From The Cyprus Collections in the Medelhavsmuseet, (Karageorghis, Vassos, ed.) A.G. Leventis Foundation and Medelhavsmuseet, Nicosia and Stockholm 2003. Listed in AJA 107.4 (October 2003)
The open-air sanctuary at Ayia Iríni
The most significant find of the Swedish Cyprus Expedition was the discovery in 1929 of the cult site at Ayia Iríni in the north-western part of the island. It is one of the most notable rural sanctuaries of Cyprus and was to remain a sacred place for a thousand years. The most important period of the site was from the Cypro-Geometric III to the Cypro-Archaic II (ca. 900-480 B.C.), when it was an open-air sanctuary of the temenos type.
In the middle of an isolated and open field on a rocky ground, not far from the sea, the Expedition made a sensational discovery in the autumn 1929. About two thousand terracotta statues and statuettes were standing in semicircles around a stone altar, like spectators in the auditorium of an ancient theatre. The main part of the terracottas were found in their original positions. Most of the terracottas are male figures of small, medium and large size, including priests and warriors, standing in frontal position with the arms along their sides. A few figures carry votive offerings, while others hold flutes and tambourines. The difference in size of the votives probably reflects the social status of the worshipper. The life size statues were acquired and placed in the sanctuary by well-to-do Cypriots or others, while the small votives were available for people of small means. There are also war chariots drawn by horses, horse-and-riders, ring dancers, ‘minotaurs’ (a crossbreed of bull and man) and bull statuettes, but they are much smaller in number. The human figures stand in place of the dedicant and provide continous worship. The animal figures represent sacrificial offerings to the god in place of or to supplement the animal itself. When the site was in use in antiquity, visitors brought the clay votives to be placed in the sanctuary, and many even brought animals for sacrifice. They might perhaps also have come to participate in the veneration of sacred trees, much as many villagers do today in Cyprus.
The male figures are dressed in long garments and wear helmets or conical caps with cheek-pieces. Almost all of them are bearded and some wear earrings. The large votives were made up of mass-produced feet, arms, trunks and heads, which were given individual features through attaching hair, beards, headdress and equipment. The mould also facilitated the mass production of figurines. It seems that the earliest evidence for the use of the mould comes from Ayia Irini, which produced mouldmade terracottas from about 650 B.C. Several sculptures have a lively facial expression and show great individuality.
The identity of the deity is not recorded epigraphically, but is reflected in the dedications. The bull statuettes, the armed figures and the chariots indicate that a god of war, as well as a god of fertility and cattle, was venerated at the sanctuary. Bulls are a symbol of fertility which played a dominant part in the religious ritual of Cyprus from the Bronze Age onwards. The god worshipped at Ayia Irini was perhaps believed to reside in the cult stone, which was considered to have inherent powers of fertility. This cult-object had been used in the ritual already in Late Cypriote III, ca. 1200 B.C., and had been removed to the subsequent sanctuaries which shows the continuity of the cult. It probably appeared possible to the Cypriotes that the gods or goddesses were present in the sanctuary and participated in the religious rites of the believers. The rituals probably included sacred banquets and dances accompanied by musicians playing lyres, tambourines, double pipes or the syrinx. Worshippers offered sacrificed animals and burnt incense. At Ayia Irini there were remains of waste material from sacrifices, consisting of ash, carbonized matter and animal bones, mixed with potsherds. The Swedish archaeologists believed to have observed traces of soot and oil on the cult stone, found by the altar, from which it had tumbled down. The surface of the altar was hollowed out into a shallow square cavity with a raised border along the edges.
The sanctuary at Ayia Iríni is characteristic of the rural cult, based on the worship of a divinity of fertility, a phenomenon prevailing in various parts of the island. The site is representative of the cult centres of inland settlements. Like many other Archaic sanctuaries, where the god or goddess of fertility was worshipped, it was built over a Late Cypriote Bronze Age site.
