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5. The World of the Dead


ANCIENT CYPRUS: Cultures in Dialogue
Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels
October 31, 2012 – February 17, 2013

5. The world of the dead

Bronze cast lion head, 750-600 BC, Salamis, Department of Antiquities, Cyprus

Death was especially important for the people of ancient Cyprus. It was considered as part of the life-cycle and as a transition from the world of the living to the realm of venerated ancestors. Death rituals also offered an occasion for social display and affirmation of group identity.

In the earliest stages of prehistory, the dead were buried within houses, sometimes provided with personal items and ornaments made of rare imported materials. From the 3rd millennium BC onwards, large collective (family?) tombs were built in extramural cemeteries and the dead were provided with numerous offerings, including exotica from Egypt, the Near East and the Aegean (made of gold, ivory, faience, glass, perfumes), at least in the wealthier tombs. The presence of imported artefacts suggests that foreign affiliations were considered important for the social status of the deceased.

The most impressive Cypriot burials were made in the so-called ‘royal tombs’ of the Archaic period (8th-6th c. BC). These were large stone-built graves with wide passageways, where horse-drawn carts carried the dead to their last abode. The horses were sacrificed and buried together with the carts and other spectacular offerings made of precious materials. Such lavish burials are described in Homeric epics and Neo-Assyrian texts and are also attested in the Near East, the Aegean and Etruria. Cypriot examples are among the most well-preserved ones.


Necklace, 7th-6th millennia BC, Khirokitia, Department of Antiquities, Cyprus

Statuette of seated female, 4th c. BC, Polis Chrysochous, Department of Antiquities, Cyprus Statuette of seated sphinx, 4th c. BC, Department of Antiquities, Cyprus







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