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Mediterranean Urbanization 800-600 BC$

Robin Osborne and Barry Cunliffe

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780197263259

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197263259.001.0001

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The Early Iron Age Urban Forms of Cyprus

The Early Iron Age Urban Forms of Cyprus

(p.17) 2 The Early Iron Age Urban Forms of Cyprus
Mediterranean Urbanization 800-600 BC

Maria Iacovou

British Academy

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the local conditions, traditions, and forms of urban settlement in Cyprus during the Iron Age. It explains that almost to the very end of the Middle Bronze Age, Cyprus had remained a closed rural society, though it was by then completely surrounded by Mediterranean urban states and it was only by 1100 BC that new social and economic structures started to dictate the establishment and development of new population and power centers. The archaeological evidence of 800–600 BC stands testimony to the culmination of a long process of social evolution and urbanization.

Keywords:   urban settlement, Cyprus, Iron Age, rural society, urban states, Mediterranean, social evolution, urbanization


THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR held at the University of Copenhagen in 1994, published as Urbanization in the Mediterranean in the Ninth to Sixth Centuries BC (Damgaard Andersen et al. 1997b, 14), are a treasure trove of refreshing opinions and inspiring concepts. The contributions targeted issues beyond the restricting and restricted treatment of urbanization as a process that (so often) is considered synonymous with the formation of the Greek polis. In acknowledgement, the editors in their summary evaluation (Damgaard Andersen et al. 1997a, 9–15) rose to the challenge and avoided ‘universalist’ positions: they were wise to admit that it was not possible to reach one all-encompassing definition of the term urbanization. Two of their conclusions fit particularly well my approach to the case of Cyprus: the need for a pluralistic approach to the study of the Mediterranean cultures; and the impossibility of defining laws of urbanization, since it is not necessarily a linear evolutionary process. Urbanization, they stress, may take a variety of forms through different processes determined by local conditions and traditions (my emphasis).

In the absence, therefore, of a predetermined, universal set of criteria by which to define the degree of urbanization of the Cypriote or for that matter any other environment in the Iron Age, I propose to follow a circuitous and certainly longer route that is meant to expose the particular local conditions and traditions of Cyprus. My argument will begin in the Late Bronze Age because the Iron Age urban episode was certainly not the island’s first. It is imperative to acknowledge what the original urban episode in the Late Cypriote Age was all about before we can follow the thread from the thirteenth century—that saw the climax of Late Cypriote urbanism—to the eighth and the seventh centuries. First, we cannot afford to remain ignorant (p.18) or unaware of what the discipline of archaeology has defined as the urban forms of the Cypriote Bronze Age; especially since this definition enjoys widespread and unequivocal acceptance. Second, we should consider the extent of the similarity between Iron Age urbanization and the urban structure of the Cypriote Bronze Age: did the former inherit vital characteristics from an older tradition?

The First Urban Episode

The Early Iron Age Urban Forms of Cyprus

Figure 2.1. Map showing sites mentioned in the text.

Almost to the very end of the Middle Bronze Age (1600 BC) Cyprus had remained a closed rural society, though it was by then completely surrounded by Mediterranean urban states (Coleman et al. 1996, xi–xii). Around the middle of the second millennium (Coleman 1992, 287), at the end of the long and seemingly uneventful Early and Middle Cypriote periods, a number of settlements began to acquire monumental enhancement with secular and sacred architecture closely associated with skilled products in metalwork, use of seals and, randomly, of a script peculiar to the island (Smith 2002). This is the kind of evidence that points to the development of the island’s first complex society (Webb 1999, 3–8 for references). Comparison with the smaller island of Crete, where state formation and urbanization are manifested in the archaeological material at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age, is particularly disconcerting. In an east Mediterranean context Cypriote urbanization was certainly a belated event. There is reliable evidence that the Cypriotes had developed technological expertise regarding the extraction and production of good quality copper quite early in the Bronze Age (Knapp (p.19) 1992, 58; recently, Frankel and Webb 2001, 35 ‘casting moulds’, 41 ‘the oldest evidence for the production and distribution of Cypriot copper’). The fact that up to the end of the Middle Cypriote period they had failed to connect with the Mediterranean’s state-controlled markets points to the absence of a central authority that would have organized a canonical production and export of the island’s precious metallic resource. Unlike Minoan Crete, state formation in Cyprus did not emerge out of the need to collect and redistribute agricultural surpluses; it was directly related to the export trade of copper, a heavy-industry product (Muhly 1996, 47; Peltenburg 1996, 21–2). In fact, the belated phenomenon in Cyprus was not urbanization per se but rather state formation.

Around 1600, the evidence suggests that an archaic state began to operate from Enkomi (Muhly 1989) by the east coast, where an industrial installation, located within an official building complex (Keswani 1993, 76), refined copper (Peltenburg 1996, 27).1 Not surprisingly, the earliest evidence of the Cypro-Minoan script is on a fragmentary tablet from Enkomi’s metallurgical quarter (Dikaios 1971, 882, pl. 315: 10). During the ensuing 300 years (1600–1300) the island was gradually transformed into what we can finally define as Cyprus’s own urban culture. We may therefore conclude that it was the connection with the centralized economies of the empires and palatial states of the Mediterranean that triggered the urban process (Webb 1999, 3). Clearly, however, state formation had to come first for the island’s ‘copper-producing polities’ to manage on a large scale a labour-intensive and complex operation that required official supervision and administration (Keswani 1993, 76; Webb 2002, 111). Consequently, the first urban episode is a gradual process that follows and depends upon state formation. It is therefore after 1600 that urban characteristics and urban attitudes are gradually dispersed outside the first state of Enkomi (towards secondary and tertiary sites) and are made manifest (archaeologically visible) in the material record a couple (p.20) of centuries later, as a rule in the fourteenth and yet more so in the thirteenth century. By that time we have reason to suspect that state authority may have been claimed and was shared by more than one settlement (Muhly 1989, 303; Knapp 1997, 66).

The urban traits result from an affluence and an economic dynamism that could not have been achieved by the members of the Cypriote hierarchies in the absence of an international products-exchange system, controlled by centralized states from where luxury imports, status symbols and élite markers (such as horns of consecration and stepped capitals; Webb 1999, 295) reached Cyprus. Furthermore, a whole range of Late Cypriote settlements are characterized, with an overwhelming consensus, as urban, though administrative archives have never been found in association with any of the known monumental (sacred or secular) edifices that could have fulfilled the role of administration centres. All these traits, therefore, constitute the island’s own tradition regarding state formation and urbanization.