The culture layers at Ayia Iríni represent 7 periods of habitation, Period 4 (about 700-550 B.C.) being the most important. Two altars were erected: one rubble-altar of period 2 (ca. 1050-800 B.C.) and a later altar of period 3 (ca. 800-700 B.C.), which was in use until ca. 475 B.C.
During Period 1 of Late Cypriote III (ca. 1200-1050 B.C.) there was a group of buildings which covered an area of about 1000 square meters and was erected around a large open court which measured ca. 30 x 20 meters. According to the excavators, these buildings served cult purposes and constitute store-rooms in two stories, the cult-house proper on the east side, house for cult requisities and the residence of the priest. A majority of the objects of Period 1 were found in the central cult-house. The sacrifices during this early period were most probably bloodless.
In Period 2 (9th century B.C.) the Late Cypriote III remains were levelled up and a typical rural sanctuary, open to the sky, was built. An open temenos of oval shape with an altar as sanctuary, built of rubble, was enclosed by a peribolos or boundary wall. The altar was associated with the aniconic stone symbol of the deity. Nearby was constructed a stone walled compartment for sacred trees and two shelters to screen off the more sacred space from the remainder of the court. Some votive objects of Period 2 were transported from the original place around the altar of Period 2 and deposited as foundation offerings close to the next altar of Period 3. (One part of a bull, with Inv.no. A.I. 2028 and from Period 2, was found in deposit of Period 3.) Some objects of Period 3 were found on the floor of period 4. During Period 2 sacrifices of animals were incorprated in the rituals. Only fragments of sculpture from the Cypro-Geometric III period (comprising Periods 2-3, about 850-700 B.C.) have been found of at Ayia Irini.
The peribolos wall was heightened in Period 3, the floor-level was raised and a new altar was erected, this time in the shape of a rectangular pillar of limestone.
Early in Period 4 (ca. 700-600 B.C.), during the Cypro-Archaic I period, the same altar was in use, but the peribolos wall round the temenos was widened to a size of about 40 x 30 meters. The new wall was built of rubble and the floor level raised again. Two small rectangular rooms were erected, about 5.80 x 5.60 meters in size. Organic earth within the enclosure is explained as being the remains of sacred trees. During this period there were dedications of votive terracottas in massive scale. The temenos was inundated by a flood at the end of the period, which also happened later during Periods 5-6. During the remaining Cypro-Archaic II (Period 5-6, ca. 600-480 B.C.), dedications continued at a reduced scale until the sanctuary was abandoned in Cypro-Archaic II. After the destruction in Period 6, the temenos was abandoned for some centuries. There was a modest reuse of the sanctuary in Period 7 during the Hellenistic period until late in the 1st century B.C.
The site constitute a unique example of an Archaic temenos since the votive sculptures were found in a primary context and a large amount of them in situ. The majority of the objects of Period 4-6 (ca. 700–500 B.C.) were found in undisturbed cultural strata and in situ, almost in their original position and arranged in concentric semicircles around the altar: the smallest statuettes nearest the altar, the larger statues behind these and the life-size forming the background. A certain number of terracottas was also found in waste heaps and deposits.
The Archaic terracottas from Ayia Irini provide the basis for the chronological succession in styles in Archaic Cypriote sculpture. Many terracottas found at other sites at the end of the 19th century derive from “excavations”, not very carefully organized or properly published. Little is known of their cult context or their exact find place. Further, many of the large-scale terracottas (from a third to over life-size) are not found in controlled excavations, while several others are found in deposits (bothroi), thus depriving us of the information regarding their context and location in the cult places. In contrast to other sanctuaries, the Ayia Irini temenos had been flooded and abandoned and all its contents were left almost intact in situ. Some of the earliest examples of large-scale terracotta sculptures in a datable context derive from Ayia Irini and is thus of incomparable importance for a relative chronology. It is likewise the only site in Cyprus to have produced datable large-scale terracotta sculptures of the earliest period (Gjerstad’s First Proto-Cypriote style, ca. 650-560 B.C.). Stratified large-scale terracotta sculpture from Samos are dated to 670/660 B.C., slightly earlier than Gjerstad’s dating.
