Sanctuary of Asklepieion

At a distance of approximately 450 m to the north of the hill of the temple of Apollo, at the northern foot of the Acrocorinth, the American School of Classical Studies undertook the excavation of the sanctuary – infirmary of Asclepios, one of the most important sanctuaries in the city, whose life span covered more than 800 years.


The choice of the site is considered to have been ideal, due to the distance from the center of Corinth, the strong north winds which blow at the region, clearing the atmosphere, and of course to the abundant water supply from the neighboring fountain of Lerna. An archaic, open-air shrine dedicated to the cult of Apollo was confirmed to have existed in that site and a second shrine was added next to it in the 5th c. B.C., dedicated to his son Asclepios.

Towards the late 4th c. B.C, possibly due to a catastrophic earthquake, the sanctuary was renovated and a four-pillar, prostyle temple, with prodomos and cella was built, oriented along the East-West axis. It was dedicated to Asclepios and possibly Hygeia. The shrine was delimitated and the temple was complemented to its east by a sacrifice altar and a treasury. To its west, it disposed the avaton, a spacious area where egimisis (healing through dream) took place. Two rectangular pits carved symmetrically in the rock stood on both sides of the temple, may have intended for the sacred snakes of the god.


In order to service its many visitors, the temple was flanked by stoas, which also received the numerous offerings of the patients. To the temple’s west and at a quite lower level, a peristyle yard was constructed to house the natural fountain of Lerna, whose water was necessary for the treatment. Besides the purifying water cisterns, the surrounding stoas housed restaurants, a balneum, as well as areas of respite and recuperation for the worn-out patients.

It is very possible that the Asclepieion and the fountain of Lerna ceased to function due to the city’s destruction in 146 B.C., however, following the reestablishment of Corinth as an imperial colony in 27 B.C., they were remodeled and resumed their operation. During his travels in Corinth in the 2nd c. A.D., Pausanias mentions a temple of Asclepios, with ‘the statues of Asclepios and Hygeia made of white stone ‘ (Pausanias ΙΙ, 4, 5).

The clay offerings

The almost 900 clay models depicting human body parts and organs were retrieved in a total of seven depository areas around the perimeter of the Hellenistic temple. These were areas for discarding objects from the early temple of Apollo and Asclepios; apart from the aforementioned clay models, they also contained numerous other objects, such as vases, figurines, etc.

These models date between the late 5th c. and the second half of the 4th c. B.C. They constitute a unique ensemble of ex-votos, dedicated by the patients themselves, who were either cured by the god or hoping for their cure. Among them, one can find complete natural-sized masculine and feminine heads, models of hands, feet, male genitalia and women’s breasts, as well as men’s cuirasses, and models of eyes, ears, tongues, even hair.


Created mainly in local clay, the models from the Asclepieion belong to the long and successful tradition of Corinthian potters, who also created the famous Corinthian vases which travelled across the Mediterranean. It seems that the local potters were proposing a rich variety of models since the very beginning, in order to fully cover the needs of all specific ailments. Although most clay models are not realistic in the small representation of human bodies, parts and organs. The choice of the colors covering them, mostly white and red, has been interpreted as an effort to discern the offerings made by men (red) and women (red).

The uniqueness of the Corinthian offerings, combined with the powerful Corinthian presence in the Hellenic colonies of Southern Italy and Sicily, has been linked to clay models in Etruscan and Italiote sanctuaries – treatment sanctuaries, like the one of Diana Nemorensis at Nemi, in the center of Italy, of the Veii, as well as the Asclepieion on Tiber island