BMCR 1995.03.34

1995.03.34, Reyes, Archaic Cyprus

, Archaic Cyprus : a study of the textual and archaeological evidence. Oxford monographs on classical archaeology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994. xxiii, 200 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm.. ISBN 9780198132271. $75.00.

This study of the external and local relations of archaic Cyprus covers the period from the eighth to the sixth centuries BC (and in fact into the fifth). It aims to revise the views on Iron Age Cyprus in the light of research since Einar Gjerstad’s publication of the Swedish Cyprus Expedition in 1948. The book is divided into three parts: “The Cypriot Kingdoms”, “Cyprus, the Near East, and Egypt”, and “Local and Foreign Contacts”. It is thus a work which is of interest to scholars not only of Cyprus, but also of Egypt, the Near East, and Greece. Three distinct questions set the framework for the book (p. 3):

1. “To what extent can one establish the chronology of events mentioned in the written sources?”
2. “How did Cyprus interact with the different foreign powers of the Near East and Egypt?”
3. “What relations existed between different parts of the island?”

Given the richness of the archaeological evidence one might expect much from such a searching strategy.

Although this book “is a much-revised version of the historical and archaeological framework” derived from his Oxford thesis, “An archaeological study of the impact of foreign cultures in Cyprus, from the eighth to the sixth centuries BC, with particular reference to the evidence of stamp seals” (1989), the conclusions are rather insubstantial. The available textual and archaeological evidence does not seem to have allowed R. to answer the questions he has set himself. Take for example the textual evidence for links between Egypt and Cyprus (Ch. 4). There is the comment by Herodotus (2.182.2), “Whereas Amasis made these dedications [sc. at Samos and Lindos], he seized Cyprus, the first man to do so, and compelled it to pay tribute” (and see also E.D. Francis and M. Vickers, “Amasis and Lindos”, BICS 31 (1984) 119-30), and there is the Elephantine stele of Amasis which records for 570 BC, “As for Apries—the island [ iw = Cyprus] has prepared for him ships overflowing with countless Greek mercenaries”. As R. himself acknowledges, the evidence for an alliance between Cyprus and Egypt is based on “little firm evidence” (p. 76), and “there can be no certainty … over the nature of the political relationship between Cyprus and Egypt” (p. 84).

The archaeological evidence also seems unproductive. Take for example: “The conclusions concerning the relationships between the different Cypriot kingdoms must remain highly speculative, dependent, as they are, on evidence that comprises relatively few objects, often from inadequately recorded sites, rather than from controlled excavations” (p. 153). The production centres for pottery cannot be located because the methodology in analysing the sherds is “problematic” and “the results are, accordingly, difficult to interpret” (p. 115). Elsewhere results are said to be “not yet to hand” (p. 101). R. himself admits that his methodology, viz. the use of archaeological sources, may be flawed: e.g. in his chapter on “Cyprus and Persia”, “to use architectural ground plans as a basis for reconstructing Cypriot political history is precarious at best” (p. 92). It was also disappointing to read in the introductory section in the chapter on “Internal Relations”, “Regional aspects of the production of terracotta and stone sculptures have only recently begun to receive attention, and consequently, little, for the moment, can be said with any confidence” (p. 102). It seems to this reviewer that either R. should have prepared a more detailed study himself, or he should have published these tentative views in another form.

One issue this reviewer feels is not addressed adequately is that of the intellectual consequences of handling material which has no secure provenance. 1 Historians, and for that matter archaeologists, are seemingly unaware that the actions of the antiquities market can corrupt the “canon”. Take for example the Egyptian stone mortar, inscribed with the name of Amasis in hieroglyphs, “discovered beneath the foundations of an old house in Larnaca”; R. considers the piece “of little historical value” as “it probably entered Cyprus as a result of the antiquities trade in the 19th cent.” (p. 72 n. 19). Once we acknowledge this problem, where do we draw the line? Take the evidence for Phoenician settlement on the island. “The earliest epigraphical evidence is a short Phoenician inscription of uncertain meaning inscribed on the base of a vase made of green stone … The vase … was probably purchased by Cesnola … in a bazaar at Nicosia sometime before 1876. Thus, there can be no certainty that it is from Cyprus, and, consequently, the inscription loses much of its historical value” (p. 19). The key cuneiform inscription recording the gifts of seven kings of Cyprus to Sargon II c. 707 has no secure provenance, Idalion and Kition being cited as two possible findspots (p. 51).

