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By Stephan Spies-Gordes (Deputy Head of School)

Have you ever wondered what these strange names mean: IDALION, KOURION, MARION & SOLI – the names of the houses in which our students compete in their never-ending and sometimes heroic struggle for house points? If you have tried and toiled and not found the answer, here it is. And if you have never bothered or cared, well, here it is anyway! Many people know what Kourion is because they have been there. It is an ancient archaeological site between Paphos and Limassol, a major tourist attraction with a magnificent amphitheatre that is still being used for open-air drama productions and concerts. Indeed, it was the location of a human settlement more than 3000 years ago! And although Marion may sound to you like a girls’ name and Idalion and Soli like nothing at all, they, too, were once cities full of people, sometimes at war and sometimes at peace with each other, each one ruled by its own king and each with its own individual history. I would like to tell you a little bit more about them, so that in future, these names will not seem quite so strange.


Like the other three city-kingdoms, Marion was founded in the eleventh or twelfth century before Christ by immigrants from the Aegean, probably refugees fleeing the collapse of what is known as the Mycenaean culture. There had been other people and other cities in Cyprus before, but these immigrants were the ones who first made Greek the most widespread language on the island. Marion, which was located close to where Polis is now, maintained close trade links with the Greek world until the sixth century B.C., but in the fifth, probably after it took part in a failed revolt against Persia (the Ionian Revolt), a Phoenician King was put on its throne. Phoenicia, a local power based in what is now the Lebanon, was on Persia’s side in its struggle with Greece. So now, the poor Marionites were forced to fight their own kinfolk! In order to see what his pro-Greek neighbours were up to in Soli, the new King of Marion had a palace built at Vouni, overlooking the bay of Morphou, which is now in the Turkish-occupied sector of Cyprus. However, in 450/449 B.C., Kimon from Athens besieged and conquered Marion and brought it back into the Greek fold. Nevertheless, in about 380 B.C., Soli attacked Vouni Palace and destroyed it. (Which goes to show, that Cypriot city-kingdoms fought against each other, too, whether they were all Greek or not). The palace of Vouni, meanwhile, has yielded a large treasure of silver vessels, jewellery and coins, maybe hidden just before the attack. Marion itself was finally destroyed in the wars of the Diadochs, the successors of Alexander the Great who carved up his empire.

In the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., the King of Soli (which is actually spelled “Soloi”, but pronounced the way we spell it at ISOP), had their own splendid tombs hewn from the rock, very much like the “Tombs of the Kings” in Kato Paphos. In 498 B.C., Soli also took part in the Ionian Revolt and, like all the other city-kingdoms of Cyprus, was forced to surrender after several months of siege and suffering. The city was razed to the ground as a punishment and had to be rebuilt. In the fourth century B.C., it had a palace similar to Vouni and a temple of the goddess Athena. Later, in the Hellenistic epoch following Alexander’s death, it became a centre of the arts, especially sculpture. A famous marble statue of Aphrodite and a bronze head of Zeus Ammon were found. In Roman times, Soli became important because of its copper mines, with one section of the Roman road system in Cyprus ending there. The Romans also built a theatre in Soli, like the ones in Kourion, Kato Paphos and Salamis.

According to the ancient Greek historian and geographer Herodotus, Kourion was founded by Argives of the Argolid after the Trojan War. In reality, it must have been founded by those Mycenaean refugees mentioned earlier, when their third and final wave swept over Cyprus. A beautiful gold sceptre from a royal tomb dates the event to around 1100 B.C. The famous Roman temple of Apollo that now attracts many tourists was erected on the site of a sixth century B.C. sanctuary to the woodland god Hylates, who was only later identified with Apollo. The last king of Kourion, named Pnytagoras, died in 332 B.C., when his ship sank off Tyre (on the Lebanese coast), as he was laying siege to the city together with nobody else than Alexander the Great. Alexander, as is well-known, not only survived this battle, but went on to conquer Persia (and many other places). He “thanked” the Cypriot city-kingdoms for their support in this war by subsequently taking their independence away and making the island part of his empire. Kourion, however, despite losing its status as a kingdom, remained an important city for centuries thereafter, as we have seen from the Roman temple and theatre mentioned above. The city even survived a terrible earthquake in 385 A.D. which has left us with one of the most touching archaeological finds anywhere on the island, or in fac, anywhere in the world: the skeletons of a young family, huddled together as the father tried in vain to shield his wife and child, while their house collapsed on top of them.

The city of Idalion, about 20 km south of Nicosia, near the modern village of Dhali, was founded at the site of a much older settlement. During the 17th century B.C. (Bronze Age), there was a fort there and in the 12th century, an acropolis (a fortified hill-site settlement) followed. This acropolis was inhabited by indigenous people, i.e. the actual Cypriots of the time, not immigrants from somewhere else. These “Eteo-Cypriots” (“True Cypriots”) are a somewhat mysterious race, as we still don’t know what language they spoke, only that it was not Greek. They probably derived from the first inhabitants of Cyprus, who had lived here since the Stone Age. However, these Eteo-Cypriots seem to have abandoned their Idalion site, when the last wave of Mycenaeans reached it and built their own city there in the 11th Century B.C. Around 800 B.C., Idalion was influenced by the seafaring and trade power of Phoenicia, which later became an enemy of Cyprus, but at this stage had several cities on the island, which peacefully co-existed peacefully with their Greek-speaking neighbours. The Phoenician city closest to Idalion was rich and mighty Kition, near present-day Larnaca. Its artistic influence is shown by a beautiful silver bowl depicting a scene with a goddess and priestess. Idalion appears to have been the only city-kingdom in which the people had some kind of influence on decisions. The Idalion king was more of a “First among Equals”, whereas his colleagues in the other cities were absolute monarchs: rulers with unrestricted powers, and sometimes high-priests at the same time, supported by the princes and princesses of their courts. In the fifth century B.C., after the Ionian Revolt, when the Persian superpower tightened its grip on Cyprus, the relationship between Idalion and its Phoenician neighbour soured. Its king still pro-Greek, the city withstood a joint siege by Kitians and Persians, thanks to its citadel walls, which were ten-and-a-half metres thick. But only a generation later, Kition finally brought Idalion under its control. However, it remained a centre of the arts for centuries to come and the people of Idalion continued to worship their Greek Gods and Goddesses,







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