To sit in splendor : the ivory throne as an agent of identity in Tomb 79 from Salamis, Cyprus

Johnson, Christina Ruth
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The objects discovered in Tomb 79 at the necropolis of Salamis, Cyprus have garnered much attention since their discovery. The material from this tomb, however, needs an in-depth, object-by-object analysis that will lead to a greater understanding of the burial as a whole. In my thesis, I offer a detailed case study of a single item, an ivory-covered wooden chair—so-called Throne Γ—as exemplifying an approach to this analysis. Based on the excavation team’s exacting reconstruction, the chair is four-legged with armrests and a slightly curved backrest. Ivory overlays the entirety of the chair except on a few sections of the backrest where the wood shows through. Here as well, both figural and geometric designs decorate the ivory, and the top bar was originally overlaid with gold. As a whole, Throne Γ would have appeared as a solid ivory object, embellished with wood and gold, and was likely draped with textiles. In this study, I analyze Throne Γ as an agent of identity. To do so, I follow the example of other scholars such as Irene Winter and Marian Feldman and employ the theory of object agency, addressing Throne Γ as an affective entity. When placed in a social context—i.e., when involved in human interaction—such agentive objects actively influence their surroundings. In this case, I analyze how Throne Γ affected the individual in whose tomb it was buried. I argue that through its various affective “mechanisms”—its nature as a luxury object, the value of its ivory material, its sensory qualities (including luminosity, texture, and fragrance), its iconography, and its ritual function—Throne Γ projected a king-like identity upon the deceased individual from Tomb 79. His actual political and social power during his lifetime, however, may have been less than that suggested by the mechanisms of the chair. The inclusion of Throne Γ in the burial was therefore a conscious choice and the identity the chair projected deliberate. It was meant to agentively mark, and thus legitimize, the deceased as a politically-able, diplomatically-savvy, and divinely-touched figure in the early days of monarchy on Cyprus.