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Jan Driessen

8. Cylinder-Seal Impressions on Storage Vessels at Maa-Palaeokastro: Elucidating an Idiosyncratic Late Cypriot Mechanism1

Artemis Georgiou

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  • 1 My thanks go to Professor Jan Driessen for the invitation to contribute to this volume honouring Pr (...)

1The settlement of Maa-Palaeokastro in South-Western Cyprus was founded from scratch during the close of the 13th c. BC and persisted for merely a couple of generations before its eventual abandonment by the middle of the 12th c. BC. Owing to its exceptionally short lifespan, the archaeological remains from Maa-Palaeokastro literary encapsulate the critical years around 1200 BC in Cyprus and afford a generous insight into the transformations taking place on the island during this period.

2With this contribution, I address a special class of pithoi from Maa-Palaeokastro, embellished by cylinder-seal impressions, produced by rolling a cylinder-seal over the vessel’s surface. This idiosyncratic mechanism, associated with the south-western part of the island, characterises storage practices of Cyprus during the 13th-12th centuries BC. The elitistic iconography associated with such depictions insinuates that cylinder-seal impressions on storage vessels constitute more than mere decorative elements.

1. Maa-Palaeokastro: a short-lived settlement in South-Western Cyprus

3Maa-Palaeokastro is a Late Cypriot (LC) settlement established from scratch atop a narrow peninsula on the south-western coast of Cyprus (Fig. 8.1) during the final decades of the 13th c. BC. The site was occupied for merely a couple of generations before its eventual abandonment by the middle of the 12th c. BC (Karageorghis & Demas 1988: 255-266). Its archaeological significance was first documented by Porphyrios Dikaios, who excavated part of the site’s rampart in 1954 (Dikaios 1969-71: 907). Maa-Palaeokastro was systematically excavated between the years 1979-1985 under the direction of Vassos Karageorghis, exposing a large portion of the settlement (Areas I-III) (Karageorghis & Demas 1988: fig. 2). Two occupation phases were identified at Maa, designated as Floors I-II. The structures assigned to Floor II, the earliest and best represented phase (Fig. 8.2), were destroyed by fire and rebuilding activities, represented by Floor I, were promptly initiated by the same populace (Karageorghis & Demas 1988: 255-261).

4Maa was fortified from the time of its foundation by a landward and a seaward rampart, constructed by large unworked stone-boulders and mudbrick superstructure (Karageorghis & Demas 1988: 50-53), a construction technique that is characteristic of the Cypriot version of the Cyclopean-type ramparts (e.g. Enkomi [Dikaios 1969- 71: 120-129]). The settlement’s meticulous planning and organised construction is evidenced by the excessive cutting of the bedrock for the foundation of the structures, which were laid out orderly on either side of a street (Karageorghis & Demas 1988: 91). Four distinct buildings were assigned to the earliest phase of the settlement (Fig. 8.2). Building I, a large edifice utilising ashlar masonry for parts of its construction, has been interpreted as an official residence (Karageorghis & Demas 1988: 9-14, 54-55). Buildings II and IV were identified as elite residences, both incorporating elongated halls with built hearths, possibly accommodating feasting activities (Georgiou 2012: 201-202). Building III, a large structure with long and narrow corridor-like rooms that contained a plethora of storage vessels, functioned as a large-scale storage unit (Karageorghis & Demas 1988: 33-34). Its storage capacity exceeds the requirements of immediate subsistence for a single household and is thus interpreted as a communal storage facility.

5The natural defensible qualities of Maa-Palaeokastro and the additional man-made endeavours for ensuring safety suggest that the site fulfilled defensive purposes. However, the activities taking place within the settlement were not exclusively confined to defence. Copper and lead slag, as well as pot-bellows and tuyeres found at Maa-Palaeokastro are representative of metal-working activities (Zwicker 1988). The plethora of imported artefacts unearthed at Maa (see Georgiou 2012: 184-185), as well as the settlement’s seaward setting, indicate how the site was involved in the decentralised commercial strategies that characterised the Mediterranean during the 12th c. BC (Sherratt 2003: 42-44).

6Maa-Palaeokastro is often grouped with Pyla-Kokkinokremos, situated on the south-eastern coast of the island (Karageorghis & Demas 1984; Karageorghis & Kanta 2014), on the grounds of their contemporaneous establishment and exceptionally short duration. The two sites feature extensively in discussions pertaining to the close of the Late Bronze Age (LBA) in Cyprus, and were interpreted as the earliest establishments of intrusive Aegean populations, who settled in Cyprus (Dikaios 1969-71: 912; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: 266). However, as the excavators indicate, “the material culture [of Maa] is comparable in many respects to that of other LC sites: local Cypriot wares (Plain White, Base-Ring and White Slip), architectural forms and construction techniques (the ashlar building), and most of the small finds recovered from the site can be paralleled at other LC sites” (Karageorghis & Demas 1988: 263). As Iacovou has rightly pointed out, both Pyla and Maa lack “vital cultural indicators such as (a) texts, (b) burials and (c) cult centres, which might have determined an immigrant population’s ‘cultural baggage’” (2013: 612).

Fig. 8.1. Map of Cyprus showing sites mentioned in the text and distribution of cylinder-seal impressions on storage vessels (digital data courtesy of the Cyprus Department of Geological Survey, map drafted by the author)

Fig. 8.2. Ground-plan of Maa-Palaeokastro, Floor II (after Karageorghis & Demas 1988: fig. 2)

  • 2 This became known as ‘Palaepaphos’ only after the 4th c. BC when the polity’s capital was transferr (...)

7The establishment of the highly organised settlement at Maa-Palaeokastro undoubtedly necessitated large investment of wealth for the construction of communal works, for instance the robust fortification walls, the collective storage room and the grand-scale bedrock cutting. The surroundings of Maa remain a terra incognita (Georgiou 2012: 141) and thus – on present evidence – the ex novo foundation of this settlement cannot be accounted by means of nucleation processes within an extended area to a single centre (cf. Steel 2004: 190). The closest urban centre to Maa-Palaeokastro is situated in the modern-day village of Kouklia, the area that accommodated the administrative nucleus of the Paphian polity2. There are pronounced ceramic idiosyncrasies that are shared between the material remains of the Paphian urban centre and Maa, in terms of storage vessels (Keswani 2009: 122-123), cooking pots (Dikomitou-Eliadou et alii 2016) and fineware pottery (Georgiou forthcoming). It is, nonetheless, extremely challenging to elucidate the character of such connections, and to conclusively assert the connection of the two settlements, based on current data.

2. Late Cypriot storage vessels

  • 3 Table 2 in Keswani 2009 is a comprehensive catalogue of statistical analyses on size variation with (...)

8Late Cypriot pithoi range from around 50 cm to almost 2 m in height, with substantial wall thickness3. Their coarse fabric and robust built guaranteed their durability and capability of sustaining copious volumes of goods (Keswani 1989: 12-13). The large and highly variable corpus of LC pithoi was categorised into several functional classes by Keswani (1989; 2009) and Pilides (2000). Pithoi of Group I are relatively small vessels, with short necks and proportionally wide mouths, utilised for the storage of frequently accessed goods (Keswani 1989: 13-15; 2009: 107). Group II pithoi, on the other hand, are characterised by long necks and relatively narrow mouths, evidently used for long-term storage. Size variability within this class is enormous, ranging from small jars to very large vessels (Keswani 1989: 13, 15-16; 2009: 111). The largest of the LC pithoi, designated as Group III, are typified by their massive height and extremely thick walls. Pithoi of Group III, as well as the largest of the Group II pithoi are decorated with multiple horizontal and wavy bands around the vessel’s shoulder and body (Pilides 2000: 108; Keswani 2009: 119).

9Specialised structures within LC settlements operated as supra-household storage units, similar to Building 111 at Maa-Palaeokastro. Parts of the monumental Building X at Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios, situated near the south-central coast of the island, were dedicated to storage. The structure’s western sector, known as the ‘Pithos Hall’, and northern sector, known as the ‘North Pithos Magazine’, were filled with rows of very large pithoi (South 1996: 42), amounting to a storage capacity that exceeds 50,000 litres (Keswani 2015). Gas Chromatography analyses indicated that the main produce stored in these vessels was olive oil (Keswani 1992). At the neighbouring settlement of Maroni-Vournes, the ‘West Building’ with its long four-aisled ground plan has been also interpreted as a storeroom (Cadogan 1996: 17; Driessen 2015: 195). Specialised storage spaces have been also recognised at Alassa-Paliotaverna, the so far only LC urban centre that was situated at a significant distance from the coast (Hadjisavvas 2001: 62).

10Pithoi of Cypriot manufacture were also exported abroad (Pilides 2000: 48-53). Such large vessels formed part of the cargo of the ships that sank at Uluburun (Pulak 2001: 40-41) and Point Iria (Lolos 2003: 102-103). Cypriot pithoi with wavy bands were also found at sites in the Syro-Palestinian littoral (Gilboa 2001) and as far west as Southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia (Vagnetti 2001: 81; Schiappelli 2015: 240).

3. The cylinder-seal impressions on pithoi from Maa-Palaeokastro

  • 4 A median height of 3.8 cm has been estimated based on the published examples of cylinder-seal impre (...)

11Impressions of cylinder-seals on large storage vessels constitute an idiosyncratic practice of LBA Cyprus that is exceptionally rare when compared to the multitude of non-impressed examples. Relief friezes on pithoi were created by the rolling of a cylinder-seal on the vessel’s surface before firing. The cylinder-seal was rolled out continuously on the vessel’s surface, resulting in the repetitive relief print of the scene carved on the roller. As such, the cylinder-seals employed to produce the impressed friezes on pithoi did not serve any sphragistic purposes, since they did not seal the vessels or their contents (Webb & Weingarten 2012: 90). No such seals were found, but it appears that at least some were made of wood judging by the imprints of grain occasionally observed on the relief impressions (Catling & Karageorghis 1960: 122; Smith 2007: 347-348). These wooden rollers were significantly larger than the more common cylinder-seals made of stone (see Webb 2002), some measuring 7 cm in height (Hadjisavvas 2001: 62)4. They are also distinguished from the smaller, stone cylinder-seals in terms of their style and iconography (Webb 2002: 117-126).

