Roman Paphos: Bread, Circuses, Magic and More

Римский Пафос: хлеб, зрелища, магия и многое другое
15 September 2021 George Vidiakin

Today Paphos is a favorite place for British pensioners, Polish tourists and Russians fleeing big northern cities.

Looking at its modern appearance, it is difficult to imagine that many years ago, under the Romans, it was the bustling capital of Cyprus, a multicultural and multi-religious center where Greek, Egyptian and Eastern civilizations, Christianity and paganism were mixed.

Paphos today

Let's move to Paphos during the Roman Empire, study how the center of this city was arranged, what buildings have survived, what they served for, and also learn about the mysterious discovery made several years ago on the territory of the Paphos forum.

Apple of discord

Our journey in time begins on June 10, 323, the day when dies Alexander the Great, not only a great commander, but also a culturetrager, unique for his time (though he hardly knew about it), as he carried Greek culture to far lands such as Afghanistan or India.

Monument to Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki

His death marked the beginning of the disintegration of the empire he created into parts, each of which was reigned by one of the Alexander military leaders, and the dawn of a new era in the history of Europe and the Middle East - the era of Hellenism.

Alexander's empire divided among his successors (source)

Cyprus first entered that part of the former empire of Alexander, which covered Asia Minor and where the Macedonian general Antigonus ruled.

For several years, the island was a bone of contention between him and the ruler of Egypt, Ptolemy. At that time, Cyprus was not a single state, it consisted of several independent city-kingdoms. Most of them took the side of Ptolemy, while three (Kition, Marion and Kyrenia) entered into an alliance with Antigonus (for which they later paid a big price). In 294 BC, the island finally ceded to Egypt, under whose rule it remained until 58 BC, when it was conquered by the Roman commander Cato.

Once under the rule of Ptolemy, the island underwent important political changes: its independent kingdoms were abolished, and each city received democratic institutions - a state council (bule) and a popular assembly, consisting of free citizens who had the right to participate in political affairs (demos). These institutions survived during the Roman rule.

National Assembly in Greece

Such significant changes in management inevitably affected the outlook of the islanders.

They gradually began to perceive themselves not as citizens of a separate independent city (Paphos, Amathus, Salamis, etc.), but as residents of an island united under the rule of the Egyptian king. The united Cyprus was ruled by a strategist who was appointed from Alexandria. Paphos was chosen as the place of residence of the strategist, which thus became the capital of the entire island. The choice fell on Paphos not by chance, at that time it was the most developed city of the island, a place of the cult of Aphrodite and sea trade, which provided it with a large number of visitors every year.

Ruins of the temple of Aphrodite in Palaepaphos

The Paphos forest provided Cyprus and Egypt with timber for ships. The period of peaceful life on the island, which followed the final accession of the Ptolemies, became a good basis for the start of economic growth.

In 58 BC, Cyprus was conquered by the Roman general Cato. Shortly thereafter, the island again fell under Egyptian rule, as Mark Antony decided to present it to Cleopatra, the last queen of the Ptolemaic dynasty. But after the defeat of the combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra from the troops of Octavian Augustus, the island finally became Roman. In Paphos, instead of the Strategos from Alexandria, a Roman proconsul was appointed. Roman citizens with their families began to move to the island, as evidenced by the Roman names in the inscriptions of that time. As a result, the Romans in Cyprus formed a kind of community. In Palaepaphos, where the most important temple in honor of Aphrodite was located, a dedication was found: "To Aphrodite of Paphos from the Romans of Paphos."

Rome and Paphos

In 15 BC. Paphos was hit by a massive earthquake.

The Roman historian Dio Cassius writes that Emperor Octavian Augustus "gave money to the inhabitants of Paphos, who suffered from the earthquake, and, in accordance with a resolution of the Senate, allowed them to call their city Augustus."

Thus the full name of the city at that time sounded like Paphos Augusta or, in Greek, Paphos Sebaste. In 22 BC. Emperor Tiberius gave Paphos another important privilege - the sanctuary of Aphrodite received the status of a temple-refuge, here criminals could hide without danger to their lives, they could not be forced out of the temple and handed over to the authorities. In gratitude for this right, the inhabitants of Paphos added the name of the emperor to their name, so that the full name now sounded like Paphos Augusta Claudia (since Tiberius was from the Julian-Claudian dynasty).

Several buildings have survived from the Roman era to the present day. They are located in the Nea Paphos Archaeological Park, next to the city's port and the medieval castle. We will talk about three of them, concentrated in one place: forum, odeon and asklepion. Interestingly, all three types of these buildings date back to ancient Greece, but were adopted by the Romans and became part of the infrastructure of every Roman city, as they carried the functions necessary for the normal functioning of society.

Paphos Forum, modern times

The Forum, which has its origins in the Greek agora, is a relatively large central city square, often decorated with colonnades at the edges or flanked by buildings that served different purposes.

