The historical period on ancient Cyprus has been something of an archaeological poor relation since the second world war. For whatever reason, the past 25 years in particular have seen a disproportionate interest in the prehistoric material culture of Cyprus, from the Paleolithic period to the end of the Bronze Age, as a result of which many of our preconceptions about this period have been successfully challenged and modified. By contrast, those concerning the subsequent historical period remain largely unquestioned. A. T. Reyes's Archaic Cyprus is, therefore, a welcome exception to this trend.
The author's explicit purpose is to reassess the traditional interpretation of the Cypro-Archaic period (8th to 6th centuries bc) - largely derived from non-contemporary, non-Cypriot historical sources - in the light of more recent archaeological and historical evidence. According to this interpretation the Cypriot population was thought to be divided into three distinct ethnic and linguistic groups: Greeks, Phoenicians and indigenous Eteocypriots, while the island as a whole was dominated by the Assyrian, Egyptian and Persian Empires respectively, each of which left its distinctive mark on Cypriot material culture.
The first two sections of the book are devoted to an assessment of each of these views. Part one explores the internal cultural and social framework of the island, beginning with the issue of ethnic divisions. Part two moves to a consideration of Cyprus's position in the wider context of eastern Mediterranean relations, as the author assesses the evidence for each successive foreign domination of the island. The third and final section presents a detailed analysis of regional patterns of internal and external contact on the island.
Broadly speaking, the author's methodology is consistent, if a little unsophisticated. The textual, archaeological and stylistic evidence on the island is comprehensively scrutinised for foreign imports and influence. It is then assessed as either sufficient or insufficient to support the claim of a foreign presence.
In this way, the author concludes that while there were indeed Phoenicians on the island during the Archaic period, any further ethnic distinction between "Greeks" and indigenous "Eteocypriots" is not substantiated by current evidence. Similarly, he rejects traditional claims for direct Assyrian, Egyptian and Persian domination of the island on the grounds of their limited visible influence on Cypriot material culture and identifies internal patterns of regional interaction based on the distribution of localised artefactual "styles" or "schools".
Ultimately, this approach relies upon the rather contentious expectation that ethnicity and political identity will automatically be reflected in material culture. However this shortcoming is mitigated to a large extent by Reyes's awareness of his methodological limitations and by the consequently restrained and modest tone of his conclusions.
Perhaps the most important achievement of this book is its identification of a discrete and distinctively Cypriot material culture whose continuity throughout the archaic period reveals that, whatever the island's relationships with its eastern Mediterranean neighbours, these did not substantially affect its own unique forms of cultural expression.
This achievement, combined with Reyes's thorough and accessible presentation of the relevant data, should place this book at the very centre of Cypriot historical scholarship.
Andrea Swinton is at the faculty of classics, University of Cambridge.
Archaic Cyprus: A Study of the Textual and Archaeological Evidence
Author - A.T. Reyes
ISBN - 0 19 8132 1
Publisher - Clarendon Press, Oxford
Price - £50.00
Pages - 200