Hellenistic to Roman periods

R. Scott Moore

Map of SCSP area with Hellenistic to Roman pottery

The Hellenistic Age was generally prosperous for most of the eastern Mediterranean. While this prosperity can be seen in other regions of Cyprus, this growth and prosperity, is not reflected in the archaeological record of the SCSP area. Instead there seems to be a fairly substantial drop-off from the Classical period.

Early Roman cooking pot with out-turned rim and horizontal handle. Maximum length 12.2 cm.
Photograph: Karen Ulrich

Rim of locally made Cypriot Red Slip bowl. Late Roman. Maximum length 8.6 cm.
Photograph: Karen Ulrich.

Body sherd of pithos (large storage jar) with elaborate stamped pattern of concentric triangles and ovals. Probably Late Roman. Maximum length 7.9 cm.
Photograph: Karen Ulrich

Corner fragment of rimmed Roman tile. Width: 13.5 cm
Photograph: Karen Ulrich

The SCSP survey team discovered only a small amount of Hellenistic pottery, mainly the fine ware known as Hellenistic Black Glaze. There were very few cooking ware or coarse ware sherds discovered that could be dated to the Hellenistic Age. The number of Hellenistic sherds discovered in any given region is always smaller than that of the preceding Classical and following Roman periods. Since many of the larger sites containing Hellenistic pottery also revealed both Classical and Roman pottery, this indicates that there was continuity in settlement within the survey area from the Classical through the Roman period. Most of the smaller Classical sites, however, seem to have disappeared during the Hellenistic period.

There appears to be a steady growth from the Hellenistic into the Early Roman period in the SCSP survey universe, with finewares and cooking wares present. Of the Early Roman sherds discovered in the SCSP area, the majority were cooking wares. Most of these sherds belonged to a type of locally made Early Roman cooking pot characterised by a flat rim with narrow grooves.

What is lacking in both the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods is amphora sherds, both domestic and imported. This lack of amphora sherds, would seem to suggest that there was little movement of bulk goods like wine and olive oil in the SCSP region. While this might lead to the hypothesis that few people lived in the SCSP area during the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods, the relationship between demographic growth and material remains cannot be made since the association between the numbers of sherds discovered in the field and the amount of pottery actually used is a very complex issue.

The largest number of Early Roman fine wares discovered in the SCSP survey area (nearly half of all early Roman finewares) was Cypriot Sigillata, a tableware manufactured on the island. There is a complete absence of western Mediterranean fine wares such as Italian Sigillata or Arretine Ware. This lack of imports indicates that the inhabitants of the Politiko-Mitsero area were relying almost exclusively on locally manufactured wares with minimal import of bulk goods. This reliance on local goods can be attributed to the network of roads constructed throughout the Early Roman period on the island. This emerging road system would have facilitated travel and exchange throughout the island and would have benefited the islandís interior regions (SCSP) more than the coastal areas.

For the Late Roman period, the number of sherds in the SCSP survey region increases tremendously. From the Late Roman finewares that were identified during the SCSP project, the overwhelming majority were identified as three specific wares: African Red Slip, Cypriot Red Slip, and Phocaean Red Slip Ware, sometimes known as Late Roman C. The locally manufactured Cypriot Red Slip, was the most numerous Late Roman fineware found.

The imported Late Roman finewares are relatively scarce until the fifth century when there is a sudden increase to their highest level followed by a gradual decline towards the seventh century. The local finewares follow the same pattern but peak in the sixth century and then slowly decline towards the seventh century. When all Late Roman finewares from the first to seventh centuries are examined, the resulting chronology shows that the finewares were scarce until about 350 AD, increase until about 400, drop-off towards 450 and then rise to a peak around 550 before disappearing shortly after 600 AD.

When the imported finewares are compared to the local finewares, a relationship between the two appears with an increase in imported finewares corresponding to a decline in local finewares and a decline in imported finewares corresponding to an increase in local finewares. Since the local finewares was produced continuously throughout the Late Roman period without interruption, this suggests that when imported wares were available they would be purchased in preference to the local wares. A rise in imported wares thus indicates periods when the SCSP area had strong connections with other regions, while declines in imported wares would indicate periods when there was little foreign trade reaching the region.

This pattern created by the finewares suggests that the SCSP area had little contact with other areas, both Cypriot and foreign, until the fifth century when the area developed strong connections with other regions that lasted until the seventh century. One possible explanation for this breakdown in trade routes in the seventh century was the unstable political situation that developed on Cyprus due to the Arab invasion of 648/649 and the islandís strategic value in the conflicts between the Byzantine and Islamic Empires.

The overall pottery distribution in the SCSP survey area seems to indicate the presence of numerous small farms and estates in the region. The number of farms increases as one approaches the city of Tamassus. These individual farmers or estate owners probably traded their surplus production with Tamassus and in return purchased foreign goods, such as African Red Slip. These imports probably reached Tamassus via a trading connection with the port of Soli. This trade would have fluctuated as the agricultural yield of the area rose and fell, based upon changing weather patterns, political and social conditions. The mining of copper at Tamassus allowed the city to be one of the few cities to survive in the interior in the Roman period. Its survival allowed it to be a market for the trading of locally produced agricultural products, which in turn helped support the mining community.

The SCSP region appears to show periods of increased commercial activity and periods of decreased commercial activity. During periods of growth or affluence, even remote areas like the Mitsero region, became a market for imported goods. While few of the areas in the Mitsero region show a high degree of affluence (large estates, numerous decorations, abundant expensive ceramics), most areas still had some sherds of the more expensive, imported ceramic wares such as African Red Slip or Phocaean Ware. It is clear that trade reached into the hinterland and was not confined just to the upper class since in the Mitsero region some of the more expensive, imported wares were discovered at what small farms and not just at large estates.

There were obviously close connections between hinterland areas and coastal cities that served as funnels or staging points for imports to reach the interior and for hinterland exports to reach the greater global market. In the case of the Mitsero region, it had a connection with Tamassos, which in turn was connected to the coastal city of Soli. Goods that moved in and out of the region obviously traveled along this established route between the cities/villages. Any damage to Soliís ability to function as a port would have isolated the Mitsero region from most of the outside world.