There are several other cult centres of rural inland settlements like Ayia Irini. One is Myrtou-Pigades where the Bronze Age sanctuary was destroyed at the end of the period. Only little remains of the Iron Age sanctuary. The destruction of the sanctuary and its subsequent re-use follow closely the sequence of events at the neighbouring site of Ayia Irini. The objects from the Iron Age deposit consist of many fragments of bull and other animal figurines of various types, including the bulls with coiling snakes which are familiar from Ayia Irini. There were also fragments of small idols and larger human sculptures, detached feet and arms and a few animals. The finds are datable to Cypro-Geometric II-III (ca. 950-750 B.C.).
The rural sanctuary at Meniko in Western Messaoria was composed of two chapels (not shelters as at Ayia Irini, but cellas) and courtyards, all within a temenos enclosed by a peribolos wall. Two rectangular enclosures in two inner courtyards were perhaps used for sacred trees. An oval stone of andesite was found on the altar on the floor of one courtyard and should be interpreted as a symbol of the fertility cult as at Ayia Irini. Terracottas of human figures were found scattered in various parts of the sanctuary at Meniko. There were also figurines of bulls, horses and riders. Although relatively few, the terracottas provide valuable information about their association with the cult. The statuette of the enthroned bearded and horned god shows the Phoenician character of the cult in the Meniko sanctuary, which is roughly contemporary with Kourion and Ayia Irini. In the Cypro-Classical period the sanctuary fell into disuse and was abandoned.
At Limassol – Komissariato was found a small circular cella with votive objects from about 500 B.C., used in a fertlity cult as at Meniko
In Cypro-Archaic times the early sanctuary of Apollo Hylates at Kourion, with its enclosures, altar and sacred trees, offers a very good parallel to Ayia Irini. Fragments of over ten thousand terracotta figurines from the late 8th century to the early 5th century B.C. have been found in the sanctuary. The majority of the figurines come from two areas associated with the cult of Apollo Hylates; the Votive Deposit and the Archaic Precinct. During the early 7th century B.C. the Archaic Precinct was a large open air temenos containing at least two altars, one circular and one semi-circular. Terracottas and bronze figurines of humans and animals, mostly bulls, were votive gifts at both altars. The earliest dedications of this area were statuettes of bulls (before 750–650 B.C.). As in the case with Ayia Irini, many of them had a snake curling up each foreleg. The number of bulls among the votive gifts suggests that the god at this period was primarily a fertility deity. Chariot groups and horsemen made their appearance in the late 7th century B.C. They became the most popular votives and continued to be used as offerings until the 4th century A.D. During the 6th century B.C. the horsemen were the chief votive offering at Kourion. A dressed stone with hole in one end was found near the altar and is interpreted as a cult stone. Animal bones in great quantity among the ashy debris of a large rubble altar demonstrate that mainly young sheep and goats were sacrificed.
At Patriki important finds of large size terracotta figures were made in a waste deposit or bothros. They possibly derive from a nearby sanctuary and are dated to about 600-550 B.C. The commonest type of figure is the votary in frontal position, wearing a short-sleeved chiton and showing great similarity with some of the Ayia Irini statues. The statues were found in a fragmentary condition, but they all seem to represent young worshippers, dressed for a religious ceremony. The figures hold the forelegs of a goat or buck statuette with the head turned forwards. One of the figures is bearded, the others beardless. They wear conical helmet, with uplifted cheek-pieces, and double ear-rings. A terracotta statue from Ayia Irini (Inv.no. A.I. 1049+1054+1325+supplement 2799) is almost identical with the Patriki votaries and there are also some parallels among the Cypriote terracottas from Samos. The Patriki figures were made in two separate parts which were fixed together after firing.
The finds from the Heraion on Samos indicate that there was an extensive production of Cypriote sculpture as in Rhodes, Naukratis and Syria. Some sculptures were most probably imported from Cyprus, but others may have been made in a Samian factory. It is notable that the best chronological evidence for Cypro-Archaic terracottas has been found outside Cyprus, in the Samian Heraion.