The Ancient City-Kingdom of Kourion

Often called a City-Kingdom, Kourion is without doubt a site of great antiquity, with epigraphs found at Medinet Habu in Egypt appearing to date the city's founding back to around 1200 B.C, which would put it at about the time of the Trojan War, give or take a hundred years or so. Indeed, to put the term City Kingdom into context, Troy, although of course itself shrouded in monumental myth and legend, makes an excellent example of this type of settlement over three thousand years ago.

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Kourion - One of the earliest Christian Communities

Our Rings

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.

 

Coastal Cliffs at Kourion

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.

The Temple of Apollo, about a mile west of Kourion

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.

House of Eustolios atop Kourion Cliffs, as seen from Kourion Beach

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:

Christian Dedication at the entrance to the House of Eustolios in Kourion
Original Christian Dedication at the House of Eustolios

Christian Dedication at the House of Eustolios in Kourion
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.


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Cliffs to the West of Kourion
Cliffs of Kourion

The Kourion Amphitheater as seen from the Earthquake House
Kourion Amphitheater

Road leading to Kourion's Main Agora
Entrance to the Agora

Ancient Capitals at the Agora Colonade
Capital in the Agora

View from the House of Eustolios
View from the
House of Eustolios

Mosaic from the House of the Gladiators
Mosaic from the
House of the Gladiators

Christian Symbol at the House of Eustolios
Ichtus Mosaic from the
House of Eustolios

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