Cyprus—Trade Emporium of the Ancient World

New finds show Cyprus’s Bronze Age connections to distant lands

Cyprus Trade vessel with war chariot

Large vessel with war chariots from Greece (c. 1350 B.C.E).
Credit: Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge

Our modern world is defined by global trade and commerce, but such globalized economies were known in antiquity as well. New finds by the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have shown that Cyprus was an international trade hub for the ancient world. Recently excavated tombs in southwest Cyprus revealed more than 500 incredibly ornate grave goods which originated from across the ancient world. The tombs, which were made during the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550–1200 B.C.E.) and found near the site of Dromolaxia Vizatzia, are thought to have belonged to the site’s wealthy elites. Examination of the grave goods has revealed that the site must have had trade connections across the ancient world, with items that originated from Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia, India, and even the Baltic Sea.

Cyprus Trade Egyptian Jewelry

Egyptian lotus jewelry of the same style worn by Nefertiti (c. 1350 B.C.E.).
Credit: Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge

Although most of the grave goods were local in origin, many hint at the extensive trade network that passed through Cyprus. Among the finds were several Egyptian scarabs and pieces of jewelry of the same style worn by the famous Egyptian queen Nefertiti. The team also found a cylinder seal bearing an Akkadian inscription, which must have originated in Mesopotamia. The inscription includes the name of a Mesopotamian god along with the names of two kings, father and son, who are known to have ruled in Mesopotamia during the 18th century B.C.E. Archaeologists are still trying to determine how the seal ended up more than 600 miles away from its origin.

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Beyond these royal items, the team also found pottery imported from Greece and Crete, carnelian gemstones from India, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, and even amber from the Baltic Sea. Some of these objects would have traveled almost 3,000 miles before they were buried in Cyprus with their owners.

Cyprus Trade Gold Tiara

Gold tiara belonging to the skeleton of a five-year-old Credit: Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge

In addition to being a gravesite, the tombs also likely served as a cultic space in which ritualized feasting took place to commemorate the dead. The tombs were first discovered in 2018 by the Swedish expedition, which uncovered the grave goods alongside the skeletal remains of 155 individuals. One individual, no more than five years old, was lavishly adorned in gold jewelry, including a necklace, earrings, and tiara. According to excavation director Peter Fischer, “The finds indicate that these are family tombs for the ruling elite in the city… This was probably a child of a powerful and wealthy family.” The next step will be DNA analysis of the human remains to determine if the deceased were related and if they were local or, like so many of the wonderful finds that were discovered with them, came to Cyprus from elsewhere.

Read more in BHD:

Brewing Bronze Age Beer
Paul’s First Missionary Journey through Perga and Pisidian Antioch
Medieval Latrine Preserves Crusaders’ Intestinal Parasites

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