More Cypro-Archaic Cities: Greco-Phoenecian Overload

(Cypro-Archaic is the term favoured to describe the Greek kingdoms of Cyprus prior to their contact with Alexander the Great and annexation by the Ptolemies)

To return to that map from the other day:

From D.W. Rupp, in E. Peltenburg, Early Society in Cyprus, Edinburgh, 1989, p. 347)

The various city-state kingdoms of Cyprus do fluctuate over time – this map shows them at their most numerous in the Cypro-Archaic II Period (550-500 BC) – with each centred, of course, on its parent city.  Another list exists as they stood at 703 BC, recorded  on an Assyrian stele (the Assyrians exacted tribute from much fot he island in their heyday)  The example of Pafos, where the capital is actually moved, is not repeated anywhere else as far as we know so each city’s a good proxy for the life and death of its state.

In the last couple of days I’ve passed through Amathus, a nearly forgotten set of ruins on the edge of Lemesos (Limassol) surrounded by hotel developments, and Idalion, which the Cypriot Department of Antiquities is quietly excavating with a state-of-the-art, brand new museum sitting besides it.  This makes four of them under my belt now – Kyrenia (in northern Cyprus and still settled, as Kyrenia in Greek and Girne in Turkish), which isn’t on the map above, will make a fifth and Salamis, just outside of Famagusta, a possible sixth.  I feel like a collector.

Amathus is interesting to me, with my bent towards the Medieval, in the manner of its destruction.  When Richard I ‘Lionheart’, King of England, heads off to the Third Crusade, he drops by Cyprus on the pretext of family mistreatment by the Byzantine governor: not only does he conquer Cyprus, eventually selling it to the Lusignan family of France and dragging Cyprus firmly into a Catholic, Western sphere, he also lands at the struggling remains of Amathus and razes it.  Well, that was his style.

That said, it was dug extensively from the late 19th century onwards (apologies is you can’t get at the papers – take it as read that it’s been dug a lot) and much of the site remains open.  The Department of Antiquities is pretty good with keeping them open, generally charging less than €2 for access: if you’re in Greek Cyprus and like archaeology you are in for a series of sweet deals.

The main interest to me isn’t the agora (town centre) in front of you so much as it is the plumbing, parts of which you can see in the middle-right of the photo.  Built into a small hill, water was delivered here through an aquaduct and routed under the agora to the baths on the far side.  This is pretty ace, and is probably good evidence for a heavy Roman reconstruction of the site after 58 BC:

So that’s cool.  The other nice thing in this is the implication that these people were, at best, only partially Greek, influenced by other peoples such as the Phoenicians (who we’ll see again in a minute) and the Persians, who under Cyrus the Great held most of the ancient kingdoms as tributaries:

These markings are from the Cypriot Syllabary alphabet, where each character represents sounds in Ancient Greek: this would later be dropped in favour of the actual Greek script.  It was only translated in the first place, thanks to a find at our next city, Idalion…

We weren’t quite sure what we’d actually see at Idalion: we knew it was one of the kingdoms and it was marked as a place on our tourist map, but that was it.  This made the museum, which for its small size and loss of artefacts to ‘archaeological’ looters in the 19th and early 20th centuries does a spectacular job, to be a very pleasant surprise, as was the fact that folk are digging there right now.

As you can see they’re digging in the old-school Indian Jones style, with a tonne of guys hacking through the soil within the structures and moving the spoil out through an efficient chain.  Obviously the risk is of less accurate finding, but it seems to me that they know the position of the floor (some 20-30 houses have already been dug out) and the beautifully uncovered olive press, some 20m square and the largest from the period anywhere in Europe, testifies that they can do ornate and careful work when it’s called for.  I for one wouldn’t want to trowel my way through all of this.

The main focus of this dig – the one run by the Cypriot Department of Antiquities – is focused around the palatial complex which dominates the centre of the site, and the city.

Conquered by the Phoenicians in the sixth century BC, they left behind a series of Baal-worshipping Levantine kings whose relationship with the merchant princes of their country is uncertain.  Their continual cultural links with Phoenicia are borne out by the Tablet of Idalion, which by including both Phoenician and Cypriot scripts of an agreement by the king to support wounded soldiers acts as a Rosetta Stone for the Syllabary: thanks to this, the numerous inscriptions from other sites are now entirely clear to us.

I’m particularly interested in Idalion now due to a chance meeting in the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia, where I am now.  Having run into an American archaeologist who’s working here until mid-August, she’s kindly offered me the chance to get involved: when I’m done in Jerusalem, I’ll be back here.


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