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Books: Rewriting Cypriot History Volume 56 Number 5, September/October 2003
by Marisa Macari

Despite more than a century of excavations, Cyprus' ancient history remains frustratingly elusive. The island's Cypro-Minoan script of the sixteenth century B.C. has yet to be deciphered, the rise of independent city-states has not been conclusively dated, and reasons for widespread fire and destruction in the twelfth century B.C. remain enigmatic. Despite such gaps, Vassos Karageorghis, director of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus from 1963 to 1989, does manage to place Cypriot history within the cultural and economic framework of the ancient Mediterranean world in Early Cyprus (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2002; $70).

Weaving together interpretations from archaeological excavations from Tunisia to Turkey with classical literature and Greek mythology, Karageorghis chronicles life on the island in the period from 1600 to 480 B.C. He describes the burgeoning copper and timber trade in Late Bronze Age Cyprus, the establishment of warlike city-states by an emigrant Greek population, and the settling of the Phoenicians in the subsequent Iron Age.

Karageorghis' familiarity with Cypriot cultural evolution gives him the authority to question conventional theories, even his own, some of which he has modified since his 1982 book, Cyprus, from the Stone Age to the Romans. He even challenges the long-standing theory that Assyrians ruled over Cyprus from 709 to 669 B.C. Though texts suggest that Cyprus paid tribute to the Assyrian king at this time, Karageorghis argues that such benevolence was voluntary and fueled by a selfish desire to partake of the Assyrian-controlled economic system.

Accompanied by an exhaustive bibliography and lush color photographs illustrating the recovery of underwater shipwrecks and royal tombs, Early Cyprus is as much at home on the coffee table as it is on the scholar's shelf.

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© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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