12Rolled impressions are occasionally imprinted on an added strip of clay, rather than directly onto the vessel’s surface. This added band was usually of a lighter colour which created a contrasting effect, thus making the composition markedly distinguishable. Indeed, the placement of the friezes, as a rule on a prominent position around the shoulder or, more rarely, on the rim or the handles of the pithoi suggests that these compositions were intended to be clearly visible (Smith 2007: 347).

Fig. 8.3. Drawing of the relief-frieze produced by cylinder-seal A, depicting a chariot hunt (after Porada 1988: pl. B: 3)

Fig. 8.4. Drawing of the relief-frieze produced by cylinder-seal B, depicting goats feeding from tree (after Porada 1988: pl. E: 3)

13The short-lived settlement at Maa-Palaeokastro yielded 25 fragments of storage vessels bearing cylinder-seal impressions, although some sherds evidently belong to the same vessels (Tab. 8.1). Two different rollers were used to produce the relief compositions from Maa. Cylinder-seal A with an estimated height of ca. 4.8 cm was used on ten specimens that correspond to at least six different vessels (Smith 2007: 362-363). The fragmentary impressions depict a hunting scene (Figs 8.3, 8.5-8.7, 8.13-8.14) with a human figure riding a box-type chariot with a four-spoke wheel. The figure wears a helmet and a long tunic, while holding a bow and an arrow. The chariot’s reins appear to be tied around the figure’s waist. Two horses are depicted galloping and pulling the chariot in the front. A hunted stag is shown fallen in between the horses’ legs, and in front of the chariot are other animals, identified as a calf (or a hare), a cow and also a lion (Porada 1988: pl. B: 3).

14Impressions of the second cylinder-seal (B), whose estimated height is 4.5 cm, occur on 17 fragments that represent at least five vessels. Cylinder-seal B portrays a pair of goats with their front legs mounted on the branches of a tree, identified as an olive-tree, twisting their head to feed from its leaves (Porada 1988: pl. E: 3). The composition is elaborate, and presents minute details such as the rocky scenery of the ground and the individually rendered leaves of the olive-tree (Figs 8.4, 8.8-8.12).

Tab. 8.1. Catalogue of the cylinder-seal impressions on storage vessels from Maa-Palaeokastro

Fig. 8.5. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting a chariot hunt (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 109)

Fig. 8.6. Detail of fig. 8.5

Fig. 8.7. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting a chariot hunt (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 299A)

Fig. 8.8. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting goats feeding from tree (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: No. 410)

Fig. 8.9. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting goats feeding from tree (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 484)

Fig. 8.10. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting goats feeding from tree (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 534)

Fig. 8.11. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting goats feeding from tree (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 570)

Fig. 8.12. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting goats feeding from tree (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 624)

Fig. 8.13. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting a chariot hunt (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 683)

Fig. 8.14. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting a chariot hunt (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 684)

4. Elucidating an idiosyncratic Late Cypriot mechanism

15The practice of rolling a cylinder-seal on a storage vase to create a frieze, similar to the examples excavated at Maa-Palaeokastro, was attested for the first time on the island at the coastal settlement of Episkopi-Bamboula. This early example features the vertical rolling of an Old Babylonian cylinder seal dating to the end of the First Dynasty (17th-16th centuries BC) on a small pithos which dates to the 14th c. BC, indicating a lapse of around three centuries between the production of the seal and its rolling on the pithos (Benson 1938: 166). While this specimen introduces the practice of rolling a device on a vessel to create an impression, the concept of marking storage jars was not a novelty. From the Middle Cypriot period onwards, pithoi were decorated with bands in relief that were subsequently incised or punched (Pilides 2000: 5). In the LC IIA period, a limited number of storage vessels preserve the punched imprint of a stamp-seal (Dikaios 1969-71: no. 4242: 2, pl. 60: 23; Smith 2007: 351). Leaving these sporadic early specimens aside the remainder of the LBA pithoi featuring cylinder-seal impressed friezes date to the transition from the 13th to the 12th centuries BC.

  • 5 For the thorough presentation of LC cylinder-seal impressions on pithoi published thus far see Webb (...)

16Despite the fact that cylinder-seals were used almost exclusively at a local level, the thematic iconography is shared5. The theme depicted at Maa-Palaeokastro representing a hunting scene involving a chariot hunt is a rather widespread subject. At Alassa, numerous pithoi feature impressed friezes illustrating a chariot-hunting scene. The depiction involves a charioteer shown standing upright on a light-rail chariot, holding the reins and urging the pair of horses with a poke, while three bulls are shown running in front (Hadjisavvas 1994: pl. 19: 1a-b; Hadjisavvas 1996: fig. 11a-b; Hadjisavvas 2001: 63, fig. 4; Keswani 2009: fig. 14). A similar theme is illustrated on two fragments from the secondary settlement at Analiondas, depicting a human figure standing on a horse-drawn chariot, aiming with a bow at a bull, a cow and a calf. Two human figures are shown running behind the chariot carrying spears (Catling & Karageorghis 1960: no. 35; Webb & Frankel 1994: 12-13). A fragment from Athienou also depicts an animal pursuit, with a horse and two bovines in a flying galloping position (Dothan & Ben-Tor 1983: 118, fig. 54.2, pl. 38.3).

