National Geographic : 1944 Mar
Hauling a Ship over the Isthmus BETWEEN the Greek mainland and the Peloponnesus is a narrow neck of land about four miles wide. Today it is cut by a canal through which fairly large ships pass be tween the Gulf of Aegina and the Gulf of Corinth. The passage saves a long trip around the storm-beaten southern extremity of the Peloponnesus. The picture shows a Greek merchant ship being trans ported on rollers across the Isthmus along the roadway called the Diolkos. Probably no very large vessels were transported in this way, but the average ancient Greek merchantman could be handled fairly easily. Such vessels were usually propelled by a single sail, of a square pattern, stretched on a great yardarm. The masts could be easily unstepped, since it was customary to beach ships frequently. There were also a limited number of oars on the merchantmen for use in case of unfavorable winds or in warping out of a harbor, but the great banks of oars and large number of rowers were found only on the war ships. It was customary to raise woven mats above the bulwarks to help protect the cargo. A ship was steered by means of a large oar suspended in a socket over the quarter; sometimes there were steering oars on either side, connected by a beam so that they would turn together. Because of the sharp stern construction, rud ders were not used. The high curving sternpost found on all Greek ships, as well as on later Roman ones, was some times decorated with a swan's head. Bows of merchant ships were rather bluff, and the stem projected forward as it rose from the water line. In the warships, however, the bow was drawn forward into along beak fitted with a bronze ram. The planking was butt joined and smooth, and seams were calked with oakum and pitch. In fact, the entire hull might bepitched. Although they must have been fairly seaworthy, the ships of ancient Greece were unable, on account oftheir rig, to sail against the wind, and consequently depended onfavor able breezes to reach their destination. Usually the crew put ashore at night, which was not difficult where the dis tances were so small. Itwas only rarely that aship kept the open sea for more than afew days atatime. The city of Corinth grew rich inGreek times with the trade which passed by the Isthmus, and many goods were doubtless transshipped there, being carried across on mule back from the eastern ports ofCenchreae and Isthmia. There was another port,Lechaion, on the shore ofthe Gulf of Corinth, connected inclassic times with Corinth by long walls built down to itfrom the ring ofthe fortifications. Little is known of theactual harbor inGreek times, but the 'Romans, when they refounded Corinth, dredged several capacious basins where shipping would liesafely sheltered from heavy westerly winds that often raged down the gulf. Behind the city, which appears dimly on the terraced plateau halfway up fromthe shore line, rises Acrocorinthus, strongly fortified by walls.Some ofthese walls, dating from early days, recall the scenes of many asiege through the course of Greek history.Near the shore, inline with Acrocorinthus, is a low bluff where inpre-Mycenaean times there was a prosperous settlement, known today asKorakou.