Even More Contrasting Corinth
Yesterday I promised more inequality, resistance, and contrast in the Corinthia, and here at the Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, I mostly deliver on what I promise.
Over the last few days I’ve been thinking about these small texts:
This is the text of two graffiti discovered on a wall fragment from the octagonal baptistery at Lechaion. Both texts are rather fragmentary. The first text seems to ask for someone to remember a woman named Eudokia, and the second text is a plea to help the deacon Loukianos, his wife (?), and children. Both texts conform to the long standing practice of inscribed prayers. The texts were scratched into what appears to be the mortar of the wall. The photograph is poorly reproduced in my photocopy of the publication and Pallas’ description of the location of the text is unclear.
These texts represent a very personal plea for aid set up in a sacred place. This practice was a long-standing Christian tradition and similar calls for help appear in mosaic floors and inscribed on columns, liturgical silver, and ceramics from across the Mediterranean basin. At the same time, their rather humble mode of execution contrasts dramatically with the lavish decoration present in the Lechaion basilica. These texts were not carved into marble and positioned where an audience could experience the proximity of the individuals to the sources of ecclesiastical, ritual, and religious power. These modest letters were scratched into a wall of the baptistery which is an unusual place for such imprecations. The most obvious explanation for the disjunction between these texts and their surroundings may be that these texts date from the time that the octagonal baptistery appears to have functioned as a church, perhaps after the collapse of the enormous basilica to its south. Like the graffiti documented by Orlandos on the columns of the Parthenon, the modest character of these texts represents more an eagerness to locate one’s prayers in the existing physical fabric of the building rather than a lack of resources or access to official sanction. After all, Loukianos was a deacon who presumably could have arranged for a more official venue for his call for help.
At the same time these texts present a vivid contrast to another, better-known inscribed prayer from the Corinthia: the request for protection found at Isthmia. Unlike the modest texts incribed on the wall of the Lechaion baptistery, this text which asks God to protect Justinian, Victorinus, and everyone living according to God in Greece
As readers of this blog are probably tired of hearing, this text should probably be associated with the refortification of the Hexamilion wall by the emperor Justinian, and I have argued (as have others) that the Lechaion basilica is probably another example of imperial activities in the region.
I am not sure that I’d argue too forcefully that contrasting character of these two texts represent some kind of inequality or resistance in the Corinthian landscape, but on the other hand, the graffiti text from Lechaion is far more likely to represent an authentic local voice. And this local voice surely did not share the same access to resources as the emperor, and this local voice may not have had the same ability to endure the the challenging years of the Early Byzantine period in Greece.