BMCR 2002.03.41

Italy and Cyprus in Antiquity: 1500-450 BC

, , , , Italy and Cyprus in antiquity, 1500-450 BC : proceedings of an international symposium held at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia University, November 16-18 2000. Nicosia: Costakis and Leto Severis Foundation, 2001. xv, 393 pages : illustrations, maps, plans ; 27 cm. ISBN 9963810233 $62.00.

Stemming from a conference organized by Larissa Bonfante and Vassos Karageorghis and held at the Italian Academy for Advanced Study at Columbia University in November 2000, this volume deserves notice for the speed at which it was published (a year later in 2001) as well as for its overall content. The volume contains sixteen detailed essays, one paper represented by a brief abstract only (Arnold-Biucchi, The Movement of South Italian & Cypriot Coins In the Archaic & Early Classical Period), discursive introductory (Karageorghis) and concluding (D. Ridgway) essays, and two entries of brief introductory comments (Bonfante, Brilliant). Both Larissa Bonfante and David Ridgway note the particularly collegial atmosphere of the conference, something that allowed for preliminary as well as polished presentations. Organized chronologically, with papers covering a similar time period ordered roughly by geographical focus from east to west, this set of conference papers makes a solid contribution to coordinating the study of western and eastern Mediterranean cultures, particularly but not only those of Italy and Cyprus, in the Bronze and Iron Ages.

Both Karageorghis (Cyprus and Italy: Introductory Remarks) and Ridgway (Final Remarks: Italy and Cyprus. Where are we? And where do we go from here?) lay out general themes of the conference: international exchange (including the relationships among the movements of peoples, artistic ideas, and material culture), metallurgical technology and products, and social change including banqueting and the symposium. The ability to bring Italy and Cyprus together in discussion is possible largely because of the discovery of Cypriot objects in the west and the adoption of eastern habits there. Publication hampers some details of discussion, which is made clear by Ridgway and has been emphasized by Karageorghis many times in the past, Italy lagging behind Cyprus in this regard. Nonetheless, the papers here contribute to making some previously unpublished or lesser known information available to a wider audience.

The first six papers read well together, providing several views into the processes of exchange between east and west. Cemal Pulak (The Cargo of the Uluburun Ship and Evidence for Trade with the Aegean and Beyond) presents concrete evidence for a vehicle of exchange in the form of the ship (ca. 1300 BC) found wrecked off the southern coast of Turkey at Ulu Burun. One of a series of preliminary publications on the findings there, this article updates the interpretation of some of the discoveries and discusses in detail the nature and quantity of the raw materials (metals, glass, orpiment, wood, murex opercula, terebinth resin, spices and condiments, ivory, and ostrich eggshells), finished products (Cypriot pottery, metal vessels, wooden containers, beads, and cloth or garments), tools of trade (weights), and possessions of the traders (e.g. swords and seals). He argues for a mixture of Canaanite (or Cypriot) merchants, Mycenaean officials, and a Bulgarian or Romanian on board the ship. Citing the swords of Mycenaean type as evidence for Mycenaeans on board, Pulak indicates that they could not have been merchants because of the lack of a Mycenaean weight system among the finds (49). The only weights accord with Near Eastern standards (45). However, the owners of the swords, if of Aegean origin themselves, might have joined the crew of the ship sometime during an earlier Mediterranean circuit voyage, in which case one would expect them to use the weight standards of that ship. If there were Mycenaeans emissaries on the ship, might we not expect them to have a Mycenaean set of weight standards specifically to ensure, within a Mycenaean system, that the cargo was that which had been ordered? The finds from Ulu Burun are being studied by Pulak and his colleagues with masterful attention to detail and it is clear that their final publication will provide a fabulous resource for discussing the specifics of Late Bronze Age exchange.

Honor Frost (Two Cypriot Anchors), in a well-illustrated contribution, uses the similarity between seventh century anchor-stocks from Cyprus and Italy as a device for entering into a discussion of Bronze and Iron Age anchors, their use in sanctuaries, and the relationship between cult space, towers, and sea-travel. Like Pulak, who discussed evidence for much of what has not survived having to do with traded products, Frost makes vivid those spaces that would have been early lighthouses for ancient seafarers. Frost and Pulak’s articles together admirably bring out parts of the visual and physical processes of sea travel that are frequently lost in the static nature of archaeological discoveries.

Both Lucia Vagnetti (Some Observations on Late Cypriot Pottery from the Central Mediterranean) and Nicolle Hirschfeld (Cypriots to the West? The Evidence of their Potmarks) investigate evidence for long-distance trade in ceramics (and their contents) across the Mediterranean. As we read in Vagnetti’s article, the paucity of Cypriot ceramics in the west is gradually decreasing, for example with evidence for pithoi and White Slip ware from the excavations at Cannatello, Sicily. She presents a survey of the Cypriot ceramics on Sicily, Sardinia, and the Italian peninsula. Hirschfeld discusses three marked Mycenaean handles from Cannatello, which are the only evidence of Cypriot marking systems in the west. When seen in the context of Hirschfeld’s vast collection of information about Bronze Age marking systems in the Mediterranean generally, they can be read as part of the pan-Mediterranean trade in which Cypriot islanders took part. Each author emphasizes a broad-ranging international connection represented by the Cypriot contacts. Vagnetti rightly points out that this connection differs from the more direct relations between Greece and the west (as also seen in the Iron Age papers) that may have occurred independent of Cypriot and Levantine organized systems, such as that probably represented by the Ulu Burun ship.

