Old Paphos - Marchellos

Paphos (Greek Πάφος): name of two cities in the southwest of Cyprus, the Archaic and Classical town (also known as Kouklia) and the Hellenistic and Roman city (which is still called Paphos).


The site of the Persian siege dam. The foundations of the Paphian wall can be seen to the right; in the ridge, two mines can be recognized. The wall to the left is more recent.

In 499 BCE, the Ionians (i.e., the Greeks in the west of present-day Turkey) rebelled against their Persian overlords. At first, the Ionian Revolt was successful: having removed their pro-Persian tyrants,note they sacked the capital of their satrap, Sardes.note Next, they sailed up to Byzantium,note cutting off the Persian forces in Europe, and after this, they proceeded to Caria and Cyprus.note Most local kings on that island transferred their loyalty from the Persians to the Ionians.note This must have happened in the spring or summer of 498.

The Cypriote Revolt had important strategic consequences, blocking a Persian naval expedition to the Aegean Sea. For the Persians, the recovery of the island was imperative, but it would be difficult, as the Cypriote rebels united under one leader, Onesilus of Salamis.note The Persians could no longer play out one city state against the other. Only Amathus, a port in southern Cyprus (modern Limassol), remained faithful.

For Onesilus, it was imperative to capture this town before the Persians arrived, and he laid siege to it.note While his troops were at Amathus, the Persians landed in the east of the islandnote and proceeded to Salamis, the city of Onesilus. On the plain before the city, the Persian forces met the combined Cypriote-Ionian armies. During the battle, the soldiers from Salamis and Kourion sided with the Persians, who won the battle.note Onesilus was killed in action.

City gate, seen from the inside, with entrance to a tunnel

With Salamis as their base and with support in Kourion and Amathus, the Persians could recover the island. Herodotus of Halicarnassus, the Greek researcher who is our main source, does not mention many events during this mopping-up campaign, merely noting that the freedom of Cyprus lasted less than one year.note However, there is some archaeological evidence for a story that Herodotus left untold.

Just northwest of modern Kouklia, the cite of Old Paphos, excavators have found the remains of a fight that must be connected to the events in 497 BCE. On a hilltop named Marchellos, they found a piece of the city wall and the ditch in front of it. The Persians built a siege ramp here, which has been excavated as well. Inside the dam, the archaeologists discovered pieces of sixth-century sculpture, suggesting that the besiegers had destroyed a nearby shrine to get construction materials.

Entrance to one of the tunnels

The Paphians built mines – or used existing tunnels – to get under the dam. A bronze cauldron, also found here, suggests that they tried to put burning oil under the ramp, but it seems to have failed. Arrowheads prove that Paphos was captured violently and did not surrender. Having recovered Cyprus, the Persians could launch a naval expedition to the Aegean Sea and suppress the Ionian Revolt.

It should be noted, however, that the course of the wall is not fully known. A different interpretation of the same finds is possible: it cannot be excluded that the wall surrounded a sanctuary, not the city. If this is correct, and if we assume that this shrine was violently destroyed in about 500 BCE, the siege ramp may in fact have been a reburial of damaged sculpture. However, in both cases, Kouklia-Marchellos would document the suppression of the Cypriote Revolt of 498-497 BCE.