Set high atop south Cyprus' coastal cliffs, Kourion must certainly have presented an imposing sight to prospective invaders during the height of its power as one of the island’s 12 City Kingdoms in the 5th century B.C, when it was mentioned by Herodotus in his Terpsichore, and in 332 B.C, when Kourion’s last king aided Alexander the Great in the siege of Tyre, on the coast of Lebanon.
By the time Kourion was mentioned around the year 7B.C. in Geographica by Strabo, however, Cyprus had been a part of the Roman Empire for almost sixty years.
The city was no longer much more than just another large settlement within the realm, its former glory having long since waned, while Paphos and Salamis had established themselves as the island’s main centers of commerce and international trade.
But although Kourion’s political and economic fortunes may have somewhat declined during the intervening centuries, one thing it had retained throughout this time was its status as one of the most important pagan cult-centers in Cyprus, with the Sanctuary of Apollo located on a hilltop only around a mile to the west of the city. Under the Romans, of course, Apollo’s prominence grew even more, and his temple underwent an extensive expansion program which befitted his perceived status as a favored deity in the eyes of the Empire’s pagan population, who did of course represent the majority at this particular time.
Living alongside the pagans in Cyprus, however, was a thriving Jewish population which had been gradually dispersing from Palestine along the Mediterranean shores during the previous few hundred years, mainly establishing themselves quite successfully as a merchant class in most coastal cities.
Kourion would appear to have been no exception, and it would seem a more than reasonable assumption that the Jewish inhabitants provided a small, yet prosperous, segment of the city’s overall population, already supplemented by a large number of Followers of the Way by the time Barnabas and Saul would have reached the town.
And, much like in the rest of the Roman Empire, it’s more than reasonable to speculate that worshipping of the Faith continued in secret at Kourion during the course of the next two and a half centuries, until the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, ending persecution, and making Christianity a recognized religion in the Empire a mere forty two years before the cataclysmic earthquake which devastated Kourion along with most of the Eastern Mediterranean.
In many ways, the factor seven tremor which struck once-mighty Kourion in the early hours of July 21st 365 AD provided a clear dividing line in history, spelling doom for the Empire’s pagan idols, and heralding the triumph of the One True Faith. The monumental edifices, which had reflected the vanity of the pagan pantheon for more than a thousand years throughout the Eastern Empire, were shattered in an instant by the unmitigated force of nature, never to be rebuilt again.
In their stead rose Christian Basilicas, places of worship which reflected Christianity’s unstoppable march towards attaining its rightful place in the life of the Roman citizenry, as well as other signs that The Faith was no longer being persecuted, and that it was now more than perfectly acceptable to overtly show signs of one’s dedication to Christ.
One of these was found in the House of Eustolios, a public bath complex unearthed adjacent to the city’s amphitheater. Donated to the residents of Kourion in the true Christian spirit by their prosperous compatriot Eustolios, and built on top of the remains of a Hellenistic manor when the city was reconstructed in the late 4th century, the structure’s southern entrance still holds his beautiful dedication, embedded into the floor as part of an intricate mosaic:
Original Christian Dedication at the House of Eustolios
Translation of Eustolios' Christian Dedication
One of our Christian Gifts
It is indeed easy to be deeply moved by this genuine show of Faith which reflects nothing more so than Christianity’s basic loving and giving nature, just as the Christian Ring discovered near the skeletal hand of a man who died with his young family during the cataclysmic earthquake of 365 AD reflects our Faith’s deepest family values like no other piece of Christian jewelry ever unearthed.
When coupled with the clear demarcation line between paganism’s fall and Christianity’s triumph, provided by the earthquake of 365 AD, and the fact that the city was most likely visited by Barnabas and Saul during their very first missionary journey, these clear tokens combine to give Kourion a rather unique and lasting place in our Christian history.
Read more about the Ancient City Kingdom and the Earthquake House
Cliffs of Kourion
Entrance to the Agora
Capital in the Agora
View from the
House of Eustolios
Mosaic from the
House of the Gladiators
Ichtus Mosaic from the
House of Eustolios