The personality and the attributes of Apollo had already been well known and defined in the ancient Mediterranean since Homeric times.1 The origins of the god remain mysterious and are still discussed nowadays, especially since he is the only Olympian divinity whose name does not clearly occur on the Linear B tablets uncovered at Pylos and Knossos.2 In Cyprus, the Apolline cult emerged in the Cypro-Classical period in a general context of Hellenisation. One of its main consequences on the island’s religion was the adoption of the gods of the Greek pantheon. Thus, the appearance of Apollo is more recent in Cyprus than in most of the ancient Mediterranean, especially Greece.
The beginning of the cult of Apollo in Cyprus
The first Cypriote dedication to Apollo known so far appeared on the 5th century BC votive inscription coming from the main sanctuary of Kourion. This text is carved on the plinth of a temple boy, a typical ex-voto presented below, as well as another contemporaneous dedication of the same provenance.3 Hence, Apollo became the main god in what is considered to be one of his most popular sanctuaries on the island until the end of the 4th century AD.4 Nevertheless, the Apolline cult is not the original one of this temenos. It was assimilated with a preexistent male divinity only designated as teo (to-te-o i.e. τῶ θεῶ “to the god”) on several Cypro-Syllabic dedications known from the Cypro-Archaic and Early Cypro-Classical periods.5 The same theonym is also mentioned in some contemporaneous documents from Golgoi-Ayios Phοtios6 and Rantidi7 that clearly show that this formula does not only refer to the “god of Kourion” but also to a male deity widespread in the entire Cyprus. The syncretism of Apollo and this autochthonous figure during the 5th century BC is explained by the prevailing ideological context and, first of all, by the similarities between the two divinities. This religious filiation is especially highlighted by the Hellenistic designation of the god, Apollo Hylates, which first appeared in some mid-3rd century BC dedications at Kourion.8 This epiclesis clearly refers to the original deity whose presence was initially experienced in the sacred wood or hyle constituting the temenos.9 This divinity is seen as the indigenous god par excellence; Lycophron even refers to Cyprus as “the land of Hylates”.10 Therefore, the religious evolution of Kourion demonstrates that Apollo is considered to be the heir of the ancestral teo which also affirms the autochthonous origin of the cult in Hellenised Ptolemaic Cyprus henceforth ruled by the Greco-Macedonian Lagids.
The Apolline cult of Kourion
Likewise, the ritual continuity between the two divinities is proved by the typical Apolline ex-votos discovered at Kourion: horsemen and temple boys. A great number of terracotta rider figurines had already been dedicated since the 7th century BC. They had become, as expected, the main offering to Apollo since the Cypro-Classical period.11 Those terracotta statuettes define the god as the protector of the human community both in a martial and a social context. Some of those horsemen indeed depict warriors with their weapons and shields [Fig. 1]. Throughout its history, Cyprus was significant for many foreign sovereigns due to its strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean and its numerous resources particularly praised by Strabo.12 Consequently, the Cypriotes and their kings were regularly involved in some conflicts especially during the Cypro-Classical period (the Ionian Revolt)13 and the Hellenistic times (Alexander the Great and the Diadochi Wars).14 It is therefore apparent that in this context many figurines of warriors symbolise the wish made by the worshipper to obtain the divine favour during wartime. The martial character of Apollo is an element of his personality which he presented by claiming for his “weapon-attribute”, the bow, showing his true bellicose nature instantaneously after his birth in Delos.15 This inherent warlike nature is well illustrated in the Iliad when, being furious, this infallible archer went down from the Olympus “like the night” to destroy the Achaean camp and avenge his worshippers.16 This aspect is one of the common characteristics of Apollo and the local teo justifying their assimilation. However, other horsemen terracottas do not represent fighters, but rather dedicators bringing varied offerings to the divinity like a sacrificial animal or an amphora containing wine or oil. Sometimes the proportions of the figurine clearly emphasize the horse in order to underline the high social rank of the owner or the respect attributed to this animal. The horse was indeed the “men’s inseparable companion” owing to both their work, in a – mainly agrarian – society and their significance as a means of transportation.17
The votive temple boys also highlight the protective power of Apollo [Fig. 2]. These representations of young boys, certainly imported to Cyprus by the Phoenicians, were mainly dedicated at masculine sanctuaries where the presence of the Apolline cult is attested, especially at Kourion.18 The ritual significance of these ex-votos is still discussed. The exposition of the genitals on some specimens may mean that they were offered to the divinity after the completion of the circumcision rite, very popular on the Levantine coast. However, the sex is not always evident and only a few of them were uncovered in Kition, the main Cypriote Phoenician city, thus precluding this hypothesis. The temple boys rather symbolised weaning. This essential rite of passage, when the child abandons its status of new-born fed by its mother to face a perilous autonomy for the first time, needed the protection of a divinity possessing some apotropaic and healing powers. The various amulets worn by children, certainly expressing the parents’ fear towards hostile influences, strengthen this reasoning.19 While in the Levant temple boys were often dedicated to the healing god Eshmun, in Cyprus this role was mainly attributed to Apollo owing to his curative virtues to ensure the good health of the child as Iatros (“Healer”)20 or Alexikakos (“Averter of Evil”)21 and his capacity to “make youths grow”.22 It is therefore apparent, that the god was chosen to be associated with a cult of such nature at Kourion.
The cult centre of the Mesaoria plain
The above mentioned features are also attested in most of the other contemporaneous sanctuaries of Apollo on the island, especially in the Mesaoria plain. This region, situated between the Troodos massif and the Pentadaktylos range, can be recognized as a Cypriote centre of the Apolline cult. By the end of the Hellenistic period, his worship had been determined at twelve sites among six of which the god is clearly identified by some dedications: Tamassos-Frangissa,23 Idalion-Moutti tou Arvili,24 Golgoi-Ayios Phôtios,25 Lefkoniko-Ayia Zoni,26 Chytroi-Skali,27 and Voni.28 The sculpture is another key element to detect the religious presence of Apollo who is represented mainly according to Greek artistic canons at Tamassos-Politiko [Fig. 3], Malloura,29 Potamia-Ellines,30 Golgoi,31 Styllos-Krines32 and probably at Pyroi-Elia.33 The ritual activity in the Apolline temenoi of the Mesaoria, most of which belong to the typical Cypriote archaic sanctuary categories according to the typology established by E. Gjerstad,34 has been confirmed since the Cypro-Archaic period. Moreover, the evolution of the cult in those places of worship illustrates well the characteristics, influences, and issues associated with Apollo in Cyprus.
The different influences on the Cypriote Apollo
A bilingual dedication (Phoenician/Cypro-Syllabic) from Idalion-Mouti tou Arvili dating back to 388 BC mentions indeed the Semitic god Reshef Mikal identified with Apollo Amyklos.35 This unique epiclesis is the Hellenised translation of the name of Mikal, a divinity well known in the Near East, and not the opposite. Consequently, the hypothesis stating that the cult of Apollo Amyklaios from Laconia would have been adopted has to be ruled out.36 The Phoenicians from Idalion actually adopted a local cult probably established around the beginning of the 1st millennium BC. It is, therefore, apparent that in an overall Hellenisation of the island at that time, including the Phoenician community, Apollo is associated to Reshef, since he is considered to be the Greek equivalent of the Near Eastern god.37 Consequently, the appearance of the divine epithet Amyklos and its Hellenistic form Amyklaios result from the same phenomenon.38 A similar phenomenon occurred at Tamassos-Frangissa as it is also attested by two 4th century BC bilingual dedications mentioning Apollo with two original epicleses: Alasiôtas and Heleitas. Reshef is again assimilated with the “Greek” divinity but, in both cases, his divine epithets are a Semitic adaptation of the Cypriote form. Alasiôtas meaning the “god of Alashiya”, the Late Bronze Age name of Cyprus, and Heleitas (“of the marsh”) clearly demonstrate once more that Apollo is the heir of a preexistent autochthonous deity adopted by the Phoenicians during the Cypro-Classical period.39 The presence of the Levantine religious features is mostly related to the ambitions of the kings of Kition, who conquered the key territories of Idalion (circa 470-450 BC), and then Tamassos (mid-4th century BC). The above mentioned dedications, mainly made by Kitian aristocrats or royal family members, aimed to legitimise the new Phoenician sovereigns among the Hellenophone indigenous population by honouring the local divinities, as well as their Semitic ones.40 The final stage of this syncretism is shown by a Hellenistic dedication from Kition to Apollo Mikal the Near Eastern god that became an Apolline epiclesis in the Hellenised Ptolemaic Cyprus.41
The Hellenic influence is also perceptible beyond the Hellenised representations of Apollo mentioned above. Some inscriptions show that certain local equivalents of Greek cults existed in the Mesaoria. It is the case of the Daukhnaphorios of Lefkoniko-Ayia Zoni, the Cypriote dialectal form of Daphnephoros (“Laurel-Bearer”),42 Eilapinastes (“Banqueter”) the Hellenistic Apollo from Voni and Agyates, the reflection of the Hellenic pillar god Agyieus, keeper of the street and the oikos.43 The specific elements of the island cult of the god are perfectly illustrated and summarised at Golgoi-Ayios Phôtios, where Apollo had been the tutelary divinity since the 4th century BC. Two votive reliefs of this period depict the divinity following different iconographic patterns. On the first, he is represented as a “Cypro-Phoenician Reshef/Apollo”:44 bearded, seated on a throne, holding a sceptre [Fig. 4]. On the second, Apollo is depicted according to the Greek artistic standards: as a kithara player, beardless, wearing a laurel crown on a haircut made of curly locks.45 Under the Ptolemies, this Hellenised iconography became the number one reference, until the end of the Hellenistic period.46 Thus, at Ayios Phôtios, Apollo appeared as the successor of a local Cypro-Archaic male deity. The different divine images in the same place actually reflect the multiculturalism of the Cypriote society (indigenous people, Hellenised Cypriotes, Phoenicians, and so on). Everyone interpreted the same divinity according to their own cultural background and sensibility. The autochthonous aspect was underlined by the Cypro-Syllabic text carved on the first above-mentioned relief dedicated “to the great teo Apollo”.47 The predominance and the survival of the Cypriote religious substrate are also highlighted by some dedications to the ancestral Hylates from Chytroi-Skali dating back to circa 300 BC. It is one of the last uses of the local syllabary for such purpose.48
The Apolline votive identity of the Mesaoria
It is eventually possible to define the Mesaoria as a cult centre because of the homogeneity of the votive material associated to Apollo until the end of the Hellenistic period. Besides the temple boys, well attested in the majority of those sites,49 confirming the kourotrophic character of the divinity, the offerings of bearded and beardless males are also typical of the Apolline cult in this region. They were mostly represented with a wreath composed of one or several plants with the laurel of Apollo as the most recurrent one50 [Fig. 5]. These leaves, flowers, or berries all possess some medicinal attributes which aim to appeal to the curative power of the god. This kind of ex-voto was also certainly involved in some rituals held in order to invoke regenerative divine forces for the renewal and the fertility of the vegetation and the farming.51 A favourable cycle of seasons was vital for the daily life and the economic prosperity of the mainly agrarian ancient society of Cyprus. The climate of Cyprus is indeed inextricably linked to a seasonal drought which has a harmful impact on the wildlife.52 Under the aegis of Apollo, some religious festivities were celebrating the vitality of the vegetation during the spring to ensure that it will be “reborn” with the same energy after the long and dry summer. The god was associated with similar rites in the ancient Mediterranean, especially during the Thargelia in Athens53 or the Lacedaemonian Hyakinthia.54 Those festivals also comprised some rites of passage involving youths and young adults, which was probably the case in the Cypriote Apolline rituals as well.55
