Household is the Machine: Demarcating the Spatial Layout and Social Agency of Late Cypriot Households

  Theotokatou, Chara. "Household is the Machine: Demarcating the Spatial Layout and Social Agency of Late Cypriot Households." CHS Research Bulletin 12 (2024).

CHS Pre-doctoral Fellow in Hellenic Studies 2023–24


I am deeply indebted to the Center for Hellenic Studies of Harvard University for awarding me the Pre-Doctoral Fellowship in Hellenic Studies. I owe my sincere gratitude to the Academic Committee and especially to my advisor, Professor Spyridon Rangos. My special thanks go to my supervisor, Professor Giorgos Vavouranakis, for his invaluable comments and constant encouragement. I am also grateful to Dr. Marialucia Amadio for her advice and unfailing support.


The domestic environment of the Late Cypriot period has been the focus of past research, which sought to explore social inequalities and the political organization of the island. Monumental buildings and the agency of elite groups were therefore set under the microscope. In contrast, this research project aims to shed light on the core of the Late Cypriot communities, i.e., lower-tier social structures. This approach affords a better understanding of past societies. The spatial analysis of the Late Cypriot habitation units indicates that Late Bronze Age Cypriot communities may not be perceived as having a monolithic structure with identical attributes. Instead, and within the same chronological horizon, we may delineate different patterns of social organization and diverse levels of bonding and social interdependence.
Keywords: Cyprus, household, space, society, organization


In the beginning of the 20th century, the well-known Swiss architect Le Corbusier crystallized his functionalist approach to architecture in a single phrase: “a house is a machine for living in.” [1] However, as Hillier highlights in his book Space is the Machine, “buildings are normally multifunctional.” [2] Contrary to a simplified definition of buildings as shelters, he pinpoints the social significance of buildings. [3] Nevertheless, and apart from an inanimate operating system, the notion of the machine also indicates “a group of people who control and organize something.” [4] Given that each house inevitably hosts a group of people, then houses may be seen as social mechanisms, operated by the agency of their dwellers.
The above notes on houses and their architecture are pertinent to archaeology, whose research includes the study of domestic architectural remains, for understanding the organization of past societies. Yet there are cases where this topic has not been adequately covered. One such case is Cyprus in the Late Bronze Age (1600–1150/1125 B.C.). [5] When it comes to the study of the buildings of this period, the focus is mostly on the monumental structures, recognized as elite edifices. [6] This perspective excludes an adequate examination of less elaborate domestic buildings.
This paper addresses this research gap and explores the importance of houses and households as social structures in Late Bronze Age Cyprus. The analysis focuses on the spatial organization and social role of buildings. Through this approach the paper will also seek to delineate intra-settlement household dynamics and relations, so that we better understand the organization and character of Late Bronze Age communities on the island of Cyprus.

A vanished household? Past research attempts in retrospect

The initiative of the Swedish Cyprus Expedition (1927–1931) set the scientific foundations for the research of the archaeological remains of early Cyprus and the establishment of Cypriot Archaeology as a disciplinary domain. Within a period of four years almost twenty sites were excavated, and their finds published. [7] However, it was not before the 1960s when the basis for the study of the settlements was laid. At that time, Catling executed a pivotal field survey on occupational patterns of the Bronze Age, through which he observed a density in the distribution of settlements during the Late Bronze Age. [8]
Nonetheless, it was only with the later systematic excavation projects that research shed light on the Late Cypriot domestic environment. Particularly the regional-focused projects, such as the Vasilikos Valley Project and the Maroni Valley Archaeological Project, offered ample evidence regarding not only Late Cypriot settlements, but also regional patterns of habitation diachronically.
Most of the sites were established within the horizon of the LC IIC period. Past research focused on the understanding of the emergence of these settlements through the examination of their politico-economic organization. As a result, distinct interpretative models were developed, focusing on the interplay of elite dynamics and power. Even though for the earlier phases of Cypriot prehistory past research has made significant steps forward, for the Late Bronze Age the household seems vanished in the archaeological literature.
This project focuses on the investigation of the remains of three communities, situated at distinct topographical settings and presenting both important differences and similarities in their architecture: Alassa-Pano Mantilaris, Pyla-Kokkinokremos and Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios. Space syntax analysis provides us with crucial information for the domestic units and life on them, or as Hillier and Hanson put it, “a passage from the visible to the intelligible” [9] : first, in what regards the ways in which the rooms of the domestic units are connected; second, on the degree of visibility of a particular space from a certain viewpoint, and last, on the possible intra-house circulation routes that a resident/visitor could follow. Along with a contextual analysis, this approach affords a projection of intra-house social interaction and, hence, a comprehension of the roots of these Late Bronze Age communities.

