The geomorphology of Cyprus favoured the cultivation of the three most significant Mediterranean products: grain, olives and vines. The cultivation of the vine led to winemaking, one of the most important discoveries of man kind, influencing culture, economy and society ever since antiquity.

The successful production of wine prompted winemakers to export it along with other goods. Thus the potters created the commercial amphora, a specific type of ceramic container for the temporary storage and transport of liquid and solid goods during maritime commerce.

The study of commercial amphorae provides important information about the commercial exchange networks of each period and geographical area. It is worth noting that the ancient Greek word amphora (ἀμφί και φέρω) is found in the Homeric Epics, as well as in Linear B engraved clay tablets of the Mycenaean period.

Current information about the contents of commercial amphorae comes either from written data on the amphorae themselves, or from chromatography, the contemporary method of analysing amphorae residue.

The most valid source of information about their content is the Titulus Pictus, a commercial inscription engraved either on the outer walls of an amphora, its neck or shoulders. This tactic is a feature of the Roman period pottery. The researchers identified that the engravings on the amphora corresponded to information about its origin and destination, as well as its contents. Specifically, the letter [a] corresponded to the weight of the amphora without its contents, [b] to the name of the shipowner, [c] to the weight of the amphora with the content and [d] to the seal of Rome.

The second source of information is written sources, which stressed the main exporting goods of a specific region and described the quality of its products. According to the ancient texts, Athens is considered to be one of the main export centres of oil. In Homer’s Odyssey, oil is identified as an expensive exported product, contrary to Hesiod’s – a posterior poet – texts, which degraded its production and excluded it from agricultural activities. Plutarch’s text Solon, states that Solonas, a great legislator of Athens, only allowed the export of oil from Athens to other regions.

A third source of information regarding the content of the amphorae are iconographic representations on murals, vessels and coins that connected a city with the products it exported the most and the type of amphora it produced. The findings in the Athenian Agora suggest that Attica was one of the main production centres of ceramic vessels. Legend has it that goddess Athena, the protector of the city, granted Athenians with her sacred tree, the olive tree. The olive tree was also illustrated on the city’s coins. This special connection of the city with the olive tree established the view that the Athenian ‘SOS’ type amphorae, exported in large quantities between the 8thand 6thcentury BC, was only used to carry olive oil. Both the example of written sources and the iconographic representations lead to the conclusion that the Athenians were exclusively engaged with the production and exportation of oil.

The first indications of organised small-scale trade during the Early Bronze Age, 3300 to 2000 BC, are coming from Egypt and the Syrian-Palestinian Coast. The ‘Canaanite’ amphora is the earliest type of commercial vessel in the Mediterranean. This type was also the model for the creation of other commercial ceramic vessels of antiquity, due to its practical shape and form. From the 17th century BC onwards, the Canaanite amphorae were also found in large quantities in Cyprus due to wine importation from the East.

It has inaccurately prevailed that amphorae mainly contained wine and olive oil. However, the study of the Egyptian papyri of the Ptolemaic dynasty, and later archaeological discoveries and research brought to light the trade of cheese, raisins, fruit, meat, honey, milk fat, mastic, salted fish and garum(a spice made from fish).

The potters created different types of commercial amphorae. The differentiation of the shape of the vessel was directly related to its content. Therefore, there are different types of rims, bodies and bases. Specifically, it is noted that the amphorae with a shorter neck and oval or spherical body were intended for the transport of oil, while amphorae with wide bases and mouths and simple rims for the transport of honey. An amphora specially designed for transporting fish products was manufactured without a neck, or had a narrow cylindrical mouth to prevent germs or other impurities from entering the amphora.

Wine-production in Cyprus

Wine production in Cyprus is attested from prehistoric ages. The consumption of wine was part of people’s daily lives. Besides the relaxing properties of ethyl alcohol, wine was also used as an analgesic and antiseptic medicine.

In the Neolithic settlements of Ayios Epiktitos, Apostolos Andreas Kastros and Dali-Agridi in Cyprus, the first seeds of a domesticated vineyard were found, while the earliest winemaking technologies were represented in pottery vessels of the Early and Middle Bronze Age. Alassa is the only urban settlement of the Late Bronze Age where archaeologists discovered rooms that were related to the production and storage of wine. Specifically, two winepresses, one pythos and oenochoes were excavated. All these findings indicate viticulture and wine production.

Wine production in Cyprus is also traced in later eras as well. Since the 4thcentury AD, Ayios Tychonas seems to have been the saint-protector of vine growers, as he was thought to protect the vineyards from harmful insects. The wine of Cyprus is increasingly famous during the 5thcentury AD, while during the Middle Ages the production of Commandaria begins. Commandaria is a type of wine originating from the Vin De Commanderie and produced for the first time in Cyprus by the Knights Templar. Wine production was banned during the Turkish occupation of the island and began being produced again during the British occupation.

The biconical amphora with a pointed base and raised handles of the 7thcentury BC, located in the trade of the eastern Mediterranean, is considered to be a Cypriot type of amphora. The vessel seems to have been used to accommodate the trade of both oil and wine.

Wine production in Cyprus has been and remains to this day a challenging, yet beautiful and rewarding process. Omodos, one of the most beautiful wine villages of Cyprus, combines the traditional with the modern ways of winemaking and contributes to the continuation of the long tradition of Cyprus as one of the main centres of wine production and trade in the Eastern Mediterranean.

When you visit the village’s winepress, you will have the opportunity to witness a representation of the traditional way to produce wine; when you visit our winery, ‘OenouYi –Ktima Vassiliades’, you will witness the evolution of this process in our contemporary, fully equipped spaces. Always with respect to our tradition, culture and history!