Neolithic Cyprus. 9000- 3800 BC

Cyprus is on the techtonic plate boundary between Africa and Europe, and was upthrust from the sea bed about 12 million years ago. Most of the rocks are limestone, from the sea bed, but the modest size Troodos mountains, ringed by copper-bearing pillow lavas, were part of the earth’s mantle  For most of its history the island was covered in forest and was sparsely inhabited.

Human settlement came relatively late. Burnt bones of birds, fish and pigmy hippopotomi, and later tools, have been found by Acrotiri coastal caves, spanning from 10800 to 9800 BC.  However these people may have been visitors and the oldest known Cypriot settlements were Neolithic I, from c. 8700 – 6000 BC. Society seems to have been broadly egalitarian. Small, stone images sometimes combining phallic and female elements suggest a magical concern with fertility. They had round, mud brick houses with stone foundations and burnt lime floors and stone pots and tools, since they had not discovered the art of  making ceramics. They also dug the oldest known water wells in the world. There were already pigs and birds, but they introduced dogs, sheep, and ibex (goats) to Cyprus and possibly a few cattle, which remained wild and later died out. They also introduced and hunted fallow deer and boars and grew cereals and pulses. Average age at death was about 34. Graves are found under the floors of houses, one from 7500BC included the owner’s cat (the oldest known domestic cat: well before the Egyptians). Weaving is attested by the presence of spindlewhorls and garments were probably of wool. They were fastened with bone pins, and sewn with needles. Personal ornament is represented by stone beads, pendants and bracelets; and necklaces of dentalia shells, carnelian and greyish-green pikrite. Bone was used for handles of stone tools, for awls, pins and needles. Maces of polished stone were used as weapons.

Their most famous site is Choirokoitia (Khirokitia), a walled village of c.60 excavated houses, (where 3 houses have been reconstructed) though there may have been many more. Through most of the Neolithic period Cyprus remained relatively isolated, though there has been some imported obsidian and other imported materials found.  

   There is a gap in the record, and then from 5500 – 3500 BC there was a Ceramic, Neolithic II society across the island, probably brought by new settlers from Syria and Anatolia. Like the earlier settlers they lived by farming and herding. Their pottery was monochrome with combed decoration. In the final phase there was also a painted red on white ware. Burials outside the settlement became the norm. Their settlements, such as Sotira (c.50 thin-walled rectangular houses with rounded corners) were devastated by earthquakes c. 3800 BC

Chalcolithic Cyprus 4000/3800-2400 BC

The Erimi culture of the Chalcolithic Age, found especially in the South and West, followed Neolithic II without a cultural break.  Though still basically a stone-age society they discovered and worked the small nuggets of native copper which can be found on the surface of the earth. Only a few small items could be hammered out of this soft, pure copper: small chisels, hooks and jewellery.  The buildings were round, 2 – 16 metres across with painted plaster on mud brick walls, on a stone base.  The largest have internal posts to support the roof. There was growing social, as well as technical complexity which became more explicit in the Bronze Age. Houses and grave-goods now show some social differentiation. They made Red on White pottery as well as large plain, storage and cooking pots. The cruciform Picrolite (or sometimes pottery or larger, limestone) figurines with spread arms and long necks have become emblematic of the period. Some other ceramic figures explicitly depict childbirth. The island was probably ruled by regional chiefs.

In the late Chalcolithic (from 2800 BC) there was a shift in the underlying ideological system with a move away from communal activities, which led to changes in funeral ritual. Though most people were still buried within the settlements a select few were buried in cemeteries of rock-cut tombs. Monochrome pottery dominated and figurines apparently disappeared. There were some large communities of substantial, round stone and mud-brick houses, many abandoned before the Bronze Age. A few signs of Anatolian influence appear from 2800 BC onwards.

Philia Period (Early BronzeAge) 2500-2200 BC

Around 2500BC, new settlers from Anatolia (South Turkey) brought Bronze-making and new technology to Cyprus, plus new animal species. They may have been refugees from Indo European invasions. (In Anatolia these conflicts led to the Accadian empire of Sargon the 1st.) They introduced ploughs and sickles and the warp-weighted loom and had mud-brick houses or compounds built on stone footings (rectangular rooms arranged around a courtyard). Pit and rock-cut chamber tombs were outside the walls. They brought in donkeys and re-introduced cattle to the island in large numbers.

