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Cyprus and copper
Cyprus was known in ancient times for its rich seams of copper. The very word copper is derived from the Latin expression "Cuprium aes" (‘metal of Cyprus’). The main copper seams are on the north and north-east sides of the Troodos mountains, while smaller quantities are found in the southern part of the island. In the mines of Ambelikou, west of Nicosia), there is evidence for the exploitation of the seams as early as the 19th c. BC.

From Chalcolithic to the end of the Bronze Age
The earliest copper artefacts from Cyprus date to ca. 4000 BC but their number and distribution remain extremely limited until 2500 BC. They are mainly small tools made of natural or arsenic copper. Their very existence justifies the name Chalcolithic (chalkos=copper in Greek) for a period when most tools were still made of hard stones. It is possible that the few metal objects found in Chalcolithic Cyprus had been imported from Asia Minor or the Near East. 

Metallurgy in the proper sense of the work appears only in the Early Bronze Age (2500-1900 BC), when both the number and range of objects evidently made of native copper increase substantially. It remains unclear how the Cypriots learned how to make first arsenic copper and later bronze (alloy of copper and tin). The new technology may have been brought to Cyprus by refugees who came from Anatolia after the upheavals that marked the beginning of the Early Bronze Age in the region, about 2700/2600 BC.


Until 1600 BC, Cypriot bronze-smiths had managed to develop their own tradition of making weapons and tools (spearheads and daggers with a hooked tang, swords, arrow-heads, axes, chisels, drills, pins, tweezers, razors, etc.) and organize production in a truly efficient way.


Starting from the 17th c. BC, Akkadian texts and other literary sources from Egypt, Asia Minor and the Levant make mention to a country called Alashiya, which supplied neighbouring lands with raw copper in exchange for luxury objects. Many scholars have suggested that Alashiya should be identified with Cyprus, although no conclusive evidence is yet available. However, excavations conducted at Late Bronze Age sites in Cyprus have revealed substantial evidence of metal-working activities in most urban settlements of the island. In addition, we do know that Cypriot bronze artifacts as well as copper ingots (bars of raw material) were exported all over the eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean and south Italy, especially after 1400 BC. Large quantities of bronze artifacts and copper ingots from Cyprus have been recovered from the two well-known Late Bronze Age shipwrecks at Uluburun (Kaş) and Cape Gelidonya, in the southwestern part of Asia Minor.


From the Early Iron Age to the end of the Roman period

Cyprus maintained its position as a major centre of copper production and trade even after the end of the Late Bronze Age (circa 1050 BC), despite the appearance of iron, which would be used thereafter mainly for the manufacture of weapons and tools. New techniques were introduced to the island from the Aegean and the Near East (e.g. the working of copper-sheets for the manufacture of vessels and the “lost-wax” technique for cast objects) that gave a new impetus to local production. To than end contributed also the establishment of a Phoenician colony at Kition during the 9th c. BC as well as the Assyrian and Persian occupation of the island between the end of the 8th and the 4th c. BC.

Cauldrons and tripod or four-sided stands with ajouré (openwork) decoration are the most typical products of Cypriot bronze metallurgy during the Early Iron Age. Next to them, solid copper figurines, fibulae (brooches), a large variety of tools and cosmetic items, and even cast statues completed the wide range of copper and bronze artifacts produced in Cyprus in that period.


Copper, alongside the strategic position of the island, made Cyprus a attractive target for major commercial powers of the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Both the Ptolemies of Egypt (295-30 BC) and the Romans (30 BC – AD 395) exploited heavily the native copper sources and turned the island into a centre of large-scale production and trade. However, the gradual standardization of production in that period and the common artistic currents prevailing all over the Mediterranean make it difficult to distinguish Cypriot bronze artifacts from items produced in other Mediterranean regions at that time.

Maria Tolis - Nikolas Papadimitriou
Curators, MCA


Selected bibliography
-   Balthazar J.W. 1990: Copper and Bronze Working in Early through Middle Bronze Age Cyprus, Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology and Literature Pocketbook 84 (Jonsered)
-   Branigan K. 1968: Copper and Bronze Working in Early Bronze Age Cyprus, Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology 19 (Lund)
-   Catling H. 1964: Cypriot Bronzework in the Mycenaean World (Oxford)
-   Godart L. 1968: “ku-pi-ri-jo dans les texts mycéniens”, Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici 5, 64-70
-   Muhly J.D. 1973: Copper and tin. The Distribution of Mineral Resources and the Nature of the Metals Trade in the Bronze Age, Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Art 43, 155-535.
-   Muhly J.D. – Maddin R. – Karageorghis V. (.) 1982: Acta of the International Archaeological Symposium: “Early Metallurgy in Cyprus, 4000-500 BC" (Nicosia)
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