Salamis was Cyprus’ capital for around one thousand years and according to tradition, it was founded by Teucer, son of Telamon ruler of the island of Salamis, who arrived on Cyprus after the end of the Trojan War accompanied by other Greeks. In Euripides’ ‘Helen’ Teucer explains that Apollo had ordered him to not return to his homeland but to go to the island of Cyprus since he did not manage to prevent Aiantas’ suicide nor did he manage to take revenge on his death.
Salamis: Aerial view
From 1957 until 1967 the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus, consistently excavated Salamis’ necropolis, which is situated between the town of Salamis and nearby Enkomi (an important Late Bronze Age site). The necropolis’ tombs are characterized as ‘royal’ due to their monumental size and the richness of the grave goods unearthed in them. The tombs date to the 8th – 6th centuries B.C. It is during these centuries that the members of the military aristocracy were buried with grand processions and many grave goods.
To the west of the necropolis of Salamis the Department of Antiquities excavated the cenotaph of the town’s last king, Nikocreon who according to the historian Diodoros, died in 311 B.C. The conserved throne and bed, both unearthed from the ‘dromos’ of Tomb 79 are exhibited today in the Cyprus Museum, Lefkosia. These two objects bear carved ivory slabs. Other objects from the same tomb preserve traces of silver on their surfaces.
Salamis: Tomb 79. Bed made of wood
and decorated with ivory plaques.
Intensive excavations led by the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus occurred in the Salamis area from 1952 to 1974. These excavations brought to light two important monuments of the Roman period: the Gymnasium and the Theatre. The Gymnasium was built during the Hellenistic period and modified during the Roman period. The Gymnasium has a rectangular palaestra with colonnades and porticos running along all four sides. The present columns originally carried stone arches that supported the outer edge of the roof which covered the portico. The Gymnasium’s Baths preserve walls that reach eight meters in height and were adorned with mosaics and wall-paintings depicting scenes from Greek mythology. Many of these scenes have survived and were conserved in situ. Behind the Gymnasium’s porticos were other rooms such as sudatoria (steam-rooms) and hot water baths. Latrines have been excavated in the south-west corner of the palaestra. The Gymnasium’s halls and porticos were decorated with a large number of marble statues of gods and heroes from Greek mythology such as Asclepius, Persephone and Clotho. Some of the statues remained on site while others are on display at the Cyprus Museum and the Ammochostos district museum.
Approximately 100m to the south of the Gymnasium is Salamis’ Theatre built during the reign of Augustus and completed during the years of Hadrian and Trajan. During antiquity this theatre was one of the largest theatres in the eastern Mediterranean. The Theatre has a large semi-circular orchestra (diameter: 27.50m) which was originally paved with marble and at its center is the thymele (the altar dedicated to Dionysus). The stage building’s façade (proscenium) was decorated with statues and columns. The Theatre’s cavea (seating area) was constructed out of stone and supported by arches and its seating capacity must have been around 15.000 seats. Only a few of the original limestone seats survive today and they can be seen in the lower rows.
During the years 1972 and 1973 a team of Cypriot archaeologists began excavating an Amphitheatre situated between the Theatre and the Gymnasium. This project however was abruptly interrupted in the summer of 1974 with the island’s invasion by the Turkish forces and the occupation of Salamis.
The French archaeological expedition from the University of Lyon worked in the area with the Department of Antiquities during the years 1964 and 1974. Apart from the aforementioned finds, the expedition uncovered the following: an Archaic sanctuary, the Greco-Roman remains of a temple dedicated to Zeus, an early Christian olive press and an early Christian basilica (the Basilica of the Campanopetra).
In academic publications of the 1960’s, Salamis was characterized as one of the most important archaeological sites of the Mediterranean. Students and archaeologists from around the world have included finds from Salamis in their postgraduate research and in articles. The finds from Salamis have also been the topic of many seminars and lectures in universities around the world.
When the Turkish army invaded Cyprus in the summer of 1974, all activities taking place in the Salamis archaeological site where put to a halt. A tragic consequence of the invasion was the looting of the Department of Antiquities’ storerooms where documents and material were kept. Also the French archaeological mission did not have access to its own storerooms where documents, drawings, photographs and archaeological material were kept.
The occupation forces’ illegal and destructive activities in the area continued after the invasion of 1974. In 1999 and against all international conventions and recommendations, Ankara University organized archaeological investigations at Salamis under the direction of Prof. Coskun Özguner. Özguner conducted excavations and opened test trenches in the whole area in order to choose a spot that would immediately yield impressive finds. Özguner finally focused on an area to the west of the Gymnasium where he uncovered a building of the Roman period, possibly a Roman villa with a bath complex.
The Department of Antiquities has reported these illegal activities to UNESCO and it has taken measures so that Ankara University is reprimanded.
Salamis: Illicit excavations
Karageorghis, V. 1967, 1970, 1973 and 1978, Excavations in the Necropolis of Salamis, I-IV. Nicosia.
Karageorghis, V. 1969, Salamis in Cyprus. Homeric, Hellenistic and Roman. London.