Ancient Mediterranean

Digital Project

21 ship graffiti

Cat. No.



Temple 1: c.1200 B.C. (terminus post quem); Temple 4: terminus ante quem 850 BC Argued date range: 1200-1000 BC, prior to Kition Floor I


Kition, Area II, Temple 1 (southern wall orthostats) and Temple 4 (altar)


C90: L: 26 cm; H (max): 16 cm; C91: L: 36 cm; H (max): 17 cm; C92: L: 36cm; H (max): 17 cm; C93: L: 32 cm; H (max): 8 cm; C94: L: 37 cm; H (max): 30 cm


Ashlar orthostats of whitish reef limestone of the Koronia geological formation. Eight ashlar blocks, each measuring c. 150 x 300 cm

Accession Number



Basch and Artzy 1985; Karageorghis 1976a: 99, pl. 73; Knapp 2019: 140-141, fig. 35; Wachsmann 1998: 145-78, figs. 7.32-7.38; Webb 1999: 302 fig. 94

Temple 4 altar graffiti:

C 90 (left slab): Better preserved and more carefully executed of the two altar ships, using three different engraving techniques: "grooving" (hull, mast, right hand brace and brailing rope), light incisions (yard), and series of continuous dots (left-hand brace). The graffito appears unfinished, as there is no evidence for damage to the stone in the upper right corner of the image where part of the rigging is absent. The missing elements include the right part of the yard, part of brace A, and the right side equivalent of brailing C. Ship with a slightly rockered hull and high incurving extremities. The post on the left ends in a device that curves sharply inward parallel to the hull, capped by a triangular shaped device. The mast is amidships, with the yard represented as a thin straight line (D) on the left hand side. The left-hand brace (B) consists of a series of dots, while the right-hand brace is only a partial line (A). Artzy and Basch read the semi-circular line C as a brailing rope, but it could equally be a furled sail. The direction of the ship is difficult to determine as there are no steering oars. If compared to the similar ships from the altar at Akko, the left side should be the bow, with the ship facing left.

C 91 (right slab): The stone has various holes and cuts, making it difficult to distinguish between weathering and parts of the graffito. Engraved by means of a technique that Artzy and Basch describe as between grooving and drilling. Potential for a second graffito on the lower part of the stone on the right side. Nearly flat hull, with a high vertical post on the right-hand side and a high curving post on the left, ending in a device that curves sharply inward parallel to the hull much like the one on the previous ship except for the fact it is capped by a rectangular device. The mast is amidships, with the yard accentuated as a straight line of similar thickness to that of the hull, touching the right-hand post and nearly touching the one on the left. The shape bears remarkable similarities to the Cypro-Archaic I ship from the MET. Based on this parallel, the ship should be read as facing right, with a straight vertical stempost and an incurving sternpost device. If on the other hand the roughly contemporary Akko ships graffiti are used for comparison, then the ship would face left as in the case of the graffito of the left slab.

Temple 1 southern wall graffiti:

C 92 (ship 2): Very schematic representation consisting of the hull only. Flat hull, with a vertical post on the right-hand side, its extremity curving abruptly inwards parallel to the hull. High curving post on the left ending in a triangular device that curves sharply inward parallel to the hull. The shape closely resembles that of graffito 2 of temple 4's altar.

C 93 (ship 5): Very schematic representation consisting of the hull only. The left extremity terminates in an incurving triangular-shaped device similar to some of the other ships. The hull is fairly flat.

C 94 (ship 13): Ship to the right, with a flat hull and a high, nearly vertical sternpost ending in a device roughly triangular in shape that curves sharply inward parallel to the hull, then down in an oblique stroke. The long, nearly horizontal line extending from the lower part of the sternpost must be the quarter rudder. The mast is amidships, with no yard or rigging represented. A large triangle on the right-hand extremity is most likely the forecastle, which finds a good parallel from the Enkomi graffito. Wachsmann's reading of the ship as facing to the right is to be preferred. Artzy and Basch's interpretation of the left-hand side as the bow with an inordinately long bow projection has no parallels for this period, when bow projections are still in their embryonic form.

