The cenotaph of Nicocreon

Diana Darke tells the curious story behind Tomb No 77.

Written by Diana Darke


Of all the tombs in the vast, sprawling necropolis that lies on the plain to the west of Salamis and Gazimağusa, Tomb No 77 stands out for a number of reasons. For one thing it is not actually a tomb at all, there being no bodies buried there (hence its official description as a cenotaph, or memorial). For another, it lies some distance apart from the main tomb complex, in the village of Tuzla (Enkomi), just a couple of kilometres to the west of Gazimağusa.

Furthermore, the story behind the cenotaph is rather unusual too.

Furthermore, the story behind the cenotaph is rather unusual too. In 31BC, Nicocreon, King of Salamis, sided with Antignon against Ptolemy. This quite naturally upset Ptolemy who besieged the city with a huge army. Nicocreon, realising that his own forces stood no chance against the might of Ptolemy, decided to commit suicide. When his wife, Queen Axiothea, heard this, Mshe chose to kill their daughters – and persuaded the wives of Nicocreon’s brothers to do the same – to prevent them from being raped by Ptolemy’s soldiers. In a final act, Axiothea then burnt the palace with herself and the remains of her extended family inside.

To commemorate what they saw as a highly virtuous act – choosing death over the perceived disgrace of being violated by the soldiers – somebody (presumably the Salamians, though nobody is exactly sure) constructed this curious cenotaph. The site consists of a platform, 52m in diameter, with a ramp on one side and steps on the other three. In the centre a pyre was built, where clay statues (thought to represent the members of the royal family), rosettes and other offerings were burnt in their honour. The whole lot was then covered in earth to a depth of over 10m.

The cenotaph was finally excavated in 1965–66. Unfortunately, little remains of the site today, which sits behind the church in Tuzla and is usually locked (though you can look over the fence). The Royal Tombs Museum, however, has a reconstruction of the cenotaph, along with various statues and offerings found at the site.

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