Cypriot free-field jug (Early Iron Age -Archaic I): 750 – 600 BC

free-field jug  (Early Iron Age -Archaic I)

A very fine Bichrome Ware, Free Field jug depicting a stylised bird, possibly a cormorant, with a fish in its beak, with another fish and several swastikas. This abstracted fish (or fish skeleton) shape is found on seemingly non-figurative pots but this pot, and a number of others very similar, make the meaning clear. The swastika was an auspicious symbol found in many cultures, but especially ancient India, which seems to be the source. It has been found in Cyprus as early as the Early Cypriot I (Early Bronze Age I).  It originated in the Paleolithic period. Early Archaic, Free Field jugs with depictions of birds and other animals or people are largely 7th century and from South Cyprus where the dominant kingdom was the Phoenician dominated Kition. The dominant imagery of these jugs is of birds, often, as here, identifiably water birds. Possibly they were inspired by imported Egyptian pieces depicting Nile scenes.  There is a tradition from early Greek and other cultures of the bird as a spirit vehicle and symbol of regeneration. The chief goddess of the Phoenicians, Astarte, was particularly linked to birds. (Her Greek equivalent, Aphrodite, was linked to the dove and, like Astarte, believed to have been born in Cyprus) The Handle decoration derives from 13thC Mycenae (the whiskers at the base possibly a remnant of handles depicting twin snakes) as does the tradition of free-field animal representations. Bichrome Ware pots are wheel-made terracotta covered in a pale slip and painted in 2 colours. (Painted in one colour it is called White Painted Ware.) This tubby, trilobe-spouted, oinichoe-style vessel with eyes painted near the top lip is typical of Archaic Cypriot jugs. Cypriot potters from the early Bronze Age onwards had liked to turn their whole pots into personages and animals.

This century saw a marked increase in prosperity and wealth. New and rebuilt walled-towns flourished.

Cyprus had remained largely independent through its earlier history, other than for a while paying tribute to the Hittites. However during the middle of this period the Phoenicians, who paid tribute to the Assyrian Empire, sought their help in support of the Phoenician Kingdom of Kition in south Cyprus. Kition was one of the 10 Kingdoms of Cyprus and, with Salamis, the most powerful, but the others were culturally Greek. The Phoenicians shipped Sargon II’s Assyrian army over and Cyprus was conquered, and became a vassal state (709-663BC) - paying tribute to Assyria, but being allowed to continue to govern themselves internally as before. From 663 BC Cyprus was again independent, but in 570BC they were conquered by the Egyptian Ahmose II and had to pay tribute, though they still remained relatively independent.

There was strong mutual stylistic influence between Phoenician and Cypriot pottery, particularly Cypriot Black on Red Ware. The Phoenician equivalent wares are called Cypro-Phoenician since it is now agreed to have originated in Cyprus. The orientalising influence of the Phoenicians and Egyptians on the predominantly Greek, Cypriot sculpture is also clear.

Greek settlers escaping the collapse of Mycenaean civilisation had brought the custom of cremation to Cyprus as early as the 11th century BC (as seen at Salamis). The first evidence of Greek script is also from this time, though the use of Cypriot script carried on as late as the 3rd century BC.
In the 8th century the Homeric myths spread across Cyprus and many towns, such as Paphos and Salamis were given mythical Trojan-war founders. Greek fashions were introduced, such as the safety pin to secure garments, and the deceased were sometimes buried with logs and skewers to roast meat.

In the Bronze Age up to 1200 BC burial of bodies had been in rock cut tombs, changing in the last, more unsettled, period before the Iron Age, to shaft or pit graves. However the Early Iron Age, at least in the known high status graves, they changed to chamber tombs with a long Dromos (antechamber or ramp) plus a few Tholos tombs in the Mycenaean style. Generally tombs were reused many times (anything from 1-62 burials). Some graves had as many as 500 vessels in them plus metal and stone tools, gold, silver and stone jewellery plus faience, glass and ivory etc.

These jugs are among the most sought after Cypriot antiquities. There is an expert mend (and possible small infill) on the spout. Also the minerals deposited on the surface have clearly been cleaned off the area of the bird painting (and probably lip and handle), leaving a slightly fuzzy, less black result than the untouched bird claws and lower junction of the handle, which give a better idea of the original crisp appearance.

Size: 22.5cm H

(Ex collection of Mr H Wagner in Berlin, Germany. Previously on the European Market and bought at auction in the 70s / 80s. Possibly from a dispersal sale of the second Pitt Rivers Museum, Farnham (formed after donating his first, Oxford, collection) which made up the majority of the sale it was bought from. Research ongoing.)

(Aquired Art Ancient, Antiques Fair Olympia June 2015)

DJ37