Recent Polish excavations in the agora of Paphos, the ancient capital of Cyprus
In 2011, the Institute of Archaeology at Jagiellonian University, Kraków, initiated the ‘Paphos Agora Project’, one of only a few Polish field projects concerned with classical archaeology. Nea Paphos (to be distinguished from Old Paphos, the famous cult centre associated with Aphrodite, some 20km to the east) served as the principal city of Cyprus from c. 200 BC to c. AD 350. Initially, it was the seat of the strategos (military general), who governed Cyprus on behalf of the Ptolemies, and later that of the Roman governor. It is one of the most important archaeological sites of Cyprus and is inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
Nea Paphos was founded at the end of the fourth or beginning of the third century BC. An area of approximately 95ha is enclosed within the city walls (Figure 1). The city was planned with a rectangular street defining regular blocks (insulae)—a common feature across the Graeco-Roman world but unique for Cyprus. The city was also equipped with a harbour, theatre, temples and, presumably, a royal palace on the acropolis hill. To the east of the latter, protected from the prevailing western winds, was the agora, together with an odeon (or bouleuterion). Previous projects have also revealed districts of wealthy Roman houses in the western part of city, and many other structures are attested by ancient texts and inscriptions.
The site is prone to earthquakes and substantial reconstruction was undertaken during the Roman period. Many extant structures, such as the House of Dionysos, the Villa of Theseus and the odeon, date principally from this time. As a result, relatively little is known about Paphos during the pre-Roman, i.e. Hellenistic, period.
The agora lay at the heart of every Greek city, serving as the political, religious, social and economic focus of the community. During the 1970s, the Roman-period agora was discovered and partly explored by the Cypriot archaeologist Kyriakos Nicolaou, who determined that it formed a square with sides almost 100m long, probably surrounded by porticos and in use from the second to the fourth centuries AD.
Under the direction of the first author, the ‘Paphos Agora Project’ set the following objectives: to verify the findings of Nikolaou, to establish whether there was a Hellenistic agora below the Roman one, to determine the date and form of this public space, and to analyse the development of the agora’s architecture, which includes the use of 3D reconstructions. From 2013, the project has also focused on the development of a new system of field documentation, which will link standard archaeological and architectural recording methods with a GIS database, Digital Terrain Model and orthophoto-mapping. Alongside standard survey techniques, the project is using 3D laser scanning, geo-radar survey and aerial photography with a remote-control drone.
Amongst a number of structures, the project has identified two large public buildings of Hellenistic date. Building A, discovered during 2014 in the centre of the agora, was probably a temple (Figure 2), whereas building B, close to the southern portico of the agora, is interpreted as a possible warehouse. Further work is required to confirm these initial interpretations. Other features identified include: small shops (tabernae) by the eastern entrance to the agora (in the direction of the theatre), and numerous walls, floors and hydraulic structures such as cisterns, basins, wells, channels and terracotta pipes.
The excavations have also recovered large quantities of portable material culture; first and foremost, thousands of pottery sherds of all categories, including finewares, transport amphorae and kitchen- and coarse-wares (Figure 3). Other finds include terracotta figurines and oil lamps, and metal, glass, bone and stone artefacts. The project is undertaking wide-ranging analysis of all this material culture. Some artefacts provide particularly valuable information. For example, the discovery of a lead weight with the name of the civic official—Seleukos—responsible for overseeing markets (agoranomos) provides confirmation that this was indeed the agora. A set of bronze scales with an acorn-shaped weight—unique for Cyprus—suggests the use of a local weighing system during the first century AD, with a unit that differed from the widely accepted Roman pound (Figure 4).
The discovery of a 7m-deep well proved to be extremely significant for establishing the chronology of the site—as well as providing exciting finds (Figure 5). The well dates to the Hellenistic period and, through its association with the eastern portico of the agora, it was also possible to move back the initial date of this portico to the Hellenistic period. Following its use as a well, the shaft was backfilled with rubbish—mainly broken ceramic vessels, many of which have been successfully reassembled, and a number of other objects (Figures 6 & 7). Based on a preliminary analysis of the pottery and amphora stamps, it has been concluded that the material from the well constitutes a homogeneous, closed deposit dating to the late Hellenistic period: the late-second to the first half of the first century BC.
Four years of excavation in three trenches have opened a total area of 489m2—about five per cent of the 1ha covered by the agora. The most important achievement so far has been to push back the initial date of the agora from the Roman period, as Nicolaou believed, to the Hellenistic period. This important discovery sheds new light on the early history of the city. On Cyprus, only one other agora of Hellenistic date has been excavated—at Amathus, a city on the south coast of the island.
During this year (2015) and supported by a new MAESTRO grant from the National Science Centre, the scope of the project has been expanded. We will continue to work on the agora, but will also extend our investigations across the whole city using non-invasive and geoarchaeological techniques to document the material remains of economic infrastructure and economic activities. We are particularly interested to characterise human-environment interactions and their impact on the organisation of the economy of Paphos. Our aim is to use a range of techniques and methods in order to provide a new perspective on this ancient Cypriote capital city and, in particular, to re-evaluate its importance as an economic centre, both on the island and, more broadly, within the eastern Mediterranean.
All figures: © Robert Słaboński and Paphos Agora Project.
- MŁYNARCZYK, J. 1990. Nea Paphos III. Nea Paphos in the Hellenistic Period. Warsaw: Editions Geologiques.
- Paphos Agora Project n.d. Available at: www.paphos-agora.archeo.uj.edu.pl (accessed 23 September 2015).
* Author for correspondence.
- Ewdoksia Papuci-Władyka (text)*
Institute of Archaeology, Jagiellonian University, 11, Gołębia street, 31-007 Kraków, Poland (Email: email@example.com)
- Robert Słaboński (photographs)
c/o Institute of Archaeology, Jagiellonian University, 11, Gołębia street, 31-007 Kraków, Poland (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)