Urban Interruption

The Late Cypriote urban episode turned out to be not only belated, but a short-lived affair (Keswani 1989, 71). The socio-political and institutional complexity of the Mediterranean states, namely the agents that had literally forced its development in the first place, was brought to an end during the crisis that swept through the Mediterranean towards the end of the thirteenth century (Ward and Joukowsky 1992). The urban civilization of Cyprus deteriorated when external disruptions, that is, the shattering of the political and economic order represented by the Mediterranean empires and palace societies, caused internal instabilities (Keswani 1989, 70), as is suggested by the abandonment (I stress abandonment and not violent destruction, as is often erroneously stated or assumed) of numerous primary settlements that had recently acquired monumental urban characteristics (Knapp 1997, 54)—for example Kalavassos-Ayios Dhimitrios (South 1989, 322), Alassa-Paliotaverna (Hadjisavvas 1989, 41).

Thus, it seems that Late Bronze Age Cyprus was not given the stretch of time necessary to acquire a tenacious tradition (as in Minoan Crete) in either statehood or urbanism; in the longer run, it might even have developed palatial characteristics with state archives and a bureaucratic administration (as in the neighbouring state of Ugarit). Instead, the urbanization episode was interrupted half way through. Some would claim that this was not all that bad: ‘Cyprus at the close of the Bronze Age had very much less to lose than, say, the Aegean’ where an economy centred on palaces existed, writes Snodgrass, adding that ‘we may not be able to read the written documents from Bronze Age Cyprus, but we know what they are not: (p.21) they are not the inventories and transaction-records of a centralized bureaucracy’ (Snodgrass 1994, 172). Whatever it was that eventually went wrong in the post-palatial environment of twelfth-century Mycenaean Greece, it led to the urban-less environment of the eleventh century. The Greek world was to remain stateless and illiterate for centuries—recently, Muhly offered a balanced assessment of this ‘special sort of collapse’ (2003, 24). When it did overcome this long crisis, its newly acquired alphabetic literacy had no relation to Linear B and its new state formation, the polis, none with the palace society of the Mycenaeans (Snodgrass 1987, 182).

Whatever happened in Cyprus in the twelfth century, the crisis did not have a lasting effect: the Bronze Age topography of settlements, and its associated social and cultural geography, were gone, but a few of its very hardwon urban traits were put to new use: the eleventh century in Cyprus was no less important for what it preserved ‘of that old order’ (Snodgrass 1994, 173). Eventually, in Cyprus the gains appear to outnumber the losses as far as the dramatic transition to a Mediterranean Iron Age is concerned.

Gains, Continuities and Novelties

Far from being lost, literacy was retained throughout the Early Iron Age by means of the prehistoric script that was now employed for two very different languages: Greek and also the so-called ‘Eteocypriote’ (Masson 1983, 85–7). Moreover, this Iron Age Cypriote syllabary defied the alphabet, first the Phoenician and later even the Greek (Iacovou 2001, 90–1), and lived longer than the new Iron Age polities of Cyprus were to last: it died out, or rather was killed off during the Hellenistic period (Bazemore 2002, 156, 158), after the city-kingdoms were abolished by Ptolemy I at the end of the fourth century (Stylianou 1989, 490).

The architectural monumentality of the Late Cypriote era did not all become simply a memory of the past, as it did in Greece: Kition and Palaipaphos, two Late Cypriote settlements that had remained inconspicuous until the thirteenth century, acquired, during the transition to the twelfth century, sanctuaries of unparalleled monumentality. This development, along with other constituent characteristics, renders the two sites urban at the time (LC IIC/IIIA) when a whole range of Late Cypriote urban settlements were being abandoned. The size, scale and complexity of the cult buildings erected at Kition and Palaipaphos ‘suggest the existence of strong centralised authority’ (Webb 1999, 292). The two impressive sanctuaries were not abandoned in the twelfth century. To the end of the age of the kingdoms they stood as the only visible monumental survivors of the transition to the first millennium (Iacovou 2005).

(p.22) If the two sanctuaries continued to fulfil something of their original role, which in the case of the Cypriote sanctuaries is linked to the authority that controls an economy traditionally based on the production and exchange of metal resources, then state authority may not have been altogether lacking in the eleventh century (the inception of the Early Iron Age in Cyprus should be assigned to LC IIIB; Iacovou 2001, 86–7). This hypothesis is strengthened by another continuity: the archaeological record leaves little doubt as to the fact that copper was produced in Cyprus both during and after the twelfth century (Muhly 1989, 310). The closure of a series of urban settlements in the late thirteenth century did not bring the production of copper to a standstill.

In relation to the above-mentioned factors, there are also novelties in the general picture that require consideration: besides the introduction of a Mycenaean-related antique version of the Greek language (Chadwick 1975, 811; Iacovou 1999a, 11), for which the earliest evidence occurs late in the eleventh century inscribed in the island’s syllabary (Masson and Masson 1983, 411–15; Palaima 1991, 451–4), there is the story of iron. Utilitarian iron had made a rather surprising appearance in twelfth-century Cyprus (Sherratt 1994; Muhly 1996). In the course of the eleventh century, Cyprus appears to have standardized and industrialized the production of iron alongside that of copper (Pickles and Peltenburg 1998; Sherratt 2000).2

