HELLENISTIC PERIOD 325–58 BC

 

 

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HELLENISTIC

325–58 BC

 

 

 

When Alexander the Great took Cyprus in 333 BC the Iron Age city states lost what limited freedom they had enjoyed under the Persians. Alexander’s death in 323 left his generals squabbling over his empire. Cyprus was at the center of a three-way struggle among the Ptolemies in Egypt, the Seleucids in Syria, and the Antigonids in Greece. Demetrius Poliocretes, the Antigonid co-regent, defeated Ptolemy’s fleet near Salamis on Cyprus in 307 BC and controlled the island until Ptolemy Soter displaced him in 249 BC.

 
 
  Kyrenia II

For two and a half centuries Cyprus remained in Ptolemaic hands. The Iron Age city kingdoms ceased to exist and the island became part of the Hellenistic state of Egypt. Apart from periodic sea-born raids from Seleucid Syria, Hellenistic Cyprus was generally peaceful.

Kyrenia II, replica of a Hellenistic merchant ship sailing off Cyprus in 1986.

 

  Paphos Harbor

The Ptolemies moved the island’s capital from Salamis in the east to Nea Paphos on the southwestern coast (aerial view to the left), making it more accessible to Egypt. This also brought the capital closer to abundant sources of shipbuilding timber such as the pines to the right, seen today in the Troodos Mountains. A large force of mercenaries was stationed on Cyprus under command of a strategos who answered to the Ptolemaic king. Ptolemaic coinage was used throughout the island.

Pines in Troodos Mountains

These and other changes introduced by the Ptolemies affected Cypriot culture and society. Although dedications continued in many existing open-air sanctuaries, Greek cults flourished in newly built Greek-style temples. The temple of Zeus Olympios at Salamis is an example of such Hellenistic architecture. Other Greek-style buildings include the gymnasium at Salamis and the theater at Nea Paphos. Some new temples, such as those of Aphrodite, Serapis and Isis at Soloi, maintained a traditional Cypriot character despite exhibiting certain Hellenistic features.

Iron Age Cypriot ceramic traditions slowly disappeared. Black Glaze and other Hellenistic forms, particularly from eastern Greece, were imported and imitated in Cyprus. Red Wares imitating those from the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, also appeared. Some local fabrics, such as White Painted Ware and Plain White Ware, survived.

Cypriot sculpture retained much of its native quality as indigenous craftsmen continued to use local limestone. More rarely, sculpture was done in imported marble perhaps by foreign craftsmen. The island’s officials, priests, and prominent citizens commissioned statues of themselves. Some of these were actual portraits, a popular trend in the Hellenistic period. Imported terracotta figurines replaced local counterparts.

Hellenistic burials continued local Iron Age traditions: most tombs were rock-cut or stone-built. One exception, at Nea Paphos, is the vast series of underground chambers known as the “Tombs of the Kings,” a cemetery for local nobility. The closest contemporary parallel is found at Alexandria, Egypt.

In 168 BC Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of Syria, attempted to conquer Cyprus. Roman envoys intervened, forcing him to withdraw. In 80 BC, the Ptolemies loosened control of the island to allay Roman fears about the size of their empire. Unappeased, the Romans annexed Cyprus in 58 BC.

 

 

 

 

 

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Last Modified: 06/09/06