17Numerous impressions from Alassa preserve a hunting scene on foot, featuring a kneeling figure with a round shield and a dagger facing a roaring lion. Behind the kneeling figure are a bull and a standing naked figure. The figure holds a long spear and an unidentifiable object, probably a net, a useful implement for hunting (Hadjisavvas 2001: fig. 6). A scene of combat is also illustrated on several fragments from Alassa, depicting two back-to-back human figures, both with long hair and a belt around the waist. The figure on the right is shown slaying a rampant griffin with outstretched wings (Fig. 8.15), while the warrior on the left stabs an attacking lion (Fig. 8.16). The scene takes place around an olive tree with detailed depictions of its branches and leaves (Hadjisavvas 2001: 64, figs 5a-b).

Fig. 8.15. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Alassa depicting a human figure slaying a griffin (after Hadjisavvas 2001: fig. 5a)

Fig. 8.16. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Alassa depicting a human figure stabbing a lion (after Hadjisavvas 2001: fig. 5b)

18A rather common subject portrayed on LC cylinder-seal impressions on pithoi are bull-fights. The two animals are illustrated facing each other, their heads bent and horns interlocked, accompanied by one, or occasionally two figures, shown kneeling or crouching behind the bulls’ hind legs. The figures are evidently trying to separate the bulls by pulling or hitting their hind leg. This rather popular theme is portrayed on pithos fragments from Palaepaphos-Evreti/Asproyi (Maier & von Wartburg 1985: 105, pl. XI: 8), and Palaepaphos-Hadjiabdullah (Iacovou 2012: 60), Episkopi-Bamboula (Hadjisavvas 2007: 72), Kition-Chysopolitissa (Karageorghis & Demas 1985: pl. LXI) and Enkomi (Fig. 8.17) (Caubet et alii 1987: 46-47, fig. 12, pl. 14: 2).

Fig. 8.17. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Enkomi depicting a human figure separating a pair of fighting bulls (after Caubet et alii 1987: pl 14: 2)

19The concept of animals flanking a tree, such as the depiction of goats feeding from the branches of an olive tree found at Maa-Palaeokastro, is rendered on two pithos fragments from Episkopi-Bamboulla, where two birds with outspread wings are heraldically disposed around a schematically portrayed olive tree (Benson 1956: fig. 8, pls 7: 9 and 8: 7). Other themes depicted are much rarer and illustrate plain patterns, such as spirals (e.g. Keswani 2009: fig. 15), floral motifs (Dikaios 1969-71: 578, pl. 68: 25) and murex shells (e.g. Åström 1985: 181, figs 1-2).

4.1. Iconographic and symbolic inferences

  • 6 Panagiotopoulos 2012 discusses the complex interaction among image, viewers and context, our limita (...)
  • 7 In coroplastic art (Karageorghis 1993: 19-21, 35-43), pictorial pottery (Vermeule & Karageorghis 19 (...)
  • 8 The taming of an agitated bull is represented by a number of small terracottas, whereby a human fig (...)

20Cylinder-seal impressions encompass an eloquent iconographic vocabulary that becomes meaningful when integrated within the spatial and social context of the LC cultural milieu6. Scenes of combat which depict the fight between two animals (i.e. bulls with interlocked horns) or the dynamic contest between humans and beasts (i.e. man slaying lions/griffins) are a favourable subject. The bull, as an emblem of male fertility and sheer force, has played an integral part in Cypriot religion and iconography since the earliest part of the Bronze Age (Webb 1999: 179; Hadjisavvas 2003; Steel 2004: 203-204). The depiction of bulls fighting, with a human figure intervening to obstruct this struggle may symbolise man’s dominance over nature’s disorder (Galan 1994: 92). While scenes involving bulls proliferate in the LC iconography7, this particular composition, which was so popular in the friezes produced by cylinder-seals, finds no exact parallels in the LC record8. The closest iconographic parallel featuring a human figure interfering at a bull-fight by either hitting or pulling the bulls’ legs is found in Egyptian representations on tombs of local chiefs (Benson 1956: 64). These depictions dating from the Sixth to the Eighteenth Dynasty are at all times associated with social leaders and are thus considered symbolic references to the social prowess of the deceased (Galan 1994: 93).