Settlement History

Notwithstanding this generously positive state of events—in particular with respect to metallurgical innovations leading to the production of iron—the second half of the twelfth century is marked by further episodes of urban deterioration. Kition and Palaipaphos aside, we seem to run out of archaeologically visible urban places for people to live. Even Enkomi and Hala Sultan Tekke—the two longue durée Late Cypriote urban sites that had been founded in the sixteenth century (Lagarce 1993, 91; Aström 1985, 174; 1986)—were being abandoned. Enkomi was being replaced by Salamis, while the closure of Hala Sultan Tekke must be considered responsible for the growth of Kition and the latter’s successful passage into the Iron Age. The twelfth century was not a horizon of new establishments, at least not of successful ones, as Pyla-Kokkinokremos (Karageorghis and Demas 1984) and Maa-Palaeokastro (Karageorghis and Demas 1988), founded on rough and waterless terrain during the transition from the thirteenth to the twelfth century, (p.23) would suggest: they were both abandoned after a very short time, before the twelfth century had expired. The abandonment of these two short-lived settlements (refuge sites?) aggravates the picture of demographic distress so apparent in the twelfth century but it also signifies the climax of the crisis which is not continued in the Early Iron Age. With one notable exception, the evident discontinuity in the use of a new eleventh-century burial site at Gastria-Alaas (Karageorghis 1975), we do not observe in Early Iron Age Cyprus human resources wasted in the establishment of short-lived, failing settlements (Iacovou 1999b, 147). This is another extremely relevant contrast (relevant as regards state formation and urbanization) to the contemporary situation in Greece where after the twelfth century, and for as long as three centuries, there was an unnaturally high failure factor in the establishment of new settlements. There was ‘a remarkable discontinuity in occupation between what appear to be some of the most prominent settlement sites of the Early Iron Age and those of the ensuing period’ (Snodgrass 1987,173; see further Chapter 1 (Osborne) ). This sharp division between Early Iron Age and Archaic settlement distribution in Greece is not observed in Cyprus where sites founded in the eleventh and tenth centuries of the Cypro-Geometric period became the established urban polities in the Cypro-Archaic (for the traditional absolute dates of the subdivisions of the Cypriote Iron Age, see Karageorghis 1982, 9: Table A). If we scorn the historicity of this successful island-wide redefinition of urban nuclei, or if we negate it in the name of the equally real ‘continuities’ enumerated above, we will be adopting a distorting short-term view that will hinder us from grasping the Iron Age urban episode of Cyprus.

Iron Age Settlement Longevity

‘By 1100 BC, however, the settlement patterns and systems of political organization that characterized the Bronze Age had come to an end, as new social and economic structures dictated the establishment and development of new population and power centers on Iron Age Cyprus’ (Knapp 1997, 69). The new settlements that were to become the population and power centres, that is, the urban kingdoms of Iron Age Cyprus, were established in the course of the eleventh and the tenth centuries; not later (Iacovou 1994, 160). The process and the chronology of the foundation of the Cypriote polities is therefore radically different from the Greek: in Greece it is the eighth and seventh centuries that are associated with the establishment of major Archaic sites (Snodgrass 1987, 173, 189; 1993, 36). In Cyprus, no time after the eleventh and the tenth centuries is more decisive for the island’s political development during the first millennium BC: it is the settlements established during this early phase of the Cypro-Geometric period (p.24) that developed into the island’s Iron Age territorial states by the end of the eighth century.

Visibility Problem and Urbanization

The settlements that early in the Cypro-Archaic period are defined as kingdoms in a list of ten inscribed on a prism (of 673/2 BC) of the Assyrian king Esarhaddon are the prime candidates for Iron Age urban centres: they are, by their name and by the name of their king, Ekistura of Edial (Idalion), Pilagura of Kitrusi (Chytroi), Kisu of Sillua (Salamis), Ituandar of Pappa (Paphos), Eresu of Sillu (Soloi), Damasu of Kuri (Kourion), Admesu of Tamesu (Tamassos), Damusi of Kartihadasti (Kition?), Unasagusu of Lidir (Ledra), Bususu of Nure (Amathous?) (see Reyes 1994, 160: Table 2). Archaeologically, we can approach no more than six kingdoms where substantial projects have taken place: Kition, Paphos, Idalion and Salamis, Amathous and Kourion. The first three had long-term occupation ‘histories’ that extended back into the thirteenth century; the second three (Salamis, Amathous, Kourion) were already at least three hundred years old in 707 BC, the date of the kingdoms’ subjection to Sargon II (Stylianou 1989, 384; Reyes 1994, 52), and they were destined to live on to the end of antiquity and beyond.

Admittedly, archaeological evidence is limited as regards the first half of the first millennium BC. The sheer longevity of these settlements is responsible for the contamination or thorough eradication of Early Iron Age strata (Iacovou 1994, 150); this, combined with the fact that to this day no excavation project has been planned explicitly with the aim of recording the kingdoms’ Geometric phase (Iacovou 2002a, 75, 85), leaves us to deal with a scatter of evidence fortuitously discovered during the excavation of monumental structures of late antiquity and with a great deal of mortuary evidence that is more often than not the result of salvage operations.3

(p.25) Salamis: une cité portuaire (Pouilloux 1980, 35)

If Enkomi, the primary urban state of Bronze Age Cyprus, can claim half a millennium of existence (c.1600–1100), its longevity is mediocre compared to the 1,800-year long endurance of its successor: founded in the eleventh century BC approximately 3 km. to the north-east of the walls of Enkomi, the urban metropolis of Iron Age Cyprus lasted until the seventh century AD (Yon 1993, 139).

One of the prime reasons that prompted the gradual abandonment of Salamis in late antiquity, and led to the subsequent growth of medieval Famagusta, less than 10 km. to the south, was almost certainly the same one that had caused the ultimate move away from Enkomi: the silting of their respective harbour facilities by alluvial deposits from the Pediaeos river estuary (Lagarce 1993, 91). Enkomi, Salamis, Famagusta are three successive establishments of the same port, serving as the easternmost port of call in the Mediterranean with the exception of those spread out from north to south on the continental coast of the Levant.

Besides changes to the contour of the shore from silting (Dalongeville and Sanlaville 1980, 19), the coastline of Salamis, and with it a considerable portion of its built environment, became submerged in antiquity (by almost two metres), probably due to a series of earthquakes (Flemming 1974; 1980, 49–50). It is more than likely that Salamis originated at the end of the Late Bronze Age, or, if not, then in the initial phase of the Early Iron Age (c.1100), as a settlement that served harbour facilities (Pouilloux 1980, 35). In fact, shortly before the violent disruption in 1974 (due to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus) of the long-term archaeological programme initiated by l’Institut Courby de l’Université de Lyon II in 1964, concrete evidence dating back to the settlement’s foundation in the eleventh century was located extremely close to the modern shoreline (Yon 1993, 141–2).

