Friday, April 24, 2015

The Iron Age Royal Tombs of Salamis on Cyprus: What Exactly Did They Represent?

In the mid-1960s Vassos Karageorghis, then the Director of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus, excavated outside the line of the defensive fortifications of ancient Salamis a series of spectacular Iron Age burials in built chamber tombs. These so-called “megalithic” tombs were constructed and used/reused from the early 8th through early 6th centuries BC. The cemetery was labelled by Karageorghis as the ”Royal Necropolis” and various features were thought to reflect the burial rites described in the Iliad (23) for Patroklos. This was one of the major discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean at the time. Two other, nearby on the plateau, later cemeteries were excavated as well at Cellarka and Koufomeron. Here were smaller, less elaborate rock-cut burial structures and grave offerings from the Cypro-Archaic and Cypro-Classical periods.

After the formal publication of this cemetery along with a general overview much has been written about the tombs, their burial assemblages and the meanings for the Iron Age city kingdom of Salamis over the years. Among these was one that I published in 1988 where I argued that these burials were of the first kings of the city kingdom of Salamis. The conspicuous display of wealth, imported exotica and military gear deposited in the impressive wide dromoi which were often lined with ashlar blocks I saw as bold statements of legitimacy and power by an ascendant elite that had created at the beginning of the 8th century BC a new form of political authority. This argument for secondary state formation on Cyprus was not received well by those scholars who believed that the Iron Age city kingdoms of the island were formed in the 11th century BC by the descendants of the presumed immigrants from the Aegean basin.

One of the more thoughtful, measured responses to my study was published in 2010 by Dr. Nicholas Blackwell, the present Assistant Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. When he came to Athens almost three years ago we talked about our differing views on these unique tombs and the idea that he should give a lecture at Institute to continue this crucial debate about Iron Age Cyprus. On Wednesday, April 29th at 19:30 in the Institute’s Library he will give a lecture entitled “Competitive and Emulative Mortuary Behavior on Early Iron Age Cyprus”. In his lecture he will revisited his arguments concerning the nature and meanings of the Royal Tombs as well to place them more fully in a wider mortuary context of the contemporary burial assemblages at Salamis and in the cemeteries from other city kingdoms on the island. At the end of his presentation I will offer my reactions and thoughts on his expanded arguments within the context of my continuing opinion that such tombs and burial assemblages on the island along with other data sets are physical indications of a significant change to greater complexity in the sociopolitical organization of the island. This was not simply the extravagant display by a new lineage of kings at Salamis as some have argued.

Come to see the scholarly fireworks before your very eyes!!!

David Rupp

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