“The Scandal of Enkomi”

The lengthening of Egyptian history by phantom centuries must have as a consequence the lengthening of Mycenaen-Greek history by the same length of time. On Cyprus, Aegean culture came into contact with the cultures of the Orient, particularly with that of Egypt, and unavoidably embarrassing situations were in store for archaeology.

In 1896 the British Museum conducted excavations at the village of Enkomi, the site of an ancient capital of Cyprus, not far from Famagusta, with A. S. Murray in charge.1

A necropolis was cleared, and many sepulchral chambers investigated. “In general there was not apparent in the tombs we opened any wide differences of epoch. For all we could say, the whole burying-ground may have been the work of a century.”

“From first to last there was no question that this whole burying-ground belonged to what is called the Mycenaean Age, the characteristics of which are already abundantly known from the tombs of Mycenae . . . and many other places in the Greek islands and in Egypt.”

However the pottery, porcelain, gems, glass, ivory, bronze, and gold found in the tombs all presented one and the same difficulty. From the Egyptological point of view many objects belong to the time of Amenhotep III and Akhnaton, supposedly of the fifteenth to the fourteenth centuries. From the Assyrian, Phoenician, and Greek viewpoint the same objects belong to the period of the ninth to the eighth or seventh centuries. Since the objects are representative of Mycenaean culture, the excavator questioned the true time of the Mycenaean Age. But as the Mycenaean Age is linked to the Egyptian chronology he found himself at an impasse.

We shall follow him in his efforts to come out of the labyrinth. He submitted a vase, typical of the tombs of Enkomi, to a thorough examination. The dark outlines of the figures on the vase are accompanied by white dotted lines, making the contours of men and animals appear to be perforated. This feature is very characteristic. “The same peculiarity of white dotted lines is found also on a vase from Caere [in Etruria], signed by the potter Aristonothos which, it is argued, cannot be older than the seventh century B.C. The same method of dotted lines is to be seen again on a pinax [plate] from Cameiros [on Rhodes] in the [British] Museum, representing the combat of Menelaos and Hector over the body of Euphorbos, with their names inscribed. That vase also is assigned to the seventh century B.C. Is it possible that the Mycenae and Enkomi vases are seven or eight centuries older?”

Analyzing the workmanship and design of sphinxes or grifins with human forelegs on the vase, the archaeologist stressed “its relationship, on the one hand, to the fragmentary vase of Tell el-Amarna (see Petrie, Tell el-Amarna, Plate 27) and a fragment of fresco from Tiryns (Perrot and Chipiez, VI, 545), and on the other hand to the pattern which occurs on a terracotta sarcophagus from Clazomenae, [in Ionia] now in Berlin, a work of the early sixth century B.C.”

The connection between the Mycenaean and Aristonothos vases caused “a remarkable divergence of opinion, even among those who defend systematically the high antiquity of Mycenaean art.”

The problem of pottery which belongs to two different ages is repeated in ivory. The ivories of the Enkomi tombs are very similar to those found by Layard in the palace of Nimroud, the ancient capital of Assyria. There is, for example, a carving of a man slaying a griffin,

“the man being remarkable for the helmet with chin strap which he wears. It is a subject which appears frequently on the metal bowls of the Phoenicians, and is found in two instances among the ivories discovered by Layard in the palace at Nimroud. The date of the palace is given as 850-700 B.C.”
An oblong box for the game of draughts, found in Enkomi, “must date from a period when the art of Assyria was approaching its decline,” five or six centuries after the reputed end of the Mycenaean age.

