The Iron Age in Cyprus

Despite that iron was utilized since the 3rd millennium in China, iron was imported in Cyprus around the middle of the 11th century [Andros Pavlides, 2013].


Geometric Period [1050-700 BC]

This Age is called geometric because of the geometric patterns used in the decoration of the vessels, which although they pre-existed for a long time, now show a strong renewal. During this period and especially in the mid 9th century the presence of new settlers is sensed in Cyprus, and those were Phoenicians. In the meantime, the Greeks had already prevailed on the Eteocypriot element. Greek settlers and Eteocypriots came across and incorporated into the Iron Age Cypriot [Andros Pavlides, 2013]. The overall homogeneity of the Geometric material culture suggests that the population had not been sharply segregated on the basis of native vs immigrant stock [Maria Iacovou, 2008].


One of the new developments was the construction of vessels now using a wheel. The surface of the vessels, usually covered with a whitish or reddish thin coating, is decorated with geometric shapes of reddish or black colour or a combination of both. Geometric patterns are distinguished by a wide variety: parallel lines, concentric circles, rhombuses, spirals and other patterns. Stylized birds and fish were also used as decorative elements and were the harbinger of the painting style in the decoration of the vessels, which will appear later. In general, the vessels were now characterized by rhythm, symmetry and precision in their construction and decoration [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

Languages and Script

Eteocypriot, Arcado-Cypriot Greek and Phoenician was spoken in Cyprus during this era [Wikipedia]. The script was the Syllabic Cypriot and sparsely the Phoenician script [Maria Iacovou, 2008].

Burial customs

At the onset of the Iron Age in the 11th century BC, there were significant changes in Cypriot mortuary practice: the founding of extramural cemeteries in new locations, the appearance of Mycenaean-style tombs with square chambers and long dromoi, the appearance of cremation [unprecedented in Cyprus before the Iron Age and rare even then] as well as inhumation burials, a notable decrease in burial group size, and other changes that will be discussed in the concluding section of this article. Together with these broad shifts in burial practice, there is also some evidence for the revisitation of LBA tombs and cemeteries at Episkopi–Bamboula, Lapithos–Ayia Anastasia, Milia–Vikla Trachonas, Ayia Irini–Paleokastro and Kalavasos–Ayios Dimitrios. Furthermore, while some of these episodes of tomb reuse might be attributable to considerations of expedience or poverty, others are not [Priscilla Schuster Keswani, 2012].

Both in the Geometric and Archaic Period, the limestone-cut graves with chamber continued to exist, as well as the custom for the dead to be buried with offerings, including of course ceramics, as well as personal objects such as jewels, arms, tools and others that would be useful in their “afterlife”, in which the ancient Cypriots believed, and for this reason, they were buried with their personal items [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

Iacovou states that as the old Bronze Age type, the new Iron Age chamber was used for inhumations over extended periods in the new, exclusively extramural community organized Iron Age cemeteries [Maria Iacovou, 2008].

In the case of very important people, we encounter during the Archaic Period also the monumental built graves. They were carefully created with the usage of large, chipped stones. A large downgrade dromos, sometimes of monumental size, led to the burial chamber. The dead were placed in luxurious sarcophaguses. In some tombs, more than one grave existed. The offerings were placed both in the burial chamber and the dromos of the tomb. In such dromos in tombs of Salamina, there were found sacrificed horses, valuable furniture, thrones, beds, even chariots, that would be useful to the deceased in their afterlife [Andros Pavlides, 2013].


In regards to the Phoenician religion, whose establishment in Kition according to Iacovou is dated circa 800 BC, primarily on the evidence of an inscription in the Phoenician alphabet incised after firing on a fragmentary Red Slip Ware bowl imported from the Phoenician coast and found in the temple courtyard of the refurbished Late Cypriot sanctuary, the inscription record’s a pilgrim’s sacrifice to a female deity. The pilgrim was a Phoenician individual named Moula, and the divinity is identified by the name of Lady Astarte.