21The symbolic significance of combat scenes involving human figures and animals yet again relates to the promotion of male prowess and dominance over the most aggressive and emblematic animals, such as lions, or over supernatural beings with apotropaic qualities, such as griffins (Laffineur 1992: 109-110; Thomas 2004: 184- 185). The depiction of warriors slaying a lion and a griffin, illustrated on several pithos fragments from Alassa is paralleled on the depiction of a kilted warrior slaughtering a rampant lion, carved on the rectangular part of an ivory mirror-handle found inside Tomb VIII at Palaepaphos-Evreti (Maier & Karageorghis 1984: 68, figs 55, 58). One complete and an additional fragmentary ivory mirror-handle, possibly made by the same workshop, found at Enkomi illustrate the second part of the Alassa impression: a warrior slaying a rampant griffin (Murray et alii 1900: 10-11, pl. II; Kryszkowska 1992). The depiction on a cylindrical, badly preserved, pyxis contained within Enkomi Tomb 24 includes both versions of the combats, identical to the Alassa cylinder-seal impressed pithoi. The only distinction is the arrangement of the figures and the animals (D’Albiac 1992: 105, fig. 1c). The struggle between human figures and lions is also portrayed on the relief decoration of bronze stands (e.g. Papasavvas 2001: 134, 243, figs 68-71; 2003: 42).

22The iconography of hunting, which is a popular theme for cylinder-seal impressions on storage vessels, is again associated with the dominance over nature and bears strong connotations to ritual, ceremonial or social aspects (Harris 2014: 72-73). Within a community of farmers, such as that of LBA Cyprus, hunting “can be seen as performance [...] linked to perceptions of time and space, status and gender identities and roles” (Hamilakis 2003: 240). Considering that only the affluent members of a society could afford the acquisition of a chariot and the maintenance of a team of horses, the employment of this prestige vehicle constitutes an explicit reference to elitistic activities of wealthy and high-status individuals (Moorey 1986: 205). The diligent study of the chariot imagery in the eastern Mediterranean by Feldman and Sauvage deduced that impressed scenes involving chariot hunting on Late Cypriot pithoi appear to have played “an iconographic role in signalling local authority” and “point to a general connection between chariots and political power” (Feldman & Sauvage 2010: 142,144). Scenes involving chariots, which possibly relate to hunting, are very commonly portrayed on pictorial kraters that the Cypriots were fondly importing from Mycenaean Greece (Steel 1998: 293; Vermeule & Karageorghis 1982: III. 16, IV.1-27, IV.55-78, V.1-26). Before their deposition in funerary contexts, these chariot kraters featured at the centre of social gatherings, promoting and enhancing the owner’s social prominence (Steel 1998: 291). Elaborate hunting scenes are also portrayed on ivoryworks (e.g. an ivory box from Enkomi [Murray et alii 1900: 12-14, pl. 1]) and four-sided bronze stands (Papasavvas 2001: 243, figs 30, 63, 66).

  • 9 For a comprehensive discussion of this iconographic pattern and extensive references to other media (...)
  • 10 Often identified as the ‘Tree of Life’, a widespread element of religious iconography in the Near E (...)

23The theme of goats feeding from a tree was a long-lasting and widespread motif throughout the Eastern Mediterranean (see Oman 2005: 155-159). While the composition varies with a plethora of heraldic poses for the animals and an abundance of depictions for the flanked tree, the iconography is unequivocally represented in a number of media across the Near East. In LBA Cyprus, this motif also occurs on cylinder-seals (Webb 2002: 118-123), pictorial compositions on pottery vessels (e.g. Vermeule & Karageorghis 1982: 207,111.26, VI.9), ivory works (e.g. Murray et alii 1900: pl. I) and bronze stands (e.g. Papasavvas 2001: 348, fig. 37)9. As a general rule, the tree depicted comprises a highly elaborate and schematic motif, usually identified as a palm-tree10. The depiction of an olive-tree, such as that featuring on the examples from Maa, is much rarer. The olive-tree motif – which preponderates within the visual imagery of impressed pithoi – could have functioned as a marker for the vessel’s contents (Webb & Weingarten 2012: 90; Smith 2007: 357). The impression on the pithos from Hala Sultan Tekke depicting murex shells could have, analogously, functioned as a visual marker of the vessel’s contents, considering that murex shells – used for dying purposes – proliferate at the site (Åström 1986: 10-11).

24Cylinder-seals used to produce relief friezes on pithoi were considered as the creations of immigrant craftsmen of Aegean origin (Catling & Karageorghis 1960: 122-124). While there are salient references to the Mycenaean world in terms of style and execution (see Webb 1992: 114-115; Webb & Weingarten 2012: 90), the sphere of influence for these depictions was certainly not confined to the Aegean (Porada 1988: 303-304). At any rate, the iconography of cylinder-seal impressions on storage vessels was appropriated to suit the LC cultural milieu. Based on the strong stylistic, iconographic and technical correlations among cylinder-seal impressions on pithoi, cylinder-seals and the rings of bronze stands, Papasavvas has considered all three to be part of the same crafting tradition (2003: 42).

25The messages conveyed by the iconographic syntax portrayed on LC impressed pithoi converge on the concepts of power, dominance and control, symbolically alluding to elitistic pursuits, male social prowess and assertion of authority. The thematography illustrated on these impressed friezes strongly associates to that of artefacts designated as ‘luxuries’ (Caubet et alii 1987: 46-47; Smith 2007: 355-356), owing to their precious raw materials, intricate manufacture techniques and/or exotic origin. In the archaeological record, these high-status artefacts are found associated with the mortuary display of social elites (Keswani 2004: 157-160). Impressed friezes on storage vessels constitute the singular case of high-status visual imagery that preponderates at residential – not mortuary – contexts. Cylinder-seal impressions on pithoi were thus integrated within the symbolic and ideological system characterising LC society and the conscious attempts of a social class of elites to promote their high status and legitimise authority.

4.2. Function and meaning of Late Cypriot cylinder-seal impressions

26In early publications dealing with the phenomenon of cylinder-seal impressions on pithoi, these compositions were considered to serve a purely decorative purpose. Edith Porada, who has studied the cylinder-seal impressions from Ncaa-Palaeokastm refers to these compositions as a Cypriot “type of pithos-decoration” (1988: 303). However, the impressed friezes’ large size and conspicuous positioning on the vessels, their occurrence in large-scale supra-household storage of staple foodstuffs, combined with the explicitly elitistic thematology they impart, insinuate that the rolling of cylinder seals on storage vessels was an act of marking that intended to distinguish the marked storage vessels (perhaps also their contents) from the non-marked (Webb & Weingarten 2012: 90).

27The consolidation of the Late Cypriot territorial polities during the 13th and 12th centuries BC, the economic floruit and political endurance of which rested on the heavy industry of copper and extra-insular trade, necessitated great investment in specialised labour and dictated the establishment of intricate administrative mechanisms to manage the complex hierarchical system of primary and secondary centres (Keswani 1996: 234-235; Knapp 1997: 56-57; Iacovou 2007: 15-16). In their study of the impressed pithos from Analiondas, Webb and Frankel have considered the cylinder-seal impressions on pithoi as devices used within the two-fold redistribution model of staple and wealth finance (1994: 18-20), characterising economically complex societies. According to this model, developed by D’Altroy & Earle (1985), staple finance comprises the collection and distribution of surplus subsistence goods to non-food producing members of a hierarchical and complex society, such as administrative staff, priests, labourers, etc. Wealth finance on the other hand describes the compensation of the specialised workforce with prestige items or other artefacts of wealth and status.

28Within this intricate framework, cylinder-seal impressed pithoi are interpreted as elements of an idiosyncratic visual communication system employed “within a tightly controlled – possibly tithe- or tribute-based – system of regional administration and exchange” (Webb & Frankel 1994: 19). Pictorial impressed friezes on pithoi possibly signified that the vessels and their contents were reserved for a special group or groups within a settlement, such as the administrative elites, a particular class of labourers/priests, or were delegated for a special occasion of ceremonial, communal, or cultic character (Webb & Frankel 1994: 18-19). The unequivocally elitistic ideology associated with these depictions could insinuate that cylinder-seal impressions on pithoi were used to mark ownership or control of the foodstuff by members of administrative elites (Webb & Frankel 1994: 19). Plausibly, the impressed storage vessels marked the delegated quantities reserved for this class, or perhaps indicated that the vessels contained the purest and finest of the foodstuff stored in these facilities.

29The vast majority of the cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragments from Maa-Palaeokastro were contained within Building 111 or in related areas close to it (Karageorghis & Demas 1988: 32-34). Interestingly, the fragments contained within Building III, identified as the settlement’s communal storeroom, and areas associated with it, bore impressions sealed by Cylinder B, which illustrates goats nibbling on trees. The majority of the friezes depicting a chariot hunt, which is considered as a highly elitistic subject-matter, were very fittingly deposited in contexts that associate with Buildings I and IV, both identified as elite residences. This clear distinction in the distribution of the cylinder-seal friezes at Maa could insinuate that the iconography represented by each depiction conveyed a distinct message, pertaining to the distribution of foodstuffs to special classes within the settlement or for particular occasions.

30Outside Cyprus, the practice of rolling cylinder-seals on pottery vessels also occurs in the third and early second millennium BC in several sites of the Syro-Palestinian littoral, Southern Anatolia and the Aegean (e.g. Ben-Tor 1994; Flender 2000; Heath-Wiencke 1970). These much earlier examples were made using normal-size stone cylinders, not with the large-scale wooden rollers, which appear to be a Cypriot invention (Smith 2007: 348). They are also differentiated by their Cypriot counterparts in their iconography, which, as a rule, features geometric, and more rarely cultic, patterns. The Early Bronze Age impressions have been associated with a marking system that was possibly used to declare label of manufacture (Flender 2000: 305), or formed part of a highly localised ideological and organisational system (Joffee 2001: 368-369).

4.3. Exploring regional dynamics in the marking of LC storage vessels

  • 11 In anticipation of the final publication, part of this corpus has been disseminated by means of pre (...)

