Polis Chrysochous · Cyprus
Twenty Years of Excavation
by
The Department of Art & Archaeology
Princeton University

The modern village of Polis Chrysochous lies at the west end of the island of Cyprus at the mouth of an intermittent river called the Chrysochou. The name of the river means “Flowing with Gold,” but the origin of the name is unknown; there is no evidence of naturally occurring gold in the region. There is, however, a copper mine just 5km to the north-east of the site that functioned in antiquity and recently up to1978.

The area of Polis Chrysochous was inhabited from the Chalcolithic Period (ca.3,500 B.C.) on, although coherent remains of settlement begin around 1,000 B.C. and only become continuous around 800 B.C. The modern village lies partially over an early Cypriot city called Marion. This city flourished from at least the 8th century B.C. and is listed as one of the Archaic kingdoms of Cyprus. Archaeological evidence suggests that the city of Marion was very prosperous in the 6th century B.C. but contracted in the 5th century, possibly because it was involved in the Ionian Revolt against Persia from 499 to 496. Several areas of the Archaic city were certainly damaged and the eastern half of the city was then abandoned close to 500 B.C.

The city was laid out on an orthogonal plan by at least the beginning of the 6th century B.C., currently the oldest known such plan in the Greek world. At the very east end of the site the remains of a large ashlar building have been found that may represent the royal palace. Unfortunately much of the area is covered by a new primary school and parking lot, making further investigation impossible.

The city flourished again in the fifth and fourth centuries, but it never regained its former size and was finally destroyed in 312 B.C. by Ptolemy I, Soter, of Egypt. He was one of Alexander the Great’s generals who became king of Egypt. Part of the city wall of this period has been uncovered in sector A.H.9 and more may be located in sector E.G0 (see map of site). Soter’s son, Philadelphos, refounded the city in the 270s and named it after his wife, Arsinoe. This city lasted at least until about 1000 A.D., by which time Arab raids drove the population inland. The island of Cyprus was conquered by Richard the Lion Heart in 1191 and was eventually sold to the Lusignan family, former kings of Jerusalem, driven out by Saladin.

Cyprus prospered under the Lusignans until the family died out in the 16th century, and there is extensive, though very fragmentary evidence of activity in this period at Polis. The island came under Turkish rule (1571). In 1878 the British rented Cyprus from Turkey because they needed to establish a naval base to guard the route to the Suez canal (opened 1869). Cyprus became a crown colony in 1914 and 46 years later, in 1960, won its independence. The island recently became a member of the European Union.

Princeton University began a survey of the area of Polis Chrysochous in 1983; excavation began in 1984 and continues.

The photographs, with the exception of the two site pictures, were taken by Elisabeth Childs. All the objects depicted here are in the Archaeological Museum of Polis Chrysochous and while some are from the excavations of Princeton University, others come from rescue operations over many decades, primarily when ancient tombs were found, by chance, at modern construction sites. The objects were taken in natural daylight only, in the atrium of the newly built museum. The making of these photographs was greatly facilitated by the kind assistance of the Department of Antiquities, Nicosia, directed successively by Vassos Karageorghis, Athanassios Papageorghiou, Michael Louloupis, Demos Christou, Sophokles Hadjisavas, and Pavlos Flourentzos, and by Andreas Simionides of the Archaeological Museum, Polis. Danica Curcic designed the show which was set up with the assistance of Shari Kenfield, Curator of Research Collections, Department of Art and Archaeology. Text and labels are by Professor William Childs. This website was designed by Julie Angarone.