An Interview with Classical Archaeologist Ronald S. Stroud

The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: The Inscriptions
An Interview with Ronald S. Stroud

by Andrew Reinhard, Director of Publications, American School of Classical Studies at Athens

9780876611869Excavations conducted by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore on Acrocorinth, 1961-1975, produced more than 170 inscribed objects of stone, bronze, bone, lead weights, pottery (graffiti and dipinti), clay pinakes, magical lead tablets, and in a mosaic. In this new Corinth volume, Ron Stroud presents all of these inscriptions, and he relates them to an overall interpretation of the activities, secular and religious, attested in this shrine during its long period of use from the 7th century B.C. until the end of the 4th century A.D. Where possible, Stroud also draws out their implications for and contribution to the history of ancient Corinth, the worship of the goddesses Demeter and Kore, and the practice of magic—especially in the Roman period. This is the final publication of the inscribed objects from the sanctuary, excluding loomweights and stamped amphora handles, which will be included in a later publication. Professor Stroud discussed his present and future work with Andrew Reinhard, ASCSA’s Director of Publications.

Reinhard: This volume documents inscriptions of various types left on artifacts of all sorts: stone, metal, and bone objects; a mosaic; pottery; clay pinakes; and lead tablets. What material was most commonly found, and why were these inscriptions left in the sanctuary? Were they discovered individually, or in assemblages with other objects such as pottery?

Stroud: By far the most commonly inscribed material found in the sanctuary is pottery. People wrote their names, Demeter’s name, and short messages on their cups and other vases and left them in the shrine as gifts to Demeter and Kore. These objects were found in assemblages that included terracotta figurines and other votives, mostly in deposits of broken and discarded dedications.

Reinhard: You directed, along with Nancy Bookidis, the excavations of the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore. How did you first get involved with the sanctuary, and who assigned the inscriptions to you?

Stroud: In 1961 Henry Robinson, the Director of the School and of the Corinth Excavations, put me in charge of a short exploratory season to determine if there was a Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore on Acrocorinth. As the excavation proved successful and expanded, I continued in charge until Nancy Bookidis took over after 1966. We have worked together on this project ever since and we jointly decided that I would take on the inscriptions for publication.

Reinhard: Of the inscriptions recovered from the sanctuary, which have been your favorites to study? Is there a particularly memorable dedication or other inscription?

Stroud: Certainly the most challenging have been the lead tablets because I had to start from scratch on them, never having worked on this kind of material before. I got a lot of help from David Jordan and other experts on ancient magic in trying to decipher the handwriting and interpret the difficult language on these objects.

Reinhard: One of the most delightful pieces pictured in the book is that of a bronze votive bull only 6 cm long. What is the significance of this animal to Corinth, and how does the “αρόςinscription come into play?

Ron Stroud in Thessaly

Stroud: We found three little bronze bulls (only one inscribed) and several have turned up in other Corinthian sanctuaries such as Isthmia and Perachora, but I don’t think there is any special local significance since they are common votives in sanctuaries of other gods such as Zeus, Poseidon, and Dionysos. The text on our inscribed example is frustrating since its one word tells us exactly what we already knew: he is “sacred.” We would have appreciated the addition of a name, either of a deity or a dedicator.

Reinhard: For those readers who might be new to epigraphy, could you explain what a curse tablet is, and why these would have been left in the sanctuary? Is there any other evidence of magic at the site?

Stroud: We found 18 lead tablets in the sanctuary with curses incised on them. Many were rolled up, pierced with a nail, and deposited in a room that contained other signs of magical practices such as ritual lamps and incense burners. The writers appeal to the gods of the underworld to effect spells that “bind” and otherwise harm their enemies, who are almost always named specifically. Several of the targets and some of the writers are women. This sanctuary seems to have been a popular site for depositing the tablets because of its close association with Persephone, queen of the underworld, and “the Fates who exact Justice.”

Reinhard: You dedicated this book to your wife, Helen Conrad Stroud. How did she help you with the material published in this volume?

Stroud: Connie excavated full-time in the sanctuary in 1964 and 1965 and worked on sorting and lotting pottery and inventorying in the Corinth Museum then and later. She did a lot of important research on our terracotta figurines. She has been an invaluable on-going source of advice and encouragement to Nancy and to me throughout the whole long process of bringing the results of this excavation to publication.

Reinhard: Retirement has been a busy time for you. Now that Corinth XVIII.6 has been published, what are you working on?

Stroud: I continue to help Nancy and the other scholars who are working on publication of the finds from the Demeter Sanctuary, such as coins, sculpture, miscellaneous objects, and terracotta figurines. I’m also still working with my colleague, Nikolaos Papazarkadas, Senior Co-Editor, on the annual publication of the Supplementum epigraphicum graecum.

The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: The Inscriptions is available for purchase in the US here and available for pre-order in the UK here.  It is also available as an eBook and a print+eBook bundle.