Polis Chrysochous, Cyprus: Ancient Marion and Arsinoe

From 1983 to 2007, Professor Emeritus William A. P. Childs directed archaeological excavations in the town of Polis Chrysochous, on the northwest coast of the island of Cyprus. The aim of the project was to learn about two ancient cities that once thrived there, Marion and Arsinoe.

Marion was founded by the 8th century BCE and destroyed in 312 BCE by King Ptolemy I Soter of Egypt, who had been a general under Alexander the Great. King Ptolemy II Philadelphus founded the later city ca. 270 BCE and named it after his sister and wife, Arsinoe. After 1571, in the Ottoman Empire, the area was known simply as Polis, “the city,” in the river valley called Chrysochou, “land flowing with gold.”

Early excavations in Polis, starting in 1885, focused on the many tombs along its southern edge. The Princeton team’s excavations focused instead on settlement areas. They show Marion originally extended from the area of the modern town and east across the field of Peristeries. After the early 5th century BCE the inhabited area of the city shrank and centered on the western plateau, a field long-known as Petrerades, field of stones, which lies north of the modern town center. The city of Arsinoe was built on its ruins.

Excavations of Marion in the field of Peristeries revealed a sanctuary dedicated to a female fertility goddess that dates from the 10th through the early 5th century BCE, a finely constructed building of the 6th century BCE that may have served as a palace, and the remains of workshops and domestic structures. To the west in the field called Maratheri the team uncovered a sanctuary dedicated to Zeus and Aphrodite of the late 6th through the 4th century BCE. In the field of Petrerades the team uncovered remains of houses and cult places.

For Arsinoe, the team unearthed a large porticoed building with polychrome architecture, which may have been a military structure in the Hellenistic period. They also found several Roman-period workshops, including those for metallurgy, glass, and terracotta figurines. The team excavated two Late Antique churches. One stood at a crossroads near the center of the city and continued in use into the Byzantine period. The other stood closer to the bluff overlooking the sea and remained in use into the Middle Ages.

An exhibition about the art and history of Marion and Arsinoe as well as the history of excavations in Polis, City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus, was held in the Princeton University Art Museum from October 20, 2012 to January 20, 2013. The exhibition catalogue, City of Gold: The Archaeology of Polis Chrysoshous, contains detailed essays and numerous illustrations. Objects from these excavations are on permanent display in the Local Museum of Marion and Arsinoe in Polis Chrysochous, Cyprus.

An aim of the project has been to involve undergraduate and graduate students in art and archaeology and other fields in fieldwork and study. Courses taught from 2011 through 2014 have involved students on campus in research about Marion and Arsinoe. Students in a seminar cross-listed among art and archaeology, computer science, and Hellenic studies have modeled buildings uncovered in the excavations. Their 3-D models created in 2012 formed the basis for City of Gold exhibition’s film. Students in a freshman seminar in 2012 had the opportunity to work behind the scenes of the show. Students in another freshman seminar, taught from 2011 to 2013, explored the geology and archaeology of Cyprus and conducted original archaeological and geophysical survey in Polis over fall break. The project today centers on survey, study and publication, and a cultural heritage plan for the area under the codirection of Joanna S. Smith and Childs.

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