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Masks (Classification Category or Type)
Documentation Note

Unlike the other dedications at Malloura, this category of offerings does not depict pious dedicants, elite worshippers, or deities, but instead provides evidence for ritual performances at the sanctuary. Terracotta votive masks and figurines depicting maskers reference masked ceremonies likely executed by cult officials. The examples that survive date almost exclusively to the CA, suggesting that masked rituals were strongly linked to this phase of the sanctuary. Other examples of votives depicting cult performances include the many representations of dancers and musicians, which continue to be a feature of Cypriot cults throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Masks first appear on the island in the twelfth century BCE, when bucrania were worked to be used as masks. At this time, anthropomorphic and grotesque representations of masks were made in terracotta to be dedicated in sanctuaries. Zoomorphic (primarily bovine, e.g., AAP-AM-1170), anthropomorphic (bearded and unbearded males as well as females, e.g., AAP-AM-4631; AAP-AM-5115), and grotesque mask (e.g., AAP-AM-3080) types continued throughout the CG and CA periods, primarily dedicated in urban and rural sanctuaries with a few examples placed in tombs. Most of our evidence for masking rituals comes from terracotta votive replicas of actual masks likely made from perishable materials, such as textiles and leather, worn in performances that took place in the sanctuary. Representations of masked figures in the glyptic record and in votive dedications in limestone and terracotta that make it clear that such objects were worn and not just displayed.

The terracotta masks are moldmade or handmade, with painted or incised decoration, and they range in size from miniature to life-size; most have smoothed edges with holes for attachment (to a wearer or wall) and cutout eyes. The depictions of masked figures range in size from small terracotta figurines (AAP-AM-1170) to life-size limestone figures, including a well-known, life-size example from Golgoi-Ayios Photios now in the Musée du Louvre. The area around Athienou is especially rich in masks as evidenced by a large collection of terracotta masks from the Malloura sanctuary and limestone masked figurines (ranging from small statuettes to life-size examples) from Golgoi-Ayios Photios. Although the evidence for masked rituals has been found at sanctuaries of male and female deities across the island, the practice of ritual masked performances seems especially associated with male deities.

Thus, these masks and masked figures provide rare evidence for specific ritual performance events that occurred in sacred places. Although the exact nature of these events is lost (whether they related to animal sacrifice, ritual reenactments of myths, or other religious rituals that involved assuming the power of the mask’s identity), it is likely that the performers wearing these masks were kings or elite men acting as priests or ritual actors serving as intermediaries to the gods. The masquerades were thus part of a widespread system of displaying and solidifying political power in public religious spaces. As the autonomous kingdoms were subsumed within the Ptolemaic empire, the masking tradition linked with these Cypriot kings came to an end to be eventually replaced by masks associated with Greek and Roman theater.

Suggested Citation

Erin Walcek Averett. (2020) "Masks". In Visualizing Votive Practice: Exploring Limestone and Terracotta Sculpture from Athienou-Malloura through 3D Models. Derek B. Counts, Erin Walcek Averett, Kevin Garstki, Michael Toumazou (Ed). Released: 2020-07-28. Open Context. <>

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