C 95 (ship 16): This graffito presents some ambiguity which allows for alternate interpretations. The dotted line which represents the second reading offered by Artzy and Basch would make the right-hand post straight and nearly vertical, its extremity curving abruptly inwards parallel to the hull. The left-hand post curves inward into a slightly triangular shaped device. This interpretation makes the outline very similar to ship 2 and temple 4's graffito 2, except for the fact that the left-hand post is not as high, with the keel line beginning to curve much later. The mast is amidships, and is topped with a crescent shaped device represents a crow's nest. A near identical rendering of the crow's nest is observable on the cylinder seal from Nicosia dated to the 1200 B.C. Using the Akko altar graffiti as a parallel, the ship should be read as facing left.

The earliest architectural remains from Area II date to the LC IIC (1300-1190 B.C.), comprising two cult structures in close proximity to each other, namely temples 2 (14.5 x 9 m) and 3 (6.75 x 4.15 m). After a brief period, a large-scale destruction of the site initiated an impressive architectural program that completely rebuilt the sacred precinct, now comprised of a vast sacred complex delimited by the city rampart (LC IIIA, 12th century B.C.). During this reorganization, temples 4 and 5 were added, while temple 3 gave way to a vast open space (Temenos A). With the exception of the poorly preserved temple 5, all buildings were built using ashlar masonry. This includes the largest and most important structure of the precinct - temple 1 - which was accessed through a monumental porch that opened to a large court (Temenos B). Temple 1 was the focal point of the precinct, as suggested by the exceptional architectural quality as well as its commanding position vis à vis a metallurgical quarter (Northern Workshop), to which it enjoyed direct access through a gate in its northern wall. The building's size alone (35 x 22m) makes it one of the largest monuments on the island known from this period. Temple 1 dominated the precinct not only in size and monumentality but also in height, as it lies at the highest point of the bedrock in Area II. The location of the city wall to the north and east as well as the workshops on the west meant that the southern façade would have been the most visible and thus the most important. The main internal approach to the precinct was thus from the south toward temples 1 and 2. The excavators stress that "the full effect of the massive ashlar orthostats of the south wall of temple 1 cannot be fully appreciated at close quarters, even standing at the southern edge of the street. A more distant perspective is required; a fact which is not likely to have escaped the notice of the temple architects who were quite clearly aware of the public presentation of their building"(Karageorghis and Demas 1985: 90).

The monumental restructuring phase represented by Floor II was eventually destroyed by an earthquake and flooding. In the original publication of the site, the excavators argued that this was followed by a brief rebuilding phase (Floor I, 1050-1000 BC), after which the temple complex at Kathari was considered to have been abandoned for a significant time of about a century and a half. A recent in-depth re-examination by Smith however has shown that this gap in occupation in fact did not occur, as evidenced by several contradictions in the depositional, structural, and ceramic evidence. Smith notes that the episode of destruction resulting in a layer of alluvium and sandy soil above Floor I is similar to that observed after Floor II, with both representing localized flooding rather than gradual silting up as would be expected of an abandonment. She furthermore highlights that as with the deposits following Floor II, the alluvial debris above Floor I do not cover the entire site but instead are found primarily in the northern part, just south of the city wall and temple 4. These deposits are no deeper than the previous phase, which shows the destructions are structurally similar and indicate episodes of periodic catastrophes followed by clean-ups and rebuilding. This is indicated by the fact that in areas farthest from the city wall and the source of the flooding, the subsequent Floor 3 is not separated from Floor I but instead lies directly on top of it. This was true for both flooding episodes, with the depth of alluvial deposits decreasing with the distance from the city wall. It thus appears that the intervening walls of Temple 1, Temenos A and Temple 4 lessened the amount of wash reaching the southernmost parts of the site. Nonetheless, the severity of the flooding after Floor I seems to have been greater and damaged more of the site probably due to the already weakened city wall from the previous earthquake. This overall reconstruction of repeated earthquakes and flooding is supported by recent corings from the harbour, which indicate that the area was subjected to sudden changes caused by tectonic uplift from the LBA onwards rather than a regular sea level rise. Finally, Smith's re-examination of the pottery assemblage likewise showed ceramic continuity from Floor I to 3.

