A part of the Hellenic Museum’s permanent collection, the Mary and Peter Mitrakas collection of ancient Cypriot pottery contains artefacts from nearly 1500 years of Cypriot history.
With 77 well-preserved pieces, the exhibit gives the visitor a unique historical perspective of Cypriot society and daily life from the Middle Bronze through the entirety of the Iron Age. Sitting at the crossroads of the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus has long been, influenced by its neighbours, but has always maintained a distinct Cypriot style which is reflected in its pottery. Ranging from simple bowls and jugs to large scale storage and funerary amphora, the collection gives insights into the material culture and lifestyle of these ancient Cypriots.
The collection is divided into 3 separate time periods of Cypriot History:
The Bronze Age (1800 – 1050 BCE)
During the Late Bronze Age on Cyprus, a series of dramatic changes occurred in the settlement patterns and material culture on the island. Whereas previously Cyprus had remained relatively isolated from its mainland neighbours, the Bronze Age saw the emergence of Cyprus as a trading super power. With its strategic location at the heart of the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus was able to develop great wealth acting as a middleman in the trade networks of the Mycenaean Greeks, the Hittites, as well as the Egyptians. The pottery of this period reflects the socio-cultural changes happening on the island. While the pottery wheel had been in use in the Near East since 3000 BCE, Cypriot potters continued to craft pottery by hand until around 1500 BCE. Due to this unique method, and overall high quality, Cypriot jugs and bottles became a popular commodity throughout the Near East.
The Geometric Period (1050 – 750 BCE)
Between 1200 and 1050 BCE nearly all Bronze Age powers: Mycenaean Greece, the Hittite Empire, and the Egyptian Empire either went into large-scale decline or outright collapsed. As a result, the following Geometric (or early Iron Age) Period is largely a transitional period. Likely due to the collapse of these powers, there seems to have been a large migration of various peoples to Cyprus, most notably the Phoenicians and people from the Aegean. These new migrants would have a prominent impact on the culture of Cyprus, most noticeably in its pottery record. From the Geometric period, Cypriot pottery was almost universally wheelmade and mass produced in standardised forms. Geometric designs and styles become common on Cyprus and clearly show influence from these new migrant peoples.
The Archaic Period (750 – 475 BCE)
The Archaic period would see Cyprus regain much of its importance as a trade power. Although the Assyrian Empire would claim control over Cyprus, it seems that Cyprus was allowed considerable independence and flourished. Following the collapse of Assyria in 612 BCE, Cyprus would briefly fall under the control of Egypt before being conquered by the Persians. On the outskirts of the Persian Empire, Cyprus was once again able to maintain relative autonomy while reaping the benefits of Persian trade networks. The local pottery of the Archaic period is relatively similar to that of the proceeding Geometric period as the use of the wheel restricted the variety of shapes available compared to the handmade ceramics of the Bronze Age. The pottery in our collection from this period are largely amphora, which were used as storage containers used to hold anything from grain and foodstuffs to even other smaller pottery. Also of note are the large Greek style hydria used for carrying water or other liquids.