Ceramics Historical Project

Cypriot Ceramics of the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages

8 March 2000

Cyprus, or Kypros in Greek, is one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean. It is situated about forty miles south of Turkey and about two hundred and forty miles north of Egypt. To the east it has the mountain range of Lebanon on the mainland and to the North that of Taurus. The name it bears is derived from the mineral that it is so rich in, copper. The Greek word for copper is kypros. It was also celebrated in antiquity as the birthplace and favorite dwelling of Aphrodite, the goddess of love in Greek mythology, and was known for its wealth beauty and decadence.

In the second millennium BC the Eastern Mediterranean was full of turmoil because of the conflict with the Hyksos who ruled Egypt. But when the Hyksos were expelled in the middle of the sixteenth century BC there was a period of peace and growing trade and equally growing urban centers. Many harbor towns soon sprung up on the southern coast of Cyprus. The main points of trade at this time were the Aegean and the Near Eastern countries. These years of peace caused unprecedented wealth for the island. The island witnessed a lot of cultural innovation, advances in ceramics as well as strengthening of ties with the Greek civilization. The Cypro-Minoan script developed in this time. But although Cyprus did not play a major role on the political front with her neighbors, she suffered from raids from migrating conquerors during the latter half of the thirteenth century BC. These invasions were not only problematic to Cyprus but also to many other peoples that they crushed along the way, such as the Hittites and Ugarit, until, in 1191 BC they were stopped and defeated by Pharaoh Ramses III of Egypt upon attempt to invade his domain. Also since the island was so rich in natural resources and was so strategically geographically placed, it was subject to raiding by the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Persians and others.

When these hostilities came to an end, a great deal of Mycenaean Greeks came to settle on Cyprus, approximately 1200 BC – 1100 BC. Apparently the Greek writers of later times attributed this mass exodus to the Trojan War, saying that many of the heroes that fought in it now came to settle on the island. The influence was very powerful especially on the language and the arts and so the culture has remained predominantly Greek since those times despite the later conquests of other cultures.

From the eleven hundreds to the middle of the eighth century BC is what later came to be called the Early Iron Age. And as the people became predominantly Greek so did the artwork. The ceramics of the time show Aegean influence in both shape and technique, but they differ from their mainland neighbors in their slight influence from the orient. Religious and burial traditions and beliefs started to change closer to those of the Greek. And fashion was influenced as well with the introduction of the safety pin.

This time was also marked by many earthquakes and natural disasters, which led to massive destruction and the abandonment of many cities. The first hundred years of the Iron Age, also known in this geographic region as the Cypro-Geometric Period, some of the destroyed cities were rebuilt and many new ones were established as well.

During the ninth century BC there was an influx of Phoenicians, who are assumed to have been running from their home in modern day Lebanon because of the harassment they endured from the Assyrians. They dominated the city of Kition, which was to become their most powerful stronghold. The cities of Salamis, Paphos, Curium and Amathus also thrived during that period. The Phoenicians influenced a wide range of things including religion, pottery shapes and ornament design. Their main influence, however, was the alphabet, which was introduced to the Greeks in the eighth century BC but somehow did not become functional on Cyprus until the fourth century BC.

The pottery of this time on Cyprus as well as on Crete seems to have a much influence from the Orient as it does from Greece, specifically that of Central Asia