The Archaic Period (750 - 475BC)

LEARN Monday, 03 August, 2015

The Archaic Period (750 - 475BC)

The 8th century BC saw a marked increase of wealth in Cyprus. Communications with East and West were on the ascend and this created a prosperous society. Testifying to this wealth are the so-called royal tombs of Salamis, which, although plundered, produced a truly royal abundance of wealth. Sacrifices of horses, bronze tripods and huge cauldrons (bowls) decorated with sirens, griffins etc., chariots with all their ornamentation and the horses' gear, ivory beds and thrones exquisitely decorated were all deposited into the tombs' 'dromoi' for the sake of their masters.

The late 8th century is the time of the spreading of the Homeric poems, the 'Iliad' and the 'Odyssey', and this affected Cyprus very much. Funerary customs at Salamis and elsewhere were very much influenced by these poems. The deceased were given skewers and fire logs in order to roast their meat, a practice found in contemporary Argos and Crete, recalling the similar gear of Achilles when he entertained other Greek heroes in his tent. Honey and oil, described by Homer as offerings to the dead are also found at Salamis, and the flames of fire that consumed the deceased were quenched with wine as it happened to Patroclus' body after it was given to the flames. The hero's ashes were gathered carefully wrapped in a linen cloth and put into a golden urn.

At Salamis the ashes of the deceased are also wrapped in a cloth and deposited into a bronze cauldron. Therefore, the Cypriots along with their extravagant display of wealth that bears many oriental features, do not forget their roots for which they must have been very proud. The circulation of the Homeric poems must have revived the interest in their great, great ancestors whose system of government they never lost sight of. As Mycenaean Greece was divided into small independent kingdoms, so Cyprus kept the tradition alive down to historical times being divided into ten petty kingdoms that were ruled by a king. Kingship was preserved even under foreign occupations when the cities of Cyprus remained independent even after their submission to the Assyrians in 709, the Egyptians in 569 and the Persians in 545 BC.
The period of Egyptian domination, though brief, left its mark mainly in arts especially in sculpture, where we observe the rigidity and the dress of Egyptians. Soon, however, the Cypriots discarded both for the sake of Greek prototypes.

Under the Persians, the kings of Cyprus retained their independence, although paying tribute to their overlord. They could mint their own coins without even his portrait on it. Thus King Evelthon of Salamis (560- 525 BC) probably the first one to cast silver or bronze coins in Cyprus shows a ram on the obverse and an 'ankh ' (Egyptian symbol of good luck) on the reverse.

In the Persian empire, Cyprus formed part of the fifth province and in addition to tribute, it had to supply the Persians with ships and crews. In their new fate, the Greeks of Cyprus had as companions the Greeks of Ionia (west coast of Asia Minor - now Turkey) with whom they forged closer ties. When the Ionian Greeks revolted against Persia (499 BC) the Cypriots except for Amathus, joined in at the instigation of Onesilos, brother of the king of Salamis, whom he dethroned for not wanting to fight for independence.

The Persians reacted quickly sending a considerable force against Onesilos. They won despite Ionian help.