ancient city-kingdom on Cyprus, located at the modern village of Dhali, twelve miles south of Nicosia, (35°7′ N, 33°25′ E). In 1850 the French antiquarian Honoré d'Albert, the Duc de Luynes, purchased a bronze tablet found on the western acropolis of Idalion, and inscribed in Phoenician and Cypro-syllabic scripts. From 1867 through 1875 Luigi Palma di Cesnola dug at the site, claiming to empty fifteen thousand tombs. He uncovered the remains of an edifice on the summit of the east acropolis, the hill known as “Mouti tou Arvili,” said to be a temple to the mother goddess, which had already been cleared by previous treasure hunters. The British banker and consul to the Ottoman Empire in Cyprus, R. Hamilton Lang, in 1868 excavated a “temple” to a god (Apollo Amyklos in Greek; Resheph Mikal in Phoenician). In 1883 and 1885 German newspaper correspondent turned antiquarian Max Ohne-falsch-Richter became superintendent of works for replating under the British Mandate. As such, he excavated there and investigated antiquities in Dhali for several years thereafter.
From 1927 to 1931 the Swedish Cyprus Expedition established the modern chronology for the site. On the western acropolis of Idalion, the hill known as “Ambelliri,” Einar Gjerstad and his team excavated all of the structures visible on the highest peak. They dated the fortified “settlement and cult place” they believed they found there to the Late Cypriot III period (1200–1050 BCE). The Swedish publication of the supposed Bronze Age levels shows photographs of whole vessels on “floors” (SCE, vol. 2, p. 593, figs. 240–241). Because the area is dotted with tombs, the floor from which the bull rhyton and other Bronze Age artifacts were recovered was perhaps a tomb underlying the Iron Age occupation strata. They believed there was pottery, but no architecture, from the subsequent Cypro-Geometric I–II periods (1050–850), but the area was refortified, they felt, in Cypro-Geometric III (850–700). At that time, they reported construction of a new temenos and altar, court, and sanctuary dedicated to the Phoenician goddess Anat (Greek Athena), the complex continuing to around 475 (SCE, vol. 2, pp. 516–532). Gjerstad's team also uncovered tombs of the Late Iron Age and Hellenistic period outside the ramparts of the Lower City.
From 1971 to 1980 the Joint American Expedition to Idalion (Lawrence E. Stager and Anita M. Walker, directors) dug and conducted site-catchment analysis, examining the surrounding agricultural, mining, and settlement areas by surface survey and periodic sounding. They found Hellenistic structures on the east acropolis dating from the fourth through the third centuries BCE. In the lower-city domestic precinct below the west acropolis, they found a street with houses dating to the Cypro-Classical period (sixth-fourth century) overlying Archaic pits (c. 700–475). On the west acropolis they found monumental structures including a fortification wall 11 m (36 ft.) thick founded around 500 BCE. Structures in this area, including metalworking, continued into the Hellenistic period. A small Roman bath installation was found at the foot of the east acropolis, and a Neolithic refuse deposit was dug on the banks of the Yialias River to the north.
In the 1990s the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus (Maria Hadjicosti, director) continued excavation of the monumental buildings on the west acropolis. It has demonstrated that the fortified area was destroyed twice, around 450 and abandoned about 300. In the Hellenistic period the only elite structures are on the east acropolis. During their 1995 excavating season the Department of Antiquities located apparent workshop installations dating to the eleventh–eighth centuries BCE in a field below the west acropolis.
American excavations (Pamela Gaber, director) continue in the lower-city domestic areas, extending their dates down through the Hellenistic and early Roman periods. Lang's “temple” was rediscovered on the east acropolis in 1992 (the latest strata are Hellenistic and Roman). It appears to have been an outdoor temenos approximately six acres in extent with structures of various sizes and functions. The city per se had ceased to exist by the time Pliny wrote his Historia Naturalis in the first century CE. He lists Idalium among the “former cities” (5.129–139). There is evidence of medieval domestic occupation to the north of the Roman houses in the lower city.
The cult of the Magna Mater (Aphrodite to the Greeks; Venus to the Romans) was the basis of the city's fame. Poets, from Theocritos (Idylls 15.100–103) through Vergil (Aeneid 1.681, 694; 5.760; 10.48–53) to Catullus (36.11–17; 61.16–19; 64.94–96) and others extol the beauties of Idalium, site of the worship of the goddess. The Venus and Adonis myth is sited at Idalion (e.g., Propertius, Elegies 2.13.51). (For a full list of ancient citations see Oberhummer, 1914.)
[See also the biographies of di Cesnola, Gjerstad, and Ohne-falsch-Richter.]
- Di Cesnola, Luigi P. Cyprus: Its Ancient Cities, Tombs, and Temples. London, 1877.
- Gaber, Pamela, and M. Morden. “University of Arizona Expedition to Idalion, Cyprus, 1992.” Cahiers du Centre d'Études Chypriotes 18.2 (1992): 20–26.
- Gjerstad, Einar, et al. The Swedish Cyprus Expedition (SCE). Vols. 2 and 4.2. Stockholm, 1935–1948.
- Hill, George F. A History of Cyprus, vol. 1, To the Conquest by Richard Lion Heart. London, 1940.
- Lang, R. H. “Narrative of Excavations in a Temple at Dali (Idalium) in Cyprus.” Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature 11 (1878): 30–71.
- Oberhummer. “Idalion.” In Paulys Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, vol. 11, cols. 867–872. Stuttgart, 1914. .
- Ohnefalsch-Richter, Max. Kypros, the Bible, and Homer. London, 1893. See pages 5–18.
- Pritchard, James B., ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts. Princeton, 1950. See page 291 .
- Stager, Lawrence E., et al. American Expedition to Idalion, Cyprus: First Preliminary Report, Seasons of 1971 and 1972. , Supplement no. 18. Cambridge, Mass., 1974.
- Stager, Lawrence E., and Anita M. Walker, eds. American Expedition to Idalion, Cyprus, 1973–1980. Chicago, 1989.