Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Family names and Cypriot history: reflections of an insomniac

Salamis, Cyprus
I was having trouble sleeping last night, but rather than count sheep, I started recalling names in my family that had classical connotations. Now, I come from a large extended family on both my father’s and mother’s side (my mother told me something funny the other day, which was that her extended family was regarded as so close in her village that they were known as ‘οι Εβραίοι’), and the names that predominate are the usual – Giorgos, Yiannis, Andreas, Maria and so on. However, I was surprised at the number of classical names in my family I was able to evoke – Omiros, Alexandros, Aristos (x2), Miltiades, Alkiviades, Leonidas (x2), Lysandros, Lysandra, Herodotus, Helen (x4), Athena, Cleanthou, Evagoras (x2) and Evelthon (x2).

The last two names, Evagoras and Evelthon, appear to me to be exclusive to Cyprus – I’ve not come across anyone holding them from elsewhere in Greece – and they both refer to kings of Salamis, the predominant ancient city-state on the island, said to have been founded by Teucer, Ajax’s brother, which went through many transformations and upheavals before being abandoned in the 7th century AD in the wake of Arab invasions, forcing residents to evacuate to Arsinoe, later renamed Ammochostos (or Famagusta, to the Latins). Both Ammochostos and the ruins of Salamis – the symbol of Hellenism in Cyprus – are now under Turkish occupation.

Now, we know a fair amount about the reign of Evagoras I (410-374 BC), his efforts to subdue the Phoenician element on Cyprus; his wars to unite the island’s kingdoms and liberate Cyprus from Persian control; his support for Athens in the latter stages of the Peloponnesian war; Athens’ abandonment of Evagoras and Cyprus to the Persians, following the Peace of Antalcidas (387 BC); and Evagoras’ programme of Greek cultural regeneration, including replacing the Cypriot syllabary with the Greek alphabet. All of which earned him a notable panegyric from Isocrates, who cast him as an ideal Greek ruler, and a reputation as Cyprus’ greatest ever statesman.

But we know less about the kingship of Evelthon (560-525 BC). What we do know is that he ruled in Salamis, under Persian suzerainty, but with a great deal of autonomy – to the extent that he was able to mint his own coinage – and that Salamis was sufficiently prestigious and powerful at the time to play an active role in Mediterranean politics.

Thus, Evelthon crops up in Herodotus, at the point where the historian is describing the civic turmoil engulfing the Greek colony of Cyrene in Libya.

According to Herodotus, following reforms to the Cyrenian constitution instigated by Demonax the Mantinean, the monarchy, while being preserved, was stripped of its absolute powers in favour of a Senate and its land distributed to the increasing number of Greeks settling in the colony. This arrangement lasted under Battus III, but when his son Arcesilaus III ascended the throne (530 BC), he began a campaign to regain the monarch’s traditional rights. This caused him to be exiled to Samos, while his mother, Pheretime, took refuge at Evelthon’s court in Salamis, where she relentlessly implored the king to send a Cypriot army to help restore her son’s fortunes in Cyrene. Here’s how Herodotus describes the political background and Evelthon’s reaction to Pheretime’s entreaties:

‘Thus matters rested during the lifetime of this Battus, but when his son Arcesilaus came to the throne, great disturbance arose about the privileges. For Arcesilaus, son of Battus the lame and Pheretime, refused to submit to the arrangements of Demonax the Mantinean, and claimed all the powers of his forefathers.

‘In the contention which followed Arcesilaus was worsted, whereupon he fled to Samos, while his mother took refuge at Salamis in the island of Cyprus. Salamis was at that time ruled by Evelthon, the same who offered at Delphi the censer which is in the treasury of the Corinthians, a work deserving of admiration.

‘Of him Pheretime made request that he would give her an army whereby she and her son might regain Cyrene. But Evelthon, preferring to give her anything rather than an army, made her various presents. Pheretime accepted them all, saying, as she took them: “Good is this too, O king! but better were it to give me the army which I crave at thy hands.”

‘Finding that she repeated these words each time that he presented her with a gift, Evelthon at last sent her a golden spindle and distaff, with the wool ready for spinning. Again she uttered the same speech as before, whereupon Evelthon rejoined: “These are the gifts I present to women, not armies”.’

No comments: