Some very ancient names for places, such as Korinthos derive from a pre-Greek, "Pelasgian" language; it seems likely that Corinth was also the site of a Bronze Age Mycenean palace-city, like Mycenae, Tiryns or Pylos. Myth made Sisyphus the founder of a race of ancient kings at Corinth. In Corinth, Jason abandoned Medea.
Later, in classical times the ancient city rivalled Athens and Thebes in wealth, based on the isthmian traffic and trade. Until the mid-6th century Corinth was a major exporter of black-figure pottery to cities around the Greek world. Athenian potters later came to dominate the market. Corinth's great temple on its acropolis was dedicated to Aphrodite. According to most sources, there were more than one thousand temple prostitutes employed at the Temple of Aphrodite. Corinth was also the host of the Isthmian Games.
In the 7th century BC, when Corinth was ruled by the tyrants Cypselus and Periander, the city sent forth colonists to found new settlements: Syracuse, Ambracia, and with Corcyra, itself perhaps the site of an early Corinthian settlement, Apollonia and Anactorium. The city was a major participant in the Persian Wars, but afterwards was frequently an enemy of Athens and an ally of Sparta in the Peloponnesian League. In 431 BC, one of the factors leading to the Peloponnesian War was the dispute between Corinth and Athens over the Corinthian colony of Corcyra.
The Romans under Lucius Mummius destroyed Corinth following a siege in 146 BC; when he entered the city Mummius put all the men to the sword and sold the women and children into slavery before he torched the city, for which he was given the cognomen Achaicus as the conqueror of the Achaean League. While there is archeological evidence of some minimal habitation in the years afterwards, Julius Caesar refounded the city as Colonia laus Iulia Corinthiensis in 44 BC shortly before his assassination. According to Appian, the new settlers were drawn from freedmen of Rome. Under the Romans it became the seat of government for Southern Greece or Achaia (Acts 18:12-16). It was noted for its wealth, and for the luxurious, immoral and vicious habits of the people. It had a large mixed population of Romans, Greeks, and Jews.
When Paul first visited the city (AD 51 or 52), Gallio, the brother of Seneca, was proconsul. Paul resided here for eighteen months (18:1-18). Here he first became acquainted with Aquila and Priscilla, and soon after his departure Apollos came from Ephesus. Although he intended to pass through Corinth the second time before he visited Macedonia, circumstances were such, in the absence of Titus, that he went from Troas to Macedonia, and then likely passed into Corinth for a "second benefit" (2 Corinthians 1:15), and remained for three months, according to Acts 20:3.
During this second visit in the spring of 58 it is likely the Epistle to the Romans was written. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians reflects the difficulties of maintaining a Christian community in such a cosmopolitan city.
During Alaric's invasion of Greece, in 395–396, Corinth was one of the cities he despoiled, selling many of its citizens into slavery.