Seals are equally unreliable when it comes to providing a secure archaeological body of material. The Assyrian stamp seals from the Cesnola and Pierides collections may reflect “part of the burgeoning antiquities trade” (p. 61) rather than contact between Assyria and Cyprus. R. acknowledges that the nineteenth- and twentieth-century provenances supplied for Cypro-Archaic gems inscribed in Cypro-syllabic script may not be accurate (p. 123), and that “it is not possible … to be precise about the provenances of most of the East Greek gems found in Cyprus” (p. 145). In his discussion of internal relations on the island, R. notes, “most of the diagnostic ceramics and glyptics are without proper archaeological contexts, making it difficult to reconstruct the precise mechanisms by which an object characteristic of one part of Cyprus may have found its way to another. The same problems hold when the external relations of the island are considered” (p. 102). R. should have made it clear to the reader which parts of the archaeological evidence are insecure and which secure. Without this information a new study is inevitable, as this account cannot be considered trustworthy.

Reyes is inconsistent in the way he discusses material: “said to be from” appears to be interchangeable with “reportedly from” (e.g. the bronze head in the Louvre, pl. 57 and p. 147) and “allegedly from” (e.g. the two bronze statuettes in the Louvre, pl. 20 and p. 65). As historians we might want to ask some more questions. Who said it came from Cyprus? How reliable is the source? The dictum of “what the soldier said” in relation to scientific excavation remains as true for the 1990s as when it was coined by Stanley Casson in 1927 ( JHS 47 (1927) 298-99). It must be of concern that in Part 1, Chapter 1, and what is in effect Section 1, the first piece of evidence, a bronze spit inscribed with the Greek name Opheltas in Cypriot syllabary has an attached footnote (p. 11 n. 3): “For doubts about the archaeological context of the spit …”. What are these doubts? Does Reyes think that they are irrelevant worries? Can the details be given? The question is then raised in the mind of this reader, what other pieces of evidence may come from doubtful archaeological contexts?

The term “allegedly”—which is being increasingly used for describing provenances for late twentieth-century collections of antiquities—is used to describe items from the so-called “Kourion treasure” (pp. 57; 58; 88; there is no entry in the index). R. fails to mention that the silver bowl inscribed with the name of Akestor, king of Paphos, had a later inscription, “I belong to Timukrates”; see also T.B. Mitford, “Akestor, King of Paphos”, BICS 10 (1963) 27-30, and D. von Bothmer, A Greek and Roman Treasury (New York 1984) 20 no. 10. R. mentions Mitford’s thesis that the hoard—or the parts which carry the names of Paphians—came from loot from the sacking of Paphos in 498 (p. 103). This reviewer and Michael Vickers ( Artful Crafts: Ancient Greek Silverware and Pottery [Oxford 1994] 65) have also suggested that “the objects simply attest to the xenia between the aristocracy of Paphos and Curium”; if so, the Kourion treasure could have found a place in ch. 6, “Internal relations”.

In a book which deals explicitly with “archaeological evidence” one might have expected to read a little more about archaeological contexts where they are known. Take for example the Attic black-figured skyphos found at Tamassos. It adds nothing to science to be told that it is attributed to “the artist known as the KX Painter” (p. 144); whereas it would have been useful to know that it was found in “Royal Tomb” no. XII; on which see R. Nicholls and H.-G. Bucholz, “The provenance of the Cambridge skyphos by the KX painter”, JHS 98 (1978) 162-64.

