The archaeological site of Enkomi is one of the richest Late Bronze Age sites in Cyprus. This ancient town is situated on the island’s eastern coast, around 3 km to the northwest of Salamis and to the west of the modern village of Engomi in the Ammochostos district. The site is presently under the control of the Turkish occupation forces.
Enkomi: Aerial image
The first investigations were made in the area in 1896 by the British Museum archaeological expedition. During these investigations a number of tombs were unearthed consisting of rich grave goods such as: gold objects, ivory, scarabs and Mycenaean pottery. In 1913 Sir John Myres along with the then Cyprus Museum Curator M. Markides, conducted a short archaeological investigation in Enkomi. In 1930 the Swedish Expedition, directed by E. Gjerstad, dug a large number of tombs with rich grave goods. In 1934 the French professor C. Schaeffer, who was at that time excavating Ras-Shamra (ancient Ugarit in Syria), began to excavate at ancient Enkomi on behalf of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. Schaeffer wanted to find evidence that would prove Cyprus’ contact with the Syrian coast.
Apart from his interest in Enkomi’s tombs, Schaeffer also wished to discover the remains of the ancient town to which the tombs belonged. Schaeffer’s 1934 archaeological results were of great importance. A large 12th century B.C. building was unearthed and named ‘The House of the Bronzes’ due to the large quantities of bronze objects found inside it. The ancient town of Enkomi was therefore situated in the same area as the necropolis. Between 1946 – 1947 Schaeffer discovered parts of the town’s fortifications and in 1948 he invited the Cyprus Department of Antiquities to join him in the excavations. The then Curator of the Department of Antiquities Dr. P. Dikaios led the Department’s mission at the site.
The archaeological site of Enkomi is not visible from Salamis and it is situated behind a rocky area in the wide Mesaoria plain. The ancient town is the first and largest ancient town that has been systematically excavated in Cyprus yielding extremely important information concerning the island’s history during the 2nd millennium B.C. The material that has been excavated sheds light upon the island’s artistic development and its cultural and economic contacts with other areas in the Mediterranean. During antiquity, Enkomi was connected to the sea with a navigable channel which was later filled in. Like other towns of the same period (e.g. Kition), Enkomi had a port.
At around the end of the Middle Bronze Age a small farming community had settled at Enkomi. This community was probably the successor of the Kalopsida settlement, situated to the west of Enkomi. This settlement phase was interrupted at around 1750 B.C. when the Hyksos (an ancient people mentioned in the Old Testament) invaded Egypt where they established themselves as rulers until 1580 B.C. Although the Hyksos did not reach Cyprus directly, it is probable that at least they affected the east part of the island. This may account for the scarcity of architectural remains belonging to the 17th and the beginning of the 16th century at Enkomi.
At around 1550 B.C. a period of great prosperity begins at Enkomi. The town seems to have been an important center for the working and exporting of copper. At around 1400 B.C. the eastward expansion of Mycenaean commercial activity also affected Cyprus. The Mycenaeans conducted their commercial transactions with the eastern Mediterranean from the island’s eastern and southern commercial centers. The abundance of Mycenaean pottery and other objects found in tombs attests to the presence of Mycenaeans at Enkomi. Enkomi’s economic prosperity can be seen in the large number of gold grave goods, which also indicate the town’s links with Egypt, the Middle East and the Aegean. The tombs that belong to the above period resemble those of Kition and Ugarit (Syria) and are cut into the natural rock, within the houses’ courtyards. The area’s first archaeological investigations had assumed that the town’s remains were of a later date than the tombs and so many of these remains were removed.
The end of the 13th century is considered to be the time of the arrival of the first Achaean settlers. During this period the cyclopean walls and the town’s towers were constructed. The walls have been revealed to their full extent and consequently the town’s size can be estimated. The town spread 400m from north to south and 350m from east to west. It is during this period that the town’s road layout was altered. The roads were laid out in straight lines and were intersected perpendicularly by other roads. In addition, a paved ‘public’ square was created. This period is also characterized by the erection of monumental public buildings of a new architectural style. These buildings bear large ashlar stones a feature, which possibly indicates eastern prototypes since we find similar characteristics at Ugarit. Characteristics deriving from the Greek world also appear, such as the Mycenaean ‘megaron’ used in architecture.
This building is located on the 5th road and Schaeffer considered it to be the palace of an Achaean chief. The building is 40m long and is of ashlar masonry. Some stones are more than 3m in length and 1,40m high. The building was ruined at the beginning of the 12th century B.C. and was rebuilt as a workshop and divided into many rooms. In the courtyard of Building 18 the Swedish Expedition excavated Tomb 18, which was considered to be the possible burial of one of the island’s first Achaean settlers.
The sanctuary of the ‘Horned God’
Enkomi: statuette of horned god
This sanctuary consists of a large room surrounded by other auxiliary rooms. It was in the south part of this building that the famous bronze statuette depicting a ‘Horned God’ was unearthed (exhibited in the Cyprus Museum in Lefkosia). Excavations under the sanctuary’s floor revealed strata dated from the 16th up to the 13th century B.C.
The sanctuary of the god standing on an ingot
Another sanctuary is situated between the 4th and 5th road, to the east of the paved square. The well-known statuette of a god standing on an ingot was found inside this sanctuary, which consists of a large room (16X10m) surrounded by other auxiliary rooms. The large room’s walls consist of built-in benches where worshippers placed their religious offerings.
Enkomi: statuette of god
standing on ingot
Enkomi is packed with rock-cut tombs, located within the house’s courtyards. Built tombs also exist to the east of the ‘sanctuary of the Horned God’. Two of these are of rectangular plan and have flat roofs consisting of a stone slab. A stone stairway led to the tomb’s ‘mouth’ (stomion). Most of the tombs were found looted but can be dated to the 13th century B.C. The third tomb is dome-shaped, its lower part built of stones and the upper part of baked bricks. Its plan is oval in shape and is a unique example of tomb architecture in Cyprus. The tomb is dated to the 13th century B.C.
Enkomi’s decline began with the raids of the ‘Sea Peoples’ although there is no evidence to support the argument that Enkomi ceased to play an important role in Cyprus’ economic and political life. Copper production remained the town’s basic industry. The large ‘palace’ (Building 18) gradually lost its splendor whereas the sanctuaries were maintained. Towards the end of the 11th century B.C. Enkomi was ruined by an earthquake and its inhabitants gradually abandoned the town. The town of Salamis was to become the next cultural, political and artistic center.
Enkomi: Mycenaean crater
Dikaios, P. 1969 and 1971, Egkomi: Excavations 1948 - 1958. Vols I - III. Mainz.