Paphos, the Capital of Cyprus in Roman times

Amphhitheater and Lighthouse at the Paphos World Heritage SiteLighthouse and Amphitheater
at Nea Paphos

Rome annexed Cyprus in 58AD and joined it to Cilicia.  It was not until 22BC that it was separated from the other province, and Nea Paphos became its capital and a senatorial seat with its own proconsul.

The proconsul was the highest official and represented the Roman Senate and the Emperor. The ‘new’ town was built in the Roman style to accommodate the new adminstration and to house its officials, and would remain so until it was completely destroyed by the earthquake of 342AD.

The island was divided into four main districts, Salamis, Lapithos, Amathus, and Paphos, being the most important. Paphos had been chosen because of its proximity to the Aphrodite Sanctuary in Paleapaphos which became the Imperial cult center, as well.

The Proconsul invested the High Priest of the Imperial Cult with his power, he consecrated imperial statues and buildings in the name of the Emperor, and he managed the improvements of the sanctuaries, in addition to his other civil and judicial duties.

Palaepaphos - Aphrodite's SanctuaryPalaepaphos
Aphrodite's Sanctuary

Paphos was the command center of the island.  Building projects, improvements, and civil matters of all types, including internal security matters were decided there.

Trade flourished with the Empire. Cyprus exported olive oil, copper, timber, wine, grain, glass, ceramics, and shipbuilding. Wealth and luxury was the norm in Paphos that became one of the key ports along with Salamis and Amathus.

Ships carried its cargo in amphorae; the pointed ends stacked perfectly in the hulls acting as ballast.

Paphos profited from the Pax Romana as did all of Cyprus and the whole of the Roman Empire.

kyrenia-ship-cutaway-1Cutaway from a Roman era
cargo ship

Corroded Roman Helmet from the 2nd Century

Roman Helmet of the 1st Century

Cypriots joined the Roman army as foreign auxilia as required by law; 2000 conscripted at any one time.  And since there was no Roman military presence on the island, cohorts of Cypriot auxiliary troops stayed on the island to protect it. Two cohorts distinguished themselves so well, that they were made Roman citizens before their 25 year term was completed.

Roman roads connected the communities with each other and with the ports. Travel was safe; distances were carefully marked with milestones. Paul and Barnabas walked across the island from Salamis to Paphos and met with the Roman Proconsul Sergius Paulus. It was in the proconsul’s chamber in Paphos that Paul performed his first miracle. They had sailed into Salamis from Seleucia, and left from Paphos, all ports of the Roman Empire.

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