The forum was the center of public life, since meetings were held here, trade was conducted, and negotiations were held. The architecture of the forum was extremely simple, because the residents only needed an open space, which they organized according to their needs.

View of the forum from the east

The Forum in Paphos, square in its plan, was built in the II century AD, becoming one of the largest in the Mediterranean world. Its area was 2.5 hectares, and the sides were 160 meters long. Along the four sides were colonnades, porticoes and small buildings.

Odeon of Paphos

If the forum can be considered the center of social, political and business life, then the odeon built to the west of it was a kind of musical and entertainment center for residents. The structure of the odeon was very similar to the structure of the ancient Greek theater, only the odeon was four times smaller in area. Another important difference, which now can no longer be noticed, was that the odeons, unlike theaters, were covered buildings.

Paphos has a small, well-restored odeon with eleven rows of seats, divided into five sections. Unfortunately, its roof and walls have not survived.

Asklepion of Paphos

The third most important building in the center of Paphos is the so-called asklepion or aesculapium in Latin. Although its main function was religious in nature (it was a temple in honor of the god of healing Asclepius), the asklepia were in fact ancient hospitals that provided the possibility of inpatient treatment. Since Asclepius was considered a healing god, it was logical that those who needed recovery from ailments usually gathered in his temple. The ritual part consisted in the fact that the sick person spent the night in the temple, and then told the priests their dreams, which were considered prophetic, and the priests interpreted them.

But gradually, in the asklepions, where the medical histories of all those who came were recorded, they became real medical centers. The priests of Asclepius have accumulated tremendous experience in medicine and have become very savvy specialists in the treatment.

The Asklepion of Paphos is built south of the Odeon. Both the odeon and the asclepion were found by archaeologists in the 1970s.

Mysterious find

In the Roman era, when Christianity was already spreading throughout Cyprus and churches were built, another faith existed on the island in parallel with the official religion. Belief in magic, Egyptian gods and the protective power of obscure phrases written in an incomprehensible language, and so that the same spell can be read from left to right and from right to left.

In 2011, a group of archaeologists from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków conducted excavations on the territory of the ancient forum. The team consisted of famous scientists and students. Archaeologists dug two trenches on the territory of the ancient forum.

Archaeologists at work (source)

The most interesting turned out to be the second one, which went along the stylobate of the Roman portico, where, as scientists suggested, was the main entrance to the square.

It was in this trench that the strange find was discovered.

Among other items, we found this intriguing, albeit inconspicuous amulet - one of the scientists would later recall in their article.

The amulet was a 4x3.5 cm oval. The ambiguities began from the very beginning. The scientist recalls that it was rather difficult to determine what material the amulet was made of.

It was a soft "stone", slightly porous, completely atypical for amulets and jewelry, - they write.

It turned out that the amulet is made of silt, a sedimentary rock that is a cross between clay and sand. But why did the master need to make his product from a pliable material? The answer was not long in coming.

Ancient amulet (source)

After clearing the amulet of sand and dirt, scientists saw that on its obverse there was a strange image, quite detailed and with a complex composition, and on the reverse side there was a well-preserved inscription in Greek letters, but not in Greek language. It was for the sake of applying the image and inscription, which had the main magical meaning, the aleurite was chosen. Let's figure out what was depicted and written there.

God of silence and a mummy in a boat

On the obverse, archaeologists saw the following image. It reminds us of artless children's scribbles, but for scientists everything was clear without unnecessary explanations.

Let's start with the bottom of the scribbled drawing, where the crocodile is clearly visible, and above it is the boat. In the boat lies something that resembles a human body, only as if swaddled. It is not hard to guess that we have a mummy in front of us. It is likely that this is the god of the afterlife, Osiris, who was usually depicted as a mummy wrapped in a white shroud. This image is based on the myth of Osiris, whose body, chopped to pieces by his brother Set, was put together by Osiris' wife Isis. She fastened the cut parts with bandages, the body was embalmed (and the first mummy appeared), and later the son of Osiris and Isis Horus, who defeated Seth, resurrected his father, but he could no longer live among the gods and therefore went to rule the underworld.

Egyptian gods (Osiris first from the right)

Above the boat is a figure in an unusual position, as if sitting on a folding chair (in fact, it should be a lotus flower).

This is the Egyptian god Har-pa-khered, whom the Greeks called Harpocrates, also the son of Isis and Osiris. Let's pay attention to his posture - he brought his right hand to his mouth. Harpocrates was portrayed in such a position that the Egyptians interpreted it as a symbol of childhood, and the Greeks - as a symbol of silence, which is why Harpocrates became the god of silence with them.

Egyptian image of Harpocrates

Curiously, in the late Byzantine times, icon painters would depict John the Evangelist with the same gesture.

