Search this Catalogue

Advanced search

Cypro-Archaic and Cypro-Classical periods (c. 750–300 BC)

Despite the importance of the kingdom, attested by archaeological remains, written evidence for the city-kingdom of Kourion is meagre throughout its history. The kingdom is first attested around 672 BC in a list of Cypriot rulers who paid tribute to the mighty King Esarhaddon of Assyria. King Da-ma-su – as he is called in the cuneiform text – was clearly important enough to be listed as a vassal of Assyria, though the extent and structure of his realm is not mentioned.[58] 

A later ruler of the kingdom, Stasanor, is known only because he changed sides during a crucial moment in the island-wide revolt against Persia in 498 BC, thereby causing the collapse of the uprising.[59]

The fragment of another king’s name (-krates, son of Stasi-) has been identified on a Cypriot Syllabic inscription from Kourion dating to the mid-fifth century BC, though his relationship with the earlier Stasanor is unclear. Perhaps more important is the fact that this ruler is recorded as having donated a plot of land (possibly a temenos or religious enclosure) to the damos (‘people’), suggesting the existence of some sort of public realm within the kingdom separate from the king.[60] 

This name has been connected with a certain Timucrates mentioned on a silver bowl from the ‘Curium Treasure’, but this suggestion is uncertain and relies on a number of assumptions about the findspot and date of the bowl itself.[61]  The inscribed name of another important figure was recently identified on a silver cup from Tomb 80 of the British Museum excavation, a priest by the name of Onasas, who was probably one of the ruling élite of the city, though unfortunately the inscription breaks off where the deity he served is mentioned.[62]

More recently, the numismatic scholar Jonathan Kagan has succeeded in identifying the coinage issued by the kingdom during the late CA and early CC periods, by the realisation that the presence of the Cypriot Syllabic sign ko or go found on numerous coins almost certainly represents the first syllable of the name of Kourion.[63]  The distinctive designs used by the local die-makers include the head or full body of a bull, a lion’s head, an octopus and an ankh-like motif (which is also found on the contemporary coins of Salamis). Some were influenced by the coinage of the east Greek world, in common with other Cypriot cities at this time.[64] Kagan concluded from his study of this material that the kingdom was one of the most important mints on the island during the late 6th and 5th centuries BC, a sure reflection of its dynamic political and economic power.

To conclude this survey of the poorly documented political history of Kourion, we also know of King Pasikrates who supported Alexander the Great at the siege of Tyre in 332 BC, but he presumably lost his throne (and possibly his life) during the great struggle of the Successors that followed.[65]

Most of the evidence for the history of Kourion in this period, therefore, is archaeological. This comes principally from cemeteries scattered all around the ancient acropolis and modern village, but also from the numerous cult places throughout the territory of the kingdom, especially the important sanctuary of Apollo to the north of the acropolis.[66]  The focus of élite burials shifts away from Kaloriziki to the area round the chapel of Ayios Ermoyenis further west, in which some of the wealthiest burials of the CA and CC period have been found. These include several discovered by de Castillon in 1886 and those excavated by the British Museum in 1895 mentioned above, but this area also almost certainly provided Cesnola with some of the spectacular items claimed to have been found in the ‘Curium Treasure’.[67]

Other important burial grounds include Yerakarka cemetery to the north of the acropolis, in addition to Areas C and E of the British Museum excavations described below. Site E was located on a long ridge extending along one of the main roads leading towards the acropolis from the east. This may have contributed to its importance, since élite groups may well have deliberately placed their tombs in prominent locations designed to show off their wealth and power through funerary ceremonies.[68]

The increase in numbers of burial grounds and the greater size and wealth of individual tombs indicate the growth of the urban core centred on the acropolis and, probably, an increase in the power and territorial extent of the kingdom itself. The monumental stone-built tomb excavated by Demos Christou at Ayios Ermoyenis, which was in use during the 6th or 5th centuries BC, has plausibly been interpreted as the possible burial place of the local ruling family.[69]

Several contemporary cemeteries of CA–CC date are also known in the Kouris river valley near the villages of Kandou and Alassa respectively (discussed below). Although they are generally poorer than those found around the acropolis, their existence indicates that communities once again were consolidating their position and expressing their identity with permanent burial grounds along this important communication route.[70]  This is perhaps connected with economic control of important resources such as copper and timber, just as in the second millennium BC, which would have become more important with the development of the kingdom itself.

