Coins and Plain Wares at Kourion’s Amathous Gate Cemetery

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By: Anne Destrooper-Georgiades, Smadar Gabrieli and Michael Given

Dr. Anne Destrooper-Georgiades at work in the Kourion House Museum in Episkopi.

Dr. Anne Destrooper-Georgiades at work in the Kourion House Museum in Episkopi.

One of the most striking features of the Greco-Roman city of Kourion  on the south coast of Cyprus is the cemetery that lines the road leading up to the Amathous Gate on the south-eastern side of its Acropolis. The tombs range from the Hellenistic to Late Roman period (3rd century BC to 7th century AD), and there is also a range of other interesting and important features such as the remains of quarrying, material from funerary feasting, and a lime kiln.

The excavations at Kourion’s Amathous Gate Cemetery, directed by the late Dr Danielle Parks (Brock University, Ontario), took place each year from 1995 to 2000, with study seasons from 2001 to 2008. Subsequent to the death of Dr Parks in 2007, an international publication team led by Dr Michael Given (University of Glasgow) has been working on the analysis of the material and the writing up of the final publication. Research questions include the change from pagan to Christian burial practices, the relationships and health of the people buried in the tombs, and the way this ‘funerary landscape’ was used by the mourners.

Thanks to the very welcome award of a Harris Grant from ASOR, two of our specialists were able to work on material in Cyprus in preparation for the final publication. Dr Anne Destrooper-Georgiades (École française d’Athènes) carried out the analysis and recording of the full set of 96 coins from the project, while Dr Smadar Gabrieli (University of Sydney) completed the cataloguing of the plain wares for the publication catalogue. We are very grateful to ASOR for their support of our project, to the Acting Directors of the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus, Dr Despo Pilides and Dr Marina Solomidou-Ieronymidou, for permission to study this material, and to the director and staff of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute, Nicosia, for their help.

The coins

Gold solidus of Constantius II, with the bust of the emperor wearing military dress and helmet, with a spear and shield. 351–355 CE.

Gold solidus of Constantius II, with the bust of the emperor wearing military dress and helmet, with a spear and shield. 351–355 CE.

Most of the 96 coins from the tombs and trenches of the Amathous Gate Cemetery date to the fourth and the first quarter of the fifth centuries AD, which fits with the dates of the cist graves, where almost all of them were originally deposited. There are only a few older coins, such as a bronze coin struck in AD 66–67 in Jerusalem during the second year of the first Jewish revolt against Rome. It shows a small narrow-necked amphora on the obverse and a vine leaf on the reverse.  Another easily identifiable example is a bronze coin of Constantine I (AD 275/306–337) from cist grave B11. On the reverse it shows the gate of a military camp, and was struck in Antioch between AD 324 and 330.

The most striking find consists of a gold solidus of Constantius II (AD 313/337–364), found in cist grave A1 along with seven bronze coins. It is very well preserved, and a very rare example of a gold coin found in a tomb on Cyprus.

Coin of Constantine I from Tomb B11, showing the gate of a military camp with two towers and a star. ‘SMANTA’ at the bottom of the inscription stands for ‘Sacred (imperial) mint of Antioch, officina A’. 326–327 CE.

Coin of Constantine I from Tomb B11, showing the gate of a military camp with two towers and a star. ‘SMANTA’ at the bottom of the inscription stands for ‘Sacred (imperial) mint of Antioch, officina A’. 326–327 CE.

It shows on the obverse the bust of the emperor wearing military dress and helmet, holding a spear and a decorated shield. On the reverse are Roma and Constantinople enthroned, supporting together a shield bearing the inscription VOT/XXX/MVLT/XXXX, which refers to vows made for the long reign of the Emperor. It was struck in the mint of Nicomedia in north-western Asia Minor between AD 351 and 355. No coins were struck in Cyprus after about AD 235, and several coins from this Nicomedia mint have been found on the island.

Many of the coins were very worn and corroded. Dr Destrooper-Georgiades examined each one with a magnifying glass (they range in diameter from 10 to 18 mm), recorded the axis of each one (the angle of the reverse die in relation to the obverse die), and weighed them. Photographs and impressions in plasticene of both sides will aid in the more precise identification of each one using specialised numismatic libraries.

The plain pottery

Dr Smadar Gabrieli’s study of the cooking and kitchen wares from the excavation at Kourion’s Amathus Gate Cemetery is concentrating on questions of production and consumption. The cooking ware assemblage is of particular interest for the question of production. It can be divided roughly into two industries, one which finds parallels in other sites of the period, mainly in the area of Larnaka, and the other so far unique to Kourion, though this may change as data accumulates.

Plain ware jug from Area B, Trench XVI, after mending.

Plain ware jug from Area B, Trench XVI, after mending.

The large assemblage of cooking and kitchen wares makes it possible to establish what we believe to be a comprehensive typology of cooking and kitchen wares of the period at the site, and to carry out quantification that will provide insight into food and foodways of the period. Of particular interest is the very high proportion of open cooking vessels (casseroles) to closed ones (pots), and the relatively small proportion of plain wares, used for pre-cooking processing (bowls, basins and jugs). This composition may reflect the peculiarities of an assemblage associated with a cemetery, but we cannot exclude the possibility that it is related to foodways in the site as a whole until we have placed our results in context of excavations from other areas of the site.

The main task of the November season was the cataloguing of 104 plain ware vessels with well-preserved profiles for the final publication. Each one was measured, sketched and described, along with careful descriptions of the fabric. This finishes the work on the preparation of the plain and cooking ware catalogue entries.

The excavations at Kourion’s Amathous Gate Cemetery have provided a host of information about a whole range of fascinating issues, from the coins and plain wares just discussed to the health and diet of the population, the development of burial customs at this time of transition from paganism to Christianity, and the organisation of the funerary landscape. We are now working on the final publication, which will be submitted to ASOR’s Archaeological Reports Series. Meanwhile, there is more information on our website.

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