Kourion Archaeological Park, Republic of Cyprus: Oh Noes Earthquakes
Digging’s done. This, however, isn’t going to stop me talking in very long sentences about interesting things that I have been staring vacantly at.
Today I was at the archaeological site of Kourion, on the south coast of the island. Originally the seat of one of the Cypriot principalities, the legend goes that it was founded by the Argives (of Argos, Greece), and shifts in pottery style around that time do suggest a sudden influx of Greek settlers from around 1200 BC. Once they were all settled, the island looked something like this:
(From D.W. Rupp, in E. Peltenburg, Early Society in Cyprus, Edinburgh, 1989, p. 347)
The view from Kourion itself is something like this:
Slap-bang on the hills above the coast, it survived the Ptolemaic conquest and later Roman one due to this commanding position. Indeed, it grew, and survived a fair tonne of city-levelling earthquakes – common in Cyprus to this day. Earthquakes are awesome from the archaeological perspective because they have a habit of completely burying places very suddenly, preserving them in the same principle as Pompeii – in the middle of normal activities. The best example of this on-site is from the well-named Earthquake House, taken down in the quake of 365 AD.
Like most of the material here a whole tonne of it is free-standing still: everything you can see here belongs to this one-family house. The rooms on the right are the kitchen, cistern and storerooms (near to far) and the flatter area on the left is the roofed courtyard, where they pulled out a man, woman and child – presumably parents and child – who had been crushed by the earthquake as the roof collapsed. Sometimes I forget on sites, when you’re just digging through muck and rubbish, that people lived and died in the places for a damn long time.
You get the same vibe when you enter the odeon, built in the Hellenistic and rebuilt several times in the Roman period.
Capable of sitting 3000 at a squeeze, something like this – with the back open to the hills behind – is simultaneously the centre of local life and pretty damn mad: the continual, loving maintenance over centuries attests to that.
The coolest thing, however, is obviously the mosaic from the Gladiator’s House which shows some dudes about to stab each other pretty bad.
If all you know of gladiators comes from Gladiator, you may be wondering why they’ve put very fancily done mosaics (there are several of these) in the house of guys who are essentially a bunch of slaves. Whilst they are slaves for the most part, you’ve got to bear in mind that training gladiators to fight pleasingly – a different thing to fighting well – is a long and expensive process with enough attrition as it is due to sparring deaths, mutilations and simple unsuitability: actually killing your gladiators is exceptionally bad business for the most part, with death-fights a small section of your overall show. Gladiators are sort of like pro footballers – local celebrities with some leeway for misbehaviour if they’re doing well, who you’ll go to frankly ludicrous lengths to keep your hands on.