Importance evidence for life in the Kourion region in this period also comes from religious sites. The earliest dedications at the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates date to the late CG III and early CA I during the 8th century BC, but the first coherent remains of buildings are somewhat later.[71]  Later rebuilding in Hellenistic and Roman times destroyed most of the evidence for early religious activity, especially structures, but the shrine appears to have consisted of small cult buildings focused on an open-air altar. Unlike in the contemporary Greek world, large temple buildings are unknown at the majority of Cypriot sanctuaries, especially rural ones such as Apollo Hylates.

Many cult offerings were found in large pits (or bothroi) into which old or broken dedications were piously swept during periodic reorganisation of the sanctuary. The presence in these earlier deposits of thousands of clay figurines of warriors, riders and horses, as well as votaries bearing gifts such as animals or simply shown in gestures of worship, in addition to other offerings such as gold animal figurines attributed by one scholar to resident Phoenician artisans,[72]  gives us an idea of the sort of people who visited here, but also a sense of the social hierarchy of the kingdom.[73]  There is a strong emphasis on equestrian prowess and male military activity, also attested in burials, which is common throughout Cyprus at this time in sanctuaries dedicated to male deities. The presence of life-size (or larger) terracotta and stone statues, also found elsewhere on the island, is another hint at the presence of social élites at the centre of ritual life.[74]


Although the sanctuary of Apollo Hylates is usually described as a shrine to Apollo, the divinity worshipped here was originally called simply ‘the God’, in parallel with the nomenclature attested elsewhere on Cyprus for female divinities. Perhaps the awesome nature of supernatural beings precluded the use of their real name in written form, similar perhaps to the Jewish Yahweh. Inscriptions specifically recording the name of Apollo are later, dating to the late fifth century BC, while the epithet Hylates (‘of the woodlands’) seems to have been introduced only during the Hellenistic period.[75]

A number of other sanctuaries are known in the hinterland of the city. The shrine discovered by the British Museum east of the hippodrome will be described below, but was probably connected with fertility and the natural world. Male and female figurines, together with an inscription in honour of Demeter and Kore, suggest that this sanctuary was shared by a pair of divinities, perhaps regarded as a divine couple by worshippers, such as in the shrine built over the Ashlar Building at Maroni-Vournes described elsewhere in this Catalogue.[76]  Other shrines with dedications of similar type, and therefore likely to have been made in the same workshops, have also been identified further afield in the countryside.

Apart from demonstrating the widespread distribution of cult places, these finds also provide a clue as to the likely extent and organisation of the territory of the kingdom of Kourion.[77]  The presence of cult objects and practices similar to those employed in the urban core would have bound the community together by creating a common sense of identity; while at a deeper level the images of military figures provided symbolic protection for the territory of the kingdom, especially at its boundaries with other states (such as that of Amathus to the east).[78]

Burial customs

Despite the lavish grave goods of CA and CC date found at Kourion in the 19th century AD, few intact burials of this period are well documented. Of the officially excavated tombs, the British Museum examples were unscientifically dug and recorded, while more recent discoveries have not been published in detail. One example of what can perhaps be described as a middling-status tomb of the 6th and 5th centuries BC was excavated by J. Benson in 1938–9, some 300m south of Area E in Bamboula (Tomb 4).[79]  It was a fairly regularly cut chamber 2.82m x 2.66m with a simple entrance passage. At least six burials in three distinct phases were placed in the tomb, accompanied by fairly simple undecorated pottery jugs, lamps and storage jars with Levantine connections, an indication of the maritime connections of the community.