From the vacuum to the household: Space constitution and social relations

It is impossible to conceive of social relations outside a common framework. Space and time are two frames of reference we use to situate social relations, either alone or together.
Lévi-Strauss 1963, 289

As French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss has accurately stated, the social phenomena may not be understood separately from their social space and social time. [10] The concept of space, however, greatly challenged sociological research. Architecture is primarily and inevitably linked to space; primarily because each structure is solidly founded on a certain area, and inevitably because it is the space that ensures the stability and endurance of the building. However, as it is highlighted by Hillier and Hanson, [11] space is usually conceived as a surface that borders a building instead of a system of spatial relations that defines the building.

The constraints of such one-sided understanding of the concept of space are not pertinent only to the discipline of architecture, but also to anthropology. Related research endeavored to understand space through distinct approaches. Early attempts viewed the architectural form of space strictly linked to environmental or climate factors, rather than to society itself. [12] Within this framework, space could not be understood independently of the built environment and was, thus, approached through a deterministic and functionalist point of view. Space was therefore viewed as a rigid dimension and was excluded from anthropological and wider sociological discourse.
French anthropologist Emile Durkheim understood space as an ordering factor that sets things in place. [13] Nevertheless, it is not only things, but also people who are arranged; [14] a view that was gradually developed later and especially by the, also French, philosopher, Michel Foucault. Placing the emphasis on the way that human inter-relations are arranged, Foucault viewed the structuring of space as a manifestation of power.
Contrary to a static perception of space, Lӧw states that “spaces are created in action by synthesizing objects and people and arranging them relationally.” [15] This viewpoint considers space as the result of an active process through everyday activity, rather than an all-at-once structure. Within this framework, the dwelling is the fundamental context where spaces are continuously under transformation.
Most archaeologists think of past dwellings as homes to the smallest units of past societies. Houses are seen as having three dimensions: [16] first a material dimension, namely the building itself; second an economic dimension, stemming out of the functions they host, which transforms them from static structures into socially active households; last -but not least- a social dimension, which is associated with the relations between the residents of the house and their inter-action with residents of other houses. The aforementioned view on the tripartite character of houses originates from the different theoretical approaches that have diachronically influenced Archaeology. This project places the focus on the third, social, dimension.

Alassa-Pano Mantilaris

The uplands site of Alassa-Pano Mantilaris occupies a central position on the Alassa Plateau, in the Kouris River Valley. The excavator identified eleven room complexes, flanking a free, central space, labeled as the “East Street” (Figure 1a). The orientation of the complexes varies. However, the alignment of the external walls, setting the boundaries of the “East” and the “West Street”, suggests that there was a planning to some extent. Except for room Y, a free-stranding structure, the domestic units have shared walls. Each complex consists of two, three or four rooms.
At Pano Mantilaris rooms are arranged according to an agglutinative style: new rooms were added to already existing ones. This building technique rapidly raises the contiguity of the spaces of the same or different units. Most units have a single entrance, except for complex Γα, Γβ and Ν, accessible from both the “East” and the “West Street”. The entrance provides access to a walled, albeit not always roofed, space. For instance, room N may have actually been an open courtyard.
Roofed or unroofed, these reception spaces invite people to move further towards the interior, i.e., the succeeding room(s). Syntactically, the spaces present a low degree of connectivity, since each one is directly connected with only one other space. However, room M and the corridor of the rooms complex A, B, Π, present a higher degree of connectivity, as they offer access to rooms E, Λ and Π, Α. This is better illustrated on the Visibility Graph Analysis map (Figure 1b). The map presents the spaces with the highest connectivity with red color, whereas the least connected spaces are colored blue. In other words, at Pano Mantilaris the “East” and the “West” Streets are completely permeable spaces. In sharp contrast, rooms Ωα, Ξ, Γβ, B, E, Λ, Θ, K and Φ, are identified as impermeable ones.
The most easily accessible rooms, i.e., the first places that an inhabitant would enter, are usually equipped with one or more querns, and/or a mortar. Thus, these spaces were used for food processing activities. This proposal is further supported by the simultaneous presence of cooking pots. Interestingly, however, none of the households is furnished with a built hearth. A fireplace in the form of an open fire, is solely evidenced in rooms A and Φ, which are the only spaces suitable for cooking. The lack of an individual fireplace in the majority of the domestic units at Pano Mantilaris, may be taken to suggest that the households were not independent in regards to cooking, which may be therefore proposed to have been a communal activity. Alternatively, rooms A and Φ may have possibly been open for use by the rest of the community.
Besides cooking, the spaces with the greatest connectivity also produced data regarding the opposite pole of food preparation, i.e., its consumption. The excavation brought to light jugs, that in some cases are also supplied with a strainer mouth, and craters. By contrast, evidence for storage, such as the best-preserved pithoi, came from the least connected spaces. Furthermore, rooms Ωα and Γβ are furnished with cuts and pits, which offer important storage capacity. Of particular interest is Pit 18 at room Ωα, where a large animal bone assemblage was found. The excavator proposes that the pit was used as a vat for the storage of meat preserved in animal fat. [17]
The spatial and contextual analysis of the rooms at Pano Mantilaris generally demonstrates shared attributes in the organization and use of space. The domestic units seem to follow a repetitive pattern that may be recognized as the preferred household type. The aforementioned observation does not, however, imply that the idea of the concept of the household was strictly moulded and replicated. Indeed, differentiation in the configuration of the rooms, the stable architectural features and the movable finds are well-attested. Such alterations, however, could be viewed as the encodement of the inhabitants’ personal identities. [18]