The invasion of Phoenicians in Cyprus in 709 BC

According to Radner, by the second half of the 8th century BC, Tyre [Phoenicians] dominated the political system of Cyprus since it was able, according to Assyrian testimony, to treat the local principalities as its vassal states. In 709 or possibly 708 BC, Šilṭa king of Tyre called on Sargon II of Assyria to assist him with his army in disciplining his rebellious vassals, the rulers of Cyprus. Bound by treaty, it was the Assyrian empire’s duty towards its allies to respond to such a summons, and already some years earlier, in 715 BC, Sargon had given military assistance to Tyre when Ionian pirates were threatening its commercial interests. At that time, Assyria did not have a fleet and its troops were of course transported by Tyrian warships. All reconstructions of the history of Archaic Cyprus need to consider the war of 709 (or 708). The invasion of Assyrian troops at the prompting of Tyre casts a dark shadow over what is usually reconstructed as a time of peaceful and profitable co-existence between the Phoenicians and the local inhabitants of Cyprus [Karen Radner, 2012].

Was Cyprus under Assyrian rule [709-669 BC]?

There is an [questionable] assumption that Cyprus, or several cities-kingdoms of Cyprus, was ruled by the Assyrians for a short period of time, for two reasons that Pavlides mentions: Firstly, 10 kings with their kingdom names appear on the Assyrian prism of King Essarhaddon of 673 BC that they financially contributed to the restoration of the royal palace in the Assyrian city Nineveh [today at the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq]. Secondly, on a stele found in Kition, representing embossed the Assyrian King Sargon II [721-705 BC], on the right side bears an inscription mentioning by name 7 Cypriot kings and their kingdoms, as well as the following:

“…the kings who came before me, took the rule of Assyria, nobody had ever heard the name of their country – far away in the midst of the sea, they heard of the deeds that I have done in Chaldea (Babylonia) and Hatti (Syro-Anatolia) and their hearts quivered and terror took hold on them: they sent to me in Babylon silver, gold, furniture of ebony and boxwood, the product of their land and kissed my feet”. [Karen Radner, 2010].

Herodotus [484-425] though, will write later that the first foreigner who submitted Cyprus was the Egyptian King Amasis in 565 BC [Andros Pavlides, 2013]. The submission is hence doubtful. Karen Radner (2010) writes “there are also a great many such monuments which were erected outside of the boundaries of the Assyrian empire. The fact that a stele is placed in a particular place is in itself not a particular indication of a permanent Assyrian claim, at least in administrative and political terms” [Karen Radner, 2010]. According to Radner, “The island of Cyprus was never under the direct control of the Assyrian empire. But during the reign of Sargon II, its rulers dispatched a diplomatic delegation to the Assyrian king in an attempt to lessen the control of Tyre [Phoenicians, allies to the Assyrians by treaty] over the island” [Karen Radner, 2012]. Reyes has also challenged the traditional view of an Assyrian domination in the island and he suggests an establishment of formal political and economical relations between Cyprus and Assyria through gift delegations for the verification of the participation of Cyprus in the Near Eastern trade under the auspices of Assyria. He also adds that the King of Sidon revolting the king of Assyria escaped to Cyprus, proving the absence of Assyrian control over the territory [Alejandro Reyes, 1994].


Archaic Period [700-480 BC]

A period of 250 years is known as the Cypriot-Archaic Period. It was named so because this period is considered to represent the beginning of the evolution and prosperity of Greek arts in Cyprus, which will reach their perfection in the next period, which for this reason is called Classical [Andros Pavlides, 2013].



There are a variety of clay figurines from this period that come from many parts of Cyprus. Many present warriors with swords and shields. Men are usually bearded with a conical cap on their head. The figurines after the 7th BC. century are made in moulds. In other words, there was a kind of industry for making figurines, because there was a great demand, as they were objects offered by the faithful in the various temples as tributes. Such figurines depicted their devotees, women and men, horsemen or infantry, warriors, sailors, musicians, people of every profession. Black and red colour were often used to give details [Andros Pavlides, 2013].


