The Egyptian name for Cyprus during the New Kingdom is still debated, but it was most likely ʿirʒs, probably to be equated with the name Alashiya in Akkadian, the lingua franca of the Bronze Age. A second term, ʿsy, favored by some scholars as Cyprus, may well have been a reference to Aššuwa, located in northwestern Anatolia. Correspondence from the king of Alashiya written in Akkadian on clay tablets were found among the Amarna Letters of Amenhotpe III and Akhenaten (e.g., EA 33–35, 37–39); analysis of the clay from those tablets indicates that they probably originated in Cyprus.
In one of the Amarna Letters (EA 35), the king of Alashiya apologized to the pharaoh for the small amount of copper he had sent—only 500 talents (alt.: shekels)—and blamed the low output on an incidence of plague (“the hand of Nergal”) in his land. Cyprus seems to have been an especially valuable source of copper during the Bronze Age, and it served as an international clearinghouse for goods from Syria-Palestine, Anatolia, and the Aegean. Commercial exchanges between Egypt and Cyprus seem to have been common throughout at least the latter half of the second millennium BCE, if not earlier as well.
Cypriot pottery, ranging from White Slip milkbowls to Base Ring jugs and juglets, has been found in New Kingdom contexts in Egypt. In turn, Egyptian imports, ranging from pottery and stone objects to silver rings and scarabs, are known from Cypriot trading ports, such as Hala Sultan Tekke and Enkomi. Many of the commercial exchanges between Egypt and Cyprus were no doubt conducted by merchants, but it is not always clear whether such merchants were acting on their own or on behalf of the crown. The Amarna Letters indicate that a fair amount of “gift giving”—the exchange of goods on an elite or royal level—took place during the eighteenth dynasty, and finds on Cyprus of objects with the cartouches of Amenhotpe III, Queen Tiye, Akhenaten, and Horemheb may confirm the existence of trade and contact at the highest levels of society.
The importation of Cypriot pottery came to a sudden halt in Egypt some time before the end of the New Kingdom, at approximately the same time as the cessation of Mycenaean pottery into Egypt. Such a drastic interruption of international trade might be connected to the appearance of the Sea Peoples (c.1200 BCE); however, the Hittites were known to have fought several naval battles with Alashiya at the end of the thirteenth century BCE, and perhaps those military actions were enough to disrupt the economy of Cyprus and its international trade links. Although contacts between Egypt and Cyprus did resume during the first millennium BCE, the days of high commerce and international royal transactions had essentially come to an end with the fall of the New Kingdom in Egypt and the end of the Late Bronze Age across the Mediterranean.
See also MEDITERRANEAN AREA.
- Cline, Eric H. Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: International Trade and the Late Bronze Age Aegean. Oxford, 1994. An overview of the international trade in the Mediterranean during the second millennium BCE; chapters on Egypt, Cyprus, and trade goods are particularly relevant.
- Jacobsson, Inga. Aegyptiaca from Late Bronze Age Cyprus. Jonsered, 1994. A catalog and discussion of all Egyptian objects found on Cyprus from second millennium BCE contexts.
- Knapp, A. Bernard. Near Eastern and Aegean Texts from the Third to the First Millennia BC: Sources for the History of Cyprus, vol. 2. Altamont, N. Y., 1996. Compilation, with translations, of all mentions Cyprus in texts dating from the Bronze Age; particularly relevant is the section on Egyptian mentions of Cyprus.
- Moran, William L. The Amarna Letters. Baltimore, 1992. Recent translation into English of the Amarna Letters of Amenhotpe III and Akhenaten, including letters to and from Alashiya (Cyprus).
Eric H. Cline