Since 1983, the Princeton Cyprus Expedition has been investigating a small ridge in the region of Maratheri near the town of Polis Chrychous, Cyprus. This ridge, identified by its grid coordinates of A.H9, contains the remains of what is believed to be an ancient sanctuary, possibly dedicated to the gods Zeus and Aphrodite. The remains of place of worship can grant us a wealth of information about the culture of the society that built it. Characteristics of temple buildings such as architecture, structure materials, layout, and terra cotta sculpture help tell a story about how the ancient worshippers lived. This website seeks to use excavation evidence from the sanctuary at Polis as a way to understand cultural changes undergone by the Cypriots as their political borders shifted, belonging to one foreign entity and then another.
In 2012, a team of students and professors at Princeton University produced an immersive 3D reconstruction of the A.H9 sanctuary for an exhibit at the Princeton Art Museum. We wish to extend their work by re-examining the evidence and breaking the history of the structure up into four phases. Each phase consists of a hypothetical reconstruction of the site, in the context of major events in Cypriot history. We present each phase as a video walkthrough of our reconstruction, followed by a detailed descriptive article with 3D images of artifacts found at the site.
Cyprus is a Mediterranean island that has found itself at the intersection of various Ancient foreign influences. Its geographical positioning off the southern Turkish coast and well to the east of Crete has placed the island on the borders of Ancient empires. As a result, the island has been washed over by waves of differing foreign influence from all directions. In 700 BCE, the island was conquered and controlled by the Assyrians, whose empires extended from Persia to Cyprus. The Egyptians gained control of the island in 570 BCE for some years before the Persian Empire commandeered control over the island in 545 BCE, appointing governing to the Phoenicians. The island became a Greek territory in 498 BCE for a brief period of time after the Ionian Revolt, before the Persians reclaimed the island. Under Alexander the Great, in 331 BCE, Cyprus fell back into Greek hands, and Cyprus experienced great prosperity under his rule. Following the death of Alexander the Great, the island was claimed by the Ptolemic Egyptians, and remained under their control until 58 BCE, when it was conquered by the Roman Empire. The multitude of foreign footsteps left on the banks of Cyprus means that Cypriot culture has incorporated a variety of these elements and has become a sort of mélange of those who have passed through, whilst retaining an underlying core of its original character
The sanctuary at A.H9 reveals evidence of this ebb and flow of cultures across Cyprus. We have approached our study of the sanctuary by dividing our site into panels belonging to different “phases”, each corresponding to a distinct time period where a structural change occurred in the temple. Our evidence consists only of scattered remnants of the structure's destruction, and therefore our reconstructions are hypothetical representations of what the sanctuary may have looked like in ancient times. We hope to illustrate our logic by highlighting the evidence for our proposed models.
The innermost part of a temple was generally the holiest. Commonly a small sanctuary would be built first, and a larger temple would grow with expansions to the original site. Here we think is where worshippers would come to dedicate their votives to the gods. While other Cypriot temples show evidence of animal sacrifice and libations to the gods, such as remains of animal bones or small disposable pottery cups, our structure only shows evidence of large volumes of votives. Generally animal sacrifice and libation is found in temples where social activities may have ensued, much like a modern-day potluck or barbeque church event. Therefore we believe that the purpose of this temple may have been less social, and more for personal worship. This earliest use of this structure as a sanctuary dates back to around 700 BCE during the Archaic Period.
Votives are sculptures in the image of the worshipper dedicated to the gods. Ancient Cypriot religion appears to be centered on this type of worship as thousands of votive sculptures have been found across the island: our site alone contained more than 800. The use of votive sculptures of very similar qualities emphasizes the importance of quantity, repetition and imitation in Cypriot religion. Through votives that are very alike, differentiating qualities between the worshippers is lessened. A formulaic repeated pose with the statue in a standing position with arms to the side was often employed in votive construction. Since huge quantities of votives were left in the temple, they were often buried or stuck into gaps in wall to make space for new ones.
Since the votive is meant to theoretically reflect the identity of the worshipper, albeit without much defining detail, it is interesting to note the variation in dress of the votary devoted at the temple. During the time period 520 BCE - 480 BCE an increased differentiation of votary dress to include a multitude of ethnic fashions was observed. This phenomenon reflects increasing contact of Cypriots with differing foreigners as their land was conquered consecutively. Votives were found wearing caricature-like costumes of Egyptian, Levantine, Hellenistic, or Cypriot culture, reflecting diversity in ethnic composition of the island.
The incorporation of styles of foreign origin in Cypriot votives tells a narrative of cultural influence in Cyprus. Another interesting occurrence is the continued use of foreign styles in Cypriot votives well after the style in question has gone out of fashion in its land of origin. This stylistic “lag” shows Cypriot isolation from foreign influences, although it has incorporated many of its motifs over the years, digesting them and making them its own. For instance, votive statues continue to be used in Cyprus well after their popularity dies down in Greece.
