result, we sought permission from the Ministry of Culture to clear the whole south side of the Bath, straightening out the south scarp and allowing us to explore the archaeological history of what we thought must be the entrance to the Bath.

As a result, from 6 to 24 September a small cleaning operation was conducted in the area of the southeast corner of the Roman Bath (Plan 1).  The excavation team was small, made up of the Director, a few American students, and a team of excavators from the Korinth Excavations, under the supervision of Aristomenes Arberores and Panagiotis Katsoras, a remarkably experienced team

Figure 6. Excavation: Aristomenes Arberores, foreman of Corinth Excavations
Figure 6. Excavation: Aristomenes Arberores, foreman of Corinth Excavations

Excavation commenced in Trench 2003-1 in the immediate area of Trench 76-19 and the finds were mainly of Byzantine date.  Moving farther to the west we continued to find pits, filled with debris from the Roman Bath, but intermixed with pottery of the 12th-13th century, showing that we had encountered a series of Byzantine pits in this area (Plan 4).  Moving farther west we found levels that had apparently not been disturbed in the Middle Ages.  These included a broad mortar packing and a waterline that ran, more or less east-west and apparently took into consideration the southeast corner of the Roman Bath, and should probably be dated to the period of the use of the Bath.  To the west of this mortar level (again, see Plan 4) was a foundation of stones and mortar, ca. 1 meter wide, running north and south and on the same orientation as the Roman Bath.  The waterline seems to have been constructed before (or as part of the same phase as) the mortar packing or the stone foundations

Figure 7. Area of proposed entrance to Bath, looking north to Room XII
Figure 7. Area of proposed entrance to Bath, looking north to Room XII

Our preliminary observations, subject to further analysis, is that the mortar packing is that of the roadway leading to the entrance to the Roman Bath, into the southern side of Room XII.  To the east of this all Roman levels have been destroyed by Byzantine-period activity.  To the west, probably the most interesting feature is a north-south foundation, made of stones and mortar, ca. 1 meter wide, that runs right up against the mortar packing to the east.  Our preliminary interpretation is that the mortar packing is contemporary with the mortar packing and that its relatively shallow depth does not allow us to think that it was the foundation of a significant wall.  Therefore, we suggest that it was the foundations for a platform that either supported a series of decorative columns, or even more likely, a series of sculptures.  In any case, we would argue that the mortar packing is the foundation of the entrance to the Baths, and the foundation to the west supported some display that was meant to flank the entrance.  One may imagine another, parallel, display along the eastern flank of the entrance.

It will be noted that the proposed “entrance” to the Bath along this line does not cross Room XII along its east-west axis, but we know already that the entrance cannot have been along that line, since a bench placed at that point precludes passage there.  Further, although we need to look much more carefully at the details of this placement, it looks as though this hypothetical entrance to the Roman Bath, would have been approximately on the axis of Room VII, which certainly would have been the immediate goal of visitors to the Bath.

 As a result of this brief season, we have learned a great deal about the history of the Bath, but also about its use and connection to the Sanctuary of Poseidon to the south.

Figure 8. Dry stone retaining wall built at the end of the 2003 season to hold the soil and protect the edge of the excavated area
Figure 8. Dry stone retaining wall built at the end of the 2003 season
to hold the soil and protect the edge of the excavated area