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Scotton Solves 20-Year Mystery

Published: October 17, 2011

Comparative World Literature and Classics’ Paul Scotton returned from the ancient Greek cities of Corinth and Athens this year after a stay from July 2010 to this January thanks to a Kress Publication Fellowship from the American School of Classical Studies Athens (ASCSA).

Scotton used his six months of research to complete his monograph, “The Julian Basilica in Corinth: An Architectural Investigation,” with an additional focus on the site’s inscriptions, sculptures and a discussion of their context and significance. Grants are for at least three months (up to $10,000) to a maximum of nine months (up to $30,000.)

The ASCSA is a research center representing a consortium of 180 universities and colleges across in both the U.S. and Canada. Its primary focus has been the excavations in the agora of Athens and in the ancient city of Corinth. Of all those who have worked and trained in Athens and Corinth, only a small percentage are asked to research and publish specific topics and it is even rarer for ASCSA to offer a fellowship to one of this group to complete her or his monograph.

Scotton’s monograph traces the history of this overlooked Corinthian wonder that once may have played a role in the judgement of the Apostle Paul. Corinth had its Greek heyday between the 8th century and its destruction by the Roman general Mummius in 146 B.C. The city was refounded by Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. as a Roman colony and gradually developed again. In A.D. 51/52, the Apostle Paul visited Corinth and its basilica. Scotton presented a paper on his research in January at the convention of the American Institute of Archeology.

“This particular Roman basilica was the scene of the Imperial cult that honored the ruling Roman family,” explained Scotton. “It also served as a law court of the imperial province. It occurred to me that, if this served as a law court, then this place may well have been where the Apostle Paul was brought at his trial.”

Scotton solved a mystery that has puzzled him for 20 years on his way to mapping ancient Corinth. “My primary research was on the Julian Basilica but there is an adjacent building right next door,” he explained. “No one has been able to figure out what it was for. I felt sure this building was meant to be a hall of records there to service the hall of justice in the Julian Basilica.

“I have found that there were pass-throughs on either side of where the judge sat,” he continued. “There were a significant number of statues not only to the Roman Emperor Augustus but also to Julius Caesar and Tiberius. Sitting behind the judge was a larger-than-life-size statue of Julius Caesar, who founded the Roman colony in Corinth. There are images of Augustus dressed as a priest and of Tiberius as a general. There were dedications all over to the royal Roman family. When the judge was sitting, he was empowered by these statues of the imperial family.”

Scotton worked hard to form professional relationships as well as scientific ones. “Networking is crucial, especially when world-famous scholars are passing through,” he said. “What I found in Athens was invaluable. It is still a crossroads for scholars coming and going with a lecture every night. Sometimes there are dueling lectures.”

Scotton never forgot how rare his research opportunity was. “This visit represented a peak of scholarly creativity for me in the last seven years,” he recalled. “For six months, all I had to do was research. Even comparing notes over dinner with colleagues was valuable.”

Greek demonstrations about their nation’s financial woes loomed large during his stay.

“The current economic situation Greece is dire. There are people who are really hurting,” he said. “I have Greek university colleagues who have significant pay cuts forced upon them. These are not furloughs. People are rightly upset. If you watched only TV, you’d think the whole country was in flames. This is not to say that people are not upset. They are. But the primary outbursts are in Athens, not Corinth, and when they are in Athens, they are usually in the relatively small space outside parliament. The only way people feel they have speak with a voice is to strike. Trains, taxis and buses strike. But for my work, it was more of an inconvenience. I felt I could adapt.”

Scotton Solves 20-Year Mystery
Paul Scotton (r) on site doing block repair work.

Archaeologists hold a special place in Greek culture. “The Greeks are especially receptive to the archaeological community because so much of their economy depends on tourism. It is the single largest industry in Greece,” he said. “Archeology is a huge draw. It is in everyone’s interest for the sites to be open. A taxi driver may not care about archaeology but he does care about the fare in the back seat.”

Scotton thanked his department and the university for their backing, pointing to a visit by CSULB President F. King Alexander to his excavations at Mycenae. “The university has been very supportive and that has been very gratifying,” he said.

Scotton was appointed as a Research Associate of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA in 2008 and as a Fellow in 2010. He earned his A.B. from the University of Illinois, an M.F.A. with honors from the University of Oregon in 1974, a second M.A. from the University of Illinois in 1975, another M.A. from UC Santa Barbara in 1988, and his Ph.D. in 1997 from the University of Pennsylvania. During his tenure at the University of Washington, he served as the director of UW Classics Program in Rome during the spring 2001 and as the director of the UW Study Abroad program at the University of Ioannina, Greece, in spring 2005.

Scotton’s next book will explore another Corinthian address. “I have a second book under way about that building adjacent to the Julian Basilica,” he explained. It was not only the site of the Roman records hall but below it was a bronze and iron foundry that appears to have been in use from 8th or 7th centuries BCE, right up until the sack of the city by the Romans in 146 BCE. Next in line is a book on what is known as `the south basilica.’ In plan it was built as a twin to the Julian Basilica but the similarities may end there. These two new books will examine whether or not there are similar functions in the two basilicas. Did they both hold trials? Was the south basilica a cult center? What did the site look like in the Roman period? What did it look like in the Greek period? I feel I have 10 years of work to look forward to.”

Scotton encourages his faculty colleagues to consider making research a greater focus in their careers. “Applying for this kind of travel research is a personal choice,” he explained. “But I have found that research helps me in the classroom. I bring in what I learn from my own work and from others. It makes the classroom environment more interesting. Every term, I hear the same question. Hasn’t everything in archaeology already been discovered? No, it hasn’t and work like this offers the best examples.”