Very short history of CYPRUS

Between 1927 - 1931 the Swedish Cyprus Expedition, under its leader Professor Einar Gjerstad, conducted a series of scientific excavations on about 20 sites of all persiods from Neolithic to Late Roman.

The results are reported in a series of volumes - The Swedish Cyprus Expedition I-IV (1934-1972) - which forms one of the main foundations of Cypriot scholarship.

Most of the finds came to Sweden in 1931 and have, since then, been placed in the store-rooms of the Medelhavsmuseet. The present exhibition only shows a small part of the collection.

Cyprus, situated between Europe and Asia, always partook of every phase of its neighbours civilisation. This is illustrated by the nature of the island's material culture, which is a part European and partly Asiatic. The Cypriots however, never surrendered their own individuality or earlier achivements.


Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods (c. 7000 - 2050 B C)

The first settlers in Cyprus probably arrived not long after 6000 B C. They farmers and hunters and lived in round huts built with stone-walls and flat or domed roofs of mud bricks. The dead were buried under the hut floors. Bowls and figures were made of stone.

Later vases of pottery were made and painted with a variety of pattern.


Transitionary period (c.2500 - 2300 B C)

The Early Cypriote Bronze Age (c. 2050 - 1900 B C)

A number of tombs and many objects, particulary pottery left as gifts for the dead, have been found. Most of the pottery is Red Polished ware. A very typical shape is the gourd-shaped jug with flat base, high neck and cut-away spout. The stylised, "plank-shaped" human figures were found in the necropolis of Lapithos.

The dead were buried in rock-cut chambers approached by an open passage known as a dromos. The cave-like chamber was sealed by a large stone-slab. In common with most of the ancient world, the cypriots belived in an after-life. Even humble burials were equipped with pottery vessels containing food, drinks and unguents. The more fortunate might also receive utensils, tools and weapons. The chamber-tomb served as a family-sepulchre, one tomb sometimes continuing in use  over many generations.

Before the end of Early Cypriot, there is evidence of occasional trade between the Syro-Palestinian area, Egypt and Crete.


 The Middle Cypriote Bronze Age (c.1900 - 1650 B C)

 In this period there is increasing evidence for the islands contacts with her overseas neighbours. Cypriot goods (especially pottery) travelled, among other places, to the Syro-Palestinian area. The Middle Cypriot period doesn't seem to have been very peacefull, to judge from the weapons recovered from cementery sites.


The Late Cypriot Bronze Age (c. 1650 -1050 B C)

The Late Cypriote period saw Cyprus drawn further and further into international trade and hence international politics. Abundant copper was evidently available to the smiths who made weapons, tools and personal ornaments.

Much handmade pottery continued to be made in the old traditions, even though potters in neighbouring countries were using the wheel. Wheelmade pottery was however imported to Cyprus.

The beginning of this period is marked by the appearance of two new pottery fabrics which between them supplied most of the fine table-ware through much of the period. The first is known by the name " Base-ring" ware, from the characteristic ring bases. It is a hand-made fabric with extremely thin walls, fired at high temperature and often decorated in relief. The second fabric, White Slip ware, is also of technical excellence. Its name comes from the thick white slip used to cover the fabric. The "milk-bowl" with a wish-bone handle, was the most popular shape.


Some cypriots could read and write from a date early in this period. Their system of scripts is known as Cypro-Minoan from resemblances to the syllabic scripts of Minoan' Crete. Continous texts have been found on baked clay tablets from Enkomi, together with bone styli used for writing. It seems probable that literacy was general at least in the major towns.


From c. 1450 B C Cyprus became of increasing importance to Mycenean Greece and imported Mycenean pottery in enormous quantities appeared in the island. Most common were the large craters (mixing bowls) decorated in the "pictorial style" with birds, chariots and bulls. These were treasured by the Cypriots who often chose to be buried with them.

Ca 1200 B C many of the great centres in Mycenean Greece suffered destruction. Some of the fugitives reached Cyprus (i e Enkomi) where they introduced features of their own material culture. These immigrants introduced the Greek tongue to Cyprus and before the transition to the Iron Age the Greek language took firm root.


 The Cypro-Geometric period (c. 1050-700 B C)

The name is taken from the linear ornament used for pottery decoration such as triangles, zig-zags, hatched lozenges etc. The best known fabric is "White Painted" ware decorated with a dark, matt paint. Less common was "Bichrome ware", in which a matt red paint was also used.

