Geometric and Archaic Cyprus

  • Bowl with handles terminating in lotuses
    74.51.5673
  • Bowl
    74.51.4554
  • Glass alabastron
    74.51.312
  • Statue of a priest
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  • Head of a man
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  • Sarcophagus
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  • Lentoid flask
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Essay

The most important development on Cyprus between about 1200 and 1050 B.C. was the arrival of successive waves of immigrants from the Greek mainland. These newcomers brought with them, and perpetuated, Mycenaean customs of burial, dress, pottery, production, and warfare. At this time, Achaean immigrants introduced Greek to Cyprus. An Achaean society, politically dominant by the eleventh century B.C., most likely created the independent kingdoms ruled by wanaktes, or kings, on the island. The Greeks progressively gained control of major communities, such as Salamis, Kition, Lapithos, Palaeopaphos, and Soli. In the mid-eleventh century B.C., the Phoenicians occupied Kition on the southern coast of Cyprus. Their interest in Cyprus derived mainly from the island’s rich copper mines and its forests, which provided an abundant source of timber for shipbuilding. At the end of the ninth century B.C., the Phoenicians established a cult for their goddess Astarte in a monumental temple at Kition.

A stele found at Kition reports the submission of the Cypriot kings to Assyria in 709 B.C. Under Assyrian domination, the kingdoms of Cyprus flourished and Cypriot kings enjoyed some independence as long as they regularly paid tribute to the Assyrian king. A seventh-century B.C. inscription records that there were ten kings of Cyprus who ruled over ten separate kingdoms. Some of these kings had Greek names, others had names of Semitic origin, testifying to the ethnic diversity of Cyprus in the first half of the first millennium B.C. Royal tombs at Salamis suggest both the wealth and foreign connections of these rulers in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.

In the sixth century B.C., Egypt, under King Ahmose II, took control of Cyprus. Although the Cypriot kingdoms continued to manage relative independence, a significant increase of Egyptian motifs in Cypriot works of art from this period reflects the intensification of Egyptian influence. Elements such as the head of Hathor appeared in quantity for the first time, especially at Amathus.

In 545 B.C., under Cyrus the Great (r. ca. 559–530 B.C.), the Persian empire conquered Cyprus. The new rulers, however, did not interfere with established Cypriot institutions and religious practices. Cypriot troops participated in Persian military campaigns, the independent kingdoms paid the customary tribute, and Salamis ranked as the foremost kingdom. By the late sixth century B.C., Persian control over Cyprus tightened, so that by the beginning of the fifth century B.C. the island was an integral part of the Persian empire.

Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2004

Citation

Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Geometric and Archaic Cyprus.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/gcyp/hd_gcyp.htm (October 2004)

Further Reading

Bonfante, Larissa, and Vassos Karageorghis, eds. Italy and Cyprus in Antiquity, 1500–450 B.C. Nicosia: Costakis and Leto Severis Foundation, 2001.

Hornblower, Simon, and Antony Spawforth, eds. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3d ed., rev. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Karageorghis, Vassos, and Nikolaos Stampolidis. Eastern Mediterranean: Cyprus, Dodecanese, Crete, 16th–6th century B.C. Athens: University of Crete / A. G. Leventis Foundation, 1998.

Karageorghis, Vassos, in collaboration with Joan R. Mertens and Marice E. Rose. Ancient Art from Cyprus: The Cesnola Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. See on MetPublications

Meyers, Eric M., ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East. 5 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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