Archaeologists studying Late Bronze and Iron Age Cyprus have produced diverse theories regarding the origins of the Cypriot Iron Age city kingdoms, but it has proved difficult to integrate Cyprus within larger models designed to evaluate relationships between communities of the East Mediterranean. In this article I use cultural hybridization theory to investigate material from Iron Age Cyprus and uncover underlying cultural meanings. Based on this new understanding I argue that Cyprus does not sit easily within broader historical trajectories because it embraced its own insularity and employed ambiguity as cultural strategy. Case studies are presented which show that Cyprus was adept at hybridizing external influences within its own cultural systems. Its city kingdoms developed their own cultic topographies focused on acropolises and sanctuaries. During the Iron Age the island experienced fluctuating entanglements and disentanglements on the peripheries of several different and powerful imperial cores, but the evidence suggests that the settlements maintained their independence, always negotiated their relationships and selectively adopted imported material culture and symbols. Despite limited populations, the Iron Age city kingdoms managed to assert their own identities and eventually created a distinctive Archaic culture which blossomed during a two century long belle époque. World systems theory can be utilized to some extents to describe the island’s society, but Iron Age Cyprus can only be fully understood through a more nuanced theoretical approach that invokes hybridity as a concept and contextualizes the material within its cultural systems and landscapes.
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