A city rampart of mud brick protected a settlement—a habitation quarter (known only from the bottom of an isolated deep sounding) and a sanctuary (cult area)—that was established at the beginning of the Cypro-Geometric period, namely in the eleventh century (Yon 1980b, 75–7; 1999a, 17–19). Furthermore, the Cypro-Geometric settlement’s contemporary burial ground was located outside the wall: it is marked by an exceptionally rich eleventh-century chamber tomb with a long dromos found as much as three metres below a house of the Roman period (Yon 1971, plans 3–5; 1980b, 77; 1993, 144).

The earliest architectural evidence from the newly established port site does not in any way recall either the formidable walls of Enkomi or its ashlarbuilt dwellings and sanctuaries. The tombs, excluding infant burials in jars found on the inner side of the rampart (Calvet 1980), are not found within (p.26) the settlement as they were at Enkomi (Lagarce 1993, 93) and all the other Late Cypriote urban centres. The earliest type of tomb recorded from Salamis’s first extra-mural necropolis is a novelty for the Cypriote mortuary pattern: the Aegean-type chamber-tomb with a dromos is not attested in Enkomi or in any other Late Cypriote site (Catling 1994, 134). Evidently, the move from Enkomi to Salamis at the chronological juncture of the eleventh century was more than just a convenient topographical manoeuvre: significant socio-cultural traits accompanied the foundation of Salamis that were not transferred from the old city; they must have originated with newcomers who had come from beyond the island (Iacovou 2005). Marguerite Yon claims that there is ‘architectural evidence for an organized settlement on the coast’ (Yon 1999a, 17) from the mid-eleventh century; furthermore, on the evidence of the road that ran along the inside of the defensive wall, she suggests that ‘a real urban organization already existed in the eleventh century’ (Yon 1999a, 18). A road-system and defensive walls, however, do not per se signify an urban system, unless they can be shown to serve urban functions (Damgaard Andersen et al. 1997a, 13). The excavated sample of the eleventhcentury Salaminian settlement is much too limited to give definitive answers to questions such as the degree of planning (especially city-planning) that the new site may have displayed as early as the primary horizon of its foundation. There is, however, evidence of other activities that may have been ‘planned by some kind of central authority that was concerned with the community as a whole’ (Snodgrass 1993, 30–1): communal religion is evident in the continuous use of an early cult place to a male deity that functioned from the eleventh century to the sixth century (Yon 1993, 144: fig. 4).

Industrialized craft production is represented, first and foremost, by the standardized but high-quality painted pottery of LC IIIB and CG I (Sherratt 1989, 193; Steel 1994); the production centres have yet to be identified as the development of the ware from Proto-White Painted to White Painted III is homogeneous throughout the island. The circulation of Early Iron Age Cypriote pottery in the Eastern Mediterranean is attested at Tel Dor as early as CG I (Gilboa 1999). More importantly, craft specialization is demonstrated by locally produced bronze and iron objects (Yon 1971, 7: nos 31–7). Longdistance trade is made evident in the ability to access and supply local craftsmen with imported raw materials, such as gold and silver (Yon 1971, 7: nos 1–30) and by the presence of imported pottery from the Levant (Bikai 1987a, 74). To judge from the known Early Iron Age cemeteries throughout Cyprus, the quantitative occurrence of bronze and iron objects, as well as of luxuries, increases steadily from the eleventh to the eighth centuries rather than suddenly after the eighth century. In the case of Salamis, the degree of prosperity achieved in the first three hundred years of the Iron Age can be exemplified in a comparison of the construction and the content of Salamis (p.27) T.I dugin the eleventh century (Yon 1971) and Salamis T.1 built in the second half of the eighth century (Dikaios 1963; Karageorghis 1969, 25–8; Christou 1996, 6: fig. 2; 183).

By the mid-eighth century (750 BC is the traditional absolute chronology for the end of the Cypro-Geometric period and the beginning of the Cypro-Archaic), the expansion of the settlement and the increase of the population of Salamis can be extrapolated from the fact that the burial ground had been pushed close to one kilometre west of its original eleventh-century location (Yon 1999a, 18). Demographic growth does not have to be the main force behind urbanization but it certainly counts as one of the forces.

The beginning of the Cypro-Archaic period in Salamis is marked by the construction of the first of the ‘royal tombs’. From the same period (c.725 BC) onwards, social stratification becomes intensely apparent: ordinary people were interred in plain rock-cut tombs with stepped dromoi that occupied the south-west sector of the necropolis (Karageorghis 1969, 99, 119, 150). They were segregated from the area of the built tombs of the Salaminian royalty.

The Iron Age built tombs of Salamis are no longer unique in Cyprus: Palaipaphos, Amathous, Kourion, Tamassos, Idalion, Kition, sites that lay a claim to the title of kingdom acquired such built tombs at some stage in the Cypro-Archaic or Cypro-Classical period (Christou 1996, xi). Yet the Salaminian tombs are by far the earliest and remain unsurpassed in splendour and size, and their intentional concentration in a designated area is unparalleled. Salamis therefore is the city that by 700 BC set the standard regarding ostentatious manifestations of statehood and royalty, and it is from then on that the other states in the island tried to emulate it.

Déjà vu

When Salamis assumed the role of Bronze Age Enkomi, it was, once again, the same area of the island that gave rise to the first state of the new era. The Early Iron Age state of Salamis was not born in the Cypro-Archaic period. Salaminian state authority reaches a climax with the construction of ‘royal’ tombs from before the end of the eighth century. I am using the term ‘state’ on purpose in order to put forward the idea that, as in the Late Cypriote period, state formation has to be seen as a necessary prerequisite to urbanization. What then is the factor that allows territorial authorities in ancient Cyprus to begin to develop archaeologically traceable urban manifestations? The answer should be sought in the first urban episode (as described above): it is an external impetus. In the Late Bronze Age they joined an international products-exchange system controlled by the Mediterranean centralized states; in the Iron Age they joined the one state-controlled market that was now in the hands of a new empire, that of Assyria. Following the collapse of (p.28) the Late Bronze Age empires at the end of the thirteenth century, superpowers disappeared from the Mediterranean scene for nearly three hundred years before the Neo-Assyrian kings, founders of the first empire of the Iron Age, reached as far west as the Levantine coast in the ninth century (Stylianou 1989, 379–82).

The Assyrians were a land-based empire; they never crossed the sea to reduce the island of Cyprus and leave behind a governor with a military force. Their way of treating regions compelled to join their provincial organization is known (see for instance Gitin 1997 on Tel Miqne-Ekron), and the evidence for such treatment is missing from Cyprus. The island was not incorporated into the provincial system of the Assyrian empire (Stylianou 1989, 386). In fact, if it were not for the royal stele of Sargon II (c.722–705) found in Kition-Larnaca, the material record, taken on its own, would not even begin to hint at a political relationship with Assyria (Yon and Malbran-Labat 1995). The inscription on the stele claims that Sargon II forced the ‘seven kings of Ia’ a district of Iatnana’ (Stylianou 1989, 382–3) to submit. Whether they were seven (a sacred number) or already ten as in the days of Esarhaddon a generation later (Stylianou 1989, 388), the lords that represented the regional authorities of the island at the end of the eighth century are defined as kings. Since by 710 BC all the lands east of the island had come under Assyrian rule (Stylianou 1989, 382; Baurain 1997, 125, 251, 256), if the Cypriote kings were to continue to profit from trading with the continent, they had to come to an agreement with the empire. They recognized Sargon as their overlord and became client kingdoms.

It is time to acknowledge that the anonymous Cypriote rulers who travelled to Babylon, carrying precious gifts, to kiss Sargon’s feet (Stylianou 1989, 382; Yon and Malbran-Labat 1995, 172), must have had the political authority to negotiate a treaty, and the prerogative to pledge allegiance to Sargon II and annual dues to the empire from their respective state resources (Iacovou 2002a, 84). The treaty with the Assyrian empire was the best economic deal the island’s kings could have ever signed; as a result the seats of their monarchies, their capital cities, were to be urbanized. From the seventh century on however, as happened at Salamis, the state’s manifestations, on the one hand, and urbanization, on the other, became intertwined in the archaeological record.


I have reasons to treat Amathous next, temporarily bypassing Kition. Like Salamis, the foundation of Amathous was directly related to the control of a harbour (Hermary 1999). Unlike Salamis, Amathous has no Bronze Age urban predecessor (on the chronology of its foundation, see Iacovou 2002b). (p.29) It was founded on the south coast, between Kition and Kourion, in an area which appears to have remained demographically under-exploited until late in the eleventh century (Aupert 1996, 17–18, 173). The hill, on which the French mission from the école Française d’Athènes has directed its excavation programme since 1975, is ringed with massive burial grounds that establish the city’s longevity from the early tenth century BC to the seventh AD (Hermary 1993, 170)—a life span almost as long as that of Salamis. The hill is a fortified acropolis; a section of the ramparts parallel to the sea ‘seems to date from the Classical period at the latest’ (Hermary 1993, 174–5).

The Cypro-Geometric chamber tombs—concentrated as a rule to the west of the acropolis—and their contents (Karageorghis and Iacovou 1990; Hermary and Iacovou 1999) cannot be distinguished from contemporary ones in Salamis (Yon 1971 above), Kourion, or Palaipaphos (below). The homogeneity observed in the mortuary pattern and in the stylistic development of the main tableware (White Painted/Bichrome I III) around Cyprus is a key characteristic of the Early Iron Age and justifies the term ‘Cypro-Geometric koine’ (Iacovou 1999b, 150). Besides the Levantine ceramics, which are generously present in the Cypro-Geometric deposits everywhere in the island (Bikai 1987a; 1987b, 1–19), Amathous’s overseas exchanges and long-distance trade are attested in a truly extravagant manner: Amathous claims the earliest (second half of the tenth century), and also the highest number of Euboian skyphoi imported to Cyprus (Coldstream 1987; Lemos and Hatcher 1991, 205–6) and, from further west, a rare obelos of Iberian origin (Karageorghis and Lo Schiavo 1989). Population measured through the burial record (Tytgat 1989, 201–3) appears to have expanded considerably by the beginning of the Cypro-Archaic, another factor in common with Salamis. Built tombs occur almost as early as in Salamis; the construction of the earliest is dated to the first quarter of the seventh century (Christou 1996, 188–91)—but they are not concentrated in one ‘royal’ burial ground, rather they are found scattered in the Iron Age cemeteries around the acropolis (Christou 1996, 63: fig. 23).

In the eighth century, the first phase of a monumental building that was subsequently remodelled in the sixth century was erected on a lower terrace of the acropolis (Hermary 1993, 175). It has been identified as the palace of Amathous (Petit 1998) and it is, in fact, the earliest (end of CG III) secular structure known so far from the Early Iron Age of Cyprus. In its final phase in the fifth century, it occupied an area of 400 sq. m. that served for the storage of foodstuff in large jars (Aupert 1996, 99–107: plan 7). The whole set-up is very similar to the concentration of produce in huge pithoi within the great ashlar hall of Kalavassos-Ayios Dhimitrios (South 1989, 321: fig. 36; 1995, 193, fig. 2) in the thirteenth century. Neither the LC IIC nor the Cypro-Classical administrative centre, however, were associated with economic (p.30) archives of any sort. Nor do any records survive from the summit of the hill where once again in the eighth century, but not before the inception of the Cypro-Archaic period (c.750 BC), a sanctuary was established that was to acquire considerable fame during its long life (Hermary 1993, 183–9): centuries after the abolition of the kingdom of Amathous, it was given (in AD 22) the right of asylum by the Roman Senate (locus classicus, Tacitus, Annales 3.62: Aupert and Hellmann 1984, 20, 23). We know almost nothing of the sanctuary’s architectural layout in the Cypro-Archaic period though (at least) two monumental stone vases, that belong stylistically to the seventh century, were placed at the entrance of its temenos (Aupert 1996, 112, 114, plan 8). A short Eteocypriote inscription on one of the vases and another painted on a pictorial amphora discovered in a nearby grotto (Aupert 1996, 116: fig. 42) comprise the evidence for early literacy found in association with the capital sanctuary of the Amathousian kingdom.