“Among the Nimroud ivories (850-700 B.C.) is a fragmentary relief of a chariot in pursuit of a lion to the left, with a dog running alongside the horses as at Enkomi, the harness of the horses being also similar.” The style of the sculpture (of Nimroud) “is more archaic than on the Enkomi casket.” But how could this be if the objects found in Enkomi date no later than the 12th Century? Comparing the two objects, I. J. Winter wrote:

A hunting scene depicted on a rectangular panel from an ivory gaming board of ‘Cypro-Mycenaean’ style found at Enkomi, with its blanketed horses and chariot with six-spoked wheel, so closely resembles a similar hunting scene on one of the pyxides from Nimroud that only details such as the hairdo of one of the chariot followers or the flying gallop of the animals mark the Enkomi piece as a work of the second millennium B.C., separated by some four centuries from the Nimroud pyxis.2

A bronze of Enkomi repeats a theme of the Nimroud ivories, representing a woman at a window. “The conception is so singular, and the similarity of our bronze to the ivory so striking, that there can hardly be much difference of date between the two—somewhere about 850-700 B.C.”

“Another surprise among our bronzes is a pair of greaves. . . It is contended by Reichel3 that metal greaves are unknown in Homer. He is satisfied that they were the invention of a later age (about 700 B.C.).”

Bronze fibulae, too, were found in the Enkomi tombs, as well as a large tripod “with spiral patterns resembling one in Athens, which is assigned to the Dipylon period,” and a pair of scales of a balance like the one figured on the Arkesilaos vase. But such finds are separated by a wide span of time from the twelfth century.

The silver vases of the Enkomi tombs “are obviously Mycenaean in shape.” “On the other hand,” there were found two similar silver rings, one with hieroglyphics and the other engraved on the bezel “with a design of a distinctly Assyrian character—a man dressed in a lion’s skin standing before a seated king, to whom he offers an oblation. Two figures in this costume may be seen on an Assyrian sculpture from Nimroud of the time of Assurnazirpal (884-860), and there is no doubt that this fantastic idea spread rapidly westward.”

Next are the objects of gold. Gold pins were found in a tomb of Enkomi. “One of them, ornamented with six discs, is identical in shape with the pin which fastens the chiton [tunic] on the shoulders of the Fates on the Francois vase in Florence (sixth century B.C.).” A pendant “covered with diagonal patterns consisting of minute globules of gold soldered down on the surface of the pendant” was made by “precisely the same process of soldering down minute globules of gold and arranging them in the same patterns” that “abounds in a series of gold ornaments in the British Museum which were found at Cameiros in Rhodes” and which were dated to the seventh or eighth century.

Among the pottery of “the ordinary Mycenaean and pre-Mycenaean type” gems were found. A scarab “bears the cartouche of Thi [Tiy], the queen of Amenophis [Amenhotep] III, and must therefore be placed in the same rank as those other cartouches of her husband, found at Ialysos [on Rhodes] and Mycenae, which hitherto have played so conspicuous a part in determining the Mycenaean antiquities as being in some instances of that date (fifteenth century).”4

As for the porcelain, it “may fairly be ranked” with the series of Phoenician silver and bronze bowls from Nimroud of about the eighth century. A porcelain head of a woman from Enkomi “seems to be Greek, not only in her features, but also in the way in which her hair is gathered up at the back in a net, just as on the sixth century vases of this shape.” Greek vases of this shape “differ, of course, in being of a more advanced artistic style, and in having a handle. But it may fairly be questioned whether these differences can represent any very long period of time.”

Murray surveyed the glass:

