Feasting in Bronze Age Cyprus

Just as today, ancient people used feasting & drinking ceremonies as a method to establish their elite status, by organising feasts served in luxury ceramics from foreign realms and consuming special foods which were not part of people’s day to day diet they established their right to be the elites and hence representatives of the community.

In the past, archaeologists interpreted the presence of ceramics from other countries within an archaeological site as evidence for migration of another ethnic group to that area.


Nowadays, archaeologists are investigating the quantity and type of these so called exotic ceramics and other valuable items, such as bronze, silver and gold, together with the exact location where they were found, and are increasingly realising these items are not evidence of migration of another ethnic group, but elite displays of wealth and power.


During the late Chalcolithic and Bronze Age periods several countries in the Eastern Mediterranean expanded their participation in international trade, hence elites are able to procure exotic products from distant countries in order to differentiate themselves and affirm their status.

In Cyprus, participation in international trade, developed slowly and only became substantial in the late Bronze Age, as Cyprus became an increasingly important trading partner due to its abundant deposits of copper, an essential element in the manufacture of bronze. The Levant, in particular Ugarit in modern day Syria, was a key trading partner. Trading links also grew with other Eastern Mediterranean areas including the Mycenaean region.

At key sites ancient sites in Cyprus, for example sites such as the early to middle Bronze Age cemeteries of Lapithos,Vvrysi Tou Barba, Vounous-Bellapais and Karmi small quantities of Mycaean pottery were discovered, such as the Kamares ware cup found in a burial in Karmi, dating to the early Bronze Age.


In the Late Bronze Age the quantities of foreign imports spread more widely across the island, especially inland and to sites which participated and controlled the lucrative copper trade. A re-examination of the finds by Louise Steel at Kouklia-Evreti, Kalavasos and Mrytou-Pighades have revealed the remains of feasting & ceremonial drinking activities, in areas which can be identified with elites residences, elite burials and sanctuary contexts.


Daily Diet

In day to day life the Cypriot diet consisted primarily of wheat, barley and lentils. Cultivation of orchards first appears during this period, including grapes and olives. Wine production had been long established in the Levant and also appeared in the Aegean at this time, therefore it seems likely that wine was also produced on Cyprus.


Cypriots also bred sheep, goats, cattle and pig, although it is unclear whether this was for meat. Halstead has proposed that sheep and cattle were raised for secondary products including wool and traction power, whereas goats were eaten.


Cattle had considerable symbolic importance on Cyprus in the Bronze Age and bulls horns (bucrania) are frequently represented, both in ceramic models depicting religious or ceremonial scenes; as parts of altars, within sanctuaries or other symbolic contexts. Hence, it is probable that eating cattle would be strictly controlled.


Deer hunting was a significant activity in earlier times, but by the late Bronze Age, it had declined and deer was no longer eaten as part of their normal diet. Deer bones are not generally found in normal settlement contexts.


Bones, Bowls and Cups

At Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios, a large deposit of bones were found in the building described by archaeologist as the elite administrative building, these included sheep and goat joints, together with game bird and fish bones. The deposit also contained serving vessels, including several Mycenaean cups and bowls. The types of crockery discovered are typical of those used during a feast.

At Kouklia, a deposit was found in two wells very close to the sanctuary. This contained many fallow deer and cattle bones, suggesting deer and cattle may only have been eaten at exclusive feasts. Cattle and deer horns were also found, perhaps the horns of the animal were displayed at the feasting event. Astragali (gaming pieces) were also discovered suggesting fortune telling and/or gaming might also been part of the feasting activities.


The ceramics discovered suggest communal drinking. Late Cypriot drinking sets were found, including kraters, jugs and tankards for serving liquids, probably wine and bowls for food. Typical Cypriot base ring drinking cups were found together with Mycenaean drinking vessels, although at most sites the volume of wares indicate a clear preference for Cypriot styles, until the late 13th Century BC when Mycenaean styles start to dominate.

Typical Cypriot Base ring II ware, including from top, white slipware bowls, carinataed cup, and base ring jug and juglets

(source: 2015 season, Swedish Archaeology in Jordan, Palestine and Cyprus, Peter Fischer, http://www.fischerarchaeology.se/?page_id=1989

Typical Cypriot Base ring ware and white slipware bowls, Kourion Museum, Larnaca


The Mycenaean Krater (pictured above) they were all imported increasingly they occur in most high status Cypriot burial, in coastal urban centres. Initially it was thought that these were purely for funerary purposes, but use-wear analysis shows that the kraters were used extensively before being interred with the corpse in a burial. Evidence has not been found for use in general settings within a settlement, only in areas associated with feasting and drinking. It is easy to understand the appeal that these highly decorated, ornamental kraters would have as a centre point to a feast. Scenes of chariots and hunting are especially popular probably reflecting that these activities were restricted to the elites.


It is interesting to note that while Mycenaean imports became increasingly popular on Cyprus the elites did not adopt the cultural practises of the Mycenaean palatial elites who preferred to use drinking equipment of gold or silver. Demonstrating that these imported items were used to enhance typical Cypriot rituals. Cypriot wine drinking practises do however have similarities to those of Ugarit.


In the later 13th and 12th centuries BC Cypriot potters increasingly copied Mycenaean ceramics and locally produced ‘Mycenaean-syle” (White painted Wheelmade (WPWM)III) pottery become more prevalent in feasting contexts and more general contexts. As local wares become more available and widespread, they appear to fall out of favour with the elite who are now increasingly utilising metal drinking sets. This perhaps indicates that as more people have access to products the elites needed to adopt other prestige items in order to demonstrate their elite status.


Funerary Ceramics

It’s still unknown whether the ceramic items deposited in burials were the debris from funerary feasts to honour the deceased or whether they were offering to the deceased for use in the after-life. There is evidence that animal sacrifice and feasting did form a key part of the funeral rituals. On the other hand ceramic items found within tombs are generally unbroken and evidence of food being deposited within tombs has been found.


Sanctuaries

The most common form of ceramics found in sanctuaries are the carinated base ring II ware (pictured above). Some Mycenaean kraters and bowls have been found, but in much smaller quantities than the Cypriot wares. It seems probably that the base ring cups were used in ritual ceremonies either to pour libations for the deities or for associated feasting activities. Drinking of alcohol, is likely to form part of these ritual ceremonies.


Sanctuaries have also found to contain large numbers of animal bones, including deer, young cattle and to a lesser extent bird and fish bones. Skulls and horns are also present, but evidence indicates the animals were not slaughtered and butchered onsite, as only certain bones are represented. More probably as in the feasting in elite buildings the skulls and horns were used during the feast in a ritualistic way.


The presence of bones, skulls and horns often found close to the altar within the sanctuary, suggest cult practises which have slowly evolved on Cyprus since the prehistoric period, as these type of practices are not found in sanctuaries in the Aegean.


References

David Frankel - Recovering two ancient sites in Cyprus, Humanities Australia, April 2013

Louise Steel - A Goodly Feast A Cup of Mellow Wine: Feasting in Bronze Age Cyprus The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 73, No. 2, Special Issue: The Mycenean Feast (Apr. - Jun., 2004), pp. 281-300 Published by: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Halstead, P. 1977. "A Preliminary Report on the Faunal Remains from Late Bronze Age Kouklia, Paphos," RDAC 1977, pp. 261-275.

The Role of Cyprus in Mediterranean Trade During the Bronze Age https://novoscriptorium.com/2019/09/12/the-role-of-cyprus-in-mediterranean-trade-during-the-bronze-age/


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