This preoccupation with attributions is also expressed in the way that Cypriot pots are ascribed to “the group of ‘Fish-Cups'” or to “the ‘Figure-on-the Shoulder’ jugs” (p. 107). Although R. states that “ascriptions of [Cypriot] vase-paintings to the hands of particular artists … have been accepted as an initial basis for analysis” (p. 102), he seems unaware of the controversy surrounding such methodology. 2 In the context of Attic pot-decoration (and we are talking about pots not “vases”; cf. J. Tanner, in Antiquity 68 (1994) 654), Mary Beard has wisely pointed out that “There is nothing to be said about [Beazley’s artists] that cannot be said about the pots themselves” (in T. Rasmussen and N. Spivey (ed.), Looking at Greek Vases (Cambridge 1991) 17). In the absence of signatures or other documentary records one can only guess—not assert—that “the workshop [sc. “The NBB workshop”] was founded by an artist designated the Armidale Painter by Benson” (p. 112), or that you can identify “artists” working “in the manner of” another pot-painter (p. 113).

This way of viewing the extant material culture is reflected in the way the evidence is presented. Take for example R.’s reading of the story by Polycharmos of Naukratis (ap. Ath. 15.676f), which it is claimed records “the transportation of a Paphian terracotta figurine” (p. 150 and cf. p. 124). In fact the Greek text does not record the material used to make the “small statue of Aphrodite”. Presumably R. was aware that terracotta statuettes survive in large quantities and therefore assumed that this reference must allude to an object of clay. One also wonders if R.’s claim that “Cypriot gemstones seem to have had a certain fame in antiquity” (p. 27) confuses the appreciation of Cypriot gemstones recorded in ancient writers with modern connoisseurship of intaglios.

Archaeologists may find R.’s methodology weak. For example his interpretation of the adoption of the mould for clay figures as reflecting “an increased demand in East Greece for their terracottas” (p. 35) seems as dated as the view expressed by F.E. Adcock in the Cambridge Ancient History (1927) that the corn barons of the Euxine were connoisseurs of Attic pottery and terracottas ( CAH 5, 174). R. tries to identify the influence from major centres such as Persia or Egypt in the Cypriot material record. Such a method is far from secure, and one wonders whether the search for Egyptian influence on Cypriot ceramics is flawed when the cock is identified as a motif found on pottery from Amathus. R. admits, “The cock is not an animal particularly associated with Egypt” (p. 80) and then notes, “The cock is usually seen as an Iranian bird”. This raises other issues. How are motifs transferred from one culture to another? Is such transferral a sign of political imperialism? One might have expected a little more discussion of this important topic. There are also examples of intellectual inconsistency. Take the view that Cypriot terracottas were “less costly alternatives to limestone votives” (p. 32). Yet, interestingly, when it comes to Attic pottery, R. considers the influence comes from the less costly medium. Thus “a metal imitation of a ‘Little Master’ cup is reported from a tomb in the Nicosia area” (p. 133).

As far as chronology is concerned, R., wisely perhaps, does not make his position absolutely clear on archaic chronology. He crypticly states that “it is now clear that the chronologically diagnostic archaeological strata in Syria and Palestine (notably at Al Mina, Tell Abu Hawam, and Megiddo) used by Birmingham [sc. AJA 67 (1963) 15-42] and others are less well-defined than had been previously thought” (p. 6 n. 24). Presumably this accepts the criticisms of Greek pottery in the Near East made by Michael Vickers and the late David Francis (“Greek Geometric pottery at Hama and its implications for Near Eastern chronology”, Levant 17 (1985) 131-38; cf. M.D. Herrera and J. Balensi, “More about the Greek Geometric pottery at Tell Abu Hawam”, Levant 18 (1986) 169-71).