Metallurgical connections between Cyprus and the west are the focus of papers by Vasiliki Kassianidou (Cypriot Copper in Sardinia: Yet another case of bringing coals to Newcastle?) and Fulvia Lo Schiavo (Late Cypriot Bronzework and Bronzeworkers in Sardinia, Italy and elsewhere in the West). Why a copper producing place such as Sardinia would import Cypriot copper has long been a question. In a critical review of Cypriot copper, copper ingots, and Bronze Age metallurgy generally Kassianidou points out that one might import a resource that was available locally if it was presented “ready to use” (110). More importantly she comments on the lead content of bronzes on Sardinia, which have led people to propose that the ingots on the island that matched Cypriot fingerprints for lead isotope analysis were not used for Sardinian bronzes. She suggests the isotope readings could derive from lead in the Sardinian tin (cassiterite) as well as Sardinian lead itself mixed with the Cypriot copper to make the bronze, not from the use of Sardinian copper (106). Also important here is her emphasis on reevaluating not only the composition of metals, but the full process of metallurgy from original mining through to finished product, citing new evidence found by the Sydney Cyprus Survey Project.

In her discussion of Nuragic metallurgy, Lo Schiavo presents a helpful chronological schema (132) that puts her discussion of Cypriot copper and even the possibility of Cypriot bronzeworkers on Sardinia into perspective. Interestingly her discussion of Sardinian bronze production indirectly supports Kassianidou’s idea of the mixing of Cypriot and Sardinian metals in Sardinian bronzes, for Lo Schiavo makes it clear that evidence for copper mining and primary smelting is scarce in the Late Bronze Age whereas lead is “ubiquitous” and was used in the casting process and tin (cassiterite) is also in evidence (139-140). Her appendix on the relationship between Sardinia and the Shardana continues her argument about close associations between Cyprus and Sardinia both in terms of products and of the people who knew how to make them.

Four papers address the period from the end of the Late Bronze Age through the Early Iron Age. Hartmut Matthäus (Studies on the Interrelations of Cyprus and Italy during the 11th to 9th Centuries B.C.: A Pan-Mediterranean Perspective) looks in great detail at two hoards of bronzes from Sardinia in order to examine cultural exchange between east and west. The article includes a catalogue of objects and is well illustrated with photographs, drawings, and distribution maps. He reviews bowls with lotus handles, handle attachments with spiral decoration, and bar-shaped attachments with swing-handles to point out that long-distance exchange of prestige goods continued in the Early Iron Age.

Irene S. Lemos (The Lefkandi Connection: Networking in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean) also emphasizes continued exchange during the Early Iron Age in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. She discusses contacts within and beyond the Aegean with particular reference to Euboean evidence. Particularly important is her highlighting of the need to investigate this period from the local perspectives that formed the political profiles of the time and formed the framework in which exchange took place, rather than taking, for example, entire Aegean-based or Cyprus-based perspectives. Needless to say, such an approach, where detectable, would help to clarify some of the Bronze and later Iron Age patterns of exchange as well.

Nicolas Coldstream (Greek Geometric Pottery in Italy and Cyprus: Constrasts [sic] and Comparisons) takes a regional, even if not local or site-based, approach to discussing Greek Geometric vessels found in east and west. He brings Alan Blakeway1 into discussion, citing his method of classifying vessels as either Greek imports, local copies by Greek potters, local copies by Italic imitators, or Italic vessels with Greek decoration. D. Ridgway also notes Blakeway’s model2 in his concluding comments, indicating that Blakeway preferred Greek over Italic, setting a trend for later studies. Even with this criticism, Coldstream’s reintroduction of this approach underlines one of the key differences between Greek ceramics or Greek-style ceramics in east and west, that those in the west suggest a greater amount of actual contact between Greek and Italic potters than do those in the east, where we might look for contact between Greek and Cypriot or Levantine potters.

The only paper to address Iberia in any detail is that by Martin Almagro-Gorbea (Cyprus, Phoenicia and Iberia: From “Precolonization” to Colonization in the “Far West”). Unfortunately without any illustrations (those that were to be were not available for printing [270]), this is a survey of weapons, innovations in technology and transport, bronze vases and banqueting accoutrements, musical instruments, toilet articles as well as adornment and dress, and new linguistic as well as social and symbolic elements in the far western Mediterranean, which have formal and relational associations with Cyprus and the east. Heavily detailed, this Atlantic perspective on the Bronze and Early Iron Age Mediterranean is refreshing nevertheless.

