Over the weekend, I read Giorgos Papantoniou’s and Niki Kyriakou’s article in the most recent AJA, “Sacred Landscapes and the Territoriality of Iron Age Cypriot Polities: The Applicability of GIS.” Not only was it great to read something on Cyprus in the AJA, but it was cool to read something on the neighborhood of Kition where we worked for the last 15 years. Papantoniou and Kyriakou’s project focused on the western extent of Kition’s control in the Iron Age whereas our project studied a site, Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla, to the east of the city.
Papantoniou and Kyriakou studied legacy data from the small Iron Age sanctuary site of Vavla-Kapsalaes which was identified by the Vasilikos Valley Project. They consider whether this site is a border sanctuary between Kition and Amathous further west and whether it marked the edges of Kition’s or Amathous’s territorial, political, and economic control. By drawing upon data produced by a rather robust GIS, they were able both to propose a method for assessing such situations and to propose that Vavla-Kapsalaes (and several other nearby sites) would have likely been under Amathousian control for most of the Iron Age. In this way, the article contributes to the decade old debates concerning the spatial organization of the city-kingdoms of Iron Age Cyprus and serves as a useful reminder that Rupp’s famous application of Thiessen polygons to propose political boundaries between the various polities on the island was provision and suggestive rather than definitive.
This conclusions, however, only scratches the surface of this complex article. Papantoniou and Kyriakou develop a dynamic model to assess the relationship between the sanctuary at Vavla-Kapsalaes and the Iron Age political and economic centers at Kition, Amathous, and Idalion. The model integrated at a micro-regional and regional level stable resources and features of the landscape from the presence of arable land, copper rich pillow lavas, river valleys, passable routes, and visibility.The authors set these more stable features of the landscape against the artifacts from Vavla-Kapsalaes, the iconography present at the sanctuary, the ebb and flow of Iron Age settlement in the Vasilikos valley, and the history of the larger urban centers nearby. The results is a highly nuanced and complex analysis that remains suggestive and dynamic rather than stable and structural. This kind of analysis, of course, is particular appropriate for borderlands and liminal regions which would have drifted over time between central power centers and also served as a locus for territorialization of these larger polities.
I’ve often wondered whether a more robust analysis of the regional and micro-regional characteristics of the neighborhood of Pyla-Vigla would produce similarly complex and nuanced results. The site of Vigla almost certainly possessed an Iron Age sanctuary which likely stood on a major route between the kingdoms of Salamis and Kition. The late Iron Age fortification of the area, its prominent coastal position, and its rapid expansion in the Hellenistic and Roman period suggests that the micro-region of Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla transitioned from a zone of religious and military activity in the Iron Age to an area of settlement after the Hellenistic and Roman rulers of the island suppressed the political autonomy (and rivalry) of the city kingdoms.
What is the most intriguing aspect of Papantoniou’s and Kyriakou’s study is its willingness to consider the limits of a territorial model for understanding Iron Age polities on Cyprus in general. While no one denies that the city kingdoms were territorial states, the margins of their political, economic, religion, and even cultural control need not be articulated in purely territorial terms. In the conclusion they note that human affinities and identities, including spiritual and emotional attachments to particular places and practices, do more to shape the nature of territorial control than neatly defined borders.
This conclusion has a particularly salient modern significance as in the modern era we’ve witnessed rigid political borders defining the rights of individuals in ways that often defy, subvert, or attempt to redefine their cultural, religious, or social connections to the wider world. As the authors show, despite the tendency for GIS to produce rigid and linear marks on maps, the integration of GIS technologies and historical models allow us to trace territorialization as a continuous process in the past. This offer a useful reminder that border have never been impermeable marks on the landscape, but continuously negotiated and dynamic spaces.