The amended dating of Floor I has thus been changed to 1000-850 BC, which significantly alters our understanding of the temple complex which clearly remained in use throughout the EIA. During Floor I, the repairs and alterations to Temple 1 were now made using sandstone rather than the limestone from earlier periods. Unfortunately, pre-Floor 3 surfaces inside temple 1 are missing, possibly due to flooding which may have wiped out many of the earlier deposits. During this time, part of the city wall was abandoned - in particular tower C, while other parts were repaired. Changes were also made in the form of an opening for access from the north, the effect of which was increased access to the harbour area. Finally, the connection between the metal workshops to the north and Temple 1 was closed off, blocking access to the north. This was possibly a measure to prevent flooding. The western workshop area meanwhile remained in use, but apparently ceased its previous production of textiles, with the addition of a large oven signalling a new industry. In the southeast, courtyard C was raised to cover one of the older steps into the building. Temple 2's importance appears to have diminished, but its design along with that of Temples 4 and 5, the temenos areas and the courtyards retained the same overall arrangement of the earlier period.

The biggest change however occurred in Temple 4, the interior of which was considerably altered during this phase following significant structural damage from the flooding episode. The raising of the floor level first meant that much of the earlier features which had been part of the Floors III-II were now covered. In their place, an impressive built altar was placed near the centre of the main hall, comprised of two elements of different construction and function: a hearth of havara and mudbrick to the west, and a stone-built table of offerings on the east. It appears that during Floor I, Temple 4 underwent significant changes in its function. Smith has argued that during Floor III-II, this building actually served as a workshop centered on the collection of reusable raw materials such as metal and ivory, as well as the crafts of furniture repair or carpentry. During Floor I, the space was re-designed, with the hearth and altar arguing for a special cult purpose. This is further indicated by the gaming stone placed on top of the offering table and the ship graffiti prominently placed on the supporting side slabs.

Following the flooding of Floor I, Floor 3 (850-707) saw substantial changes during the clean-up process, including the workshops moving out of the area entirely or just beyond the excavation limits. By this time, the wall at Kathari goes out of use, with a ramp over the city-wall added between temenos B and Temple 4 providing even greater access to the harbour. This phase initiated a rebuilding of the temples, in particular Temple 1 on a larger scale with an enlarged outside temenos taking over the space originally occupied by Temple 2. This enlargement indicates the aggrandizement of the temple, not its diminished importance. On this floor, the orthostats were furthermore covered with gypsum, indicating a greater attention to surface detail compared to Floor I. Smith notes that although Temple 1's architecture saw continuity in its ashlar form and position, its "purpose and design changed remarkably" from Floor I to Floor 3 and Floor 2A. During Floor 3, a smaller version of Temple 5 was built over its predecessor, while Temple 2 was no longer an enclosed structure and was incorporated into temenos B.

Graffiti contexts: The ship graffiti are found in two clusters: 19 ships on the orthostats of the southern wall of temple 1, and two ships (possibly a third) on two vertical limestone slabs that compose the altar of temple 4. The graffiti of temple 1 have a terminus post quem of c.1200 B.C. which corresponds to the date of the wall's construction. Since the temple complex remained in continuous use throughout the EIA, they do not have a reliable terminus ante quem however. I disagree with Smith's suggestion that the graffiti from temple 1 were added throughout the entire history of use of the building from the 12th to the 6th century. As Smith herself highlights, the purpose and design of the complex saw remarkable changes ca. 850 and again ca. 707. This still leaves Floor I which was in use for a considerable time. One way to narrow down the chronological bracket is to consider the placement of the graffiti from a visual and practical perspective. The orthostats of the southern wall are 1.42-1.48 m high, with the ashlar footings below them 0.35-0.5m height. The graffiti's location along the upper half of the orthostats makes perfect sense if they were created more or less at eye level, the most natural position for a person standing next to the wall. This would also explain why whereas they generally cluster on that level, there are some variations between individual graffiti, as one would expect different individuals would vary in height. During Floor I, the floor immediately in front of the southern wall (Courtyard C) was raised, leaving only the upper two steps of the southeastern entrance functional. Overall, the floor level in the temples was raised by as much as 0.4 m, probably in response to the repeated flooding episodes. Karageorghis notes that as a result of the higher floor level, the lower part of the ashlar orthostats of the walls, at least for temple 2, were no longer visible during this phase. In my opinion, this suggests that the graffiti were most probably carved prior to the floor being raised in court C, giving them a time range between 1200 and 1000 BC.

Given the prolonged exposure of the wall, these orthostats of temple 1 are quite weathered, with surface damage and grooves making the interpretation of the graffiti difficult. Their fragmentary nature also suggests that there were quite likely more ships than the 19 which were able to be recorded. Only four of these have been documented in greater detail. The different techniques of engraving suggest that the graffiti of temple 1 were executed by multiple hands. The suggestion that the orthostats and graffiti were re-used from a previous context as suggested by Le Bon should be rejected (Le Bon 1997: 90). The main reason is that the use of ashlar masonry is a distinctive feature of the early 12th century construction. More specifically, the orthostats on which the graffiti are found are made of a reef limestone obtained from the Koronia formation some 20 km away by sea, specifically selected for its visually-striking whitish-color. Their procurement was thus clearly part of the large-scale LC IIIA project. Finally, in the original report drawing ship 5 was depicted as if it was only partially preserved at the edge of an ashlar block, giving the impression that the orthostats had therefore been re-used. A closer re-examination by Artzy and Basch however revealed that the graffito was in fact complete, thus dispelling this concern (Artzy and Basch 1984: 325).

The altar of temple 4 was constructed for floor I (1000-850). The table of offering was enclosed on four sides by single or double row of vertically placed slabs. These cut through Floor II, with more than half of the preserved height of the table lying below the level of Floor I. The resulting height above the floor level was only 0.4-0.5 m. The ship graffiti are located on slabs 4 and 5 and were only just visible above the level of the floor, which gave them an appearance of floating at sea. While the table of offerings remained visible in later periods, the vertical stone slabs were only visible for this floor. The re-dating of the floor however no longer gives a short chronological bracket for the graffiti. There is no question that attention was given to the graffiti, which were placed on a conspicuous location on the sides of the altar. The presence of the gaming stone forming part of the surface of the offering table might suggest some form of cult related to divination. Smith notes that during Floor I, the main room may not have been roofed, with the smoke rising probably visible from the harbour. Since the gaming stone was itself potentially re-used, it is quite possible that the slabs, including the ones bearing the ship graffiti were also in their secondary use for the altar although they clearly continued to have significance during this phase. I would argue that the creation of the graffiti from temple 1 and 4 should be placed prior to Floor I. This is based on the practical considerations outlined above, as well as the fact that all other known graffiti cluster strictly within the last phases of the LBA. Besides a similar cultic function, the typological similarities between the Kition graffiti and the ones from Akko are very hard to ignore. Furthermore, unlike Amathus and Salamis, Kition has provided no ship imagery dating to the later parts of the EIA with the exception of a single boat model. Taken together, it is thus quite unlikely that the graffiti should be dated after ca. 1000 BC.

The prominent location of these graffiti, on the sides of temple 4's altar and on the monumental orthostats of the southern wall of temple 1 is highly indicative and stresses their symbolic importance despite their seemingly crude execution. Some of the ships on temple 1 are incomplete, although it is unclear whether this is always due to weathering or whether some of them were left unfinished. The ships vary in elaboration, with some showing only the hull, while others have a mast and occasionally rigging elements. As the only vessel that has a quarter rudder, ship 13 is important in terms of distinguishing the bow from the stern. The question nonetheless remains a difficult one for many of the ships.

Despite being very schematic, the graffiti have important parallels in other Cypriot representations not only of LBA date, but perhaps even more significantly, of late EIA period. For contemporary depictions, these include the crescent shaped crow's nest of ship 16 (Nicosia seal) and the triangular forecastle (Enkomi graffito). The shape of graffiti 2 from temple 4's altar on the other hand is near identical to the Cypro-Archaic I ship from the MET, not only in the shape of the stem and sternposts, but also in the way the yard is rendered to touch both extremities. Ships 2 and 16 from temple 1 seem to belong to this same type, defined by a straight vertical stempost and a high sternpost ending in an incurving device. Artzy and Basch's interpretation of this triangular device as a "fan" is questionable. It is more likely that these are stylized bird-headed devices, which would be difficult to render more realistically in this particular format, but which are clearly rendered in other mediums such as vase painting.

Basch, L. and M. Artzy. 1985. “Ship Graffiti at Kition,” in V. Karageorghis and M. Demas (eds.) Excavations at Kition V. The Pre-Phoenician Levels. Part I. Nicosia, Cyprus: Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, pp. 322-37.

Karageorghis, V. 1976a. Kition: Mycenaean and Phoenician discoveries in Cyprus. London: Thames and Hudson.

Knapp, A. B. 2018. Seafaring and Seafarers in the Bronze Age Eastern Mediterranean. Leiden: Sidestone Press.

Wachsmann, S. 1998. Seagoing Ships & Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press.

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