Figure 1. (a) Ground plan of Alassa-Pano Mantilaris; (b) Visual Graphic Analysis map indicating the most connected spaces with red color and the least connected spaces with dark blue; (c) agent analysis map indicating the circulation in the site. Red color represents intense circulation, while dark blue/purple loose circulation. (After Hadjisavvas (2017), fig. 2.3; ground plan digitally redrawn and maps digitally produced by the author).


The site of Pyla-Kokkinokremos is situated in the Larnaca Distrinct, on a rocky plateau at an altitude of 63 m. Offering a control of not only the surrounding plain, but also of the Larnaca Bay and of the passage from the Mesaoria plain to Larnaca, the location is considered strategic. The first excavations brought to light five complexes (A–E), located on the east ridge of the plateau. More recent work on the plateau revealed four more complexes (F–I).
The complexes (Figure 2a) were built with the casemate technique. This type of architecture features an outer and an inner wall. The space in-between them is separated in rooms by the addition of vertical walls. The main characteristic of casemate architecture is that it provides fortification and security during a possible siege.
The bedrock was cut to facilitate the construction of the complexes. The walls were set directly on the raised bedrock around the shafted area. This technique is used throughout the island and therefore known from other sites, such as Alassa. The quarrying of the natural bedrock offered an even surface for the floor and, at the same time, building materials on site. [19]
Space configuration at Pyla-Kokkinokremos presents a completely different picture in comparison to Alassa. Interestingly, complexes A and B are identical in architectural plan. The rooms of the complexes are arranged around an internal courtyard that is situated in the center of the building. The connectivity map (Figure 2b) shows that the courtyard is the only permeable room, offering access both to the exterior of the buildings, as well as to their inner rooms. The courtyard affords direct visual contact with rooms 6, 2, and 3 of Complex A, and rooms 9, 5, and 10 of Complex B. [20] Rooms 4, 8 (Complex A) and 11, 14 (Complex B), are accessed through a corridor. The latter rooms share the same architectural form and have approximately the same dimensions, but their doorways are set in opposite corners, preventing direct visual contact between the two rooms. [21]
Complexes C and G have a different arrangement of rooms, although they follow the same basic pattern with an inner courtyard that provides access to a group of rooms. On the other hand, Complexes D and H do not include inner courtyards in their plans. Nevertheless, this does not imply that all the rooms were completely roofed. Three depressions found in rooms 6, 42, and 7+41 of Complex H are hypothesized [22] to have been serving the collection of rainwater. The hypothesis that the rooms were unroofed is further supported by the patch of ashes found in room 6, indicating the need for very good ventilation.
Figure 2. (a) Ground plan of Pyla-Kokkinokremos; (b) Visual Graphic Analysis map indicating the most connected spaces with red color and the least connected spaces with dark blue; (c) agent analysis map indicating the circulation in the site. Red color represents intense circulation, while dark blue/purple loose circulation. (After Karageorghis and Kanta, plan 2; ground plan digitally redrawn and maps digitally produced by the author).
At Pyla-Kokkinokremos storage vessels and especially pithoi and Canaanite jars have been found distributed in most of the rooms, including the internal open courtyards. Indeed, their presence is stronger in some rooms, such as rooms 2 and 3 of Complex A, room 9 of Complexes B and G and room 26 of Complex D. However, pithoi and Canaanite jars were found in every room of Complexes D, F, G, and H, thus demonstrating that the practice of storage was not concentrated in a single space. At the same time, the Complexes illustrate an autonomy in what regards subsistence products. A high degree of independence may also be distinguished in cooking activities. Cooking pots are widely distributed within the settlement and within the complexes. Similarly to storage vessels, cooking pots have been found in the majority of the rooms. Although room 12 of Complex F is the only space recognized as a cooking area with a built hearth, the remains of open-air fires came to light in Complexes C, D and H.

Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios

The Late Bronze Age site of Ayios Dhimitrios lies at 3.5 km north of the sea and approximately 175m. on the west bank of the Vasilikos River. The terrain of the location is almost flat, offering direct access to the surrounding fertile lands, which are suitable for agricultural activities. The site is not fully excavated and published. Nevertheless, the “Vasilikos Valley Project” yielded intriguing finds.
Building IX (Figure 3a) is free-standing, comprises seven rooms, and is divided in two sections, east and west. The sections are similar in plan, though not identical. [23] Each section has an entranceway. Rooms A 51 and A 53 provide access to the rest of the rooms (Figure 3b), and according to the agent analysis map (Figure 3c), they are the spaces where circulation becomes more intense.
Even though pithos sherds came from all the rooms of the building, their presence is stronger in the following rooms: A 46, A 50, A 51 and A 52. [24] These rooms also yielded the highest percentage of cooking pots. On the other hand, the finest pottery of the building (White Slip II, Bare Ring II, and White Painted Wheelmade III) was mainly found concentrated in room A 53, [25] thus indicating that the room could function as the focal point of social interaction.
It is noteworthy that the building also features a high number of bronze artifacts. The largest assemblage (23 bronze objects and fragments) found in the building comes from room A 45. The artifacts are not only useful tools (knife, spatula, pins or nails): they also demonstrate an accumulation of wealth with a potential exchange value. In the same room, a crucible was also found, suggesting at least some metal-working activities in the building. The hearth in the adjacent room A 44, where a small prill of copper was found, strengthens this interpretation.
Production activities, though of a different nature, have also been attested in the partly excavated Building III and the spaces found in the West Area. Room A 217 of Building III and room A 10 of the West Area seem devoted to the processing of liquids. The question arises whether production served the needs of the dwellers or of the wider community. Some initial observations may be in order here. Building III is partly excavated and thus its full architectural plan remains unknown. However, at the West Area the excavated rooms are not defined by clear boundaries and the configuration of space seems more fluid. It is then plausible that at Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios both free-standing buildings and wider complexes of rooms co-existed. This combination of architectural styles is not unparalleled in Late Bronze Age Cyprus. At Alassa free-standing buildings are evidenced at the site of Paliotaverna, situated 250m. north-western of Pano Mantilaris. Nonetheless, the social relations of the inhabitants of these sites remain blurred.
Figure 3. (a) Ground plan of Building IX, Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios; (b) Visual Graphic Analysis map indicating the most connected spaces with red color and the least connected spaces with dark blue; (c) agent analysis map indicating the circulation in the site. Red color represents intense circulation, while dark blue/purple loose circulation. (After South 1982, fig. 1; ground plan digitally redrawn and maps digitally produced by the author).