Some of the conclusions drawn from imported Attic black-glossed pottery may need to be checked. R. claims that “by the end of the sixth century, Attic black-glazed wares were reaching Kition, as well as Marion” (p. 142). In fact this reviewer considers that this group of material did not start arriving at Marion until after 480 (D.W.J. Gill, Attic Black-glazed Pottery in the Fifth Century BC: Workshops and Export (DPhil. diss. Oxford 1986) 333 fig. D). One might also wish to add to this subject the two “coral red” stemless cups found at Idalion by Cesnola, and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. As far as Salamis is concerned, R. suggests that “the sequence of Attic black-glazed ware at Salamis does not seem to begin until the end of the 5th cent.” (p. 142 n. 142), basing his views on L. Jehasse, Salamine de Chypre viii (Paris, 1978). The material from the British excavations in the late nineteenth century might repay renewed study; cf. also R. Meiggs, The Athenian Empire (Oxford, 1972) 479, for earlier material. Of importance to R.’s thesis about “External Relations” is the comparison of Attic black-glossed material found in the cemeteries of Kameiros on Rhodes and Marion. This suggests that for most of the fifth century plain Attic pottery was arriving on Rhodes and on Cyprus at the same rate: D.W.J. Gill, “The distribution of Greek vases and long distance trade”, in J. Christiansen and T. Melander (eds.), Proc. 3rd Sympos. Anc. Greek and Related Pottery (Copenhagen 1987) 179 fig. 2. An appropriate line of enquiry might be to explore the view—first raised by Martin Robertson (see p. 143)—that Attic pottery arrived on Cyprus via Al Mina. Again this raises the issue of ceramic chronology and the re-foundation of Al Mina which may been in the 470s (see Gill, “Distribution”, 182 Appendix A).

The layout of the book is not satisfactory. The insertion of the list of Cypriot kings would have been appropriate at p. 89 rather than reserved for a Table (no. 4) on p. 162. The relationships between different cities of the island expressed in Table 5 (on p. 163) would have fitted in better to the conclusion on “Internal Relations” (at p. 120). The distribution maps to illustrate internal relations do not have captions (Maps 1-15). They could have been enhanced by showing the production centres and the comparative number of objects found at each site (perhaps by using circles of varying size). Map 2 (p. 105) for Kourion appears to combine (without warning!) votives found at Kourion and terracottas “manufactured” at Kourion and found elsewhere. It would have been helpful to have had distribution maps for imports such as Chian amphorae (p. 140). The bibliography is clumsy; an adapted Harvard system might have made the book seem more workmanlike. The index is not comprehensive. For example, ceramics appear “as evidence of internal contact” but not “of external contact”. It might also have been helpful to print Tables 1 (“The standard chronology for Cypriot history in the Cypro-Archaic period”) and 6 (“Chronology of Cypro-Archaic History”) together or on facing pages. This would have allowed the reader to see how R.’s chronology differs from Gjerstad’s conclusions.

Despite these reservations, the reviewer found much in the book that is of value. The bibliography and summaries of different categories of archaeological evidence (such as sanctuary types) will serve as a useful path into the more detailed studies. This reviewer was struck by A.W. Lawrence’s quoted views that “Cyprus could not have been more advanced than Greece in the production of monumental stone sculpture” (p. 36; and published in JHS 46 (1926) 163-70), which should perhaps be seen against the acquisition of the “Fitzwilliam Goddess” in the same year, claimed to be the earliest stone sculpture from the Greek world; see K. Butcher and D. Gill, “The Director, the Dealer, the Goddess and her Champions: the acquisition of the Fitzwilliam Goddess”, AJA 97 (1993) 383-401.

Each of the chapters is introduced by short texts from ancient and more recent sources (e.g. George Orwell, Plato, William Shakespeare). The use of a quotation from O.M. Chapman ( Across Cyprus (London, 1937) 126) to introduce the chapter on “Cyprus and Egypt” (p. 69), is reminiscent of the way that Sir Leonard Woolley (“Excavations at Al Mina, Suedia I”, JHS 58 (1938) 15-16) interpreted Al Mina in the light of contemporary Levantines. So far as the three questions posed by this study are concerned, one is left feeling that R. has sharpened the chronological framework of archaic Cyprus, but that the questions relating to external and internal relations were answered in an inconclusive way.

  • [1] Christopher Chippindale has recently drawn attention to the way that misleading questions have been asked about Cycladic figures from the Early Bronze Age (“Material and intellectual consequences of esteem for Cycladic figures”, AJA 97 (1993) 601-59). [2] The most useful discussion can be found in C. Morris, “Hands up for the individual! The role of attribution studies in Aegean Prehistory”, CambArchJ 3.1 (1993) 41-66, with accompanying responses.