Ancient Cyprus in the British Museum

Edited by Thomas Kiely

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Enkomi and Late Bronze Age Cyprus

L. Crewe

This section of the catalogue brings together for the first time the collection of 1,800 objects or fragments held in the British Museum from the important Late Bronze Age town of Enkomi on Cyprus. The majority of objects was discovered in 1896 as part of the Turner Bequest expedition to Cyprus (1893-1896), the first excavations on the island conducted by the British Museum. As well as the Museum’s allocation of objects from the 100 tombs excavated, the collection includes surface finds from the area of the settlement, the bronzes from the Foundry Hoard, and post-Bronze Age material from the site and its immediate vicinity.

Enkomi was a prosperous town and a major trading and copper-working centre in the Late Bronze Age (around 1650 BC-1050 BC). Material from post-Bronze Age use of the site is also included in this catalogue. Many of the objects and materials shed further light on the intricacies of Mediterranean exchange systems and the development of an international style during the Late Bronze Age. 

Cyprus during the Late Bronze Age

The beginning of the Late Bronze Age on Cyprus (around 1650 BC) saw a range of dramatic changes occurring in the settlement patterns and material culture of the island, accompanied by evidence for increased interaction with the surrounding region. These include the move from small inland villages to larger, nucleated coastal settlements, an increase in social stratification and copper production, evidence of literacy, and of Cyprus becoming increasingly involved in the complex exchange networks of the eastern Mediterranean.

Map of Cyprus showing major physical features and important archaeoloigcal sites (the names of ancient places are in italics)


These changes culminated in a series of regional polities during LCIIC, some 400 years later (around 1340 BC-1200 BC), with evidence for a high degree of socio-political, administrative and religious organisation. Architectural remains underlying LCIIC occupation are poorly preserved and we have little understanding of the processes of change which resulted in what may be broadly called urban centres during LCIIC.

The LCIIC polities are widely held to be autonomous but views differ as to whether this represents a devolution from centralised control during the earlier LC or a continuation of the status quo from the preceding periods (see Steel 2005 for a discussion of the various theories). We lack sufficient evidence for the initial stages of this process but all theories, to a greater or lesser extent, cite overseas demand for Cypriot products (primarily copper) and the desire of Cypriot elites to involve themselves with the outside world as the motivating factor involved in this shift. Central to interpretation of the beginning of the LC is the coastal settlement of Enkomi, often considered to be the first state-like entity on the island and possibly identified as Alashiya, mentioned in contemporary textual sources.