Discussion and conclusion

The spatial arrangement of the rooms at Pano Mantilaris implies an attempt to fix the movement of people, as in most cases there is only one possible route available: to reach the innermost room of the unit one must cross all previous rooms (Figure 1c). Therefore, intra-house circulation is already structured and controlled before anyone enters the building. At the same time, room privacy remains low.
The application of privacy, however, is socio-culturally determined. Indeed, in at least three cases (rooms A, N, and Nα) the doorway of the domestic unit offers access to an interior courtyard or semi-roofed space. These spaces bridge the exterior world with the interior of the household. At the same time, open, yet walled spaces, afford the hosting of visitors while keeping them apart from the internal spaces. As hospitality jeopardizes the integrity of both parts engaged, [26] this intermediate space becomes a safe facilitation of social interaction.
Hospitality may include the common consumption of food and/or alcoholic beverages. [27] In the aforementioned rooms, bowls, jugs and craters, as well as cooking pots indicate that consumption activities were indeed taking place. However, the same vessels were found in rooms B and Ωα, which comprise the innermost spaces of the houses. Although it is possible that they were the storage areas of vessels, these spaces may have also hosted gatherings and feasting activities of a more private character. In conjunction with a possible communal way of cooking, the evidence suggests that at Pano Mantilaris social cohesion was maintained through a multi-level social interaction.
Unlike Alassa, space organization at Pyla-Kokkinokremos afforded people with more than one routes to rooms usually arranged around an open area. Therefore, residents/visitors could access a single room without passing through any other room of the complex (Figure 2c). Noteworthy is that each room, especially in Complexes G and H, is furnished with an assemblage of storage, cooking and consumption vessels. The repetition of this pattern in rooms that sustain privacy suggests that the complexes used to enclose more than one group of people. At the same time, in most of the compounds the remains of open-air fires were found, suggesting cooking autonomy. A built hearth found in room 12 of Complex F, demonstrates that the space was used for such activities. However, it remains unknown whether this area was public or private.
The free-standing Building IX at Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios was also provided with a hearth that possibly served small scale metal-working activities, besides cooking. The inhabitants of the building, therefore, seem to have been independent not only regarding subsistence, but also in terms of technological knowledge and expertise. The choice of an architecturally free-standing dwelling indicates that its occupants remained distinct from the rest of the community. At the same time, the division of the building in two sections suggests a possible separation of the residential group. The social criteria that defined this division and its overall character remain unknown.
The cases that this research project examined demonstrate that the function as well as the bonding of Late Cypriot societies were not uniform: communal interdependence seems to have played a significant role at Pano Mantilaris; on the other hand, the focus seems to have been on individual compounds and their residential group(s) at Pyla, while intra- and inter-compound interaction was facilitated by the inner courtyard. Last, Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios illustrates a more autonomous mode of functioning. Internal courtyards are absent and the boundaries of the dwellings and the distinction between the interior and exterior space is bolder. Nevertheless, diverse patterns of organization might have existed within the settlement. Further research and new excavation data may shed further light on this issue. All in all, it is possible to recognize a diversity of social organization and various levels of social interaction, irrespectively of the potential impact of elite groups in Late Bronze Age Cyprus; for household is indeed the stimulus and the machine of society.


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[ back ] 1. Corbusier 1986, 95.
[ back ] 2. Hillier 2007, 14.
[ back ] 3. Hillier 2007, 16.
[ back ] 4. For the definition of the term, see the Cambridge Dictionary.
[ back ] 5. The absolute dates are according to Knapp 2008.
[ back ] 6. Fisher 2009; 2014; 2023; Kiely 2018.
[ back ] 7. Styrenius 1994, 11.
[ back ] 8. Catling 1962.
[ back ] 9. Hillier and Hanson 1984, 18.
[ back ] 10. Lévi-Strauss 1963, 289.
[ back ] 11. Hillier and Hanson 1984, 3.
[ back ] 12. Hillier and Hanson 1984, 4.
[ back ] 13. Durkheim 1981, 30.
[ back ] 14. Lӧw 2016, 126.
[ back ] 15. Lӧw 2016, 171.
[ back ] 16. Wilk and Rathje 1982, 618.
[ back ] 17. Hadjisavvas 2017, 29–30.
[ back ] 18. Fisher 2014, 409.
[ back ] 19. Karageorghis and Kanta 2014, 113.
[ back ] 20. Fisher 2014, 405.
[ back ] 21. Karageorghis and Kanta 2014, 116.
[ back ] 22. Karageorghis and Kanta 2014, 118.
[ back ] 23. South 1982, 64.
[ back ] 24. South 1982, 65.
[ back ] 25. South 1983, 106.
[ back ] 26. Steel 2016; 2021.
[ back ] 27. Steel 2021.