Despite a wide prevalence of foreign motifs in Cypriot sculptures, there is uniqueness to the votives found in Cyprus. Many experts have postulated that rather than foreign elements being imposed, there is an extent of "cypriotizing" these elements and making them their own. The population on Cyprus, after consecutive foreign domination, is ethnically diverse, and their culture combines these with a native Cypriot culture in order to produce an interesting assortment of aesthetic or structural elements. These are represented in Cypriot religious votives.
It is posited that Cypriot religious practice forms a uniting point, despite the varied ethnic origins of its practicing population. Although foreign rulers worshipped different gods, these deities often represented similar values (such as Sun, Fertility, etc) and therefore offering to a single deity, despite distinct names for it, united worshippers across ethnic lines.
The Ionian Revolt was a series of rebellions against Persian Rule that popped up in several regions in Asia Minor in 498 BCE. These revolts were incited by general discontent due to tyrant rulers placed by the King of Persia. The majority of Cypriot city-kingdoms rebelled against the Persians including Marion where our sanctuary site was located.
Following the Ionian Revolt, Cyprus was in the hands of the Greeks until the Peace of Kalias was negotiated between the King of Persia and the Athenians in 449 BCE, when Cyprus was yielded back to the Persian Empire. Nearly a century later in 331 BCE, Cyprus is liberated from the Persians by Alexander the Great.
During the period after the Ionian revolt and prior to the death of Alexander the Great, the area of Marion experienced economic growth and there is evidence that the sanctuary was expanded during this time to include an outer courtyard. The foundation trench of the inner sanctuary does not extend to the outer courtyard, indicating the two structures were built at independent times.
While, we are not totally sure when the outer courtyard was constructed, we can try to piece it back to historical events with periods of prosperous times. It is reasonably to conclude the outer courtyard was built during the time between the Ionian Revolt and the death of Alexander the Great. Furthermore there are structural details that hint that the outer courtyard was built with strong Greek influence, which would match our time placement.
The presence of Greek style colonnades is evidenced by rocks with circular vacancies where the columns would have been placed, as well as capitals, which would have been placed at the top of columns. Furthermore, a piece of antefix was discovered at the site, indicating a Greek style pitched roof. The Greek architectural style that is apparent in the ruins of the sanctuary leads us to believe that the outer courtyard was built to be symmetrical around the inner sanctuary, much like other contemporary Greek temples mainland and elsewhere. Further substantiation to this claim is the number of sculptures dating to that period, which reflect contemporary Greek aesthetic style.
The event that transitions us into Phase 3 of the sanctuary is the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE. The death of this king left a vacancy of power in a huge empire. During the chaos and hostility that ensued, Cyprus was home to violent attacks as rulers tried to reconquer territories. The Empire was split and Cyprus fell into the Ptolemic kingdom territory.
During the reclaiming of territories by Ptolemic king, Ptolemy I Soter, the western part of Marion was destroyed including the sanctuary at our site. At some point a large city wall was erected hastily, and it is believed that this was constructed as a response to the violent attacks that ensued following Alexander the Great's death. The wall was unsuccessful in holding off invaders as the temple was burnt down and destroyed shortly after.
The remains of the sanctuary following the destruction leave the interpreter with a number of questions about the original structure. Since the city wall cuts through a section of the outer courtyard, is it possible that the entire courtyard was destroyed to make the city wall? Or perhaps the outer courtyard was contracted, and only one side was taken down, in order to make a smaller but asymmetric courtyard. Indeed it is also possible that the entire temple was destroyed before the city wall was put in place.
Following the construction of this wall we know the entire temple was burnt down, as there is an ash layer full of debris from the structure. In this layer we can obtain information from a preserved state of the temple at the time of destruction. For instance, it can tell us what objects were in each room and where at the time the temple was destroyed. In addition the ash layer suggests something about the materials used in the structure, as something must have burned to produce the ash. One possibile source of the ash could be wooden support beams in the roof.
This phase of the temple illustrates the state of the site following destruction well into the Hellenistic period. In close proximity to the sanctuary ruins is a tomb, traceable to the late Hellenistic period by Hellenestic pottery found inside. The placing of a tomb site at this site near the destroyed sanctuary reveals a change in city borders, as the dead were always buried outside of city limits. In fact, the previously described changes in the structure of the sanctuary site further inform us about changing city limits during this ancient period. The construction of the city wall during Phase 3 of the sanctuary indicates that the city shrunk to just about where the temple is. The construction of a tomb on the opposite side of the sanctuary proves that the borders have shrunk even further, so that the destroyed sanctuary is now outside, rather than within, the city limits.