Literacy, in the form of a syllabary known as the Cypro-Minoan, was first attested in Cyprus in the sixteenth century BC. From that point in time until the end of the first century BC, this prehistoric syllabic script had been kept alive (see, however, Bazemore 2002, 158 n. 27). Modified into the Cypriote syllabary of the first millennium BC, it served both the undecipherable language of the Amathousians, as well as the Proethnic Greek language (Woodard 2000, 37), better known as the Arcado-Cypriot dialect (Masson 1983, 43, 84), that was predominant in the rest of the kingdoms, with the exception of Kition. Granted therefore that the island did not lack a script, the persistent absence from the archaeological record of archives or accounts of any sort, whether Late Bronze or Iron Age in date, from secular or sacred edifices, with one exception (below), does not seem fortuitous.

It seems a fair hypothesis that archives (stricto sensu) were not a prime requirement for the function of the Late Bronze Age or the Iron Age polities of Cyprus. The absence of administrative documents from the archaeological record of the second as well as the first millennium BC (see Smith 2002, 7, 25 on the poor preservation of writing materials and on the biases of discovery), cannot lead to conclusions such as absence of state formation. It rather establishes the resilience of the island’s own particular tradition regarding statehood and the character of its urbanization.

There is, however, one basic exception to the rule that, far from undermining it, reinforces the above thesis. There is only one sanctuary (to date) from which evidence of accounts (dating to the fourth century) has survived: that of Astarte at Kition (Masson and Sznycer 1972, 21–68; Guzzo-Amadasi and Karageorghis 1977,103). There is only one secular building so far known that possessed archive rooms: rooms which were found full of accounts inscribed on ostraca or written on gypsum plaques (unpublished; see Hadjicosti 1997, 58–9: fig. 24). This was the administrative centre that operated on the (p.31) acropolis of Idalion after the kingdom became subject to the Phoenicians of Kition, sometime in the fifth century BC (Stylianou 1989, 404; Hadjicosti 1997, 57). In both cases the accounts are in the Phoenician alphabet and are directly related to the functions of the Cypro-Phoenician kingdom. If state formation in Cyprus had a Canaanite prototype in the Late Bronze Age, or a Phoenician prototype in the Iron Age, archives such as those known from Ugarit in the thirteenth century BC (Yon 1999b; Malbran-Labat 1999), or those employed by the kingdom of Kition in the Cypro-Classical period should have become a paramount necessity for the operation of the rest of the island’s states.


The kingdom of Idalion, which was captured and abolished by the Phoenicians in the fifth century, is an ideal case for proving that the urban forms of Cyprus had been developed quite early. ‘Edial’ and its king Ekistura, in whose name Lipinski (1991) identifies the Greek Akestor, are directly identifiable at the head of the list of ten inscribed on the prism of Esarhaddon. The Late Bronze Age remains of the region do not point to a primary urban centre (reviewed by Webb 1999, 84–91). Nevertheless, the same hill appears to have remained the focus of the Iron Age settlement (Hadjicosti 1999, 35–6). As in Amathous, the ‘palace’ occupied the lower slope while the top was reserved for the sanctuary, which according to fifth-century inscriptions was dedicated to Athena (Gjerstad et al. 1935, 624, 627). Here too, however, evidence for cult activity dates from the eighth century (Cypro-Geometric III/Cypro-Archaic I).

Idalion is another walled acropolis. A whole series of eleventh- to tenth-century tombs (salvage excavations within the limits of the modern village) define the location of an organised extra muros burial ground that was gradually pushed further away (to the north-west) as the settlement expanded, forcing the line of the rampart to change too. At least one built tomb has been found (Karageorghis 1964) that is dated to the end of the Cypro-Archaic I period, c.625–600 BC (Christou 1996, 86, figs 31–4, 192).

The monumental building within the lower fortified sector of the acropolis where the Phoenician archive was found is believed to have been erected on the foundations of the kingdom’s Cypro-Archaic palace (Hadjicosti 1997, 59). The finest testimony to the urban and social organization that had been developed by this monarchial city-state before its annexation by Kition is the content of the Idalion bronze tablet: the longest Greek text to survive in the Cypro-Syllabic script is dated to c. 480–470 BC, and refers to an agreement between Stasikypros, the basileus (king) of Idalion, and a team of local medical doctors (Masson 1983, 233–44; Stylianou 1989, 403).

(p.32) Kourion

‘No one has yet been able to locate any trace of an Iron Age settlement’ (Buitron-Oliver 1997, 27) at Kourion, the kingdom ruled by Damasu—the Greek Damasos as has been suggested by Masson (1992, 28)—during the reign of Esarhaddon (680–669). The extensive monumental structures of the thriving town of Kourion in the Late Roman era may conceal the Early Iron Age settlement founded by the Argives (Herodotos 5.113). Directly below the bluff is the burial ground of Kourion-Kaloriziki, organized as early as the eleventh century (Benson 1973; Buitron-Oliver 1999, 70–1). The content of its earliest tombs (LC IIIB-CG I) in precious bronzes, including three bronze stands (Benson 1973, Ts 39–40; Papasavvas 2001,110–11), is now paralleled in contemporary tombs from Palaipaphos (below). The construction of the recently discovered built tomb in Kaloriziki—the only one so far known from Kourion—is dated to the sixth century BC (Christou 1996, 170, fig. 59, 199).

The sanctuary of Kourion is considered the best available source for information regarding the Cypro-Archaic period in the kingdom. Like the Amathousian sanctuary, it was founded towards the end of the eighth century, in a period transitional between late Geometric and early Archaic (Buitron-Oliver 1996, 3, 65, fig. A). As attested for the first time in fifth-century inscriptions, the sanctuary was dedicated to Apollo; the epithet Hylates appears in the Hellenistic period (Buitron-Oliver 1999, 73). The sanctuary, however, is situated 2 km. west of the acropolis. Assuming that the settlement was on the bluff, and that this was the kingdom’s capital cult centre, its location beyond the immediate environment of the kingdom’s urban centre introduces a new and intriguing pattern that conforms with the location of Apollo’s shrines in Greece. ‘By far the majority of Archaic and Classical shrines of Apollo also lay outside the polis’, notes Buitron-Oliver (1996, 27). The Archaic precinct, an open-air enclosure, and its main circular altar were diligently preserved within the temenos when a small temple was erected originally under Ptolemy I (Buitron-Oliver 1996, 20).