The Philia, as they are now called, quickly moved from the North coastal plain into the foothills of the copper-rich Troodos mountains. But the process seems to have been peaceful, and the rather uniform Philia culture took some time to spread across the whole island (developing in the South into RP South Coast Ware). They introduced copper smelting but most of the metal had only accidental impurities.  Harder bronze was made by including arsenic (which is found in many Cypriot copper ores) to the soft copper, but this was mostly in the next (ECI) period. (Only later, in the ECII period, was the less toxic tin added, which had to be imported.)

They introduced ploughs and sickles and the warp-weighted loom and had mud-brick houses, or compounds, built on stone footings (rectangular rooms arranged around a courtyard). Pit and rock-cut chamber tombs were outside the walls. They brought in donkeys and re-introduced cattle to the island in large numbers. These animals pulling their new ploughs allowed larger areas to be taken into cultivation, which started an expansion of the population

The Philia also made flat-bottomed red polished ware pottery (often with broken-line incised decoration). There are strong similarities with Anatolan Red Burnished ware (eg from Tarsus and Troy), though the latter had dishes and sometimes used the potters wheel - neither of these introduced in Cyprus. However the famous Philia large jugs with cut-away spout have parallels in western Anatolia.

However the Philia culture took a long time to spread across the whole island and the process appears to have been peaceful.  They are chiefly associated with the vertical centre of the island, North to South, with not much in the East and West). A few outlying areas clung to Chalcolithic culture till possibly as late as 2300 BC.  The Early Cypriot I culture which took over from them spread similarly slowly, starting around 2300BC, and again the process seems to have been assimilation rather than conquest.

It is only recently with the work of Webb and Frankel that the Philia period has been accepted as predating Early Cypriot. The dates of Cypriot Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age periods tend to be regularly revised. Most knowledge comes from cemeteries and there has been limited digging of stratified occupation sites of this period, partly due to the 1974 Turkish invasion and occupation of the North, which led to a UNESCO ban of archaeological co-operation. 

This is pre-history. There are no lists of Kings as in several other civilisations of the time, and no written records until the late Bronze Age. Even these, in a version of Minoan Linear A script, have not yet been deciphered, due to the small number of extended texts.

Early Cypriot (Early Bronze Age I-III) 2300 - 2000/1950 BC

Cattle pulling the new ploughs allowed larger areas to be taken into cultivation, which started an expansion of the population that continued through the Early and Middle Bronze Age. Eventually the Philia culture hybridised with local Chalcolithic traditions, creating the Early Cypriot culture.  The flat bottomed Red-Polished Philia pottery gave way to a profusion of local, round bottomed variants produced in each settlement. The centre of pottery innovation in the early to middle Cypriot period was at first Vounous and then nearby Lapithos, both near the North coast. Southern pottery remained plainer and less innovative, and the culture may have been less hierarchical.

There were no towns yet.  Buildings in settlements were close-packed and shared walls. Access was by narrow lanes.  Houses were stone or more often mud-brick on a stone base, generally composed of a few rectangular rooms on one or two sides of a small courtyard. Walls and sometimes floors were rendered with lime plaster with low benches and hearths against the walls and pivot holes for doors. There were mortars sunk into the floor and lime plaster bins for storage jars and pots.  Pierced lugs on many smaller bowls and vessels suggest they may have been hung from pegs in the wall.  Stone grinders and scrapers were used in food production.  Although there are two ceramic depictions of thrones, and a few tables and possibly stools, most people probably sat on the floor to eat.  After the Philia period and until the End of the Middle Bronze Age almost all vessels had round bottoms (like many traditional African pots now), so large storage vessels sat in dips in the floor while others probably sat in organic rings (perhaps rafia). 

Staple foods comprised bread wheat, barley, chickpeas, and lentils, plus probably dairy products, while the major source of meat was sheep and goat, supplemented by venison, pork, and beef only for special occasions. This would have been extended with olives, berries, nuts and herbs, and seafood by the coast.  Wine and beer were drunk.  Wool, goat hair, and later flax fibres were spun and made into cloth. 

Although food production and some fabrication took place in houses and courtyards there were also mixed use workshops. The supreme example was discovered at Pyrgos Mavroraki near Limasol, where a complex of buildings contained copper smelting facilities, a perfume factory, an oil press with 500 litre storage jars, textile production and a winery.

Aside from some pit graves, burial was in rock-cut chamber tombs, which had a Dromos (a shallow pit or ramp outside, possibly used for rituals) leading through a narrow entrance (or entrances) into one or several chambers, generally cut into soft limestone, which were progressively re-opened and re-used and added to by a kin-group, sometimes for hundreds of years. Most of the complete objects we now have came from these tombs. They were a considerable distance from the settlements, though usually within sight of them, which suggests some nervousness about the dead. There seems to have been a fertility cult based around horned animals, principally the bull. The snake, representing the chthonic forces of death and rebirth was also represented, and late in the early Bronze Age images of birds proliferated in grave goods, possibly representing the spirit. Funerals may have been double: a cursory burial, followed later after only bones remained, by a major celebration when the bones were transferred to a family tomb.  This would suggest a possible cult of ancestor reverence.  It is probably misleading to make a distinction between sacred and secular in such early cultures.

