Speaking to archaeology students, faculty and guests at DEREE’s Center for the Arts Auditorium, Professor Elizabeth Gebhard of the University of Illinois at Chicago, gave an overview of the exciting findings at the sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia, where she excavated – both under American professor Oscar Broneer, who discovered the temple in 1952 – and later, when she became the director of the University of Chicago’s excavations at Isthmia – a post she has held since 1976.
In her lecture “Poseidon will Protect You: Gifts to the god on the Isthmus,” on March 19, Dr Gebhard, Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, spoke about the important findings at the Temple – “one of the earliest in Greece” – dating from the 7th century BC, in its archaic form, and again from its classical Doric form after a fire destroyed it around 450 BC and it was rebuilt – only to be re-destroyed by another fire somewhere between 380-390 BC.
Oscar Broneer, Dr Gebhard, and other archaeologists from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens excavated the central plateau until 1962 unearthing the temple, altar, and a Roman hero shrine. But, Dr Gebhard is best known not just for her work and publications on a slew of aspects of the sanctuary, but also for her work studying the theatre there, through which she rebuffed the common misconception that ancient theaters had round performing spaces – confirming the quote “we don’t dig for treasure, we excavate for information” – a quote she can really relate to, she told the audience.
Dr Gebhard also described how “field archaeology is like puzzle solving,” and said her big moment as an archaeologist was when she found 17 intact pots, buried inside one of the caves found at the site, which served as a dining area, which are now on display at the Isthmian Museum. She was thrilled at “the immediacy of it. Not so much the pots, but the fact that the last person who had washed those pots was in 300 and something BC,” she underscored.
Dr Gebhard also detailed the other exciting findings at the site, including a silver ring and other artifacts that were offered in order to get in Poseidon’s favor. The findings also helped establish the nature of the Isthmia Games held there which were biannual, like the ones at Nemea, and like all three other Panhellenic athletic sanctuaries – Olympia, Nemea and Delphi – were crown games, where the winners were awarded wreathes as a prize. The Games at Isthmia included not just athletic competitions, but also musical events.
Fellow archaeology enthusiast Dr Elizabeth Langridge-Noti, who teaches Introduction to Archaeology, and a variety of art history, archaeology and history courses on the ancient world at DEREE-ACG, introduced Dr Gebhard and thanked her for her inspiring lecture, which was organized by The School of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Archaeology Area, in collaboration with the Office of Development and Alumni Relations.
Dr Gebhard’s efforts have now been directed towards the final publication and conservation of objects recovered in Oscar Broneer’s excavations, while the important work at the site continues to today. The University of Chicago is also responsible for excavations of a small settlement up on the Rachi ridge, while Ohio State University has excavated a major bath complex and part of the late antique fortress and Hexamilion.
Dr Gebhard is Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Illinois at Chicago and currently Honorary Fellow in the Department of Classics at Edinburgh University.
The website for the University of Chicago excavations is: https://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/isthmia/
For the Ohio State excavations: http://isthmia.osu.edu/