In several tombs, but particularly in one, we found vases of variegated glass, differing but slightly in shape and fabric from the fine series of glass vases obtained from the tombs of Cameiros, and dating from the seventh and sixth centuries, or even later in some cases. It happens, however, that these slight differences of shape and fabric bring our Enkomi glass vases into direct comparison with certain specimens found by Professor Flinders Petrie at Gurob in Egypt, and now in the British Museum. If Professor Petrie is right in assigning his vases to about 1400 B.C.,5 our Enkomi specimens must follow suit. It appears that he had found certain fragmentary specimens of this particular glass ware beside a porcelain necklace, to which belonged an amulet stamped with the name of Tutankhamen, that is to say, about 1400 B.C.
Murray comes to the conclusion that “Phoenicians manufactured the glass ware of Gurob and Enkomi at one and the same time.” Consequently
the question is, what was that time? For the present we must either accept Professor Petrie’s date (about 1400 B.C.) based on scanty observations collected from the poor remains of a foreign settlement in Egypt, or fall back on the ordinary method of comparing the glass vessels of Gurob with those from Greek tombs of the seventh century B.C. or later, and then allowing a reasonable interval of time for the slight changes of shape or fabric which may have intervened. In matters of chronology it is no new thing for the Egyptians to instruct the Greeks, as we know from the pages of Herodotus.
With this last remark the excavator at Enkomi came close to the real problem, but he shrank from it. He did not dare to revise Egyptian chronology; all he asked was that the age of the Mycenaean period be reduced. How to do this he did not know. He quoted an author (Helbig) who thought that all Mycenaean culture was really Phoenician culture, the development of which remained at a standstill for seven centuries.
In 1896 there was found in a tomb at Thebes in Egypt a bronze patera [a shallow vessel] which in shape and decoration has so much in common with the bronze Phoenician bowls from Nimroud that we feel some surprise on being told that the coffins with which it was found belong unmistakably to the time of Amenophis [Amenhotep] III or the first years of Amenophis IV [Akhnaton]. It is admitted that this new patera had been a foreign import into Egypt. Equally the relationship between it and the bronze Phoenician bowls is undeniable, so that again we are confronted with Helbig’s theory of a lapse of seven centuries during which little artistic progress or decline had been effected.6

It was necessary to assume a state of hibernation of almost seven hundred years.

The endeavor of the excavator of Enkomi was directed toward bringing the Mycenaean Age closer in time by five or six hundred years, so that there would be no chasm between the Mycenaean Age and the Greek Age. As curator of Greek and Roman antiquities of the British Museum, he constantly had before him the numerous connections and relations between Mycenaean and Greek art, which could not be explained if an interval of many centuries lay between them. He tried to disconnect the link between Mycenaean and Egyptian archaeologies and chronologies, but he felt that this was an unsolvable problem.

The proposal to reduce the time of the Mycenaean Age was rejected by the scholarly world.

Arthur J. Evans, at the time having just embarked on a long series of excavations at Knossos on Crete, came out against Murray’s work, “so full of suggested chronological deductions and—if its authors [i.e., A. S. Murray and his collaborators] will pardon the expression—archaeological insinuations, all pointing in the same direction,” namely, “a chronology which brings the pure Mycenaean style down to the Age of the Tyrants” of the eighth century, and makes it “the immediate predecessor of the Ionian Greek art of the seventh century B.C.”7

Evans had to admit that “nothing is clearer than that Ionian art in many respects represents the continuity of Mycenaean tradition,” but he built his argument on the manifold connections of Mycenaean art with Egypt of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Are not the flasks of the Enkomi tomb almost as numerous in Egyptian tombs of the Eighteenth Dynasty? A fine gold collar or pectoral inlaid with glass paste, found in enkomi, has gold pendants in nine different patters, eight of which are well known designs of the time of Akhnaton (Amenhotep IV), “but are not found a century later.” The metal ring of Enkomi, with cartouches of the heretic Akhnaton, is especially important because “he was not a pharaoh whose cartouches were imitated at later periods,” and so on.

One of the silver vases of Enkomi, Evans wrote, “is of great interest as representing the type of the famous gold cup of the Vapheio tomb.8 These cups, as their marvellous repousse designs sufficiently declare, belong to the most perfect period of Mycenaean art.” This should establish that the theory of the latency of Mycenaean art for six or seven centuries after its flowering in the second millennium cannot help to solve the problem of Enkomi; the Enkomi finds date from the apogee of the Mycenaean Age.

Evans insisted that the material supplied by the Cypriote graves “takes us back at every point to a period contemporary with that of the mature art of the class as seen in the Aegean area,” and this despite his own admission that a number of objects from Enkomi point to a later age, like the porcelain figures “which present the most remarkable resemblance, as Dr. Murray justly pointed out, to some Greek painted vases of the sixth century B.C.” Nevertheless, he concluded with regret that “views so subversive” should come from so high an authority in classical studies.

Two scholars clashed because one of them saw the close connection between Mycenaean art and the Greek art of the seventh century, and the other saw the very same Mycenaean objects disinterred in the Egypt of Akhnaton, dated to the fourteenth century.

