Iron Age Cyprus, Kition, and Territorialization at Pyla-Viga

I was pretty excited to discover that the most recent volume of the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research was largely devoted to recent research on Iron Age Cyprus and edited by Derek Counts and Maria Iacovou. The introduction situates the contributions as fresh look at at Iron Age Cyprus in the spirit of the important 1997 volume of BASOR dedicated to the same issues, while at the same avoiding being a sequel or follow up to it. This reflects the remarkable dynamism of recent scholarship on Iron Age Cyprus that has continued to push beyond questions posed in 1997 as well as the growing quantity of data available for the study of this period.

For people who don’t regularly follow scholarship on Cyprus, the Iron Age is important, among other reasons, because it witnessed the formation of states centered on urban areas that shaped the political, cultural, and economic identity of the island for centuries even after these “city kingdoms” ceased to be autonomous entities. The important cities of Paphos, Salamis, Kition, and Amathus all appear to have consolidated as independent political units over the course of the Iron Age. Moreover, the relationship between the Iron Age polities and the kingdoms (we presume) of the Bronze Age remains obscure and the debates over continuity and discontinuity at various sites and among the polities on the island represents a contentious and significant issue in the understanding of Cyprioit antiquity. At the core of much of the debate is the ethnic character of the leading Iron Age cities on Cyprus and the “arrival of the Greeks” either at the end of Bronze Age or in the very early Iron Age. Considering the modern political issues at play on the island, issues of ethnic identity in antiquity have real modern implications.

Much of this larger narrative is in the background of the contributions to this volume. I wish it had appeared about 6 months earlier so I could have incorporated it into the discussion of the Iron Age at Pyla-Koutsopetria that appeared in the conclusion to our recently submitted monograph. Of particular significance is S. Fourrier’s work on the rural sanctuaries associated with Kition. She argues that the territorialization of Kition did not occur until the Classical period rather than during the earlier Iron Age and associated it with Kition’s conquest of Idalion in the 5th century. In other words, the territorial limits of the kingdom of Kition remains in flux and its control over the countryside and its resources was not fully established.

This challenges what I attempted to argue in the conclusions to the Pyla-Koutsopetria volume where I observe that the Iron Age site situated atop the prominent coastal ridge of Vigla might reflect the first phase in the expansion of Kition into its eastern hinterland.

Figure5 19View of the Iron Age site at Pyla-Vigla from the coastal plain.

I blogged about it here. I suggest that the scatter of Iron Age material across a number of units coincided with the well-know statue of Bes with a dedication to Reshef now in the Louvre with its Phoenician inscription. D. Counts has argued that this statue is a hybridized image that evokes certain aspect of Phoenician deities as well iconography common on Cyprus.  From this same area, we also identified an assemblage of figurines probably dating, at earliest, to the Classical period along with a few sherds that are likely Cypro-Geometric in date.

Figure5 18Cypro-Geometric Material

She noted that many of the extraterritorial sanctuaries in the territory of Kition share characteristics of cults associated with Idalion. One of the key figures in the cult life of Idalion is Reshef and it is rather remarkable that Fourrier did not mention the statue of this deity from the area of Pyla. If we follow her argument, the presence of this statue from the coastal zone of Pyla might suggest that Idalion exerted some influence over this maritime zone. Complicating this is the possibility that some extra-urban areas like  Pyla-Vigla formed part of a larger “homogeneous cultural region” where the iconography of the “Master of the Lion” (typically associated with Heracles-Milqart) intermixed with Phoenician influences derived from communities at Kition, Idalion, and elsewhere in the region.

Figure5 29Iron Age Material 

The significance of this for our analysis of the Pyla-Vigla Iron Age component goes even further. Fourrier observed that extra-urban sanctuaries may have originated to serve the needs of local communities before becoming parts of territorialization strategies of the emerging Iron Age polities. The close relationship between some of these sites and earlier Late Bronze Age sites reflected both practical advantages of the location of Bronze Age sites and the availability of building material, as well as the efforts to connect with a shadowy, if physically present past. The site at Pyla-Koutsopetria certainly fits this pattern in that it stands in close proximity and visual range of  the Late Bronze Age site of Pyla-Kokkinokremos.

If we accept Fourrier’s argument for the late development of Kition’s territorialization, then we might be wise to narrate the history of Iron Age activity at the site of Pyla-Vigla in a different way. It seems probable that the site originated as a settlement in the shadow of the long abandoned Late Bronze Age site of Pyla-Kokkinokremos in the Cypro-Geometric Period. By the Cypro-Archaic period, the site appeared as part of the larger Mesoria community with its complex and hybridized cultural identity and perhaps had a relationship with the nearby inland site of Idalion. With the territorialization of Kition in the 5th century, the site develops even further and shows signs of ongoing cult activity as well as expansion. This activity persists throughout the Hellenistic period and into the Roman era before declining in Late Antiquity.

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