These elaborate funerals involved feasting and the consumption of alcoholic drinks and were occasions for the assertion and display of status by the provision of food and grave goods, including pottery, bronze and gold objects. The most common are the simple bowls used by the participants but beside the normal jugs and bowls, more elaborate and imaginative composite pots with proliferating spouts and bodies appeared, plus scenic models, most probably made especially for funerals, and representations on vessels of activities and cult animals.   A little before 2000 BC the mysterious Plank Figures started to be made at Lapithos, which are found both in settlements and tombs and spread across most of the island.

As the Early and Middle Bronze Ages progressed signs of further social differentiation appeared in grave goods, probably created by the development of copper extraction and trade, but this did not produce distinctive elite dwellings.  By the Middle Bronze Age the whole island was occupied. More of the natural forest which originally covered the island was cut down to make farms and for fuel, especially for copper smelting, however the island remained known for its timber production through the later Bronze Age. 

Probably authority was still local and there is little sign of conflict.   It was not till the disturbed and transitional Middle Bronze Age III (1750-1650BC) that the few defensive forts appeared, probably to protect the copper trade routes to newly founded Enkomi on the East coast, from the Troodos mountains. A number of settlements were abandoned at this time but there is no evidence for foreign raiding for example by the Hyksos who were causing problems in Egypt.  At the same time the first towns were founded, mostly close to the coast where the growing international trade with other cultures, especially the Levant (Ugarit), Anatolia (ie South Turkey), Egypt and Crete, was producing the first luxury imported goods in exchange for Cypriot copper.

In the Middle Bronze Age (from a little after 2000 BC) the variants of Red Polished pottery were joined by other wares, principally White Painted Ware, which by the end of the Middle Bronze Age had become dominant.  This was later joined by others, principally Black Slip and Red on Black wares.

Middle Cypriot (Middle Bronze Age) 2000/1950 - 1650 BC

During this period the Red Polished Wares of the Early Bronze Age continued but with variants, and were joined by various painted wares, the most common being Handmade White painted Ware. The potters wheel was still not used and pots continued to have rounded bottoms. This was a period of great diversity and inventiveness with pottery making still local and household based with local styles cultivated. Large pithoi (storage jars) 1.2 metres or more high were sometimes sunk into the floors of buildings. Pithoi were sometimes used to store olive oil and were to become truly enormous in the Late Bronze Age.

The whole island was now already occupied. More and more of the natural forest which originally covered the island was cut down to make farms and fuel the copper smelting. Enkomi was founded to trade with nearby countries and in the Late Bronze Age other large coastal towns would develop which became the focus of international trade based on the export of copper.  Local chiefs were probably still dominant though control of much of the copper production was starting to be asserted from Enkomi late in this period. Although Cyprus remained independent and largely peaceful some forts were built towards the end of the period, though what danger they guarded against is unclear. It has been suggested that some of them may have guarded the Enkomi control of copper from the Troodos mountains, Some luxury imports from Minoan Crete and Egypt were starting to arrive in Cyprus but in nothing like the quantities of the Late Bronze Age. Over 200 square or pyramidal gaming stones have been found which have (respectively) been identified with the Egyptian board games of Senet and Mehen. Some personal ornaments still continued to be made from picrolite.

There continues to be evidence of feasting and consumption of alchoholic drinks at funerals. Through the Bronze Age from Early Cypriot (from 2300/2400BC) through Late Cypriot IIC (to 1200BC) most burials (at least the known, higher status ones where most of the objects in my collection were found) were in rock cut tombs, often in limestone and often prone to flooding. Consequently many objects have calcium salt deposits on them and may have floated around. The bodies were laid on rock cut benches, or in niches for children and infants, and the vessels and other objects and offerings were laid on the floor.            

The date designation of the main Early/Middle/Late Cypriot divisions are now not considered to be the most useful but despite others being suggested the old ones persist. In particular the start of the Middle Cypriot was only chosen because of the start of painted wares and it otherwise cuts across a period better considered together. I have placed  several items from this period at the end of the Early Cypriot section, which might as likely have come from the Middle Cypriot I. 

