Cyprus—Island of Copper

See works of art
  • Bronze water spouts in the form of lion masks
  • Bronze shepherds crook
  • Bronze bowl with handles terminating in lotuses
  • Bronze handles and rim of a cauldron
  • Bronze spearhead
  • Bronze tripod
  • Bronze rod tripod

Works of Art (8)


Cyprus was famous in antiquity for its copper resources. In fact the very word copper is derived from the Greek name for the island, Kupros. Cypriots first worked copper in the fourth millennium B.C., fashioning tools from native deposits of pure copper, which at that time could still be found in places on the surface of the earth. The discovery of rich copper-bearing ores on the north slope of the Troodos Mountains led to the mining of Cyprus’ rich mineral resources in the Bronze Age at sites such as Ambelikou-Aletri. Tin, which is mixed together with copper to make bronze, typically at a ratio of 1:10, had to be imported. True tin bronzes appear to have been made on Cyprus as early as the beginning of the second millennium B.C. In the nineteenth century B.C., the island is mentioned for the first time in Near Eastern records as a copper-producing country, under the name “Alasia,” and it continued to be an important source of copper for the Near East and Egypt throughout most of the second millennium B.C. Scholars, however, are in disagreement as to the exact meaning of “Alasia”: whether it refers to a specific site on Cyprus, such as Enkomi or Alassa, or to the island itself, or, less probably, to another geographic location.

Cypriot copper and bronze working was relatively modest in the Early and Middle Bronze Ages, and metalsmiths manufactured a limited range of types, including tools, weapons, and personal objects such as pins and razors. Excavations have revealed increasing metallurgical activity at settlement sites in the Late Bronze Age. Nearly all of the major centers, including Enkomi, Kition, Hala Sultan Tekke, Palaeopaphos, and Maroni, provide evidence of copper smelting, as do smaller settlements, including Alassa and Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios.

Metalwork of the first part of the Late Bronze Age continued to follow earlier conservative traditions. Despite the widespread evidence for metallurgical activity, there are few examples of actual bronzework from Cyprus between ca. 1450 B.C. until the late thirteenth century B.C., the Late Cypriot II period, because the metal was valuable and metal objects were melted down in subsequent periods for reuse. However, the recent discovery of the Ulu Burun shipwreck, which was carrying over ten tons of Cypriot copper ingots when it sank off the southwestern coast of Turkey in the late fourteenth century B.C., vividly demonstrates that Cyprus was a major producer of copper for international trade. Toward the end of the Late Bronze Age, the Cypriot metalworking industry was transformed under foreign influence. Cypriot smiths produced some of the finest bronzework in the eastern Mediterranean, most notably tripods and four-sided stands.

Colette Hemingway
Independent Scholar

Seán Hemingway
Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2004


Hemingway, Colette, and Seán Hemingway. “Cyprus—Island of Copper.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)

Further Reading

Bass, George F. "Oldest Known Shipwreck Reveals Splendors of the Bronze Age." National Geographic (December 1987), pp. 692–733.

Bonfante, Larissa, and Vassos Karageorghis, eds. Italy and Cyprus in Antiquity, 1500–450 B.C. Nicosia: Costakis and Leto Severis Foundation, 2001.

Karageorghis, Vassos, and Nikolaos Stampolidis. Eastern Mediterranean: Cyprus, Dodecanese, Crete, 16th–6th century B.C. Athens: University of Crete / A. G. Leventis Foundation, 1998.

Karageorghis, Vassos, in collaboration with Joan R. Mertens and Marice E. Rose. Ancient Art from Cyprus: The Cesnola Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. See on MetPublications

Meyers, Eric M., ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East. 5 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Additional Essays by Seán Hemingway

Additional Essays by Colette Hemingway