Kition and Palaipaphos

If one claims urbanization in Greece on the basis of the monumentalization of Greek sanctuaries (Damgaard Andersen et al. 1997a, 13–14), in Cyprus this one component of Late Cypriote urbanization, namely the function of monumental sanctuaries, did not ‘go underground’ at the end of the Bronze Age. It is imperative to try to visualize the two massive constructions, the magnificent temene of Kition in the south-east and of Palaipaphos in the south-west of the island, in the way they were viewed in the Early Iron (p.33) Age: as symbols of power and political authority that had transcended a Mediterranean-wide crisis (Iacovou 2005). In terms of their monumental construction, the size and craftsmanship of the dressed ashlar monoliths of their sacred temene remained unsurpassed in Cyprus to the end of the age of the kingdoms. Although Iron Age sanctuaries in Cyprus, urban and rural, were faithful to the prehistoric tradition of the open-air cult centre, none could have boasted a temenos of equal architectural grandeur. Furthermore, the two sanctuaries were the capital centres of communal religion in their respective polities, though in the first millennium one, Kition, became a Phoenician and the other, Palaipaphos, a Greek-speaking kingdom.

Did these two settlements have urban environments in the Early Iron Age as we assume they had in the late thirteenth century when the temene were first created? In Kition the Iron Age settlement is sandwiched between the Late Bronze Age and the modern city of Larnaca (Yon 1999a, 20); at Palaipaphos the living quarters of the ancient city have weathered badly (Maier 1999, 79). Nevertheless, the Early Iron Age habitation areas of the two settlements are assumed to have continued more or less on the same location as in the Late Cypriote period (Nicolaou 1976; Maier 1999, 82). Burials, however, were no longer practised within the limits of the settlement. From the eleventh century, the cemeteries of Kition and Palaipaphos were organized beyond their respective inhabited zones (Yon 1999a, 21 with references; Maier and Wartburg 1985, 152). Consequently, in Kition and Palaipaphos, the organization of the settlement’s space began with considerable cultural differences as compared to their Late Cypriote past but was homogeneous with the social landscape of the new Early Iron Age settlements around Cyprus. At Palaipaphos, sections of a city rampart are evident from the late eighth century (Maier and Wartburg 1985, 152–3). At Kition, a sounding uncovered a new habitation quarter of the tenth century abutting a defensive wall close to the port basin (Yon and Caubet, 1985; Calvet 1993, 119). This defines the settlement’s expansion towards the sea and parallels the contemporary establishment of Salamis and Amathous as port cities.

Palaipaphos is ringed by awesomely rich burial grounds of the Cypro-Geometric period (known by their locality’s toponym: e.g. Xylinos/Xerolimni, Skales, Plakes; see Maier 1999, 79–80; Raptou 2002) that contain an amazing collection of vessels, weapons, and tripods in bronze as well as spits (obeloi) and knives of iron (e.g. Karageorghis 1983, T. 49: pls LX-LXIII, T. 58: pl. CXVI, T. 76: pl. CXLII, T. 89: pl. CXCIII; Hadjisavvas 2000, 674: figs 31–3, 675: fig. 34, 690–1). The content of these cemeteries is extremely valuable evidence of local crafts and access to luxury goods; the gold (e.g. Karageorghis 1983, T. 79: pl. CLV) may be in thin leaves but was nevertheless imported and worked by local craftsmen. I wish to draw attention to the bronze tripods from Skales (Karageorghis 1983, T. 49: 11, T. (p.34) 58: 31; Papasavvas 2001, 111): hitherto interpreted exclusively as heirlooms when they were found in a post-twelfth-century context, the production of this Late Cypriote specialty is now shown not to have been discontinued (Papasavvas 2001, 114).

Surprisingly, neither Palaipaphos nor Kition possesses an Archaic ‘royal’ necropolis. To this day, only one built tomb from Kition is assumed to have been constructed in the Archaic period (c. 675); there are others, however, dating to the Cypro-Classical era (Christou 1996, 139, 195–6). At Palaipaphos there is so far one monumental built tomb, which is associated with inscriptions that bear (in the Cypriote syllabary) the names of Echetimos and Timocharis, two fourth-century BC kings of Paphos (Maier and Karageorghis 1984, 217; Maier and Wartburg 1998, 105–10).

In the case of Kition, following a period of demise, maybe even abandonment, of the main sanctuary area c. 1000 BC (Karageorghis and Demas 1985), the subsequent ninth-century refurbishment and upkeep and periodic remodelling of the sanctuary, suggest that these demanding operations were the responsibility of an established authority. Furthermore, in 707 BC, a royal Assyrian document, the stele, which Sargon II must have ordered to be shipped across to Cyprus (see Yon and Malbran-Labat 1995, 165 on the stele’s material), was erected in Kition (Yon 1997, 11). One may be permitted to surmise that, far from being a wretched harbour, Kition—irrespective of the fact that it may or may not be identified with the Kartihadasti on Esarhaddon’s list—must have been a recognized Cypriote polity at the end of the eighth century. Nevertheless, the earliest evidence we have today which can defend the establishment of a Phoenician ruling dynasty in Kition (the inscribed coins of Baalmilk I) dates from after the Ionian Revolt of 499/8 BC (Yon 1992, 249–50). Palaipaphos, on the other hand, is blessed with seventh-century Cypro-Syllabic inscriptions (Mitford 1971, 7–11, 373–6), which name two Greek basileis, Akestor and Eteandros (extensively treated in Iacovou forthcoming).


During the initial stages of the Early Iron Age (eleventh to tenth centuries BC), we witness the formation of the island’s new first-millennium BC demography. Settlements are organized within ramparts, and extramural communal burial grounds are established where socially related groups construct and maintain for a long period chamber tombs for the inhumation of their kin. We have no substantial evidence regarding town planning from any Early Iron Age settlement on Cyprus, but evidence for the practice of communal religion, specialized crafts and long-distance trade (Vink 1997, 136 on protourban settlements) exceeds the level of kinship (Damgaard Andersen et al. 1997a, 13). (p.35) Industrialized fast-wheel pottery was produced throughout Cyprus from the beginning of the Early Iron Age. Access to imported Levantine ceramics was more or less equal amongst the island’s port cities. Overseas exchanges and trade are attested by the presence of imported raw materials, in particular precious metals, and other more exotic finds. Local craftsmen could access imported raw materials and supply the final product to a local clientèle. Even more significant is the continuity of specialized crafts from the Late Cypriote era for such élite objects as the bronze stands (Papasavvas 2001, 98, 229, 272). Tools and weapons made of iron occur in the mortuary deposits along with bronze vessels from the very beginning of the Early Iron Age (LC IIIB-CG I) which suggests that, besides upholding the traditional copper-based economy (Muhly 1996), the Cypriote polities were the first in the Mediterranean to industrialize the production of iron (Sherratt 1994, 85 and Appendices I–II; Snodgrass 1994, 172).

A dramatic expansion of the settlements, due to population increase, marks the transition to the Cypro-Archaic period (c. 750–700). This necessitated the redefinition and enlargement of the walled ‘enceinte’ on the one hand, and the establishment of burial grounds further away, on the other. These decisions were taken and carried out by a central authority that represented the community. In fact, the palace of Amathous, the earliest Iron Age secular structure we have so far, was established at the end of this transitional phase (end of CG III), after which we observe in the material record of the early Cypro-Archaic period, in the 700s, extensive and intensive activity at cult centres, new and old, urban and rural. This was the time when the latter began to multiply in the countryside of their respective states. Their development may be associated with the consolidation of the territorial claims of the strongest kingdoms in the Cypro-Archaic period (‘the demarcation of state territory by such devices as the establishment of rural sanctuaries’: Snodgrass 1993, 38; Fourrier 2002). Cypriote sculpture, a monumental craft that was lacking in the proto-urban polities of the Cypro-Geometric period, also originated at this time. Sizeable works of art were dedicated in sanctuaries in Cyprus and abroad (Samos), first in large-scale terracotta (Hermary 1991, 145–6) and, as of the third quarter of the seventh century, also in limestone (Hermary 1989, 22–3). The climax of social stratification within the island’s Archaic monarchies is expressed in the monumental construction of the built tombs that began shortly before 700 BC in Salamis and spread to the other kingdoms.


The Iron Age urban episode of Cyprus is in many respects a re-enactment of Late Cypriote urbanization but with one fundamental difference: by contrast (p.36) with the fate of the Late Bronze Age urban phase, the Iron Age episode was not interrupted by any external or internal crisis. As a result of this continuity, the urban demography of Iron Age Cyprus endured for long after the political system of the autonomous kingdoms—under which urban functions were instituted—was abolished at the end of the fourth century BC. Moreover, the incessant debate in favour (e.g. Muhly 1989; Peltenburg 1996) or against (e.g. Keswani 1993, 75; 1996) the operation of a unitary state with island-wide authority, that so much troubles the study of the Cypriote Bronze Age, is put to rest in the Iron Age: state formation was a fait accompli long before the year 707 BC, and it was not based on the island-wide authority of a unitary state but on a series of territorial monarchies operating from capital settlements established in the eleventh and the tenth centuries BC.

These settlements were hierarchical societies from the start; a great deal of centralized organization is responsible for their political and economic success. The process of their development into the states acknowledged by the Neo-Assyrians must have entailed considerable territorial conflict over the island’s resources (metallic and agricultural). The intensification of social complexity on the other hand—through architectural monumentality and other characteristics that have a lasting effect in the archaeological record—dates from 725/700 BC. It resulted from the kingdoms’ entering into a profitable liaison with the Assyrian empire. From their distant seat of power, the Neo-Assyrian emperors and, later, the Achaimenids became masters of an intricate Mediterranean market economy under which the kings of Cyprus thrived. In this indirect manner the Assyrian factor triggered the change towards the development of real towns in Cyprus. If one were to ask whether an Iron Age settlement in Cyprus ever became urban without having been a kingdom’s capital, the obvious answer should be a straightforward ‘no’; capitals of kingdoms alone acquired an urban status: state-formation was a necessary prerequisite to Cypriote urbanization. When the island became an administratively unified state province, first of Ptolemaic Egypt and later of the Roman Empire, its urban towns were still (some of) those that had served previously as administrative capitals of kingdoms: Salamis, Amathous, Kourion, Paphos.

I wish to recall at this point Peter van Dommelen’s words of wisdom from his contribution to the Danish Seminar where he cautions against confining the notion of urbanization to the appearance of certain urban traits, lest we reduce a long-term regional process to its final stages (Damgaard Andersen et al. 1997a, 13). The notion of a ‘late formation of kingdoms in Cyprus’ (Childs 1997, 40, in accord with Rupp 1987, 147), that continues to find support, is in fact one that reduces a long-term regional process to its final stages. I therefore maintain—as I did in the past (Iacovou 1999b; 2002a)—that (p.37) Cyprus’s territorial monarchies were not born suddenly after 707, under the economic pressure of the Neo-Assyrian empire or following the external prototype of the empire’s vassal kingdom states. The archaeological evidence of 800–600 BC stands testimony to ‘the culmination of a long process of social evolution’ which, to borrow a phrase from James Whitley, ‘did not, like the goddess Athena, spring fully armed out of the head of Zeus’ (1991, 198).

Note. Sincere thanks to Alison South for editing the original version of the paper and to Gerald Cadogan for his steadfast encouragement and many fine points on the final version.


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(1) 19891996‘Social complexity and ceramic technology on Late Bronze Age Cyprus: the new evidence from Enkomi’ (University of Edinburgh 2004)2003et al2003

(2) M. Iacovou and V. Kassianidou explored this state of events in a paper entitled ‘Copper and Iron production in Cyprus: Optimization of a traditional metals’ economy’ (presented at the 6th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists in Lisbon, September 2000).

(3) Controlled excavations geared towards the elucidation of the proto-urban development of the Cypriote polities during the Iron Age have been limited to this day. The best results come from Salamis, Amathous, and Kition. Lapithos, Soloi, Chytroi as well as Salamis are in the occupied territory of the island; they have been inaccessible since 1974. Idalion and more recently Ledra (in the heart of the modern capital of Nicosia) are currently being excavated by the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus. Marion, under investigation since 1987, is a second-generation kingdom; almost to the end of the seventh century, it seems to have been part of the kingdom of Paphos (Rupp 1987, 150; Childs 1997, 39). Fascinating Early Iron Age material from tombs and sanctuaries is found annually at Palaipaphos during salvage operations.