Note: The Middle Cypriot (Middle Bronze Age) is dated from the advent of White Painted II - VI (Handmade) Ware (White Painted I Ware is a very rare Philia ware). It has a white slip painted with black, dark brown or red lines.  It overlaps the start of the Late Cypriot I.  White Slip I-II Ware of Late Cypriot I-II has a thicker slip and less friable painted lines, which transitions into Late Cypriot III Proto White Painted (Wheelmade) Ware (and Proto Bichrome Ware - with both red and black paint used). Finally in the Early Iron Age these lose the word Proto.  

Late Cypriot (Late Bronze Age) 1650 - 1050 BC

Late Cypriot I (1650-1450BC) was a continuation of the transitional period of Middle Cypriot III.  It had been a period of disruption and unrest when many settlements were destroyed or abandoned and forts were built.  Most of the iconic products of the Early and Middle Bronze Ages such as plank figures disappeared, but many of those from the late Bronze Age (such as the "Astarte" figures) had not yet appeared. Almost all the old ceramic wares ended and new ones were created. There was a movement of population to the South and East coasts and towns started to develop. Late in this period writing was introduced, based (as was Mycenaean Linear B) on the syllabic Minoan Linear A script.  However,  there are a limited number of texts known and the Bronze Age Eteocypriot language is largely undeciphered.

Late Cypriot II (1450-1200BC) was a high point not just in Cypriot but in world civilization. Egypt, the Mycenaeans and Hittites were at their peak. In Egypt it was the period of Ramases II and Thutmose III, the warrior Pharaoh. The latter laid claim to Cyprus around 1450 BC and imposed a tax but his claim to have Conquered Cyprus was probably untrue. Then from 1430/1420 BC, Cyprus paid tribute to the Hitites, but Cyprus was not invaded except very briefly in the late 13th century BC when the Hittites claimed to have defeated their navy and then won a land battle. However despite these episodes Cyprus remained largely independent, peaceful and prosperous until the middle of the 12th century BC and achieved a level of civilisation not equalled till the Archaic period.

The population increased and coastal towns grew up which exported large amounts of Cypriot copper, in the form of oxhide-shaped ingots, as well as timber, pottery and perfumes, in exchange for luxury goods such as faience and cylinder seals from, among others, the Hittites (Turkey), Ugarit (Syria), Palestine, Mycenaeans (Greece), Crete and Egypt. A Late Cypriot shipwreck found off Anatolia contained 10 tons of copper as well as pottery. 

To meet this demand production of copper enormously increased and this required much greater specialization, organization and control of production and distribution, which created new elites. Cyprus moved from local control by chieftains to domination by a ruler based in Enkomi, though there was no palace culture such as had existed for some time in dominant mainland civilisations. This Kingdom became known as Alasiya (or Alashiya) and  its ruler wrote to the rulers of Egypt and Ugarit as equals.

Large, walled, grid-plan towns, such as Enkomi, grew up with some dressed stone houses and public buildings, and substantial sanctuaries containing walled courtyards (temenoi) containing stone horns of consecration and cult buildings, with containers and bull masks used in ceremonies (but few votive offerings). Some have metal workshops with smelting furnaces, either opening off them or closely associated, indicating the divine protection of this important resource. There were also large centralized storage facilities, such as the hall containing 50 giant pithoi for oil, 1.5 to 2 metres high at Kalavassos Aiyos Dimitrios.

Houses in towns and in mining and agricultural settlements displaying a variety of construction techniques, sizes and qualities, indicate an economic hierarchy. Typically a Late Bronze Age house featured several rooms built around 3 sides of a courtyard. Tables and other furniture were in use. A few bathrooms were supplied with cement floors, clay bathtubs and drains. At the start of the period they already had cisterns, benches, large storage pithoi and grinding installations.  Gaming stones, cylinder seals, silver bowls and elaborate bronze objects such as wheeled stands were made. 

Burials in urban areas were now beside, or even in the courtyards of houses, though in the country extramural cemeteries continued. Most tombs continued to be rock-cut but a few Corbelled rectangular tombs and Tholos type tombs were created.  Collective burial diminished, though two stage burial probably continued. Many funerals must have been spectacular with very rich grave goods.

Pottery from this period became more diverse in type but the forms became generally more standardised.  It was mass produced in a few sites, mostly by men, and was traded across the island.  By contrast, Middle Bronze Age ceramics had been locally made in inventive local styles, perhaps mostly by women.  Wheelmade pottery was still the exception, unlike on the continent. Although some wheel made wares were produced, especially in Late Cypriot III, the dominant Base Ring and White Slip wares were still handmade. The earlier limited trade with Minoan Crete was dwarfed by a flood of Mycenaean pottery found in many high status tombs.