Six papers focus on Italy and relations with Cyprus and the east from the eighth through the sixth centuries. A common theme of artistic exchange, particularly the physical movement of artisans from east to west runs through most of the papers. Jean Macintosh Turfa (The Etruscans and the Phoenicians of Cyprus: 8th – 6th centuries B.C.) gives a sensitive discussion of the intricacies of studying a web of relations between Etruria and Cyprus from the small body of evidence available. The ships of the Phoenicians, which would have made direct physical contact with places both east and west, form visual links between the two places as do the traded items. Appropriate to the coincidence of the conference with the opening of the new Cypriot galleries in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2000, Turfa cites a model of a ship in that collection to illustrate her argument.

Ellen Macnamara (Evidence and Influence of Cypriot Bronzework in Italy from the 8th – 6th centuries B.C.) investigates details of Cypriot bronze tripods to detect the nature of the transmission of technology to Italy. The article is well illustrated and highly detailed, sometimes so detailed as to obscure its main points. Nonetheless it demonstrates some of the technological continuity even from the Bronze Age and explores in bronze some of the issues of transmission most often investigated through ceramics (e.g., here Coldstream, Vagnetti).

Continuing Turfa’s theme of transport and Macnamara’s questions about technological transmission is Adriana Emiliozzi’s paper on wheeled vehicles (Technical problems concerning Orientalizing vehicles in Cyprus and Etruria). It is highly technical, but well written and with clear and frequent illustrations, Emiliozzi argues for innovations in wheeled transport from Assyria and Cyprus that might indicate the arrival of people from the east as the agents for change, rather than objects. That the changes are not found in the wheels themselves, supports the idea that the peoples may have been artists rather than wheelwrights.

Issues in the exchange of architectural concepts form Friedhelm Prayon’s argument (Near Eastern Influences in Early Etruscan Architecture?). In particular he argues that the pillar system, which is a mural technique, and the building called “edificio beta” at Tarquinia derive from a Near Eastern (including Cypriot) tradition. Whether or not these forms were indeed transmitted directly from the Near East via artisans, this article again brings up the notion of traveling artists. Like Emiliozzi, Prayon cites Assyria, but this time its threat and pressure as agents for population movement and change from east to west. Sometimes artifactual evidence for the Assyrians outside of Assyria is scarce in the east (save for obvious remains, such as at Lachish), although we know they were in the eastern Mediterranean. Perhaps their Mediterranean artistic legacy was in the shifting and mixing of peoples and ideas that formed new artistic traditions characteristic of Archaic and even Classical period cultures.

Continuing the theme of artistic transmission is Francesca R. Serra Ridgway’s study of monumental sculpture (Near-Eastern Influences in Etruscan Art). She underlines the Near Eastern origins of the form and iconography of early Etruscan funerary sculptures and house acroteria. However, she also points out that funerary tradition and house decoration (in wood) would have grown from local custom, incorporating but not originating from outside ideas. Inherent in all the papers that discuss the transmission of artistic concepts or the travel of artists themselves is that both the artists and the people for whom the buildings, sculptures, vehicles, tripods, ceramics, etc. were made would surely have played a role in the final appearance of the artwork. Thus the art forms resulting from associations between west and east reflect both the training, skill, and eye of the makers as well as the explicitly requested or implicitly preferred desires of the users. The degree to which maker and user can be seen in the final work is the challenge for scholarship.

Ingrid Strom (Cypriot Influences on Early Etruscan Banqueting Customs?) discusses banqueting equipment in Italy and the extent to which its forms derive from the east. Other than their use in drinking ceremonies, she rejects any local element in the decorated metal bowls and jugs, which she attributes fully to Phoenician craftsmanship in the east. Cooking equipment, such as spits (obeloi) and fire-dogs, she also attributes to eastern, or at least Greek and Cypriot custom. Overall she sees an emulation in the Etruscan aristocracy of eastern drinking and banqueting ceremonies that formed parts of funerary tradition. In this conclusion Strom differs somewhat from F. Ridgway, but there were probably varying degrees of local and imported customs and objects depending on taste and access.

From the international world of the Late Bronze Age through the time of the Assyrian Empire and beyond, Italy and Cyprus in Antiquity gives both the big picture and in depth case studies that allow the reader to better understand Italy and environs from the perspective of its connections with Cyprus and places east. Although there are several noticeable typographical errors and the degree of illustration is highly variable among the articles, these criticisms do not detract from this book being a good read and a quickly published one at that.


1. Blakeway, A. 1932-33 [1935] “Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Commerce with Italy, Sicily and France in the Eighth and Seventh Centuries B.C.,” Annual of the British School at Athens 33: 170-208.

2. Blakeway supra n. 1; Blakeway, A. 1935 “‘Demaratus’: A Study in Some Aspects of the Earliest Hellenisation of Latium and Etruria,” Journal of Roman Studies 25: 129-149.