Medieval to Modern periods

Michael Given and Timothy E. Gregory

Map of SCSP area with Medieval to Modern pottery.

Imported Italian sgraffito, found at Malounda Panayia Khrysopandanassa (SIA 10). Length 6.1 cm. Inventory no. 1269-21-1.
Photo: Karen Ulrich.

Medieval Cypriot Glazed VIIIB base, from Politiko Ayios Mnason (SIA 6). Length 9.3 cm. Inventory no. 5019-22-1.
Photo: Karen Ulrich.

Central bowl of Turkish pipe, showing the bottom of the fire box. Found at Politiko Ayios Mnason (SIA 6). Length 3.5 cm. Inventory no. 1728-11-1.
Photo: Karen Ulrich.

View looking northeast over the Tamassos plain from Politiko Ayios Mnason (SIA 6).
Photo: Michael Given

One of SCSP's most striking results has been the extent and intensity of activity across the landscape during the later periods of Cypriot history. Of the 8130 sherds which could be dated to precise periods, 9% were Medieval, 19% Ottoman, and 17% Modern. To these should be added another 7128 sherds dated to the Medieval/Modern period overall, as well as a wide range of buildings, roads, agricultural structures and tools. These materials and our methods of analysing them shed light on a wide range of human activities within the landscape.

Medieval-Modern Pottery

A striking characteristic of the Medieval to Modern pottery from the SCSP area is the complete absence of early Byzantine pottery, from the 7th through at least the 10th century, and the very small number of pieces that can be assigned to the later Byzantine period, before the Frankish and later Venetian occupation in the late 12th century. This situation is not uncommon elsewhere on Cyprus, where true Byzantine wares are remarkably scarce. Likewise, in broad terms, the number of pieces that can be assigned to specific centuries rises steadily from the 13th to the 20th century, although there are localised rises and falls throughout this period. Again, this general phenomenon has been noted elsewhere, especially in southwestern Cyprus, in the CPSP survey area.

Especially noteworthy is the increasing number of sherds identified as one gets closer to the present, and of course the large number of sherds left in the catch-all category Medieval-Modern category; this requires some definition and discussion. The Medieval-Modern category was created

in large part to encompass the dark brownish/reddish coarse ware found so ubiquitously throughout Cyprus. The omnipresence of this type of pottery causes real problems in the interpreting the archaeological data. In the end, we were able to distinguish six individual fabrics, termed Cypriot Coarse Ware W1, W3-W7 - the lines between them were not always clear, and some doubt always exists about assigning individual pieces to one category or another.
The overwhelming amount of glazed Medieval ware recovered by SCSP was of local, Cypriot origin. The few imported glazed sherds encountered include four examples of 16th-century Italian sgraffito, five pieces of Zeuxippus Ware and ten pieces of sgraffito wares from unknown source (not Cyprus). No Proto-Maiolica (south-Italian product) wares were encountered in the survey area, but five examples of 16th-century Maiolica ó presumably from northern Italy ó were recovered, joining the Italian sgraffito to demonstrate close connections of the area with the Venetian rulers of the island.

Arguably, glazed pottery may be taken as an indicator of wealth or social distinction, and in traditional societies most families would not have possessed large quantities of these expensive goods. It seems reasonable, therefore, to measure the number of glazed sherds encountered in various periods, and to count the total number of sherds: overall, 829 glazed sherds have been assigned to the Ottoman period and 649 to the Medieval period. This averages out as 1.98 glazed sherds per year in the Medieval period and 2.21 in the Ottoman, which is remarkably similar, although there would of course have been considerable social and cultural variation within each of these periods.

Coarse pottery of the Ottoman period was dominated by three versions of the typical brown or brownish-red fabrics. Typical of the shapes are small and large pithoi, galefteria (milking pan), water jugs and pitchers. Given our present state of knowledge about these wares, it is impossible to tell whether they represent different chronologies or different places of manufacture.

One final and especially interesting class of Ottoman vessels is the Turkish pipe. Four examples of tobacco pipes were found, all relatively simple and in the fine grey or light grey clay that dates to the 17th-early 18th century AD.

Among the Modern glazed wares perhaps the most readily identifiable type was what we termed Lapithos Ware, but which is elsewhere identified as Didimotycheion Ware. This is a slip-painted ware with decoration of crudely painted radiating lines and either a green or yellow glaze; by far the most common shape is a bowl with flaring sides and a hooked rim. In spite of the imports of transfer print and other styles of European pottery, as well as the relatively cheap mass-produced wares that have come to dominate the tableware market in recent years, the dominant pottery class of this period is the traditional eastern Mediterranean ware. This indicates the relative isolation of the Mitsero area, even into the 20th century.

