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Cyprus

Limestone statue of a female worshipper playing a lyre

The island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean was famous in antiquity for its copper mines, fine craftsmanship and luxury goods, and, perhaps most of all, as the birthplace of the Goddess Aphrodite in Greek mythology.

The British Museum holds one of the largest collections of ancient Cypriot objects outside of Cyprus. It illustrates the development of the island from a society of small villages to the rise of urban civilisation between 4000 BC and 1200 BC.  By this time, Cyprus was a major source of vital raw materials (especially copper, timber and later iron) and a major trading and industrial centre in close contact with surrounding powers.

The galleries also highlight the diverse, multi-cultural nature of the island in the succeeding Iron Age (1000 BC-300 BC): Greeks, Phoenicians and others lived alongside and traded with the local population, shown by inscriptions, imported objects and local imitations. We see a richly textured material culture drawing on its connections with neighbouring areas but also preserving its unique Cypriot character.   

This wealthy and strategic island became a central part of the Greek world during the Hellenistic period (300 BC-50 BC). Cult items in particular show the rapid Hellenisation of the population as familiar images of Greek gods and goddesses appear. Later, it enjoyed the economic benefits of the Roman Empire; the objects of this period show a typical, prosperous Roman province.

The arrival of St. Paul and St. Barnabas in AD 45 marked the beginning of the later Christian and Byzantine culture of Cyprus.

Image caption: Limestone statue of a female worshipper playing a lyre
Hellenistic Cypriot, about 300-280 BC. From Larnaca, Cyprus

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