🔼The name Salamis: Summary
- Nucleus Of Salt, Heart Of The Sea
- Place Of Wholeness
- From sal, salt, and mesos, middle.
- From the verb שלם (shalem), to be or make whole or complete.
🔼The name Salamis in the Bible
The name Salamis belongs to a city on Cyprus and occurs only once in the Bible, namely in Acts 13:5. Freshly ordained in Antioch, Saul (who would assume the name Paul in Paphos, on the other end of Cyprus), Barnabas and John Mark went from Seleucia to Cyprus and began to preach the Word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.
The city Salamis was named after an island of the same name, which was situated just off the coast of Athens. In the straights between the island and the mainland was fought the Battle of Salamis (480 BC), between the Greek city-states and the Persians under Xerxes (called Ahasuerus in Esther and Ezra), the son of Darius the Great, the emperor who had allowed the Jews to return from their exile.
Ten years after the Battle of Marathon, this Battle of Salamis was among the most decisive events to shape the modern world. The Greeks had been vastly outnumbered but still came out victorious over the Persians, and the plight of the righteous minority became an archetype that inspired many a future rebel. The Battle of Salamis turned the global tide: the Persian empire began to decline and the Greek one arose.
Much longer ago but no less decisive, the island of Salamis had sent twelve ships into the Trojan War (Il.2.557) under the command of native son Ajax (Il.7.199). But, as noted by the excellent Peter Green: "This passage (2.557-558) is of interest chiefly because of the number of ancient authors, including Aristotle, Plutarch and Strabo, who allege that it was a forgery, inserted by the Athenians to support Solon's claim on the island as the property of Athens." In other words, in Luke's time, the name Salamis may have rung like a code word for forgery.
Additionally, Ajax, though a great Greek hero, was so very upset that Achilles' godly armor was given to the definitively more eloquent Odysseus, that he killed himself. Since killing Greeks was the mission of the Trojans, he was not only an emotional weakling but also a defector. The Trojans would lose the war, but Ajax would not share in the Greek victory. And to add even to that, the mother of Ajax' half-brother Teucer, Hesione, was a sister of the Trojan king Priam. When Priam had sent his son Paris to retrieve Hesione and he was denied, Paris' attentions averted to Helen of Sparta and he seduced her instead (and that triggered the Trojan War).
During the war, Teucer had fought valiantly beside Ajax (from behind his shield, to be precise), but because he failed to bring Ajax' body or armor back to their father, he was banned from the island. Teucer subsequently set out looking for a new place to call home (which ties his story into the Nostoi, or return-home genre, which in turn links it to the Odyssey, the Aeneid and of course the Book of Acts; see our article on Malta). Teucer and company joined forces with the Phoenician king Belus of Tyre against Cyprus. They conquered the island and Teucer founded a new capital city, which he named after his old home: Salamis. So if the original Salamis stands for "fake", the city Salamis was a proverbial fake copy of a fake original.
Since the Bible is predominantly interested in the evolution of information technology (and not the world's political and military history; see our article on YHWH), the story of Cyprus and Salamis is interesting because of the Cypriot syllabary, which derived from the Minoan one, and was brilliant enough to compete for many centuries with the Phoenician one, which is the one from which all modern alphabets derive. The name Cyprus is also strongly associated with copper (our English word copper, or cuprum in Latin, actually derives from the Latin genitive of the name Cyprus, namely Cyprium, "of Cyprus"), and since copper was the first metal smelted, the beginning of the modern technological world (that is the beginning of the Bronze Age) has indeed always been linked to bronze, copper and thus proverbially to Cyprus (and see Exodus 31:1-6 and our article on Nehushtan).
🔼Etymology of the name Salamis
It's not wholly clear where the name Salamis comes from, or even whether it's Indo-European or Semitic. The area where the original island of Salamis was situated was of course Greek, which is officially an Indo-European language, but obviously so deeply exposed to the ubiquitous Semitic languages of their trading partners that the Greek language can be considered as much a hybrid of Indo-European and Semitic strati as English is of Germanic and Latin. And the Greek alphabet derives from the Phoenician one, so it's not at all unthinkable that the name Salamis (even if it originated in an Indo-European term) was preserved, and even arrived at its final form, because of its obvious proximity to the formidable Semitic root שלם (shalem), to be or make whole or complete:
The verb שלם (shalem) means to be or make whole or complete, and is also used to describe a righteous recompense or proper restitution (whether positive or not). The familiar noun שלום (shalom) means wholeness, completeness or peace.
Other derivatives are: noun שלם (shelem), peace offering; verb שלם (shalam), to be in a covenant of peace; adjective שלם (shalem), perfect, whole, complete, safe; noun שלם (shillem), recompense; nouns שלמן (shalmon), שלום (shillum), שלם (shillum) and שלמה (shilluma), reward or proper recompense.
However, since our name is old enough to feature in the Iliad (which plays at roughly the same time as the Exodus, when the Israelites were still waxing in Egypt, and roughly addresses the same concerns as the Book of Exodus, namely the competition of information technologies and thus the survival of national legacies), the actual origin of our name Salamis is indeed probably Indo-European, and its most likely source is the word sal, meaning salt — hence also the Greek word for salt, namely αλς (hals) and modern words like word salami, meaning salty. The Latin member of this root is the similar sal, whose genitive forms (singular/plural) are salis/salum ([made] of salt) and accusative forms are salem/sales. Alternatively, the second part of our name may stem from an ancient form of what would become the word μεσος (mesos), middle.
Since a government was considered to be seated like a nucleus in the midst of the society it governed, the name Salamis means something like Heart Of Salt, which is actually rather significant. The rise of information technology is told in the Gospels as the growing child Jesus (Luke 2:40, 2:52), who embodied the Word (John 1:14) that contained all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3), and upon whose shoulders would rest the government (Isaiah 9:6).
Mythology even older than the Iliad tells of an eponymous nymph Salamis, who mated with Poseidon to sire Cychreus, who became king of the island that would bear his mother's name when he subdued a local terrorizing dragon. These familiar themes obviously tell of the rise of human civilization (the quality of which strongly depends on communication and thus the quality of script) over the chaotic forces of animal anarchy (see δρακων, drakon, dragon or snake: the Hebrew word for snake, namely נחש, nahash, also means bronze or copper).
That means that the name Salamis may tie into the bigger Biblical salt-theme that runs from the story of Lot's wife to the Salt-Sea, and which compares the rise of human language and human script to the sterilizing and preservative effects of salt. Jesus' famous observation regarding salt that has lost its saltiness (Matthew 5:13) may hence also relate to the Cypriot syllabary that lost its saltiness when it was out-performed by the Hebrew alphabet of the Phoenicians.
Note that the Greek word for salt also means sea (the Big Salt), which is significant to our story because of the very strong correlation in Greek narrative between sailing ships, and governing societies: see our article on the verb κυβερναω (kubernao), to steer (a ship). The great navigator Jason (of Argonaut fame) was named from the verb ιαομαι (iaomai), to heal, and salt was the proverbial disinfectant that would help with that.
The name Salamis is probably Indo-European in origin and would thus mean In The Middle Of Salt, or Heart Of Salt. But it's also strikingly similar to the Semitic word for completion, wholeness or peace and would mean Place Of Wholeness to a passing Hebrew.