John the Evangelist copies the gesture of Harpocrates

Harpocrates was revered in Cyprus, his figurines and images were found in Paphos, Salamis and Amathus. Already in the twentieth century, this god began to be associated with secret Egyptian knowledge (after all, if he was a god of silence, then he definitely knew something about the other world). For the famous occultist and Satanist of the twentieth century Aleister Crowley, who mentions Harpocrates in his Book of the Law, he “personifies the Higher Self, the “Holy Guardian Angel”.

He contains everything that exists, but he himself remains unmanifest, writes Crowley.

On either side of Harpocrates, a snake and a bird are depicted - either a rooster, or a peacock, or a phoenix, a symbol of resurrection and eternal life (Osiris in Egyptian mythology is associated with the renewal of nature). But there is another character to the right of the snake. He is depicted in the same symbolic manner and repeats his gesture after Harpocrates. It is not entirely clear who it is. Perhaps it is Isis mourning Osiris.

But it is known that Harpocrates was usually depicted accompanied by cinephalians who worshiped him. Cynocephalus are a mythical people, people with dog heads.

The Greeks believed that these monsters lived at the very edge of the world. And here again an unusual turn awaits us: the image of the cinephalus also fell into Christian iconography. With a dog's head, they usually portrayed St. Christopher, especially as such an image was popular in Russia.

Old Believer icon of St. Christopher, late 18th century

This is how Egyptian myths penetrated into ancient Russian culture and connected Orthodoxy with the pagan religion of the ancient world.

Magic phrase

There were no less surprises on the back of the amulet. Scientists managed to read the phrase that is written there:


The letters here are Greek, but the phrase is composed in ancient Egyptian and means: "Yahweh bears a secret name, the lion of [the god] Ra is protected in his temple." This spell can be read from left to right and right to left, such phrases are called palindromes.

For ancient people, the most famous palindrome was the Latin phrase 'Sator arepo tenet opera rotas'. It means "Arepo the sower drives the plow", but the translation is not important here at all. And the important thing is this: if you write this phrase in a square, then it will be read the same way from right to left, left to right, from bottom to top and from above in them, and the word tenet will in this case form a cross.

Phrases-palindromes were written on papyrus or carved on amulets to be worn as protection from the evil eye and spells.

As for the amulet from Paphos, the so-called "Yahweh-palindrome" is engraved on it. As you know, “Yahweh” is the name of God in the Old Testament, but this phrase has nothing to do with the Bible, since the word “Yahweh” could mean any god at that time. Yahweh-palindromes usually accompanied images of solar gods, that is, those whose symbol was the sun (Harpocrates is just one of these deities). The second feature of these palindromes is that they were often used during divination. Similar amulets with Yahva-palindrome were found at the end of the 19th century in Pergamum (west of modern Truzia) and Apameia (west of modern Syria), important centers of the magical culture of the Hellenistic era. It can be considered that Paphos was the same center of witchcraft, magic and fortune-telling. Interestingly, there is even evidence of this from ancient sources.

The book of Acts of the Apostles says that when Paul and Barnabas arrived in Paphos, they met there a certain magician named Elima Bar-Jesus, who "consulted" the Roman proconsul Sergius in Cyprus. Through the prayer of Paul, Elim became blind, and the proconsul Sergius converted to Christianity. But it is interesting not only this, but what this story confirms - in Paphos at that time there was a strong magic school, whose representatives were included in the houses of those in power.

Raphael Santi "Punizione di Elima"


This was Paphos under the Romans. Today it is a cozy city with a measured rhythm of life. There are no high-rise buildings, but many residential areas have been built to suit any budget - from luxurious villas to moderately priced maisonettes.

Have you decided to buy an apartment or a house in Paphos? Contact the DOM Real Estate portal! The website has a large selection of real estate objects - residential and commercial. Experienced agency specialists will be happy to help you make the right choice.

Read more:

  • Paphos City Center - Antiquity At Every Corner (link)
  • All beaches of Paphos and the West Coast of Cyprus (link)
  • Review of the best tourist locations in Paphos (link)
  • Why is Paphos so attractive to investors? (link)
  • Paphos Old Town. Unique place to live and invest (link)
  • How to buy property in Cyprus? (link)
  • Tala is the most prestigious village on the west coast of Cyprus (link)
No one has left a comment yet
Place qoute
Interesting offers

Old people house

€ 5 800 000

Cozy villa by the sea

€ 750 000

Unique mansion in Platres

€ 3 450 000

House for sale

€ 750 000

Fantastic penthouse

€ 630 000

Apartments in the center of Limassol

€ 1 350

Manor for sale in Limassol

€ 2 000 000

New apartment in Limassol

€ 277 500

House for sale in Limassol

€ 661 000

Luxury penthouse

€ 2 500 000
Компания «Dom Real Estate» Контакты:
Адрес: Limassol, Cyprus,
Телефон:+357 25 212 212, Электронная почта: