Discovering the Agora of Nea Paphos. Discovering the world and its people

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Polish archaeologists conduct very little excavation work in the field of classical archaeology, which pertains to ancient Greece and Rome, the cradles of our civilization. This is why "The Paphos Agora Project," started by the Institute of Archaeology of the Jagiellonian University in 2011 in Paphos, Cyprus, is so important.

Cyprus, the island known as the birthplace of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, became part of Greek civilization starting in the second millennium B.C. In the period after Alexander the Great, this area belonged to the realm of Egyptian Ptolemies.

City of Greeks and Romans

The town Nea Paphos, which was founded by the end of the fourth century B.C. and was located on the west coast of Cyprus, became one of the main urban centers of the island. This place was called "Nea" ("New") in order to distinguish it from Old Paphos (currently the village Kouklia). Old Paphos was a famous center of the cult of Aphrodite located in proximity to the place where, according to myths, the goddess emerged from the sea. Nea Paphos performed the role of the capital of the island for a long time (from approx. 200 B.C. to approx. A.D. 350). Initially it was the seat of the Strategos governing Cyprus on behalf of the Ptolemies, and later it was the seat of the Roman governor. The town grew with time, and today it is known as Paphos. Its ancient remains are quite well-preserved and they have been explored not only by Cypriot archaeologists, but also by a series of international expeditions. The monuments of Paphos, like those of Kraków, have been placed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List, making the work conducted here very prestigious.

In spite of many years of research, not much is known about Paphos during the Hellenistic period. However, we do know that the town had an area of approximately 95 hectares, that it was surrounded by walls, and that it was built on a network of streets intersecting at right angles. There was a port in Paphos where the Ptolemeian fleet was stationed. Rich villa districts were located in the western part of town, and there was a temple on the hill known as Acropolis, where today there is a lighthouse. A theatre was built east of it.

Students during work in Trench II in 2012. Photo: E. Papuci-Władyka


Agora upon agora

Ancient agoras were usually located in the central parts of towns, and they performed administrative, political, religious, and commercial roles. They were the heart of the ancient city. It was there where inhabitants would not only meet and gossip, but also discuss important public issues.

This is why it is no wonder that archaeologists often focus on exploring the agora . A town of such importance and size as ancient Paphos must have had an agora from the beginning. So far, the agora of the Roman town has been discovered and partly explored. The Cypriot archaeologist who conducted these studies, Kyriakos Nikolaou, determined that the Roman agora functioned from the second to the fourth centuries A.D. It was a square with sides approximately 100 meters long, surrounded by column porticos. It was located opposite the odeon (a building designed for musical performances), and next to the Acropolis. As town planning traditions were very strong in ancient times, preexisting basic topographical elements, such as the network of streets or building blocks (insulae), in towns which were founded previously, i.e., in the Greek period, were often used during Roman rule. There are no grounds for assuming that this was different in Paphos. Thus, it might be expected that the agora of the Hellenistic town was located below the Roman agora. The discovery and description of the functioning of this public area is the main objective of the team supervised by Professor Ewdoksia Papuci-Władyka. Other scientific objectives include the verification of when the Roman agora existed and was constructed, and the characterization of its importance in urban life.

Seleukos once lived here

Excavation studies carried out in Cyprus by employees, doctoral students, and graduate students of the Institute of Archaeology at the Jagiellonian University are conducted for five to six weeks each year. The nature of the studies is interdisciplinary. Participants include, among others, architects, geodesists, restorers, numismatists, and representatives of other fields. Scientists use modern research methods: measurements taken with use of tachymeter, photogrammetry, numerical modelling (DEM), and aerial photography with use of quadrocopter. The creation of a 3D reconstruction of the discovered architectural remains is planned in the future.

Usually, a smaller crew arrives for the first week to prepare the terrain and finish the documentation of artefacts that were discovered during the previous season. Later, fieldwork, i.e., excavation with the participation of students, takes place. "It is hot (even up to 45°C) and sometimes really hard. Students also take shifts in the kitchen, preparing meals for the whole team. In spite of the inconveniences, each time we announce recruitment for excavation works, a crowd of people volunteer, which proves the popularity of archaeology and of the research conducted in Nea Paphos. It is worth pointing out that participation in the research is not only vocational training but also a chance to learn about Cyprus. Thus, the benefits are not only of a scientific nature," Professor Papuci-Władyka says.

The crew succeeded and their hard work brought splendid results . "During three excavation campaigns, we discovered numerous fragments of architecture from various periods of functioning of the explored area, such as remnants of shops (Roman tabernae) and warehouses, hydrotechnical installations (terracotta pipelines, channels, pools, cisterns, and wells), floors and walls of buildings," explains Professor Papuci-Władyka. One such finding, a leaden weight with an inscription in the Greek alphabet, documents the activity of a public official who supervised the functioning of the agora, i.e., the agoranomos. His name was Seleukos and he was the son of Ioulios Bathylos. The mention of him confirms the existence of the Roman agora.

Website of the project: Other aspects of life as part of the expedition are described in the blog:

Golden earring

"Apart from remains of architectural structures, we found other marvelous artefacts, among which pottery is doubtlessly the most valuable (thousands of fragments and many vessels preserved as a whole) and coins (nearly 150 pieces). We also discovered real rarities: a bronze scale with an acorn-shaped weight, two bronze jugs, an Egyptian style amulet with a magic inscription in Greek, and — what is extremely rare in an urban excavation site — a golden earring (or pendant) with an ending in the shape of a wine leaf, probably accidentally lost," Professor Papuci-Władyka continues.

Pursuant to international law, the discovered artefacts remain in the territory of the country of discovery. After restoration, the most precious objects, so-called movables (e.g., the mentioned earring and scale) are exhibited in the District Museum of Paphos, while the architectural remains can be visited in the area of the Archaeological Park located near the harbor in Paphos. The whole documentation of excavations is then analyzed upon the return to Kraków. It constitutes the basis for reports, studies, papers, and publications. The publication of research results is the exclusive privilege and a great "scientific benefit" of the given expedition.

After three seasons of excavations, it can be said that the archaeologists from the Jagiellonian University discovered the remains of architectural structures and movable artefacts from the Hellenistic period, although it cannot be confirmed for certain that they belonged to the agora of that period. On the other hand, remains from the Roman period are likely to challenge the previously assumed time of the Roman agora's construction from the second century A.D. to the period of emperor August's reign (27 B.C.– A.D. 14).

In order to broaden our knowledge of the ancient capital of Cyprus, and in particular of the functioning of the agora, "further field and desk analyses are necessary, because, although archaeology is an extremely attractive discipline, it is also the art of patience — the results are usually visible only after many years," Professor Papuci-Władyka concludes.

Research team: Professor Ewdoksia Papuci-Władyka – Project Director; Wojciech Machowski, PhD; Łukasz Miszk, MA; Agata Dobosz, PhD; Meike Droste, PhD; Edyta Marzec, MA; Karolina Rosińska-Balik, MA; Jarosław Bodzek, PhD; Marcin Biborski, PhD; Małgorzata Kajzer, MA; Maciej Wacławik, MA; Agnieszka Fulińska, MA; Aleksandra Rejowicz, MSc, Eng. (graduate of the AGH University of Technology); Łukasz Bąk, MSc, Eng. (graduate of the AGH University of Technology); Marcin Iwan, MA – photographer (graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań)