Fragments of an Introduction

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working with Amy Papalexandrou to write up a short essay for the an exhibit at the Princeton University Art Museum titled: City of Gold: The Archaeology of Polis Chrysochous, Cyprus.


Amy and I have been negotiating the introduction to our essay.  For some reason, we have latched onto the idea of introducing our short essay with two inscriptions: one from the 3rd century BC and one from the 5th century (?) AD.  We juxtapose these texts to open a conversation about continuity and change in civic identity over 7 centuries. In a poetic flourish (that may not make the final cut of the essay), I proposed  adding a third text from a Greek ecclesiastical court of the (let’s say) 12th or 13th century.  This text also captures some of the civic organization of the city. The bishop of Arsinoe, the president of the village, and a representative of Paphos (presumably the bishop there) all have representation in the ecclesiastical court that adjudicates on marriages.

The symmetry of three texts separated by 7 centuries each appealed to me, but it might not quite work on context.

In any event, here’s our draft intro:

The few, fragmentary texts that do survive provide only scant context for the once vibrant community in the Chrysochous valley, but they do offer us a place to begin our story.

A 3rd century BC statue base celebrated a gift from ‘The City of the Arsinoeans,’ and it is possible to hear the echoes of this text some seven centuries later in very different terms. Found at Polis tis Chrysochou in 1960 and displayed today in the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia, this modest limestone block captures an important moment in the history of the Late Antique city (fig. 1). Dated to the mid-fifth century CE, it records the presence, whether real and literal or spiritual and implied (or both), of two high officials who co-sponsored the construction of an important building at Arsinoe:

Ἒν ἔτι (sic) Λς τῆς ἀρχιε 
ρωσύνης Σαβίνου
ἐπί Φωτηνοῦ ἐπισκό(που) +
διά τῶν +

“In the 36th year when Sabinos was Archbishop, when Photinos was Bishop (this was erected) at their own expense.”

Some seven centuries later still, the bishop continues to represent the community in a legal document associated with the ecclesiastical court at Arsinoe. This is only surviving example of the records from a Greek ecclesiastical court in Cyprus. The main focus of the text is on the tangle of complex laws surrounding marriage and engagement. Periodically throughout the text a simple formula appears which establishes the “all loving and God-honored Bishop of Arsinoe, the president of the city, and the enorias of Paphos” as the presiding officials of the court.

These modest texts resonate with the more impressive material remains of the city itself.  The texts confirm the central place of the Bishop among the leaders of the community, the persistent civic identity of Arsinoe, the influence of the church in almost all aspects of daily life, and the close ties of the city to other regional centers.  These are themes that frame the impressive material remains of the Late Antique and Medieval city of Arsinoe and underscore the continued importance of this dynamic, monumental, Christian center in southwestern Cyprus.

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