Ancient Cyprus in the British Museum

Edited by Thomas Kiely

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The town of Enkomi

The first occupation at Enkomi in Late Cypriot I (around 1650 BC-1550 BC) seems to have consisted of isolated buildings, built with stone foundations and mud brick upper walls upon the bedrock, surrounded by open space into which chamber tombs were dug. Two buildings have been excavated and published, both by the Cypriot expedition (Dikaios 1969–71).

Area III fortified buildings in Late Cypriot I (shown in outline) under the later LCII structures (shown in black). The thicker wall at the top is the LCIIC-IIIA fortification of the town. The tombs surrounding the LCI building were contemporary with it, and went out of use around the same time (Copyright L. Crewe, after Dikaios 1969-1971).


The Area I building was a domestic structure, comprising three wings around two open courtyards. The Area III building was one of the series of fortifications built on Cyprus during this time. It had thick outer walls and a series of inner rooms and a courtyard. Copper working was carried out in several rooms. Both buildings seem to have been two-storey as platforms for staircases were found. The need for fortification is highlighted by the evidence for violent destruction of both buildings during this period but they were rebuilt and remained in use. The ceramic styles and the different types of tomb construction used in the earliest levels indicate that the occupants of the site came from different parts of the island with different regional traditions (Keswani 2004; Crewe 2004). The presence of large numbers of imported transport amphorae (Canaanite jars) also show that Enkomi was involved in trade from the time of its foundation.

By the end of Late Cypriot I, around 1450 BC, the domestic building had been abandoned and the fortified structure had been demilitarised, now probably serving a range of functions. During Late Cypriot IIA–B (1450 BC–1340 BC), the Area III building was restructured and comprised three wings around an open court. There is evidence for a copper smelting installation in one of the rooms, copper working also seems to have been carried out in the courtyard and the building also had a domestic and storage function. A new building was built in Area I but in a previously unoccupied area. The site of the old Area I building remained vacant. The new building was incompletely excavated but one of the rooms contained very high proportions of Mycenaean pottery and local fine wares and may have had an elite function. Some of the tombs from the preceding period remained in use and new ones were dug. It is during this period that Mycenaean pottery was first imported to Cyprus in great quantity.

During Late Cypriot IIC (1340 BC–1200 BC) the town was extensively restructured. In Area III, there was no longer a single building but a series of smaller buildings serving different functions. The most extensive evidence for copper working at the site comes from the early part of this phase. A massive slag heap up to one metre thick was found adjacent to one of the buildings and evidence for copper working within the building. In Area I, a new building was erected, covering both the Late Cypriot I and Late Cypriot IIA-B buildings in this area and seemingly still using the arrangement of three wings around a central court. At some point during this period the slag heap was covered by a new fortification wall which encompassed the whole site. It seems that these precautions were necessary as the buildings and the wall were violently destroyed (Courtois, Lagarce and Lagarce 1986; Dikaios 1969-71).

The latter part of Late Cypriot IIC saw the most extensive restructuring of the town. Debris was cleared and the entire town was laid out on a grid system with streets between the buildings and the first extensive use of cut stone blocks (ashlar masonry) for the more important buildings. The fortification wall was rebuilt on a much grander scale using Cyclopean masonry. There is evidence for copper working on a small scale and a cylinder seal workshop in Area III shows the production of luxury goods was carried out within the town. The Area I building, known as the Ashlar Building, was constructed on a grand scale and probably served various functions. Other buildings of similar construction, such as 'Bâtiment 18', are known from the French excavations in other areas of the town. With this extensive rebuilding many of the earlier tombs were covered and went out of use. Those that remained in use, or new tombs that were dug, had their entrances within the streets or courtyards of the buildings. The first imitation Mycenaean pottery is produced during this phase and quickly becomes the most common type of decorated pottery manufactured, along with plain utilitarian types that developed from earlier styles.

Again, destruction marks the end of this phase, particularly severe around the area of the fortification wall. The Late Cypriot III (1200 BC–1050 BC) occupants of the site made little effort to rebuild near the area of the fortification wall but the debris from the destruction of the Ashlar building was cleared and dumped into the surrounding streets. It is during this phase that the Ashlar building housed the Sanctuary of the Horned God, contemporary with the Sanctuary of the Ingot God in the French excavation areas. These two cult figures have been interpreted as relating to elite ideological control of the copper industry (Knapp 1986; Webb 1999). The great majority of earlier tombs now become disused and a new type of tomb, a simple pit grave usually containing only one inhumation, is dug within the areas of the buildings. Another destruction also occurred within Late Cypriot III and clay sling-shot bullets are found within the debris. This is also the period from which the hoards of bronzes most probably date.

The evidence for the final occupation of the town has been obscured by ploughing but there is continued evidence of cult activity in the sanctuaries and attempts to rebuild on a small scale. It appears that abandonment was gradual in the different areas, probably partially due to the silting up of the river so that ships could no longer visit the town. Most of the inhabitants probably moved to the newly established town of Salamis on the coast. The stone sculpture and terracottas of Cypro-Geometric and Cypro-Archaic date found in several locations on the site have been interpreted as indicating the presence of small rural sanctuaries built into the ruins of the older settlement (Hadjicosti 1989; Tatton-Brown 2000).