Sunday, May 3, 2020

Cyprus and Rome: A kingdom falls to a Roman Tribune of the Plebs

The island of Cyprus has been inhabited by humans since at least 10,000 BCE.  During the late Bronze Age the island experienced two waves of Greek settlement, around 1400 BCE, and,  following the Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, from 1100 to 1050 BCE. 

Literary evidence also suggests an early Phoenician presence at Kition which was under Tyrian rule at the beginning of the 10th century BCE. It is thought Phoenician merchants colonized the area and expanded the political influence of Kition.

Then, Cyprus was conquered by Assyria, first during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III (744-7242 BCE), then by Sargon II (722-705 BCE). Assyrian hegemony ended with the fall of the Neo Assyrian Empire in 609 BCE. 

The city-kingdoms of Cyprus gained their independence for a short time before domination by Egypt in the sixth century BCE, followed by Persia in 545 BCE.  In 499 BCE, the Cypriots, led by Onesilus, king of Salamis, joined the Greeks in the unsuccessful Ionian Revolt. These gold ear ornaments with lion-griffin terminals reflect Persian motifs and were produced just before the island was conquered by Alexander the Great in 333 BCE. 

After Alexander's death and the subsequent wars of the Diadochi (Alexander's successor generals), Cyprus was fully Hellenized under the rule of Ptolemaic Egypt. In 58 BCE, Cyprus was annexed as a Roman province.  According to Strabo, Ptolemy, the King of Cyprus and younger brother of  Ptolemy XII Auletes, king of Egypt, offended  Publius Clodius Pulcher, by failing to ransom him when he had fallen into the hands of Cilician pirates.  In retaliation, when Clodius became tribune  in 58 BCE, he enacted a law to deprive Ptolemy of his kingdom, and reduce Cyprus to a Roman province. Cato the Younger, who was entrusted with carrying out this decree, advised Ptolemy to submit, offering him his personal safety, with the office of high-priest at Paphos and a generous pension. Ptolemy refused, and, wholly unprepared to resist Roman power and deciding to die a king, put an end to his own life.

Image: Cypriot gold ear ornaments with Lion-Griffin terminals, beginning of the 4th century BCE, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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