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The Hellenistic Period (c. 300–50 BC)

We have already mentioned Pasikrates, the last king of Kourion, who assisted Alexander the Great at the decisive siege of Tyre in 332 BC. Like the other Cypriot kings, he was allowed to rule as a vassal of the new Great King for a time but was almost certainly drawn into the conflicts between the successors of Alexander, which resulted in the destruction of all the local dynasties of Cyprus.[83]  The city continued to mint its own bronze coinage until late in the reign of Alexander, though now the issues depicted the head of the new Great King on one side, with the club and bow of Herakles on the other.[84]

By 294 BC, the island was firmly confirmed as a Ptolemaic possession ruled from Egypt, for which it functioned as a strategic naval base and a major source of raw materials such as copper and timber (especially for shipbuilding).[85]  The formerly independent city-kingdoms were ruled by military governors, and the political activities of the local élites, some of whom were newcomers arriving with the Macedonian conquerors, restricted to purely local matters. Nonetheless, the existence of a boule or council mentioned in inscriptions suggests some degree of local autonomy,[86]  while the elaborate architecture and contents of numerous tombs of this period (see below) suggests the continued economic prosperity of the town. Evidence from stamps on amphora handles suggests that the town engaged in a lively trade with other parts of the island and with Egypt.[87]

Few buildings survive from this period because of destruction by later structures, but a small theatre was constructed on the acropolis in the second century BC, indicating the growing links of the town with the broader culture of the Hellenistic world. Nearby was a monumental public building of early Hellenistic date, which was altered several times in the succeeding centuries, while the adjacent water works of the same date are the largest known on Cyprus at this time.[88]

At the sanctuary of Apollo, later building has also destroyed or obscured many of the structures and cult places of this period, but the temenos (sacred enclosure) appears to have developed on existing lines (see plan above). Several buildings that reached their final form in Roman times were erected in this period, such as a structure identified as the house of a priest and the sanctuary treasury.[89]

The material culture of this time reflects this mix of change and continuity. Many existing ceramic forms continue to develop across the formal chronological divide. For example, the style of the applied female figurines on the distinctive ‘woman-and-pitcher’ jugs increasingly reflects the style of Hellenistic terracottas, which are now imported to the island in large numbers. Earrings with animal-headed terminals also continue in use from the CC period. The distinctive bulbous shaped unguentaria (perfume or ointment bottles), first imported in the fourth century BC, are adopted rapidly into the local ceramic industry

New iconographic types appear in the terracotta repertoire, introduced no doubt through imported moulds. The Gnathian-ware amphora in British Museum Tomb 115 was imported from Apulia in southern Italy, while the stamped amphora handle in British Museum Tomb 117 belonged to a vessel possibly imported from Rhodes. These objects reflect the increasingly international nature of Hellenistic culture, as existing trade networks intensified and different regions of the eastern Mediterranean came into ever closer contact as a result of new political institutions.

On the other hand, the distinctive local syllabic writing system was rapidly displaced by the Greek alphabet, especially on official inscriptions raised by, or in honour of, the new Ptolemaic regime.[90]  This change had distinctive political overtones, as the syllabic system functioned as a sort of badge of identity for the local Cypriot elites.[91]  At the same time, the bigraphic inscription written in the Cypriot syllabary and the Greek alphabet, recording a dedication to Demeter and Kore, found by the British Museum in 1895 could be as late as the third century BC. The marble head that was found with the inscription belongs to a late Classical Cnidian type, which became widespread on the island only in this period. The possibility that it represents Demeter or Kore, rather than the Aphrodite of the Praxitilean original, is a typical Cypriot response to new iconographic types, which spread because of closer contact with the Greek world.[92]

Burial customs

The burial customs of Hellenistic Kourion likewise combine tradition and innovation. The older, single-chambered type of tomb continues to be used, though they are often larger and better constructed than earlier examples. Tomb 8 of the University of Pennsylvania excavations in the Ayios Ermoyenis cemetery (British Museum site B) comprised two oblong chambers at right angles, approached by a stepped dromos lined with cut-stone walls and covered with a vaulted roof.[93]  It was built in the earlier 3rd century BC and reused several times in the later Hellenistic and Roman periods, resulting in the disturbance of the earlier burials, which were pushed aside to make more room for the new occupants. The grave goods of this phase included several amphora, flasks and jugs, unguentaria (perfume or oil bottles) of the type found by Hake in his excavations illustrated above, and fragments of gold leaf, probably from a funerary diadem.

Plan and section of Episkopi-Ayios Ermoyenis Tomb 8. (McFadden 1946, fig. 7; © American Journal of Archaeology)


A tomb excavated by the Department of Antiquities in 1972 on the edge of Episkopi village also illustrates the shift towards more elaborate burial spaces.[94]  While the large rectangular chamber and stepped dromos is traditional, the proliferation of recesses cut into both sides of the main room reflects the increasing complexity of funerary spaces in use across the Hellenistic world, including on Cyprus.[95]  The earliest deposits date to the 2nd century BC, when typical grave goods such as lamps, bowls, unguentaria and terracotta figurines were left with the deceased. As with Tomb 8 described above, the remains of the Roman-period burials were better preserved and more numerous, being especially rich in glass vessels, which parallel those found in 1895. Tomb 110 of the British Museum excavations also belongs to this type, with two recesses at the back of the large rectangular chamber (measuring 7.6m x 3.05m and 1.8m high) to accommodate extra burials.

Plan of Tomb 110 of the British Museum excavations from the Kourion Notebook

  • ^ [83] - Tatton-Brown 1990, 97–8.
  • ^ [84] - Price 1991, 386 nos 3112–3114A and pl. CXLVIII.
  • ^ [85] - Hauben 1987.
  • ^ [86] - Mitford 1971, 68ff.
  • ^ [87] - Grace 1980.
  • ^ [88] - Christou 1993, 30–1.
  • ^ [89] - Sinos 1992, 22–23; Christou 1993, 55.
  • ^ [90] - Mitford 1971.
  • ^ [91] - Baurain 1991.
  • ^ [92] - Higgs and Kiely 2009, 415–19.
  • ^ [93] - McFadden 1946; SCE IV/3, 24.
  • ^ [94] - Oliver 1983.
  • ^ [95] - Carstens 2006, 146–50.