Late Cypriot III : 1200 -1050 BC

 Historically this was a period of major disaster and collapse regionally, with immigration and consequent change, culturally, socially, politically and artistically. However, compared to other regional powers Cyprus remained relatively stable until 1100 BC.

Attacks came from "sea peoples", who may have been the same Achaeans who created new settlements along the Cypriot coast in this period.  Many of the major civilizations collapsed or were severely damaged. Mycenaean Greece, the Ugarit and Hittite empires disappeared (the latter already weakened by war with the Assyrians). Egypt was severely stressed. Epidemics and famines from climate change may have been factors. 

In Cyprus there was great variation in how settlements and cities fared. Cypriot coastal cities, including Enkomi, Sinda and Kition, were destroyed, some by earthquakes and subsequently rebuilt. Though these towns never quite reached their old level this was still a prosperous period, and the 13th and 12th centuries BC were the high-point of copper production, clearing more of the remaining forests for fuel.  Several other ports were abandoned with no sign of destruction and this may reflect the huge dip in trade with the destroyed or reduced civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean and the subsequent failure of some interdependent mining and farming communities serving ports.  Despite the abandonment of many settlements others were created to suit the new realities, and a few such as Palaepaphos and Hala Sultan Teke not only continued but had a golden period (though the latter, like Enkomi, was later abandoned due to its harbour silting up). 

Waves of refugees, including craftsmen and potters came from Greece, and aspects of Mycenaean civilisation, which had disappeared in Greece, were developed in Cyprus.  Ethnic Greeks gained more influence and Mycenaean artistic and political styles were copied and blended with local traditions, which lead, in the Geometric period, to the  division of the country into Mycenaean style city kingdoms. 

Burial methods changed from rock-cut tombs with a dromos to shaft graves and iron started to be made in this period. Halls with a hearth appeared, imitating the Mycenaean Megaron. Indeed the Late Cypriot IIIB (1125 - 1050 BC) is called the Sub-Mycenaean period, and sometimes now considered part of the Iron Age.  In ceramics, Base Ring and White Slip wares, which had dominated for so long, were replaced by Proto White Painted wares showing Mycenaean influence. Most pottery was now wheelmade. 

With the crash in foreign trade and consequent shortage of tin to make bronze, combined with lack of wood for smelting, many copper mines closed.

There is much evidence of a slump in population at the end of the Bronze Age which may relate not only to conflict but to the scarcity of metal for making ploughs and tools.  In addition the deforested landscape had much of its thin topsoil washed away and the silt made several of the old harbours unusable. Foreign trade, which had already ended with the Aegean, almost ceased, and did not revive until well into the Geometric period largely through the contacts of the new Phoenician settlers.

Around 1050BC huge earthquakes destroyed or badly damaged most towns and settlements and many were never rebuilt.  All the major sites from the height of the Bronze Age had now been abandoned.

Early Iron Age: Cypro-Geometric Period 1050 - 750 BC

Around 1050 BC huge earth-quakes destroyed most of the recently rebuilt towns and new ones were founded.  Most had harbours.  Of the old ones only Palaepaphos and Kition survived.  Ruined Enkomi’s harbour had silted up so Salamis was founded on the new coast a few miles away. The 11th century was a dark period for Cyprus, with attacks on her coast and the collapse of foreign trade. The population decreased, perhaps partly due to a shortage of metal. (Bronze making required imported tin).  Greece had already entered an illiterate dark age, but the Mediterranean-wide crisis that ended most bronze age states ironically affected Cyprus less because it was less centralised.  From the copper sources in the foothills of the Troodos mountains, farming lands radiated in all directions to ports which became the centres for the formation of new city kingdoms in the Mycenaean manner. Although almost all trade had stopped, the regions could start to develop alternative trading partners, particularly to the West (Crete, Italy, Sardinia). There was a movement towards the coast.

Contact with the Levantine coast never completely stopped, and gradually trade resumed: these included ceramic exports to the East and luxury metalwork to Crete.  Contact with the Aegean returned, and from the 9th century Phoenicians were bringing Cyprus into their wider networks. 

Copper production picked up, along, slowly, with exports (though the standard large oxhide shaped ingots had disappeared).  Elaborate bronze tripods and 4 sided stands were produced, along with bronze and Silver bowls. There were also large roasting spits in the Mycenaean warrior tradition. However, from the start of the 11th century BC the Cypriot coastal settlements had also became centres for the pioneering development of Iron technology. Knives with iron blades became an important export to Syria, the Levant, Anatolia and the Aegean.  The earliest iron objects found in Greece originated in Cyprus.

