Salamis 11th-3rd century
“To sea-girt Cyprus, where Apollo bade
That I should dwell, and, for the homeland’s sake
Give it the island name of Salamis”
(Euripides, Helen, 148-150)
The successor city of Enkomi, Salamis - founded by Teucer the best archer among the Greeks, son of Telamon (king of the Greek Salamis) and Isioni - was the most brilliant city in Cyprus, and capital of the island for more than one thousand years. The culture of Salamis was to a great extent that of Cyprus as a whole and Salamis is considered one of the most important sites in the Mediterranean.
Salamis also bears evidence to the presence and settlement of the Greek Achaeans colonists who established themselves and introduced Western culture to the island from as early as the 13th century. As the easternmost outpost of the Greek world, Salamis was open to commercial and cultural exchanges with the Near East. However, it was also a bastion of Hellenic culture, through which the Western culture of the Aegean was revitalized, especially during the classical period. At the end of the 8th century the victorious campaigns of Sargon II, King of Assyria, brought Cyprus within his control. It is during this time that the first city kingdoms of Cyprus emerged and the necropolis of Salamis used. In 525 Cyprus surrendered to the Persians and became a tributary province of the Persian Empire.
The Palaestra, Cyprus Museum
The Royal Necropolis
Westwards from the city, the royal necropolis of Salamis – unique in its kind both architecturally and from a ritual point of view-occupies an area of two square miles and is the largest in the island, comprising tombs from the 11th century B.C to the 7th century A.D. The most remarkable of these is Tomb 79 which contained in its dromos two chariots and horses with all their metal gear and trappings, elaborately decorated with pictorial motifs taken from the repertoire of 8th-7th century B.C. Near Eastern art. There were also an ivory bed, an ivory throne of exceptional workmanship and a large bronze cauldron with griffin and siren attachments at the rim.
Even though we lack archaeological evidence as to the building of the city, the monumental tombs are illustrative of the wealth and sophistication of the 8th century royal families. During this period of Assyrian rule, there was a remarkable renewal and rebirth of ancient Homeric burial rituals but also astonishing evidence of exuberant oriental luxury and mythical riches. As described in the Iliad during the burial of Patroklos, the same standard Homeric rituals were followed in the royal necropolis of Salamis and horses along with their chariots were sacrificed in honour of the dead. The objects that accompanied the dead were rich in Oriental, especially Egyptian, style and influence.
See more photographs (click on thumbnails or captions to see enlarged photographs)
Salamis was the first city to have struck Greek coins. It was King Evelthon that first minted coins in his name and even before him the Great King of Persia. The coins had clear Egyptian influence.
King Evelthon (circa 560-525 B.C.)
King Evelthon, the first king of the Teucer dynasty – ruled Cyprus in the 6th century, that is towards the end of the Egyptian domination and the beginning of the Persian period. According to Herodotus, Evelthon exerted significant political power in Salamis.
The revolt of the Cypriots against the Persians (499-497 B.C)
Cypriots in their vast majority (excluding the Phoenician colonies of Amathus and Kitium) followed the revolt of the Ionians of Asia Minor against the Persians. King of Salamis at the time was Gorgos who was pro-Persian. However, his brother, Onesilos sided with the insurgents. Onesilos ousted his brother from the throne of Salamis and convinced all of the Cypriots to rise against the Persians. However, because of the resistance of Amathus, Onesilos was unable to prepare a united front against the impending Persian attack. The Persians sent in more troops under the command of General Artybios to crush the revolt. Onesilos appealed to Ionia for assistance and an Ionian fleet arrived in time so that he was able to concentrate his forces against the Persians on land while his allies prepared to engage the Phoenicians at sea. The Cypriot and Ionian people fought bravely but were betrayed by Stasanor, King of Curium that had joined forces with the Persians. Onesilos was killed in battle and this event marked the end of the Cypriot rebellion. The Amathusians cut his head and exposed it over the gates of the city of Salamis. Onesilos’ head filled with honeycomb by a swarm of bees. This was regarded by the Amathusians as a portent and following the bidding of an oracle, instituted yearly sacrifices in honour of Onesilos.
The victorious Persians reinstalled Gorgos as King of Salamis. However they banished the royal Teucer dynasty and placed Phoenician tyrants, such as Audemon Prince of Tyre, on the throne of Salamis. In 499 B.B, the Athenians signed the Peace of Kallias that officially recognized Persian domination of the island.
Evagoras A’ (435-374 B.C)
‘Fit to rule not only Salamis but the whole of Asia too’.
The splendour of the city of Evagoras led the Greek orator Isokrates to praise it as the ‘most Hellenic’ of all Greek cities. Indeed, Evagoras was considered a model ruler and encouraged his subjects to cultivate the refinements of the Athenians. Many prominent Greeks settled in Salamis as they regarded Evagoras’ rule as more democratic than their own.