The Mycenaean Age has no timetable of its own independent of that of Egypt. I have referred to this question in the chapter dealing with Ras Shamra in Ages in Chaos.

If Evans had had some evidence, independent of Egypt, on which to calculate the ages of the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures, we would have needed to take into account all Minoan and Mycenaean chronological material, as we did with the Egyptian. But there is none.9

“The chronological scheme depends ultimately upon Egyptian datings of Aegean pottery,” wrote H. R. Hall,10 who served as curator of Egyptian and Assyrian antiquities at the British Museum.

“Using this Egyptian evidence as his guide, and checking the results of excavation with its aid, Sir Arthur Evans finds that the Bronze Age pottery and with it the general culture of Crete divides itself into three main chronological periods: Early, Middle, and Late, each of which again is divided into three sub-periods.”11

The Mycenaean Age started at the same time as the Late Minoan Age.

Dr. Murray’s case was lost. He had built its defense on two points, one strong, the other weak. His strong point was this: he analyzed and made clear the close interrelation between Mycenaean culture and the early Greek culture of the seventh century. His weak point was his anxiety to disregard the connection between Mycenaean culture and the Egyptian world of the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty. But in el-Amarna of Akhnaton scattered heaps of Mycenaean ware were found.

It was asked, Which fact should be given greater weight by an unbiased judge: the close relation between Mycenaean and Greek cultures or the fact that Mycenaean ware was found in the city of el-Amarna (Akhet-Aton), which was built and destroyed in the fourteenth century?

The verdict in the matter of the age of Mycenae was unanimous: its period of greatest influence is dated between the fifteenth and the twelfth centuries.

This [Mycenaean] ware did not appear in large quantities in Egypt until about 1375 B.C., and little of it was received in the coastal countries after the middle of the thirteenth century. Therefore, whenever a piece of it is found in place in an ancient city, it dates the context between about 1375 [the first year of Akhnaton according to the presently accepted chronology12 and 1225 B.C.13

The verdict with regard to Enkomi was, in the words of Hall, as follows:

Excavations of the British Museum at Enkomi and Hala Sultan Tekke (near Larnaka on Cyprus) have brought to light tombs filled with objects of Minoan or Mycenean art, now mostly in the British Museum, most of which cannot be later in date than the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C. The Egyptian objects found in them are demonstrably of this date, and not later, being all of the late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties. Rings of Akhenaten [Akhnaton] and a scarab of Teie [Tiy, mother of Akhnaton] have been found here as at Mycenae, and fine Egyptian necklaces of gold also, which, from their style, one would adjudge to the Eighteenth or Nineteenth Dynasty. Probably, too, the greater part of the treasure of gold-work found in the tombs and now in the British Museum is of this early date. The golden tiaras and bands certainly seem to connect with those of the Myceanean shaft-graves. But at the same time there are many objects of later date, such as a bronze tripod . . . which are demonstrably of the Dipylon period, and cannot be earlier than the tenth or ninth century.14
Thus, in effect the excavator of Enkomi is accused of having been unable to distinguish burials of different ages in a grave.15

He denied that the graves of Enkomi had been re-used.

Somewhere I came upon the expression, “the scandal of Enkomi.” I ask: Was the excavator to be blamed for something that was not his fault? The allegation that possibly objects dating from two different epochs were mixed up in Murray’s archaeological heaps does not meet his main arguments. His elaborated statements dealt with simultaneous relationships of single objects with Egypt of the fourteenth century and Assyria and Greece of the ninth and eighth centuries.

We learn from this case the fact which both sides admitted: the Greek culture of the seventh century has many interrelations with Mycenaean culture. The resulting chronological gap, as we have seen in Chapter I, had to be taken as a Dark Age.