A special category of modern glazed pottery is the 'Contemporary Yoghurt Pot', a vessel with nearly flat bottom, straight sides and a grooved vertical rim, made in a stony red fabric and covered with a thick yellow glaze on the interior and at least part of the exterior


There is no definitive evidence from the SCSP area for copper mining or smelting after the Late Roman period, although copper production from the Medieval period has been reported in the Polis region in the west of Cyprus. European travellers to Cyprus in the 18th century often mention the abandoned ancient copper mines, attributing their current lack of use either to the repressiveness of the Ottoman government or the idleness of the Greek inhabitants. The area of Tamassos was certainly well-known for its history of copper, gold and silver mining.

The first recorded modern explorations of the copper deposits in the SCSP area were carried out in 1916; some of the more regular adits at Politiko Kokkinorotsos (SIA 7) appear to date to this phase. From the 1920s there was more intense development of the Mitsero and Agrokipia mines, and the economy and social organisation of these villages was radically altered. The result was a clear tension between the agricultural and mining landscapes of the area. Before the development of large-scale mining, the SCSP landscape was peopled with communities of peasant farmers and landholders living in stone and mudbrick houses in their familyís village and working their own fields in the village territory. From the 1930s this scenario was juxtaposed with a mining landscape of massive pits and spoil heaps, hierarchical labour structures, and artificial communities of wage labourers from all over the island and beyond, living in purpose-built housing. These tensions can be read in the structure and surrounding landscapes of villages such as Mitsero (SIA 5).


Apart from the copper mining of the 20th century, the mainstay of the survey area's economy from the Medieval to Modern periods was agriculture, dominated by cereals, goats and sheep, vines and to a lesser extent olives. During the Medieval period in Cyprus there was usually a large surplus of wheat and barley which was exported to Venice, but according to European travellers the Ottoman period suffered a major drop in production.
The pottery distribution for the Medieval to Modern periods as a whole in the northeastern corner of the survey area shows one clear density peak at Politiko Ayios Mnason (SIA 6) and another smaller one to the north (SCY209 - Episkopio Kallinikos). The first is due to the monastery of Ayios Mnason and perhaps dumping on the outskirts of the village of Politiko; the second may be some sort of farmstead.

Of great interest is the spread of low-density pottery between and north of these peaks. With a characteristic Pottery Index of 500-1000, this is most likely the result of intensive manuring in the fields nearest the village. From documentary and oral evidence we know that the most valuable fields were the sokhorafa, the 'infields' nearest the village which could be manured most easily. The survey data suggest that this was indeed being done. Interestingly, this low-density 'carpet' of pottery does not extend to the next transect 1 km to the west, but is limited to a 1-1.5 km halo round the main villages. Such a pattern stands in striking contrast to the Roman period, when the low levels of pottery extended much more widely, interrupted by small rural estates; apparently the most intensive land use in the Medieval to Modern periods was restricted to the areas around the settlements. Pottery distribution data shows similar patterns for other parts of the survey area.


Although the settlement pattern during the Medieval to Modern periods clearly consists mainly of nucleated villages, intensive archaeological survey has demonstrated some of the complexities and changes within this system. Village lists from the 16th century, historical maps from the 16th and 17th centuries, and archaeological survey all indicate that during the Medieval period settlements were smaller but more numerous. Mavrovounos (SIA 4) is a good example, appearing in Venetian village lists and maps, and according to our pottery analysis abandoned probably in the 17th century. In general the 17th century shows a population decline and a consolidation into fewer villages.

The locations of the Medieval to Modern villages in the SCSP area and its vicinity are of considerable interest. In areas of reasonable arable land they are characteristically 2 km apart; in rougher land they are typically 4 km apart. Viewshed analysis, moreover, shows that each village tends to lie in a bowl of hills with its arable land round it and a ridge dividing it from the next. None of the villages in the survey area are intervisible, and apart from mountain tops and ridgelines there are very few spots where two villages are visible simultaneously. The abandoned settlements of Mavrovounos and Ayios Mamas fill the same conditions; this is a pattern clearly going back to the Medieval period. The landscape, then, is divided into territories comprising what can be seen from the village; these viewsheds correspond remarkably closely with the modern administrative boundaries of the villages, which derive from the colonial and Ottoman periods.