Similar tombs of this period have also been excavated in modern times by the Department of Antiquities north of Kourion in the Kouris valley, near the villages of Kandou and Alassa,  as well as near the village of Limnatis.[80]  Alassa-Kambos Tomb 5, for example, contained the remains of at least two burials of the CA II period (c. 750–600 BC). The dead were accompanied by masses of Red-on-Black and Bichrome-Red jugs and bowls, some with pictorial decoration, as well as several distinctive bird jugs made in nearby Amathus (but also found in the Turner Bequest tombs). In addition there were numerous large storage jars, but also an imported Phoenician juglet, which doubtless arrived via the harbour at Kourion.[81] A tomb found 2km north of Kandou village at a place called Ayia Napa (no. 22) is of similar date and type. It produced a similar ceramic repertoire, in addition to some rare personal items such as a faience scarab, a silver ring and a necklace of glass beads. This suggests that the deceased were fairly affluent and had access to luxury goods similar to those used by the inhabitants of Kourion itself. [82]

Plan of Tomb 76 of the British Museum excavations from the Kourion Notebook

A more elaborate tomb of this period from the Turner Bequest excavations (Tomb 76) measured 6.6m x 3.2m and had a barrel-shaped roof carved from the natural rock. Two skeletons were laid on a paved area at the end of the chamber opposite the entrance (illustrated here). Although described as Roman by the excavators, the finds suggest it was first used in late CA or early CC times. These included the pair of gold bracelets with ram-head terminals, as well as other costly items of gold and silver jewellery. The original burials would no doubt have been accompanied by masses of pottery of the type found in more recently-excavated tombs. Nearby Tomb 73, the richest burial of this period found by the British Museum team, consisted of three inter-connected chambers. The numerous costly grave goods included objects in gold, silver, bronze and semi-precious stone, though the accompanying pottery was not kept by Walters. Nonetheless, it is clear that the tomb was in use in the later CA and CC periods and contained the remains of several important individuals. Further details of these tombs are provided in Guide to the Collection I.

  • ^ [58] - Borger 1956; Lipinski 1991.
  • ^ [59] - Herodotos, Histories V, 113.
  • ^ [60] - Mitford 1971, no. 218; Kagan 1999, 39–40 and fig. 2.
  • ^ [61] - Mitford 1971, no. 217; Masson 1984a, 82.
  • ^ [62] - Kiely and Perna forthcoming.
  • ^ [63] - Kagan 1999.
  • ^ [64] - Destrooper 1997.
  • ^ [65] - Arrian, Anabasis 2, 22,2.
  • ^ [66] - Swiny 1982 passim; Christou 1993; Sinos 1992; Fourrier 2006.
  • ^ [67] - Masson 1984.
  • ^ [68] - Swiny 1982, 146–7.
  • ^ [69] - Christou 1996, chapter 10; also 2000.
  • ^ [70] - Flourentzos 1991.
  • ^ [71] - Buitron-Oliver 1996; Buitron and Soren in Swiny 1982, 58–67; Sinos 1992, 19–21.
  • ^ [72] - Lipinski 2001.
  • ^ [73] - Young and Young 1950; Winter in Buitron-Oliver et al. 1996.
  • ^ [74] - Winter in Buitron-Oliver 1996, 99; cf. Karageorghis 1993.
  • ^ [75] - Mitford 1971, 38–52, 119ff; See Diederichs in Buitron-Oliver 1996, 17–40 for a survey of the cult.
  • ^ [76] - Ulbrich 2008, 364–5.
  • ^ [77] - Fourrier 2006 (with references).
  • ^ [78] - Fourrier 2002.
  • ^ [79] - Benson 1956.
  • ^ [80] - Chronique des fouilles 1970 BCH 95 (1971).
  • ^ [81] - Flourentzos 1991, 21–5.
  • ^ [82] - Floutentzos 1991, 51–66.