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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Cypro-archaic period, its religion and art

The political situation during the Cypro-archaic period (2nd half of the eighth to the 1st half of the fifth century BC) is characterized by instability due to frequent foreign intervention and domination of Cyprus. Despite this, a certain prosperity together with a deep religious feeling can be observed associated with a rich and superabundant artistic creativity dependent particularly on the religious world and its manifestations, as well as on other different needs and occupations of everyday life. The attachment to the divine can be seen in the countless sanctuaries and affluent artistic creation. Artistic products were used as cult objects, as offerings to the sanctuaries and in the tombs and as amulets in every day life.

The Cypriot pantheon is characterized more by the pluralistic and polyvalent peculiarities and functions assumed by the main deities and their polymorphism than by its complicated formation. Deities are multi-functional, corresponding fully to the needs of the believers, but they also emanate from the nature and personality of each divinity. One of the main figures of the pantheon is the celestial god (Great God) , an incarnation of atmospheric phenomena and activities taking place in heaven that are mainly related to the acquatic element (clouds and rain) and to the light (sun and thunderbolt). This god has principally been identified with Zeus, Baal. Milkart, Amon, Apollon and Reshef. He forms a couple with the other principal deity, the telluric mother-goddess (Great Goddess), who represents fertility, conceived under its female aspect, and is none other than the Cypriot Aphrodite, equivalent to Astarte. This divine couple forms a triad with the divinity incarnating the annual cycle of vegetation, mainly identified as a young god of the kind of Adonis, who is not unrelated to the infant held by the Great Goddess when represented as a Kourotrophos.

It seems that it is during the Archaic period that these deities emerged from a stage of latent aniconism and/or zoomorphism, which is more evident in the previous older strata of the Cypriot religion; they thus acquired an anthropomorphic aspect inspired most frequently by the island’s geographical surroundings (Egypt, Palestine, Phoenicia, Syria, Anatolia and the Hellenic world). This influx of foreign divine iconography is made through the identifications and syncretisms of local deities with the equivalent foreign ones.The latter enriched the Cypro-archaic pantheon and its iconography with their presence.