The importance of some cities is exemplified by recent discoveries in the necropolis of Salamis from the early 8th centery. In this period cyprus traded with both the East and Greece.

Before the end of the 8th centery B C, a syllabary was again in use in Cyprus and it became common in the 7th centery B C.

In 709 Cyprus had become subject to Assyria. This encouraged Phoenician influence in the south and east parts of the island, the area with the best harbours.


The Cypro-Archaic period (c. 700 - 475 B C)

Assyria became the first of a number of foreign powers to control Cyprus and their domination lasted for c. 50 years. In 569 B C Egypt took political control of Cyprus and in 545 B C the Cypriots voluntarily surrendered to Persia. In 498 Cyprus and the East Greek cities of Ionia tried to break away from Persian rule. The revolt failed and Persia established pro-Persian kings in Cyprus.

There were city kingdoms and  regional styles in sculpture and pottery in the Archaic period. Influenced from the Orient, mainland Greece and Ionia played a vital role. Differences between the eastern and western halves of the island in painted pottery and sculptural styles can be observed. The "western" geometric style in the north and west employed circle designs drawn with compass. The "eastern style" of the south and east has elaborate geometric and floral motifs (lotus flowers, palmettes and pictorial compositions), used in the "freefield style" of decoration, i e a single design on the surface., Cypriot "bird-jugs" were very popular.

Many sanctuaries from the Archaic times have been found. The gods were honoured by a variety of offerings near the altar. In Iron Age  Cyprus, terracotta figurines were made for dedications in sanctuaries. It seems that the Cypriots belived that their dedications would act as substitutes for themselves as continous worshippers. They represent offering-bearers, warriors, priests and musicians, probably taking part in a ceremony.

The sanctuary at Ayia Irini is remarkable for the large number of terracottas (about 2000) discovered around the altar. The sanctuary was possibly dedicated to the god of fertility, whose rites included worship by priests in bull's masks. The number of war chariots and armed figures suggest that the god also became a god of war. Most of the statuettes in this exhibition (a small proportion of the whole) were offered in the 7th and 6th cent. B C.

The first sculptures in stone appeared c. 600 B C and were carved in the soft local limestone. Archaic Cypriot sculpture reflects the influence of neighbouring contries. When decorated, the same colour (black and red) and styles as the contemporary vases are used for them all. Red is used for the eyes, hair and embroidered patterns on the clothing. Black is used for hair and beard.


The Cypro-Classic period (c. 475-325 B C)

Cyprus was from the 15th century B C influenced by mainland Greece in art, architecture and religion. I the 5th centery B C a Greek king built a palace, Greek in style on a rocky hill called Vouni' (Greek word for "mountain") on the north west coast of Cyprus.

The palace was built in the early 5th cent. B C,  in Oriental style, but its architecture was altered in the mid-fifth cent. B C when a phil-Hellene ascended the throne. It was destroyed by fire in about 380 B C and the treasure, consisting of jewellery, coins and vessels in precious metal, was found hidden under a staircase leading to the upper floor.

Large-scale sculpture and statuettes in limestone and terracotta were found in the palace or in the vicinity of it. The sculpture is inlfuenced by its Greek prototypes, first in Asia Minor, later in Athens.

After the subjection of Cyprus in the Ionian revolt, the Greeks made several attempts to liberate the island from the Persians. Not until 330 B C Alexander the Great put an end to Persian domination of Cyprus for ever. At the end of the period the island became fully hellenised and part of the Greek world.

Attic pottery now dominated the market and locally made pitchers had figures in the Greek style on their shoulders. Jewellery and metalwork show Persian influence, exemplified by the socalled treasure from the Vouni Palace.


The Cypro-Hellenistic period (c. 325 - 30 B C)

After Alexander's death in 323 B C, Cyprus became involved in the struggles of his successors. this was the end of little city-states and their kings. Cyprus became part of the Ptolemaic kingdom and was administered as a military command. In sculpture poor imitations of Greek work were common.


The Roman period (c. 30 B C - 395 A D)

In 58 B C Cyprus was annexed by Rome and was administered as a province. The centuries of Roman rule were relatively calm and prosperous for the island. Important buildings of the Roman period have been excavated at Salamis, Soloi, Kourion and Nea Paphos. The designs of the sculpture, bronzes, jewellery, glass and pottery are familiar throughout the Roman world. Prototypes were imitated by Cypriot craftsmen and nothing is specifically Cypriot. Much glass table-ware was sent from factories in Syria and was also imitated in Cypriot workshops. It replaced the fine pottery and became a popular tomb offering.