The Ancient Ruins of Salamis, the Once Thriving Port City of Cyprus
Ancient cities can be a window into the past of human society. It is difficult to imagine a thriving city during different times, without the advantages and conveniences of modern technology, but such cities did exist. Even without today’s infrastructure and technology, large cities were built with sophisticated planning, and sustained flourishing societies and growing populations. In many instances, a city located near a major body of water made a great port, and could benefit from imports and ships arriving from all around the world. One such city was Salamis, located on the island of Cyprus.
Salamis was a large city in ancient times. It served many dominant groups over the course of its history, including Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, and Romans. According to Homeric legend, Salamis was founded by archer Teucer from the Trojan War. Although long abandoned, the city of Salamis serves as a reminder of the great cities that existed in antiquity, and an indicator of how far we have come in the past few centuries.
Bronze statue depicting legendary archer, Teucer. Wikimedia Commons
Salamis was believed to have been the capital of Cyprus as far back as 1100 B.C. Located on the eastern side of the island of Cyprus, it was considered a very important port city. Ships arrived from all over the world, making it a major hub of activity. At one point during the Roman period Salamis was the largest city on Cyprus, stretching 2 kilometers (1 mile) down the shore, and 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) inland.
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In Homeric legend, the founder of Salamis, Teucer, was the son of King Telamon and his wife Hesione, who was the daughter of King Laomedon of Troy. This lineage made Teucer the cousin of the legendary Hector and Paris of Troy, but Teucer fought against all of them, as he was an opponent of Troy in the Trojan War. It is said Teucer fought in the War as an archer, but his shots at Hector were deflected by Apollo. At one point Hector threw a large rock at Teucer, injuring him. While his injury prevented him from fighting for a time, he was said to be one of the individuals who invaded Troy in the Trojan horse.
Mosaic at the Roman ruins of Salamis. John Higgins/Flickr
Teucer’s half-brother, Ajax committed suicide, for which King Telamon disowned Teucer, leading him to flee to Cyprus, where he founded Salamis. Some say that the legendary tale of Teucer coincides with occupation of Cyprus by the Sea People.
Ruins of the ancient city of Salamis, Cyprus. Xavi/Flickr
The city of Salamis has a rich past. It was recorded as founded by inhabitants of Cyprus known as Enkomi around 1100 B.C. In 525 B.C., Persians took control of the city. The city was destroyed during the Jewish revolt in 115 A.D., during which time an estimated 250,000 Greeks were killed. Destruction of the city also occurred as a result of many earthquakes in the area, with cumulative damage over time. Ultimately, the city of Salamis was rebuilt by Christian emperor Constantius II, who reigned from 337-361 AD. The city was ultimately destroyed after the Arab invasions under the control of Muʿāwiyah in 648 A.D., after which the city was permanently abandoned.
Salamis is also believed to have been the first stop on Paul the Apostle’s first journey.
Keys to discovering the mysteries of the ancient city of Salamis have been discovered over time. Gold coins were found within the city, giving researchers a glimpse into the city’s important wealth during ancient times. The coins are believed to be from 411 – 374 BC and they bear the name “Evagoras.”
The city also contains large, arched tombs, dating back to the 7th and 8th century, B.C. As with any culture, the tombs give a glimpse into the social hierarchy of the ancient residents of the city. Royalty was not buried within the tombs, as they were reserved for nobles.
Statue at the ancient city of Salamis. Kris Chapman/Flickr
The tombs were constructed from large ashlars (fine cut masonry) and mud brick. When one was buried, the horse and chariot from the procession would be sacrificed in front of the tomb. The sacrifice of a horse in this method was a common ritual for funerals. Tombs also included grave good such as weapons and jewelry.
Rock-cut tombs in other locations were used for commoners. As the individuals in society were classified into their roles during life, so they maintained those roles in death.
Salamis also contains a massive outdoor theater, which would have sat up to 15,000 people over 50 rows of seating. Around the buildings buried marble statues have been excavated. They are damaged, and with heads missing, as the statues were destroyed as Christianity took hold.
Theater of the ancient city of Salamis. Wikimedia Commons
Theater of Salamis, aerial view. “Built at the beginning of the 1st century AD and destroyed by the earthquakes of the mid-4th century. The auditorium was erected above a podium built of limestone monoliths.” Thomas Sagory/Flickr
Whether Salamis was founded by the legendary Teucer, or by the local Enkomi, Salamis today survives only as an ancient abandoned city which, if ruins could talk, would have a million tales to tell.
Perhaps with further studies we can get a better idea of how inhabitants of Salamis lived, and what other Homeric rites they may have performed. For now, we can listen to the legends and tales and simply try to imagine what a sight it must have been when Salamis was a thriving port city on the island of Cyprus.
Featured image: Salamis was an ancient city-state on the east coast of Cyprus, at the mouth of the river Pedieos. Wikimedia Commons
Teucer – Salamina. Available from: http://www.salamina.gr/Default.aspx?tabid=476&language=en-US
Salamis – Ancient Roman City – Cypnet. Available from: http://www.cypnet.co.uk/ncyprus/city/famagusta/salamis/
Salamis – Britanica. Available from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/518939/Salamis
Salamis Cyprus – Bible Places. Available from: http://www.bibleplaces.com/salamis-cyprus.htm
By M R Reese