Evagoras had revolted against the Persians and managed to restore Greek rule of Salamis in 411 B.C. He then struggled to unite the Cypriot kingdoms and to make the island independent. Evagoras avoided conflict with the Persians and thus continued to pay an annual tribute to Persia. Thus, being at peace with the Persians, he was able to accumulate a considerable amount of wealth and embark on a series of works including the fortification of the walls of Salamis, the construction of a naval fleet and several large infrastructure works that elevated the city of Salamis to the wondrous splendour of other Greek cities. He implemented a policy that sought to hellenise the island and was the first to introduce the Greek alphabet to the island. In fact, the coins that were struck in Salamis at the time, had now Greek characters. Oriental symbols and inscriptions were abandoned.Evagoras also helped the Athenians during the Peloponnesian war supplying them with different materials. For his contribution to the war effort, the Athenians granted him the title ‘Athenian citizen’. Evagoras also struck gold coins for the first time in order to demonstrate that he could rival in all respects the Great King of Persia. Evagoras tried repeatedly to resist the Persians, both at land and sea but in the end was defeated at Kitium in 380 B.C and forced to sign a peace treaty with the Persians. He was murdered in 374 B.C and succeeded by his son, Nicocles (373-361 B.C).
The Theatre, Cyprus Museum
The successors of Evagoras to the throne of Salamis
Following the rule of Nicocles, his successor, Evagoras B’ replaced the syllabary with the Greek alphabet on the inscriptions of the coins of Salamis. His successor, Pnytagoras (352-332 B.C) together with other Cypriot kings helped Alexander the Great seize Tyros, supplying him with a fleet of 120 ships. Pnytagoras’ son, Nicocreon, was the last king of Salamis. He continued and extended Evagora’s policies and strengthened the ties between Salamis and the rest of the Greek world. Much like Evagoras, he attracted a large number of philosophers and intellectuals which greatly benefited the culture of the city.
The dispute of the Ptolemies and the end of the kingdom of Salamis
After the death of Alexander the Great, Cyprus became a battlefield of dispute between Ptolemy and Antigonus and a coveted source of supply of copper and timber. The Ptolemies, who called themselves kings of Egypt and Cyprus, ruled the island for about two hundred and fifty years. Ptolemy wanted to banish the city kingdoms and occupied Salamis in 311 B.C. Nicocreon, the last king of Salamis, rather than surrender his city to Ptolemy, committed suicide together with the rest of the royal family inside the palace. Antigonus’ son, Demetrius Poliorketes, took revenge on the brutal death of the royal family some five years later and destroyed Ptolemy’s fleet outside the port of Salamis, resulting in an outstanding victory for Demetrius.
During the reign of Demetrius Poliorketes, the people of Salamis built a monument devoted to Nicocreon – known today as the Cenotaph of Nicocreon. Through this monument, the members of the royal family would finally be honoured by the people of Salamis. On the tumulus monumental platform, several clay heads were found, some of which are portraits of the royal family that perished in the funerary pyre as well as javelins, swords, gold wreaths, alabaster etc.
The kingdom of Salamis that had started in the 11th century came to an end in the 3rd century when Ptolemy Soter annexed Cyprus to the Ptolemaic Egyptian kingdom. From that point on, Salamis was no longer a city kingdom and progressively ceded its role of capital to Paphos that became the metropolis of Cyprus.
The city of Salamis
Earthquakes devastated a large part of the ancient city, and the earthquakes and tidal wave of 332 and 342 hid under the water another large part of the city.
The city dating from the classical period and its harbour as well as Evagoras’ city have yet to be found. However, according to literary sources it must have been beautiful. Isokrates refers to the artists that had been called upon to build and embellish it.
The ruins consist of a Gymnasium and baths, amphitheater, Roman villas, two Basilicas, and reservoir, and the Temple of Zeus.
The Gymnasium dating from the Hellenistic period was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt in the 1st century A.D during the reign of Augustus, on the solid foundations of the Hellenistic Gymnasium. However, the Gymnasium was destroyed once again together with the rest of the city under the reign of Vespasian. The present day Gymnasium, or colonnaded Palestra, as well as the bathing establishment were built during the reign of Trajan and Hadrian (117-138). During excavations, several marble statues were discovered which adorned spacious stoas of the Gymnasium and the stage building of the theatre, together with decrees in honour of the benefactors of the city.
The Agora of Salamis was also rebuilt during the reign of Augustus. It measured 750x 180 feet with arches on the side and Corinthian columns. The Temple of Zeus, a Roman building, seems to have been built on top of an older Hellenistic temple. The Theatre, also built during the reign of Augustus measured 27 metres in diameter and could fit 15,000 spectators. The aqueduct of Salamis transported water from Kythrea (about 35 miles away in distance) and dates from the reign of Septimus Sevirus.
Chavane, M.-J. Yon, M. Testimonia Salaminia, 1, Salamine de Chypre X, Paris 1978
Karageorghis, V. Excavations at the necropolis of Salamis, I-III, Nicosia 1967-1973
Karageorghis, V. Salamis in Cyprus, London 1969
Karageorghis, V. Excavating Salamis, 1952-1954, Nicosia, 1999
Yon, M. La Tombe T.1 du XI e siecle av. J.C. , Salamine de Chypre II, Paris 1971
Yon, M. (ed), Salamine de Chypre, Histoire et Archeologie, Etat de recheches. Colloques internationaux du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Lyon, 1980