By Caroline Houghton

The name of Enkomi is associated with written records from Egypt, Ugarit (Northern Syria), the Hittite Kingdom (Southern Turkey), Mesopotamia, and Greek Mycenae which refer to a kingdom “Alashiya”, which is believed to be Cyprus. The most well-known being a collection of letters found in Amarna, the 14th century capital of Egypt, sent by the Alashiyan court which discuss the exchange of copper, silver, and ivory.

It is still not understood, whether the kingdom of Alashiya covered the whole of Cyprus or was just one of several kingdoms on the island, but it is increasingly believed that Enkomi was the most important city in Alashiya. The Armana letters are addressed to the King of Alashiya, however during this period the term king was often applied to the head of a City State, rather than an entire country, so the meaning is different from today.

In Cyprus during the early Bronze Age villages were normally comprised of houses which were comparable in size with similar features indicating little or no evidence of the presence of elites, such as chiefs or religious leaders. Early Bronze Age, Cyprus appears to have been a largely egalitarian society. However, excavations at Enkomi, revealed a very different settlement pattern and hence social patterns of the inhabitants. Excavation at levels dating to the end of the Early Bronze Age through the Middle Bronze Age, revealed monumental buildings, i.e. buildings which are significantly larger than ordinary residences. Enkomi is one of the earliest sites, with clear evidence of this social stratification within the society and the presence of elites. As the middle Bronze Age progresses monumental buildings begin to proliferate across other sites within Cyprus.

At Enkomi another interesting building which has been identified as a fort together with an extensive defensive wall was exposed. The presence of the fort and defensive wall are among the first examples of architecture which indicates local inhabitants needed to protect themselves from outsiders. Subsequently excavations at sites located between Enkomi and the areas where copper ore were mined in the Troodos, have revealed other defensive fort-type structures, suggesting that protection of the copper trade was the trigger behind the need for fortifications.

The diagram below, shows the location of the fort, which was a large free standing building of massive construction with at least 16 rooms, a large courtyard and rooms for working copper (marked below as industrial zone). The defensive wall which runs along the edge of the fort and down the side of the settlement is also shown. During the Late Bronze Age, the original fort was destroyed and rebuilt, with more rooms devoted to copper smelting.

In the Late Bronze Age, in addition to the fort, other monumental buildings were constructed, in particular ‘The Ashlar Building’ (see below) and ‘Building 18’ (pictured above). Both buildings had a large central entrance hall with spacious rooms on either side. The buildings were constructed with fine ashlar slabs, as compared to the previous buildings which were constructed using rubble filled walls. The high cost and workmanship of ashlar masonry means it is generally associated with elite or religious architecture. The buildings in Enkomi were almost certainly dwellings of the elite of the town.

Copper Production & Trade

Many Tuyères and crucibles, together with slag left from the copper smelting process have been found throughout the Enkomi settlement, confirming this as a location engaged in large scale copper production. In the mid-16th Century BC, copper production was limited, however over the next 250 years centralised and intensive production emerged.

Excavations at Phorades, a copper ore mining site, indicate that initial smelting of copper took place very close to the mining sites and then the partially smelted copper was transported to the coastal sites, such as Enkomi for secondary smelting, refining and final production of copper oxhide ingots for export. Copper oxhide ingots from Cyprus have been found throughout Egypt, the Levant (Ugarit, Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre), the Mediterranean including Sardinia, mainland Greece, and on the Cape Gelidonya and Oluburun Shipwrecks.

Sanctuaries and Gods

The ‘Ashlar Building’ was rebuilt and expanded in the late 13th Century BC, the large central hall with formal hearth was probably used by elites for important social occasions. In the Southern part of the building two ‘sanctuaries’ were uncovered and named after figurines found within them, the sanctuary of the ‘Horned God’ and the sanctuary of the ‘Double Goddess’. The sanctuary of the ‘Horned God’, comprised a large pillared hall, with two small interconnected rooms. The furthest room contained the statue of the ‘Horned God’, hidden from sight from ordinary people, a common religious theme in many Eastern Mediterranean cultures in this period. The ‘Double Goddess’ was discovered in a room off a large courtyard in a shallow pit.

A third sanctuary was also found, the sanctuary of the ‘Ingot God’, this was surprisingly, constructed of walls of rubble, but within the structure was a large stone block thought to be a sacrificial table, together with a pierced stone block which could have been used for tethering animals awaiting sacrifice. A wide range of material was found in this room, including evidence of animal sacrifice, a significant quantity of formal dining pottery as well as the bronze statue of the god. The structure of the sanctuary of the ‘Ingot God’, has been compared to Philistine temples in Israel, for example, Ashdod and Tell Qasile, due in part to the distinctive layout and placement of the pottery found in association with the sanctuary and to the ritual closure of the sanctuary, which has strong parallels to Near Eastern traditions.


During the Bronze Age on Cyprus, imported Mycenaean pottery was popular especially among elites, as high value status items and is regularly found deposited in tombs and locations where feasting and other displays of status took place. By the late Cypriot III Mycenaean imports were decreasing and were replaced by local production of Mycenaean-type ware, generally known as White Painted Wheelmade III. They were almost certainly mass-produced most likely in 3 centres – Enkomi, Kition and Palaipaphos. The most prevalent pottery forms being Kraters and bowls. They were made by wheel and decorated with horizontal lines on turntables. The pottery found reflects this tradition, as demonstrated by the large ‘Zeus’ krater which dates to the early 14th Century BC, shown below. It is decorated with two large octopuses, a chariot with two men, both common motifs in ancient Near Eastern art, as are the trees and animals in the background. There is a third warrior below the chariot, together with a fourth figure, dressed in a long robe, standing in front of the chariot, holding a pair of scales, which has been suggested could be a reference to the Greek God Zeus, hence the name of the krater.

End of the Bronze Age

Around 1200 BCE, the Bronze Age, many of the cities around the Eastern Mediterranean started to collapse in a crisis that is still not well-understood. Evidence in Cyprus suggests the island was less affected by this collapse than other regions, however, Enkomi became less powerful during this period. Enkomi, no longer a prosperous city but still an important town, remained inhabited during the twelfth century. Copper trade was no longer a source of wealth; the Bronze Age was coming to an end and the Iron Age was beginning. House 18, which had been destroyed by fire, was repaired and subdivided into smaller units. Other new monuments were built, like the Sanctuary of the Ingot God, so named as he is standing on a copper ingot. He may have been the protector of the copper industry and it is perhaps no coincidence that his temple was close to the place where copper was smelted.

The city was eventually destroyed by an earthquake (in c.1050 BCE), the people resettled on the coast, in what was to become Salamis, one of the major urban centers in the ancient Mediterranean world. The Salaminians continued to remember their origin: their royal tombs were built along the road from Salamis close to ancient Enkomi.

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