The waves of Greek settlers in the 12th and 11th centuries BC had brought Greek culture and widespread use of the Greek language, but these people were not invaders or colonists.  They inserted themselves into a living culture and an amalgam formed which was unified and distinct.  The same thing happened later with the Phoenician settlers in Kition, though their kingdom paid tribute to the Phoenician kings ofTyre.

Arcado-Cypriot Greek existed alongside the old Eteocypriot language of the Bronze Age, though both were written in the Cypriot syllabary, descended from Linear A.  The Greek alphabet did not come into wide use till the Classical period.

Gradually through the Early Iron Age ethnic Greeks came to dominate Cyprus’s elite, and a very stratified society formed, with palaces and large houses, but the process is obscure. The new elites were warrior elites.  Most of the new towns and settlements persisted for very long historic periods and were constantly rebuilt on the same sites.  Consequently Archaeologists find few remains of buildings from the Geometric and Archaic periods. 

Vast extramural cemeteries appeared which were used for centuries,  including Mycenaean type chamber tombs with a long dromos, and a few warrior graves in monumental built tombs.  However there were only a few cremations for exceptional individuals, perhaps with Aegean affiliations. 

By 850BC, ambitious cut-stone temple buildings to the Phoenician goddess Astarte were being built at Kition (Larnaca) and Palace-like houses were being built, probably influenced by the Mycenaean Megaron, but even the finest dwellings were still plastered mud-brick on a stone base. 

Now and especially in the Archaic period there was a multiplication of country shrines, particularly at the frontiers between the kingdoms, (where Kings and their families left life size votive sculptures.) where people from all around left votive figurines and other offerings.

Pottery was all wheel-made and consisted of White Painted and Bichrome wares, as well as a plain white ware, and a less common, ribbed, Black Slip Ware continued from the end of the Bronze Age. There were elements of a common ceramic style with the Levant, and the important Black on Red Ware, starting in the 9th century, was once though to come from there.  However it is now recognised as a Cypriot product, widely exported to the Levant, Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor, the Aegean and Crete, and much imitated. (This Geometric III period also brought three minor wares: Red Slip and Grey, and Black Polished.)  The shapes and decorations were fairly standard and mass produced, ranging from huge amphorae to tiny perfume bottles.  Levantine flasks and globular jug shapes were adopted, and influences from Greece are also discernible. Plates and large dishes were made for the first time.  Figurines of a goddess with raised arms were copied from Crete.

Near the end of the Geometric period, in the first half of the 8th century BC, there was a sharp increase in numbers of settlements, ranging from large fortified urban centres down to numerous small rural ones, and many of the imported and home produced luxuries characteristic of the Archaic were already present. 

Early Iron Age: Cypro-Archaic period 750 - 475 BC

In the Archaic period Cyprus achieved another great period of prosperity and productivity.  Populations and literacy increased, along with monumental architecture and a ruling class who indulged in luxury and ostentation.

From now on we have direct, translated written records, and dates can be much more precise.  Earlier dates were inferred from linked finds in other countries, and the stratification of archaeology.  

Late in the 8th century BC the expansion of the Assyrian empire had swept west as far as the Phoenician, coast and in 707 BC Sargon II set up a stele in Kition recording the submission of seven Cypriot kings.  Before this Shilta, the Phoenician king of Tyre, had asked the Assyrians for help in suppressing a rebellion of his subjects in Cyprus who were withholding their tribute (Kition?). Until recently these two inscriptions were taken to mean that Cyprus was invaded and conquered, but the Assyrian records show that in 707BC Cypriot leaders (presumably fearing attack and wanting access to the vast trade the Assyrians controlled) jointly went to Sargon II in Babylon, offering gifts and allegiance.  In consequence the Cypriot city kingdoms were probably never attacked and did not become vassal states.  Instead they became client kingdoms and the resultant trade brought the island great wealth. Evidence of these riches can be seen in monumental architecture and magnificent burial gifts, such as wood and ivory Phoenician furniture, and horses drawn chariots and hearses with the animals sacrificed beside them.

In the 672/3 BC the Assyrian Esarhaddon’s prism named 10 Cypriot kings and their kingdoms (out of  the 12 which existed at various times). These latter were identified as Idalion, Chytroi, Salamis, Paphos, Soloi, Kourion, Tamassos, Ledra, “Quardihadasti” (possibly Amathous or Kition) and “Nuria” (Amathous or Marion)  Half the kings had Greek names.  Lapethos probably became a kingdom later (it issued coins around 500BC but the town has not been found.)  Of these Salamis and Kition vied to be the most important.  After Ashurbanipal (669-631) Cyprus is not mentioned in Assyrian records.

Herodotus the Greek historian, in the last sentence of book 2 of his Histories wrote "Amasis" (Ahmose II of Egypt in perhaps 570BC) "was also the first man to seize Cyprus and compel it to pay tribute." but there is no other evidence for this and many historians now tend to discount it.  Certainly the important influence of Egyptian iconography and style on Cyprus long predates this, ranging from palmate decoration and stylistic features of sculpture, but most of all the iconography of the goddess Hathor who had become a protectress of mining, and was perhaps identified with the ancient Great Goddess of Cyprus, worshiped at Paphos.

Between about 560 BC and his death in 530 the Persians under Cyrus the Great conquered almost all the kingdoms of the Middle East.  Around 545 or possibly 530 BC Cyprus submitted to the Persians, probably without a military conquest. Following their usual practice the latter left the Cypriot local kings in place. In 525 Cyprus contributed ships to the conquest of Egypt by Cyrus’s successor, Cambyses II .  In 498 BC several Cypriot kings joined the Ionian revolt against the Persians but were crushed in a  battle where the forces from Kourion changed sides, followed by the Salamian chariots. In the sieges which followed Salamis was spared and Soloi the last to fall in 497. Subsequently Cypriot forces aided the Persians against the Phoenicians and Miletus.  Persian rule favoured kingdoms with harbour facilities and gradually all the inland kingdoms lost their autonomy, starting with Tamassos. Only Idalion survived beyond the Ionian revolt.

Around 530/520 BC, Evelthon, the Wanax (king) of Salamis issued the first Cypriot coinage at the old Lydian weights, followed shortly afterwards by Paphos and then Idalion and, by the middle of the 5th century, most of the remaining independent Kingdoms.  Most inscriptions used the Cypriot syllabary  (used to write both Cypro-Arcadian Greek and the old Eteocypriot language), though the early coins of Kition, Lapethos and Amathous had inscriptions in the Phoenician alphabet. This was before Tyre and Byblos, in Phoenicia, minted their first coins.

The Persian rule was very light at first, but after the Ionian revolt these smooth relation ended.  Cyprus contributed men and ships to the Persian war against Greece 480-479BC. The Phoenicians, as dependable allies of the Persians gained influence, controlling 6 of the 10 old kingdoms, 3 of the kings being Phoenician. Around 450 BC Kition conquered Idalion, for a while taking over from Salamis as the dominant Cypriot kingdom in this transition to the Classical period.

During the Archaic period Cyprus flourished and traded widely.  Their wares show influence from the Phoenicians, Greeks and Egyptians, while Cypriot influence was felt abroad. Goods, including pottery was exported to the Aegean and Levant while materials such as precious metals were imported.

The Archaic urban centres were walled and contained the palace of a king, mansions of the upper echelons of society and progressively smaller and rougher housing through the merchants and artisans.  Houses were flat roofed, built of plastered mud brick walls on a stone base.  Essentially not so different from the Neolithic. Floors were usually lime cement, often plastered – only rarely stone, often in bathrooms  The innovations were mostly in the detail of grander buildings, such as palmette ornament, and Proto Aeolic and Hathor-headed capitols.  Palaces contained both sanctuaries and industrial and storage areas, continuing the link between metal production and religion seen in Late Bronze Age Enkomi.  Only small fragments of the pre-Hellenistic Palaces remain, the chief being part of a Geometric III palace at Amathous, the outlying but complete palace, from the late Archaic / early classical, at Vouni and parts of a similarly dated palace at Idalion. Vouni’s Archaic palace has an outer and inner court perhaps blend influences from the Mycenaean Megaron with Eastern prototypes.  “The kings used the title of Basileus in inscriptions: a Greek term (originally meaning a provincial manager) which in Cyprus came to represent the king’s undivided secular and sacred authority. 

The chief pottery styles continued from the Geometric period, but show new decoration and shapes from the East.  The West coast particularly favoured Geometric decoration, featuring concentric circles, while the East favoured figurative, floral or animal designs (occasionally introducing the human figure).  Plain white or Red slip vessels show Phoenician influence from Kition. Plain white amphorae were used to transport commodities. 

Many, usually quite crude, pottery figurines exist from this period, some depicting everyday life.  Most were votive offerings from country shrines. (see below). There is also much finer terracotta and stone sculpture which relates to Assyrian and Egyptian and Archaic Greek styles, often with protruding almond shaped eyes.  Cyprus has no marble and stone sculpture was carved from limestone which cannot accept the level of finish and detail which marble allows. 

Bread continued to be baked and wine and beer to be drunk. Foods remains found or known from depictions included fish, octopus, molluscs, birds, snails, eggs, fruit, cereals, lentils, olives, figs, almonds, dates, herbs, as well as the meat of oxen, sheep, pigs, wild boar, goats, deer, moufflon and perhaps gazelle.  Meat and fish were preserved in fat and salt respectively and the rich roasted meat on long bronze skewers, derived from Mycenaean warrior prototypes.  Terracotta models and paintings on vases depict cereals being ground, bread and cakes being baked and carried, fruit gathered, grapes trodden, fish being caught in a net and animals hunted with bows and arrows or spears, men carrying wine jars on their shoulders and women carrying water in amphorae on their heads.  Sacred dances are being danced, harps, lyres, double flutes, bronze cymbals and tambourines being played, women giving birth, attended by midwives,  baths taken, feasts eaten by figures on couches and in (possibly sacred) gardens, scribes writing, warriors on foot or on horses or chariots brandish weapons, sailors go to sea, animal sacrifices and votive offerings are made to divinities, the Egyptian board games of Senet and Mehen were played.

There was fine furniture and a multitude of small containers for perfumes and unguents, in terracotta, glass, alabaster, faience; bronze mirrors, tweezers razors and the other accoutrements for cosmetics. Intricate jewellery, rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and clothing and hairstyles influenced by the East and the Aegean.

Cypro-Classical (475 - 323 BC) & Hellenistic (323 - 58 BC)

The Persians occupied Cyprus in about 525BC as part of their 5th Satrapy. Cyprus contributed men and ships to the Persian war against Greece 480-479BC. The Phoenicians in Cyprus, as allies of the Persians gained influence. Kition (a Phoenician colony since at least the 8th Century BC) conquered Idalion around 450 BC.  Eventually controlling 6 of the 10 kingdoms, with 3 of the kings being Phoenician. They introduced their deities to Cyprus, many of them corresponding to existing Greek deities (for example Astarte/Aphrodite).  However at the start of the 4th century Evagoras took control of most of the island and tried to gain independence from Persia but failed.   Cypriots fought for independence several times, aided by the Greeks including a revolt in 350 BC which was crushed by Artaxerxes.   Finally Cyprus was liberated by Alexander the Great in 333BC after Cypriot kings supported him in the siege of Tyre.

Cyprus was cut off from trade with Greece till late in the 5th century, after which Greek intellectuals and artist moved between the two countries, influencing Cypriot art, particularly Sculpture which flourished, and jewellery. Large quantities of Greek-style pottery have been found.

The death of Alexander in 323BC marks the start off the Hellenic period.  His empire (and Cyprus) was fought over by his followers. 4 Cypriot kings supported Ptolemy I (one of Alexander's generals ruling Egypt) against Antigonos. Ptolomy lost control of Cyprus in 306 and 294 BC but thereafter Ptolomaic Egypt ruled Cyprus through officials in Paphos, abolishing the Cypriot kingdoms. Greek was the dominant language, though the Etocypriot language was still spoken, dying out in the 3rd century.  Hellenistic art and culture came to dominate Cyprus and Phoenician and native Cypriot characteristics disappeared, along with the Cypriot syllabic script. Number of new cities were founded.   In 58 BC the island was annexed by Rome. Mark Antony gave Cyprus to Cleopatra VII of Egypt and her sister Arsenoe IV, but after his defeat at Actium it became a Roman province again in 30BC, and remained so till the division of the Empire into East and West, Cyprus belonging to East.

Although I have a few coins from Classical I (ie before 400BC), and a couple of other Classical/Hellenic pieces, my collection basically ends with the Archaic period.  During the Bronze Age Cypriot art was distinctive.  In the Archaic many influences blended to continue a recognisible Cypriot style, but following this Cypriot wares were more and more provincial copies of products of the empires which dominated them.  However the history of Cyprus since has been rich and complex and I invite you to find it out for yourself. 

58 BC - 2021 AD

Until modern times Cyprus continued to be ruled by more powerful neighbours: after the Persians in the Classical Period, and Ptolomaic Egypt in the Hellenistic period, they were ruled successively by the Romans, the Byzantines (including briefly Arab/ Bizantine co-rule) and later still crusader Franks (Lusignans), Venetians, Turks and finally the British. They finally became independent in 1960, but Partition into a Turkish North and Greek South followed the Turkish invasion of north Cyprus in 1974.