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Salamis (Cyprus)

Salamis (Greek Σαλαμίς): port on eastern Cyprus, just north of modern Famagusta.

Clay portrait from one of the Royal Tombs

Salamis is, essentially, the second of a series of three successive towns: the Bronze and Early Iron Age town Enkomi, ancient Salamis, and medieval Famagusta. Salamis was founded after Enkomi had been destroyed by an earthquake and would be abandoned in the age of the Arab conquests.

According to legend, Salamis was founded by the Greek hero Teucer, who had been exiled by his father Telamon (king of the isle of Salamis in Greece) after he had been unable to recover the armor of his half-brother Ajax, who had committed suicide during the Trojan War. There is nothing to confirm this story, which is probably based on nothing more than the similarity of the two names and a memory of the colonization of Cyprus by Mycenaean Greeks.

The oldest archaeological finds from Cypriote Salamis date back to the eleventh century BCE. Built around a natural harbor that must have served the needs of copper merchants, the town was inhabited by people who had left Enkomi. The new city is mentioned for the first time in an Assyrian text, in which king Esarhaddon (r.680-669 BCE) records the tribute he had received from the kings of Cyprus, including one “Kisu, king of Sillu'ua”.note The Royal Tombs, found between the ruins of Salamis and Enkomi, date back to this period.

Like the other Cypriot kingdoms, Salamis had Assyrian, Egyptian and Persian masters. A revolt by one Onesilus, a member of the royal family, is mentioned by several authors, but had no real consequences.

After the death of Alexander the Great, his successors fought about possession of Cyprus (cf. the naval battle of Salamis in 306), which in the end became Ptolemaic. There were two officials: the strategos (governor) and antistrategos (supervisor of the copper mines).In 58 BCE, it became Roman (under Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis). The city flourished through trade, especially in wood and copper. It was certainly the island's greatest trade hub.

Salamis, theater

From the earliest times, Salamis' main god was Zeus, but his cult was not the only one. In the year 117 CE, the city was largely destroyed in the conflict between the Jews and the Romans but was rebuilt. In 332 and 342, many Cypriote cities were destroyed by heavy earthquakes. With the help of the Roman emperor Constantius II (r.337-361), the city was rebuilt on a smaller scale and renamed Constantia. It became the capital of Cyprus. One of the people living here was bishop Epiphanius, an important Christian writer.

The end came when the city was destroyed by the Arabs around 650. The inhabitants moved to Arsinoe, a settlement further down the coast, which had been founded by king Ptolemy II Philadelphus and had been named after his wife Arsinoe. It had never been more than a fishing village, but now became an important city. Today, it is called Famagusta.

This page was created in 2017; last modified on 17 February 2018.