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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Hellenistic and Roman mosaics of Cyprus

The discoveries made during the last 25 years at Kourion and Salamis, but above all Paphos, have made Cyprus one of the most important centres for the study of ancient mosaics. The examples are numerous and cover a period of about 1000 years, from c. 300 BC to the mid-seventh century AD. During the Roman period one can safely assume that local workshops created a very large number of mosaics, all of which bear a distinct Cypriot trait. However, as is natural, the mosaics of Cyprus were influenced by the art of the surrounding areas, all of which themselves held a strong tradition in the art of mosaic. The closest links are clearly with the East Mediterranean coast, Antioch in particular, an area with which Cyprus was related politically and later on religiously. The earliest mosaic that has so far come to light represents the mythical monster Scylla. It is made of pebbles and has been dated back to the late fourth / early third century BC. It was discovered at Nea Paphos, a city that had just been founded and that under the Ptolemies grew very rapidly in importance. By the second cent. BC Paphos had become the capital of the island and preserved this privilege under the Romans until the fourth cent. AD. It appears that during the period from the late second to the mid-third cent. AD, Paphos (and Cyprus as a whole) enjoyed one of the most prosperous and enlightened periods of its history. This is reflected in a rich series of buildings decorated with mosaics that have been found there. The earliest of these, the House of Orpheus embellished with a representation of Orpheus and the Beasts. has an inscription unique to Cyprus that gives us a Latin name which must belong to the owner of the house. More well-known is the House of Dionysos with the richest array of mythological representantions known on the island, amongst which there is a fine “Rape of Ganymed”. The nearby Villa of Theseus, the residence of the Roman Proconsul, preserves a large number of mosaics of different periods, amongst which the scene of Theseus and the Minotaur made in the late third, and carefully restored in the fourth century AD. Also several other important mosaics from other parts of the island date from the third century like the rare wall mosaics from Salamis, -Leda and the Swan- from Kouklia, and the unique mosaics with representations of gladiatorial combats from Kourion. In the early fourth century, and in spite of the official recognition of Christianity, pagan art reaches its peak, a phenomenon best reflected in the recently discovered mosaics from the House of Aion at Paphos. Here, in a floor divided into five panels with different representations we have a realistic parade of mythological characters and personifications rendered in a style and technique of the highest quality. Some of the figures represented are very rare or even unknown in ancient art and it is only the fact that their names are written above them that makes their identification possible. During the next century Christian art gained more and more ground and unavoidably influenced the decoration of some pagan buildings, as is shown by the bust of «Ktisis» from the Complex of Eustolios at Kourion. Pagan art, however, had already began to decline both in repertoire and technique. The last examples of this art on the island are illustrated by the “Toilet of Venus” from Alassa, and the “Birth of Achilles” from the Villa of Theseus at Paphos, both dating from the fifth century.