Throughout the Classical period, Cyprus was under the control of the Persian empire, which occupied the island sometime around 525 B.C. It was part of the Persian empire’s “Fifth Satrapy,” linking it with Phoenicia and Syria. Like the Phoenicians, the Cypriots were recognized as expert sailors and thus contributed men and ships in the Persian war against Greece in 480–479 B.C.
As allies of the Persian kings, the Phoenicians had considerable economic and political influence on Cyprus. During the fifth century B.C., three of the island’s kingdoms—Salamis, Kition, and Lapithos—had Phoenician kings, Amathus was a Phoenician stronghold, and Idalion and Tamassos were under the Phoenician ruler of Kition (74.51.2452).
The Phoenicians introduced their own gods and goddesses to Cyprus. Many of these deities correspond to Greek gods. For example, the Phoenician god Melqart closely resembles Herakles, and the war goddess Anat bears striking similarities to Athena. The Phoenician goddess of fertility and sexuality Astarte was eventually assimilated with Aphrodite, the Great Goddess of Cyprus. According to tradition, Cyprus was the birthplace of Aphrodite; the goddess was worshipped in monumental temples at Kition, Paphos, Amathus, and Golgoi, as well as in rural sanctuaries. But, unlike their Greek counterparts, Cypriot statues of Aphrodite depict the goddess fully clothed, and she typically wears a crown decorated with nude female figures that most likely represent the Eastern goddess Astarte.
Because of its political and economic ties with the Persian empire, Cyprus was for a long time cut off from the mainstream of Greek culture and trade. It was only from the late fifth century B.C., under the patronage of the philhellenic king Euagoras I of Salamis (r. ca. 411–ca. 373 B.C.), that friendly relations with Greece, particularly Athens, were restored. During his reign, Greek artists and intellectuals were welcomed in Cyprus, although there was always more incentive for Cypriot sculptors, philosophers, and writers to move from Cyprus to the Greek mainland.
For two centuries, until Alexander the Great liberated Cyprus in 333 B.C., the Cypriots fought for their independence. The Greeks joined them in their efforts to oust the Persians, and their presence on the island had stylistic implications for Cypriot art, particularly sculpture, which reflects a mixture of native and foreign influences.
Cypriot sculpture flourished during the early Classical period, and a number of unique examples in the Cesnola Collection of the Metropolitan Museum betray both Greek and Eastern stylistic tendencies. As Cyprus lacks a local source of marble, most sculpture produced on the island is made of local limestone, or terracotta. Only the wealthiest patrons could afford sculpture, such as the sarcophagus from Amathus (74.51.2452) that is made of marble quarried on the Greek island of Paros. A limestone sarcophagus from Golgoi (74.51.2451) is carved in low relief with scenes that have parallels in Greek art but show variations in style and detail introduced by local artists. For example, the combatants depicted on this sarcophagus are common motifs in Greek art. Here, however, the Cypriot sculptor has conflated a battle scene with a hunting scene, and has taken more liberties with the scale of the animals than is usually found in Greek art.
Freestanding sculptures reflect Greek traditions (74.51.2499), but in an exotic and somewhat less naturalistic manner, more like East Greek sculpture of the late sixth century B.C. Standing figures are often depicted wearing typically East Greek costume with a close-fitting, finely pleated linen chiton and wool himation (74.51.2457). The soft modeling of the face, the delicate smile, and the advanced left foot (74.51.2461) derive from East Greek art of the late sixth century B.C. Many of these freestanding Cypriot sculptures were made as votive offerings dedicated at sanctuaries to the gods.
Cypro-Classical jewelry, especially delicately rendered gold pendants and earrings, demonstrates a blend of Greek and local traditions. Carved gems often depict characteristically Greek representations. At the same time, Cypriot pottery shows a certain independence maintained by local craftsmen on the island. But the large quantities of Greek pottery that have been found in tombs at Marion, Amathus, and Salamis most likely indicate that a number of Greek potters and painters also were working on Cyprus during this time.