31The inland settlement at Alassa-Paliotaverna has produced the vast majority by far of storage vessels embellished by friezes in relief, amounting to some 200 fragments11. With 26 fragments of cylinder-seal impressed pithoi, Maa-Palaeokastro presents the second largest accumulation. At Episkopi-Bamboula, fragmentary storage vessels with relief friezes amount to eight specimens. One of the cylinder-seal impressions found at Episkopi, depicting a continuous row of griffin heads (Benson 1956: pl. 7: 6), was rolled by the same cylinder-seal that was used to produce the relief on a pithos from Alassa-Paliotaverna (Hadjisavvas 2001: fig. 8). This is the only instance of the same cylinder-seal impression found at two different settlements. The association between Alassa and Episkopi – both situated along the Kourris River valley – at a politico-economic level is accordingly very potent (Smith 2012: 79-80). Excavations at the urban centre of the Paphian polity produced three examples of cylinder-seal impressions on storage vessels, including the impressed friezes on the handles and shoulder of the monumental Group III pithos found in situ within the Sanctuary (Maier & Karageorghis 1984: 96). Cylinder-seal impressed pithoi from other LC centres, such as the primary urban centres of Kition and Hala Sultan Tekke, as well as the secondary inland sites of Analiondas and Athienou, present a minimal distribution, with only a handful of examples (Fig. 8.1). Interestingly, the LC metropolis of Enkomi, the most extensively excavated LC settlement on the island, revealed only two impressed pithos fragments (Caubet et alii 1987: 46-47, fig. 12, pl. 14: 2; Dikaios 1969-71: 578, pl. 68: 25). A small fragment of a pithos from the site of Frattesina in the Po Valley in Italy, tentatively identified as a LC import, depicts a row of figures in relief holding hands (Bettelli 2002: 110-111, fig. 51; Schiappelli 2015: 240). This badly preserved specimen marks the single possible LC cylinder-seal impressed pithos found abroad.

32The proliferation of cylinder-impressed pithoi at Alassa-Paliotaverna with more than 150 examples is as noteworthy as the complete absence of this class of pithoi from the major urban centres of Kalavasos-Av’as’ Dhimitrios and Maroni-Vournes, where the numbers of pithoi and pithos fragments amount to literary hundreds (Keswani 1989). It appears that Kalavasos and Maroni employed a different bureaucratic mechanism to administer agricultural produce and the redistribution of the surplus, in the form of the indigenous LC scribal tool known as Cypro-Minoan (Ferrara 2012). A small number of LC storage and utilitarian vessels at Maroni feature inscriptions on their shoulder (Cadogan et alii 2009) incised with Cypro-Minoan marks, while at Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios, five terracotta cylinders contained within the large administrative ‘Building X’ also carried Cypro-Minoan inscriptions (South et alii 1989: figs 60-61). These enigmatic articles have marks inscribed on their entire surface and have been associated with the management of olive oil production and distribution (Smith 2002: 20-25). Additional evidence for the employment of the Cypro-Minoan script at Kalavasos for administrative purposes is provided by two gypsum pithos lids inscribed by several marks (South et alii 1989: 40, figs 62: 1-2). Despite the fact that the LC script remains undeciphered, Cypro-Minoan inscriptions on large utilitarian and storage vessels are considered to have marked ownership (see Cadogan et alii 2009: 160), analogously to the postulated function of cylinder-seal impressed friezes on pithoi.

33The regional polities administered by the urban centres at Kalavasos and Maroni made use of the Cypro-Minoan script to manage agricultural surpluses, while Alassa-Paliotaverna employed rollers to imprint pictorial friezes on storage vessels, evidently to serve the same purpose. The sheer numbers of pithoi with cylinder-seal impressions at Alassa-Paliotaverna might account for the almost complete absence of writing in this otherwise highly urbanised polity (Ferrara 2012: 19-20). Other sites, such as Maa-Palaeokastro utilised both mechanisms, considering the proliferation of impressed friezes and the occurrence of short inscriptions on storage vessels at the site (Karageorghis & Demas 1988: Nos 140, 158). The concentration of impressed friezes on storage vessels at the sites of Alassa-Paliotaverna, Episkopi-Bamboula, Palaepaphos and Maa-Palaeokastro and the minimal distribution of impressed storage vessels over the rest of the island may insinuate that this idiosyncratic practice was a regional LC mechanism associated with the south-western part of the island (Georgiou 2012: 240). The utterly inconsistent and highly regional intra-island use of Cypro-Minoan inscriptions and cylinder-seal impressions, both of which are interpreted as bureaucratic mechanisms associated with the redistribution of agricultural surpluses, underscores the differing administrative practices employed by the territorial polities of LB A Cyprus during the 13th and the 12th centuries BC and stands as a compelling manifestation of the island’s segmented politico-economic landscape.

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Notes

1 My thanks go to Professor Jan Driessen for the invitation to contribute to this volume honouring Professor Robert Laffineur. There are many aspects of the cylinder-seal impressions that require elucidation, but I chose to focus on the iconography and the power of the images portrayed in these depictions, in honour of Professor Laffineur’s ground-breaking research. I am also grateful to Professor Vassos Karageorghis for the permission to study the finds from the excavations he directed at Maa-Palaeokastro, to the Director of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus for the permission to reproduce figures 5-14 and to Dr Sophocles Hadjisavvas for the permission to reproduce figures 15-16. The author is a Marie Curie Fellow (Career Integration Grants) at the Archaeological Research Unit of the University of Cyprus, for the Project ‘ARIEL’ (Archaeological Investigations of the Extra-Urban and Urban Landscape in Eastern Mediterranean centres: a case-study at Palaepaphos, Cyprus). The project is funded by the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013/ under REA grant agreement no. 334271.

