In Their Footsteps A Copper Merchant In Enkomi

In Their Footsteps A Copper Merchant In Enkomi

As you tour Enkomi, near Famagusta in​ North Cyprus, you might imagine you are a​ copper merchant during the​ city’s heyday between 1300 and​ 1100 B.C. Your city is​ now only about 500 years old.

Let us imagine you are leading a​ donkey caravan laden with copper ingots. You have been to​ the​ copper mines in​ the​ interior of​ the​ island. Copper is​ smelted from its ore close to​ the​ mines, where there is​ a​ lot of​ wood to​ keep the​ smelting fires hot. Your ingots are shaped like oxhides and​ are famous throughout the​ eastern Mediterranean world.

You approach your walled city through the​ farmland that feeds it​ and​ are filled with civic pride as​ you near the​ massive walls. Your city is​ thoroughly up-to-date for​ its time, with gates set symmetrically and​ streets crossing at​ right angles. Not for​ you the​ ancient cities with their rabbit warren of​ twisting alleys. You didn’t call your city Enkomi, but probably Alasia.

Your home is​ built of​ good stone. Its many rooms surround a​ central court, where your donkeys are unloaded. in​ our time, you can see the​ first few courses of​ stone and​ trace the​ outline of​ the​ houses.

First you, the​ merchant, must instruct your scribe to​ record the​ shipment. He uses Enkomi’s own invention, a​ script similar to​ Minoan and​ Mycenaean, which in​ our time we will call Cypro-Minoan. He writes on the​ clay tablets so traditional in​ the​ Middle East, but uses a​ simple syllabary, rather than the​ complex cuneiform writing.

You greet your family and​ trade your dusty robes for​ finer, embroidered clothes that befit your wealth. Then you are quickly off to​ the​ market sector near the​ port. You want to​ hear news of​ the​ great battles at​ Troy. Troy controls the​ passage to​ the​ North Sea, where Cypriot copper is​ exchanged for​ wheat and​ dried fish. in​ fact, political and​ military conditions throughout the​ known world are important to​ you, for​ your copper is​ traded everywhere. the​ siege at​ Troy has dragged on for​ years, and​ copper prices have risen with the​ demand for​ weapons.

The market is​ vibrant with color and​ sound. You hear Hittites arguing with Syrians and​ Egyptians haggling with Cilicians. Most of​ the​ people are robed in​ brilliantly dyed cloaks, but the​ Egyptians stand out in​ their snow-white linen. You find your favorite tavern, where your cronies welcome you. They want to​ know about road conditions on the​ way to​ the​ copper country. You want to​ catch up on local news.

After a​ good gossip and​ perhaps some wine, bread, and​ olives, you go down to​ the​ harbor at​ the​ river’s edge. Changes in​ the​ coastline have silted up the​ harbor in​ modern times. But you, the​ merchant, find many ships berthed in​ its harbor. You are looking for​ a​ captain who will buy your copper. You are surrounded by a​ variety of​ languages, especially Greek and​ Semitic dialects; you know enough to​ get by in​ several of​ them.

After a​ good haggle, you sell much of​ your copper to​ a​ fellow from Syria, who has wonderful ivory carvings to​ trade. He has beautiful glassware from Egypt and​ luxury pottery from Mycenae in​ Greece. Your copper will be only part of​ his load. His ship will leave port with ten tons of​ copper ingots.

And he’s told you some shocking news. You hardly wait to​ tell your wife that the​ High King of​ the​ Greeks, Agamemnon, has been divorced and​ deposed at​ his home in​ Mycenae. Clytemnestra, the​ Queen, has taken a​ new husband. This, you know, will not end well.

But first, you must visit the​ temple of​ the​ Horned God. the​ Horned God is​ Hittite and​ Alasia was under the​ sway of​ the​ Hittite Empire for​ several centuries. the​ Hittites considered Alasia “the outer limits” and​ sent their exiles here. Now the​ Egyptians have the​ mastery of​ Cypriot affairs. But the​ Horned God has been good to​ your family, and​ a​ quick visit will surely help your affairs to​ prosper.

Hittites yesterday, Egyptians today, tomorrow, perhaps the​ upstart Greeks. as​ long as​ business is​ good, and​ pirates are kept to​ a​ minimum, you care not a​ fig which foreign ruler considers himself to​ be in​ charge.

As you pass the​ craftsman’s quarter, the​ acrid smell of​ copper smelting assaults your nose. Here the​ copper is​ further refined, mixed with tin, and​ made into bronze. Enkomi/Alasia is​ famous for​ its bronze statues and​ for​ its tripods, but you can find any tool or​ weapon you need on these streets. Now the​ air is​ sweeter and​ the​ noise is​ gentler as​ you pass the​ shops where fine jewelry is​ made. You have a​ little gold in​ your moneybag, perhaps you should have a​ trinket made for​ your wife. Here are the​ ivory carvers. There, that is​ just the​ thing – a​ game board and​ pieces inlaid with ivory. She loves the​ Phoenician style.

The Phoenicians and​ Syrians have been coming to​ Enkomi for​ centuries. They were always competitive among themselves, but now, with the​ Mycenaean Greeks elbowing themselves a​ place, the​ markets are even more volatile. All to​ the​ good, for​ a​ canny bargainer such as​ yourself.

And now, to​ home, where you make a​ quick but reverent bow to​ your ancestors buried beneath the​ floor. How pleasant it​ is​ in​ the​ courtyard, beneath the​ grape arbor. Your meal is​ simple -- bread, fish, olives, figs, wine. Some night soon you will entertain your business associates and​ serve that lamb you’ve been fattening, but for​ tonight, you will dine with your family.

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