During the Cypriot-Archaic Period, the geometric shapes of the vessels evolve and reach perfection. The geometric shapes are skillfully combined with representations of human and animal figures, birds, fish, flowers and other elements. The vessels are distinguished for the symmetry, harmony and quality of their representations. At the same time, the so-called “free painting rhythm” is being invented. Freestyle painting is found in only a few types of pottery and especially in wine vessels. Characteristic of the rhythm is the artist’s focus on the design of a representation, which is harmonious and aesthetically appealing [Andros Pavlides, 2013].


The limestone statues of small and large dimensions appear from the middle of the 7th century BC. They sometimes have Eastern or Egyptian influences. Later they show to be influenced by the Greek and especially the Ionian culture [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

Languages and Script

[Exactly as in Geometric Period:] According to Reyes, there were three tribes in Archaic Cyprus: the Eteocypriots, as the scholars named the people living in the island (mainly in Amathous) and speaking a language that hasn’t been deciphered yet – even though is written in the Cypro-Syllabic system of writing – and who are thought to be part of the first settlers of the island; the Cypriot Greeks, that spoke an Arcado-Cypriot [Greek] dialect and used the Cypro-Syllabic system of writing, and who had started settling in Cyprus around the 12th century BC; and last, the Phoenicians, that kept their language and alphabet, and who had settled at Kition in the 9th century BC [Alejandro Reyes, 1994].

Burial Customs

Funerals featuring impressive tombs, conspicuous displays of wealth, even sacrifices of donkeys and horses pulling chariots — surely intended for public amazement — reached their apogee in the Archaic period at Salamis [Priscilla Schuster Keswani, 2012].

The first official recognition of the Cities-Kingdoms in Cyprus [7th cent. BC]

The Assyrian prism of Essarhaddon [673] on which 10 Cypriot cities with their kings as recorded, is the first official recognition of the existence of Cities-Kingdoms in Cyprus. According to Iacovou, these 10 cities-kingdoms were the following: Idalion, Chytroi, Salamis, Paphos, Soloi, Kourion, Tamassos, Qartihadast [Kition], Ledra and Nuria [Marion]. Inland regions such as Ledra, Chytroi and Tamasos, despite being situated in the heart of the copper-producing zone, were apparently absorbed by the coastal trading center [more could had existed but they could had been subdued to other kingdoms or were not paying tribute to the Assyrians, hence not mentioned] [Maria Iacovou, 2008].

So the earliest recorded mention of the cities-kingdoms was in the 7th century BC. Let’s see what we know about the kingdoms, according to Pavlides: The king was the superior leader of each city-kingdom. In some cases, we know that they could simultaneously be the archpriests of their city-kingdom. The king possessed the political, military, religious and economic authority of his kingdom. The throne was hereditary. Each kingdom had its own army and fleet [where applicable], it was autonomous and issued its own coins. The coins were initially of silver and the first ones were possibly cut by King Evelthon of Salamis in the mid 6th century BC. Also, every kingdom possessed agricultural land, access to the copper mines, an industrial area for the processing of copper and an established passage into the sea for conducting international trade [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

Cyprus under Egyptian rule [570?-546? BC]

Although it is considered that Cyprus was conquered by Egypt [although there is disagreement among historians as to when it began and when it ended], according to Michael’s research, during the period that she investigated (664–525 BC) “there is no written source from Egypt mentioning a name or a phrase [on a stele, on a temple wall, on a papyrus] that can be attributed to the island of Cyprus and/or the city-kingdoms. The total absence of all kind of documentation, in an era that we have much information about the military campaigns of the Egyptian  Pharaohs to Syriopalestine, Nubia and Cyrene, should trouble us greatly” [Maria Michael, 2008].

On the contrary, two external sources record the conquest of Cyprus; Greek historian Diodorus Siculus [1st cent. BC] writes: “And he [Amasis] conquered the Cypriot towns, and he decorated many of the sanctuaries with noteworthy offerings”. Also, the Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus in the Persian Empire, Herodotus [5th cent. BC] includes in his writings [only] the following: “And first among the people, Amasis conquered Cyprus and he obliged it to pay tribute to him” [Maria Michael, 2008].