The Apolline coastal sanctuaries
From the 5th century BC, the cult of Apollo rapidly expanded throughout Cyprus, including the coast, confirming its immediate popularity. A Cypro-Classical inscription suggests that the god was certainly worshiped at Salamis, probably as Pythios because of the role he played in the foundation of the city.56 This would explain why the divinity was still specially honoured by the local king Nikokreon at the end of the 4th century BC according to Aelian.57
The religious presence of Apollo is also attested by a 5th century BC dedication from Mersinaki-Ayia Varvara.58 The votive material was ritually buried in situ in eight bothroi when this temenos was destroyed – in the early Roman period. The typical Cypriote ex-votos to the divinity (temple boys, beardless and bearded male statues wearing vegetal crowns in a local fashion)59 evidence that Apollo was mainly invoked to ensure the fulfilment of the human community and the prosperity of their environment. This worship features are confirmed by a Hellenistic dedication from Mersinaki to Apollo Lykios.60 The latter is the island equivalent of Lykeios, the “initiating wolf-god”, involved in the protection of men both in social and agrarian contexts.61
Another important Apolline sanctuary, probably founded at the time of the king Nikokles, existed at Nea Paphos-Alonia tou Episkopou. Two inscriptions, still in situ, show that Apollo Hylates was the tutelary divinity of this rupestrian underground sanctuary.62 The indigenous Hylates, deeply rooted in the local religion, was especially popular in the Paphos territory since he was also worshipped at Dhrymou.63 The specific architecture of this temenos suggests that the cult was not only related to wildlife fertility. The location of the sanctuary in an ancient necropolis area links the divinity with some chthonic deities. The chthonian nature is inherent to the Apolline cult, since the god established his main sanctuary of Delphi inheriting the original oracle of Ge having killed the serpent Python.64 The cult essence of Apollo Hylates at Nea Paphos was then certainly associated to some oracular practices inspired by subterranean forces.65 The same powers were possibly used in a mystery cult involving the regeneration and the “rebirth” of the candidates to the initiation after an allegorical death.66 The popularity of the god did not cease to grow in the Paphian region, as it is shown by some Hellenistic dedications to Apollo Melanthios (“of the melanthion”) from Amargetti67 and to Myrtates (“of the myrtle”) at Marathounda.68 These epicleses confirm the persistence of some essential characteristics of the Cypriote Apolline worship, the benevolence towards the rural world and the protection/initiation of men in the territory of the Ptolemaic capital of Cyprus.69
Apollo is also presiding over an oracular cult at Pyla, near Kition. Little is known about this sanctuary but some dedications show that, since the 4th century BC, the god was assimilated to the local patron of the butcher-sacrificers as Magirios, the only divine epithet related to this function known so far.70 Some unique votive representations of mageiroi were also discovered at Pyla.71 The Prince of the sacrificers, according to Aristophanes,72 and his manteion were involved at the same time in some specific rites of empyromancy. Invoked as Lakeutes, another hapax legomenon, Apollo indeed expressed himself through the cracks and the sizzling of the sacrificial victims on the incandescent altar.73 The agrarian aspect of the divinity, as a protector of horned cattle, is also underlined in this region by a 3rd century BC dedication from Dhekelia-Vigla to Apollo Kereiates (“Horned”), the Cypriote equivalent of the Arcadian Kereatas.74
As aforementioned, the Lagid administration of the island did not hamper the development of the Apolline cult. On the contrary, the divinity kept affirming his religious preponderance by the emergence of new temenoi, especially in the coastal regions which were so important for the Ptolemies, both for strategic and economic reasons.75 Hellenistic votive inscriptions show indeed that the worship of Apollo was also established in Soloi as Kyprios (“Cypriote”),76 Keryneia,77 and Leucolla.78
Thus, the god clearly possessed some specific features in Cyprus and, at the same time, some essential common characteristics with the Greek Apolline cult which allows that he be defined as a “Cypriote Apollo”.