2 This became known as ‘Palaepaphos’ only after the 4th c. BC when the polity’s capital was transferred to Nea Paphos (Iacovou 2012: 62-63).

3 Table 2 in Keswani 2009 is a comprehensive catalogue of statistical analyses on size variation within the different types of Cypriot storage vessels assigned to the LBA.

4 A median height of 3.8 cm has been estimated based on the published examples of cylinder-seal impressed friezes.

5 For the thorough presentation of LC cylinder-seal impressions on pithoi published thus far see Webb 1992: 114-115; Smith 2007 and Georgiou 2012: table 52.

6 Panagiotopoulos 2012 discusses the complex interaction among image, viewers and context, our limitations to attain a holistic approach and the prerequisite of contextualising studies on visual imagery. Feldman also interprets iconographic meaning as a “socially generated enterprise conditioned by or arising from human-object interaction, rather than a static epiphenomenal idea” (Feldman 2014: 337).

7 In coroplastic art (Karageorghis 1993: 19-21, 35-43), pictorial pottery (Vermeule & Karageorghis 1982: 22-23, 27-28, 46-48, 52-54, 63, 66), bronze stands (Papasavvas 2001: 134), ivories (Murray et alii 1900: 12-14, pl. I), metalwork and jewellery (e.g. Karageorghis 2002: figs 68, 93, 97), cylinder-seal glyptic (Webb 2002: 118) and others.

8 The taming of an agitated bull is represented by a number of small terracottas, whereby a human figure is shown standing to the side of a bull, clasping onto the animal’s horns and neck (Webb 1999: 215-216, fig. 76: 2). Bull-fighting scenes are also relatively popular in pictorial vase-painting (Vermeule & Karageorghis 1982: V.82-101, VI. 45-50).

9 For a comprehensive discussion of this iconographic pattern and extensive references to other media see Bushnell 2008: 63-71.

10 Often identified as the ‘Tree of Life’, a widespread element of religious iconography in the Near East (cf. Giovino 2007 with further references).

11 In anticipation of the final publication, part of this corpus has been disseminated by means of preliminary reports (c/. Hadjisavvas 1994: pl. 19; 1996: fig. 11; 2001; Keswani 2009: 119-120). Keswani mentions that the fragments of cylinder-seal impressed pithoi from Alassa-Paliotaverna exceed 150 in number.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 8.1. Map of Cyprus showing sites mentioned in the text and distribution of cylinder-seal impressions on storage vessels (digital data courtesy of the Cyprus Department of Geological Survey, map drafted by the author)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 48k
Légende Fig. 8.2. Ground-plan of Maa-Palaeokastro, Floor II (after Karageorghis & Demas 1988: fig. 2)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 74k
Légende Fig. 8.3. Drawing of the relief-frieze produced by cylinder-seal A, depicting a chariot hunt (after Porada 1988: pl. B: 3)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 57k
Légende Fig. 8.4. Drawing of the relief-frieze produced by cylinder-seal B, depicting goats feeding from tree (after Porada 1988: pl. E: 3)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 66k
Légende Tab. 8.1. Catalogue of the cylinder-seal impressions on storage vessels from Maa-Palaeokastro
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 386k
Légende Fig. 8.5. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting a chariot hunt (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 109)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 24k
Légende Fig. 8.6. Detail of fig. 8.5
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 45k
Légende Fig. 8.7. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting a chariot hunt (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 299A)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 19k
Légende Fig. 8.8. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting goats feeding from tree (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: No. 410)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 22k
Légende Fig. 8.9. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting goats feeding from tree (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 484)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 17k
Légende Fig. 8.10. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting goats feeding from tree (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 534)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 11k
Légende Fig. 8.11. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting goats feeding from tree (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 570)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 11k
Légende Fig. 8.12. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting goats feeding from tree (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 624)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 28k
Légende Fig. 8.13. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting a chariot hunt (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 683)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 34k
Légende Fig. 8.14. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Maa-Palaeokastro depicting a chariot hunt (photo by the author; Karageorghis & Demas 1988: N° 684)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 42k
Légende Fig. 8.15. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Alassa depicting a human figure slaying a griffin (after Hadjisavvas 2001: fig. 5a)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-16.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 27k
Légende Fig. 8.16. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Alassa depicting a human figure stabbing a lion (after Hadjisavvas 2001: fig. 5b)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-17.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 25k
Légende Fig. 8.17. Cylinder-seal impressed pithos fragment from Enkomi depicting a human figure separating a pair of fighting bulls (after Caubet et alii 1987: pl 14: 2)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6612/img-18.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 37k

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