The Cypriot kingdoms under the Persian rule

By the 6th century BC, Persia was a great military power in the Middle East, expanding towards the West. According to Xenophon, the Cypriot kingdoms were voluntarily submitted to the Persians [Cyrus II the Great] in 546 BC, most likely to avoid bloodshed and keep their autonomy. According to Pavlides, this submission to the Persians didn’t mean that Cyprus had a Persian ruler, but the Cypriot kingdoms had to pay tribute to the Persians, as well as to join them in military campaigns when this was asked. According to Herodotus, military forces from Cyprus joined the Persians against Egypt at 525 BC [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

The Ionian Revolt [499-498 BC]

According to Pavlides, the Ionians, among others, approached the Cypriot kingdoms to revolt against the Persians.  Salamis was considered the most important kingdom of Cyprus during that period. The Cypriot kingdoms were forced to join Xerxes with naval forces against the Ionians, something which they did, sending 150 warships according to Plutarch. The armada was defeated by the Eretrians. In the meantime, Onesilos of Salamis dethroned his pro-Persian brother and declared a revolt against the Persians. The other kingdoms joined him except for Amathus. Onesilos attacked Amathus but at the same time, the Persians were arriving in Cyprus. Onesilos asked for help from the Ionians. It was decided that the Ionians would fight the Persians with their navy and the Cypriot kingdoms’ army on the land. At the battle close to Salamis the Ionians won the fight with the Persians in 498 BC. According to Herodotus, having not the Kourion king Stasinor deserted to the Persians and then a number of Salaminian forces, he may had won the fight as well. Onesilos, who died at the battle, was probably the first Cypriot who tried to unite the kingdoms under one single entity. It is believed that following the revolt, the Persians placed a guard at Vouni (near Soloi) and Paphos, two cities that strongly fought and resisted against the Persian army even after the death of Onesilos [Andros Pavlides, 2013].


Classical Period [480-232 BC]

This period was named Classical because of the arts, which due to the constant influence from Greece evolved until a level of perfection, reaching their peak during this period [Andros Pavlides, 2013].



During the Classical Period and especially after the middle of the 5th century BC, the sculpture of Cyprus managed to reach enviable levels. Cypriot sculptors were directly influenced by the art of Classical Greece. The statues are now distinguished by the precision and symmetry in the construction, the detailed rendering of the refined and often idealistic features of the faces, the meticulous rendering of the details to the crown, the clothes and the jewelry, but also to the expressiveness of the faces. In general, the statues of the Classical Period are distinguished by harmony, elegance and naturalness. In the middle of the 5th century BC, for example, the tombstones appear, which are an achievement of Cypriot sculpture and pay homage to the dead. These were placed in the graves of the dead of all ages. Often the reliefs in the columns depicted the dead with their own people, in farewell scenes [Andros Pavlides, 2013].


In the field of pottery, the Greek vessels now dominate, obviously superior in both construction quality and decoration, and which are imported from Greek parts and conquer the local market. Their decoration drew its theme from the rich Greek mythology, which was very popular in Cyprus. Cypriot pottery is gradually being limited to the manufacture of simpler, cheaper everyday ceramics and large storage pots [Andros Pavlides, 2013].


A profound Greek influence is also observed in the jewellery industry, limiting the hitherto serious eastern influences. The skill of the Cypriot artists in the processing of metal is also seen in the excellent samples of brass sculpture [Andros Pavlides, 2013].


