Roman Salamis, Trade Capital of the Eastern Mediterranean

salamis-gymnasium-1The Gymnasium at Salamis

The Salamis of Roman Times was an international marketplace where goods could be easily imported or exported throughout the empire, thus making it a major city of commerce and was the largest city of the Roman Era.

The city had great importance and wealth during the Iron Age and Ptolemaic Periods, and it continued to flourish during the time of the Roman Empire. Most ships in the eastern Mediterranean going either east or west stopped in Salamis.

It had numerous temples and synagogues.  The Temple Zeus Olympios was the most important religious pagan site of Salamis and was located in the southwestern part of the city. Like so many other structures it was most probably greatly damaged by the multiple earthquakes of the 4th century and was abandoned at that time, not to be rebuilt.

Ruins of the Zeus Temple in SalamisCapitals at the Temple of Zeus

According to Acts of the Apostles [Acts 13:5], Barnabas and Paul went into the synagogues in Salamis to preach, indicating that there was  more than one.

Stone steps laid bare by erosion at Salamis ancient port

Steps at the ancient port
of Salamis

In 46AD Barnabas and Paul arrived in Salamis, Barnabas’ home to begin their First Missionary Journey.  Barnabas returned with John Mark in 61AD, and Barbabas was martyred by Jews at the hippodrome in Salamis.  John Mark buried his ashes in the catacombs at the necropolis just outside of the city.

Augustus helped to rebuild the city after the earthquakes of 76/77BC; he funded the enlargement of the stadium, the harbor, and the gymnasium and an amphitheater and bath complex perhaps because Salamis was one of the districts of the senatorial province.  Many of those improvements have been excavated and can be seen at Salamis today.

Salamis Bath ComplexPart of Salamis' Bath Complex

In 116AD, the Kitos War, the rebellion of the diaspora, was brought to Salamis by its large Jewish population, who were rebelling against Rome.  Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in Cyprus, Cyrene, Egypt and the eastern Empire according to Dio Cassius. After the uprising, Jews were banned from Cyprus (In 2005 the first and only synagogue on the island was inaugurated in Larnaca. Cypriot officials said: “We are very happy. Cyprus is open to all religions.”).

In the 4th century Salamis became the principal city of the island after Paphos was completely destroyed by earthquakes. It was renamed Constantia after Contantius II who helped rebuild it since it too had been hit hard. It became the Episcopal seat where the revered St. Epiphanius became Bishop in 367AD.  Shortly afterward, the great Ayios Epiphanios Basilica was built.

By the end of the 4th Century, the Roman Empire had moved its capital to Constantinople. It promoted the construction of great Christian cities dominated by towering Christian basilicas built in the Byzantine style.

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