Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ancient Cyprus in the Ashmolean

The Ashmolean Museum has a large collection of archaeological material from Cyprus. The collection represents the human history on the Mediterranean island. The Oxford based museum has been associated with the study of Cypriot archaeology since the late 19th century, sponsoring many excavations carried out there. 

The collections within the museum provides a fantastic resource for the study of the island, providing a surprising and amusing insight into the lives of the ancient inhabitants in Cyprus. 
The Ancient Cyprus room is part of the A.G. Leventis Gallery. 

The artefacts shown here emphasise the long history of the island and its people. The position of Cyprus and its wealth of natural resources led to close contact with the neighbouring mainlands and Greece to the west.

According to the Roman writer Pliny the Elder, Cyprius (Latin: Cypriot) also meant the metal copper. The people of Cyprus had grown rich from mining copper and shipping ingots of metal across the Mediterranean. The fertile island also produced timber, wine, textiles, corn and medicinal plans. 

Cyprus had at least 13 independent city states ruled by a king. Each territory included an urban centre, smaller towns and villages, and had a profitable inland mine or forest. Most also had a port for exporting commodities in return for luxury goods. Trading partners, often with an eye on winning political influence in Cyprus, were situated directly across the sea. 

The population of the cities consisted of various ethnic groups: Marion, Paphos and Salamis were predominately Greek, Kition and Lapethos were founded by Phoenicians, and Amathus was a stronghold of native Cypriots. Only after the Ptolemaic Greek kings of Egypt conquered Cyprus about 300 BC, and abolished the city kingdoms, did the culture of the island become more unified. 

The earliest writing in Cyprus is written in syllables. Known as Cypro-Minoan, this script was used from about 1550-1200 BC, mostly on expensive objects such as gold and silver cups, jewellery and copper ingots. However, some inscribed tablets and balls of clay have been found. Despite several attempts, Cypro-Minoan remains undeciphered. It is unlikely that the language is Greek. 

By about 1100 BC a new Cypriot syllabic script was developed from Cypro-Minoan. This script was used until 200 BC. It records at least two languages: a dialect of Greek and a local Cypriot language, still not deciphered. The Cypriot syllabary was deciphered in the 1870s, with the aid of an inscription written in Phoenician and Greek. 


  1. Thank you. Beautiful pics and presentation.

  2. Hi Dimitris,

    Just a correction: The Ancient Cyprus gallery IS the A.G. Leventis gallery. It would have been nice to ask about publishing the gallery photos on the web.

    Dr. Anja Ulbrich
    A.G. Leventis Curator of the Cypriot Gallery
    Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology
    Beaumont Street
    Oxford OX1 2PH

  3. Thank you for your comment.! Since I was permitted to take pictures I did not imagine I needed permission to put them on my blog. Whenever I go to places I like to post about it.! I am sure the blog, like this one, does not work as a book where I need to ask permission to publish them. Please correct me if I am wrong.!