Cyprus was still a cosmopolitan place. Eastern influences were not lacking due to the strong Phoenician presence in Cyprus. Thus, other deities, Eastern and Egyptian, were still worshipped, such as Isis and Anubis. In some cases, there is an identification of Greek deities with corresponding Eastern deities, such as Athena / Anat, Apollo / Recief and Hercules / Melkart. It is noteworthy that in Cyprus he did not worship the Gods Mars, Poseidon and Hephaestus [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

Education and Culture

The trade and cultural relations of most of the Cypriot kingdoms with the Greek area were particularly developed. Many Cypriots had settled in many parts of Greece, many of whom had been distinguished and honored. Cypriot kings and prominent citizens made rich tributes to Greek temples. Cypriot athletes and artists participated in events in Greece. Cypriot philosophers, poets and scientists enriched the Greek literature with their works. The plays of great Athenian tragic and Cypriot authors were presented in the theatres of the Cypriot cities, while Homer and the Greek education, in general, were taught in the Cypriot schools. Many Cypriots studied in Greece in schools of great teachers such as Plato and Aristotle [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

Law and Order

According to Hill, the Anaktes [sons of the king and brothers] were a kind of magistrates controlling a highly organized police system. This system involved the Kolakes that nobody knew them by sight or how many they were, except those at the very head of affairs. The Kolakes were divided into two families, the Gerginoi, who acted as spies, mingling with the people in workshops and market-places, listening to what was said and reported daily to the Anaktes, and the Promalanges who acted as investigators, making further inquiry when it seemed desirable. Thanks to an extremely subtle technique of disguise and manner they were able to pass unrecognised and penetrate the secrets of all suspect persons. Salamis provided this police system and it was followed by other kingdoms as well [George Hill, 1940].


Hill makes mention of the exportation of corn to the Greek territory [George Hill, 1940].

Greek attempts to liberate the Cypriots

According to Diodorus Siculus (1st cent. BC), the Greek having defeated Xerxes crossed to the counter-attack and Spartan Pausanias took the order to liberate the Greek cities that were in the hands of the barbarian Persians. He initially sailed to Cyprus in 477 BC. The attempt seems to have been fruitless, as more attempts followed in 467 by Kimon, in 459 by Charitimides and in 450-449 again by Kimon. The attempts were terminated with the Peace of Callias, a peace treaty established around 449 BC between the Delian League (led by Athens) and Persia, ending the Greco-Persian Wars [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

The expansion of Phoenicians in Persian Cyprus

During the middle of the 5th century BC, Cyprus no longer supported by the help of the homeland, fell immediately and completely under the Persian yoke. The Phoenicians in Kition were at the peak of their power and they attacked Idalion, they destroyed the temple of Athena which was their symbol of independence and they annexed it. In Salamis, they displaced the Teucrid dynasty and placed their own king [George Hill, 1940]. The Phoenicians, with the direct help of the Persians, also extended their influence in Lapithos and Tamasos. Hence they controlled the southeastern shores to the northwestern [Andros Pavlides, 2013].


Evagoras [reigned 411-373 BC] was the greatest figure in the history of Ancient Cyprus. He was born in the Phoenician, at that time, city of Salamis, in 435 BC, and had royal roots. He was exiled while he was still young and later returned, in 411 BC, secretly to Salamis, and together with 50 other people he overthrew the Phoenician king and ascended the throne, ending the Phoenician rule in Salamis [Andros Pavlides, 2013]. The [Persian] Great King had shown no objection to the re-establishment of the Greek dynasty in Salamis, as Evagoras kept paying tribute to Persia. Later he even allied with Persia and Athens providing a fleet of 100 ships and land-force in the victorious war against Sparta of 394 BC. Evagoras moved to make himself master of all Cyprus, and by force of arms and persuasion in 391 brought almost all the island into subjection, but met with resistance from three cities: Kition, Amathus and Soloi. In 387 with the assistance of Athens and Egypt, he was able to subdue almost all the island and installed in Kition a Greek king [it is unknown what happened to Amathus and Soloi]. He even obtained possession of Tyre and some other cities of Phoenicia. The Persians had to re-install their domination and his kingdom was besieged by Persians in 383. Evagoras made peace with the Persians in 380 or 379, accepting to abolish his rule on the other kingdoms of Cyprus and to pay tribute to Persia [George Hill, 1940]. He nevertheless succeeded to be recognised as a king and not as a servant of the Persian King, as the peace treaty initially suggested [Andros Pavlides, 2013]. According to Diodorus [1st cent. BC], Evagoras died around 374/3 BC and his kingdom according to Isocrates [436-338 BC] was bankrupt [George Hill, 1940]1His successor was Nicocles, who according to Plutarch, paid 20 talents Isocrates to deliver a favourable eulogy speech, from which eulogy we draw nowadays much information about the history and achievements of Evagoras [Geroge Hill, 1940]..

