FROM THE MYCENAEAN QA-SI-RE-U TO THE
CYPRIOTE PA-SI-LE-WO-SE: THE BASILEUS IN
THE KINGDOMS OF CYPRUS
Granted that nowhere else in the ancient world had a Greek word of Mycenaean pedigree been as consistently and persistently used to refer exclusively to the head of a territorial state, the preservation – to the very end of the fourth century BC – of basileus as supreme ruler in an island that to the end of the Mycenaean palace world (c. 1200) – thus almost to the end of the second millennium BC – was not inhabited by Greek-speaking people, is a phenomenon that requires interpretation.
In the Anabasis, Arrian describes how on the eve of the naval battle of Tyre (332 BC), Alexander was joined in the waters of Sidon by a fleet of 120 warships led by the kings of Cyprus (Anabasis 2.20.3). Writing in the second century AD, Arrian uses the term basileis to refer to the kings of Cyprus collectively; he also addresses Pnytagoras, the penultimate ruler of the kingdom of Salamis, as basileus (Anabasis 2.22.2). Following the death of Alexander in 323 BC and the inception of the conflict amongst the Diadochoi, the kingdoms of Cyprus, which had determined the better part of the island's Iron Age history, entered the final dramatic phase of their institutional existence. Whether by 306 BC – Collombier would maintain that 'l'année 306 est bien un terminus ante quem pour la disparition des royaumes chypriotes' (Collombier 1993:127) – or a decade later 'no kings survived Ptolemy's recapture of the island in 294' (Stylianou 1989: 490). Thus, in the third century BC, Cyprus became a province of the Ptolemaic kingdom of Alexandria (see Mehl 1998) and was for the first time administered as a unitary, though not autonomous, state.
The events that led to the abolition of the Cypriote kingship are fairly well known (cf. Stylianou 1989: 486–90; Collombier 1993: 137–40). This is the only episode in the long history of the institution which is covered extensively, though not with precision, by one surviving historiographical source: the Library of