“Cyprus no less than Greece itself passed through a long and tedious Dark Age.” “Cyprus withdrew into herself, and life during this transitional age was dull and poverty-stricken, unenterprising and dim,”and after the Mycenaean Age came to its close elsewhere, “in Cyprus it was perpetuated.”16

A generation after the excavations at Enkomi. in 1896, other excavators opened more graves there and passed the following judgment:

The burials in the graves belong to the second or Bronze Age, its Late or third period, the second part (out of three) of this third period, more precisely to the subdivisions A (9 graves), B (10 graves) and C (8 graves) also a few belong to Late Bronze IA and IB. Thus the graves on the acropolis are “all intermingled with each other in a seemingly arbitrary way.”17

What does this mean? It means that simple and great questions are eclipsed by nomenclatures.

In recent years French and French-British campaigns at Enkomi18 have failed to solve the problems left by the British Museum excavations of 1896. The finds are still evaluated by Egyptian chronology.


  1. Murray, “Excavations at Enkomi,” in A. S. Murray, A. H. Smith, H. B. Walters, Excavations in Cyprus (London: British Museum, 1900).

  2. (Iraq 38 [19 ] pp. 9-10)

  3. W. Reichel, Homerische Waffen 2nd ed. (Vienna, 1901), p. 59.

  4. Since the beginning of the present century, the conventional date of the reign of Amenhotep III has been reduced to the end of the fifteenth and the first quarter of the fourteenth century.

  5. Sir W. M. Flinders Petrie, Illahun, Kahun and Gurob (London, 1891) Plate 17. Compare also Plate 18 with two identical glass vases which are assigned to Rameses II. Murray, “Excavations at Enkomi,” in Murray, Smith and Walters, Excavations in Cyprus, p. 23, note. Since the above evaluation of the time of Tutankhamen by Petrie, the conventional date of this king, son-in-law of Akhnaton, has been reduced to ca. -1350.

  6. Murray, “Excavations at Enkomi,” loc. cit.

  7. Evans, “Mycenaean Cyprus as Illustrated in the British Museum Excavations,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute XXX (1900) pp. 199ff.

  8. Two gold cups with designs representing men hunting bulls were found in a beehive tomb at Vapheio in the neighborhood of Sparta.

  9. The ancient Greek calculations of such past events as the time of Minos, of Heracles, of the Return of the Heracleidae, of the date of the Trojan War and other past events also depend on Egypt.

  10. H. R. Hall, Aegean Archaeology (London, 1915), p. 2.

  11. Ibid., p. 3.

  12. As was noted above, since the time of the Murray-Evans controversy the age of Akhnaton and of Tutankhamen has been reduced by a few decades. This point needs to be kept constantly in mind when one is examining the older scholarly literature on these subjects.

  13. G. E. Wright, “Epic of Conquest,” Biblical Archaeologist III No. 3 (1940).

  14. Hall, Aegean Archaeology, pp. 23-24. [The tripod mentioned by Hall is dated to the twelfth century by H. W. Catling Cypriote Bronzework in the Mycenaean World [Oxford, 1964] pp. 154-55). It was compared to a tripod found in a grave on the Pnyx in Athens, variously dated, but now assigned by the associated pottery to the eighth century B.C. By analogy to the Enkomi stand and other contemporary examples, Catling judged the Pnyx tripod to be a twelfth-century heirloom. Adding to the controversy, C. Rolley Les trepieds a cuve cluee [Fouilles des Delphes 5.3, Paris, 1977] pp. 126-29), who accepts the Egyptian-based date, now challenges Catling’s assessment of the Pnyx tripod, assigning both it and a very similar example recently discovered in a contemporary grave on the island of Thera to the eighth century.—E. M. S. ].

  15. See also H. R. Hall, the Oldest Civilization in Greece (London, 1901), p. 16, and Evans in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XXX (1900), p. 201, note 2.

  16. S. Casson, Ancient Cyprus (London, 1937), pp. 64, 70.

  17. E. Gjerstad and others, The Swedish Cyprus Expedition, 1927-1931 (Stockholm, 1934), I. 575.

  18. Claude F. A. Schaeffer, “Nouvelles découvertes à Enkomi (Chypre),” in Comptes rendus, Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, Paris, 1949; Revue archéologique, XXVII (1947), 129ff; American Journal of Archaeology, LII (1948), 165ff.