According to Pavlides, during the 38 years of his rule, he had been very active. Inside, he aspired to unite all of Cyprus under his leadership and rid it of the Persians. He waged fierce wars against the Persians and their allies and even successfully transferred the war to Phoenicia itself. He allied against the Persians with the Egyptians while developing particularly close relations with Athens [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

The long reign of Evagoras was very important for the Greek element of the island. Although he did not manage to get rid of the Persians, he stopped the impressive rise of the Phoenician element on the island. Pavlides having as one of his sources Isocrates remarks that Evagoras imposed the Greek way of life in Cyprus, with profound influences not only on the daily life of the people but also on the administration, the arts and education, and in general on the culture of Cyprus [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

Cyprus under Alexander the Great

According to Pavlides (2013), Alexander the Great, having won the battle of Issus [Southern Anatolia, in 333 BC] he planned to attack Cyprus, before attacking Egypt. The Cypriot kings rushed with an armada of 120 warships to Sidon [Saida in today’s Lebanon] to meet Alexander. According to Plutarch (46-119), “the Cypriot kings offered Cyprus to him” [Hellenic Cypriots were willing to be subdued to another Hellena]. Alexander actually never set foot on Cyprus. According to Greek historian Arrian (2nd cent.), Alexander appreciated the Cypriots’ gesture and considered their action to fight on the side of his enemy Persians as an act of coercion [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

According to Pavlides, Cypriots fought by the side of Alexander the Great at the battle of Tyre [today in Lebanon] with their naval force. Among others who lead forces were the king of Salamis Pnytagoras, the king of Amathus Androcles and the king of Soloi Pasicrates. May Cypriots also followed Alexander till the depths of Asia, such as Nicocles from Soloi and Niphathon of Salamis, both sons of kings, Timarchos the Paphian, Ieron the Solian and others [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

Governance during the years of Alexander the Great

According to Greek historian Arrian (2nd cent.), Alexander allowed the Cypriot kings to retain their thrones and their autonomy. According to Pavlides, Alexander cut in 332 BC interesting silver coins that represented on the one side Zeus on the throne, suggesting his divine origin, and on the other side himself in the form of Heracles, suggesting he was as Heracles a semi-god [Andros Pavlides, 2013]. During Alexander’s reign, Tamasos switched ownership as it was given from Alexander to Salamis, taken from Kition. Also, the kingdoms were obliged to issue the coins of Alexander [George Hill, 1940].

Cyprus under the Ptolemies

According to Pavlides, after Alexander’s death in 323, there was a quarrel among his heirs who would possess Cyprus, as we don’t know if it was given to someone during the division of the empire. Cyprus was important for Ptolemy I Soter, who possessed Egypt and for Antigonus I Monophthalmus, who possessed Minor Asia and Syria. There were seven kings in Cyprus, and four took the side of Ptolemy (Nicocreon of Salamis, Pasicrates of Soloi, Nicocles of New Paphos and Androcles of Amathus) and the other three (Poumiathon of Kition, Stasioikos of Marion and Praxippos of Lapithos) took the side of Antigonus. We know nothing about Kourion during this time. The kingdoms of Idalion and Tamasos had previously been abolished. Ptolemy fought more decisively and won in 312 BC. The city-kingdom of Marion was destroyed and its inhabitants fled to Paphos. Lapithos’s king was executed. The kingdoms of Marion, Lapithos and Kition were abolished and only four remained: Salamis, Soloi, New Paphos and Amathus [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

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