History of Cyprus

Also available in: Türkçe

The island of Cyprus has been a point of conflict, war, invasion and pillage for all of its history. Its strategic location and its natural wealth have made Cyprus a magnet to potential attack. But the diversity this has brought has enriched the island, and none of this heritage is lost to the present generation.

The first prolific signs of human life in Cyprus date to around 7000 BC, or the Neolithic era. Museums exhibit stone pots, baked earthenware pots, flint axe heads and jewelry, along with later bronze and iron knives, spearheads and arrowheads.

According to findings taken from the digs in Tatlisu, human life may go back as early as 10,000 BC, or very late Paleolithic times. The evidence suggests that the first people came from Anatolia and Syria, and that they settled by the coast at places such as Vrysi.

The Chalcolithic Age from around 3500 BC to 2300 BC saw the first use of copper, but not in worked form. Unable to smelt and fashion the metal, people used the ore as sharp tools.

The Bronze Age, from 2300 BC to 1050 BC arose when people learned how to work metal. The Age is generally divide into Old, Middle and Late, and important sites dating from these times can be seen at the Pigades shrine, the Tumba Skuru tombs, Karmi Bronze Age Cemetery and the Enkomi Temple.

The Iron Age, 1050 BC to 395 AD saw bronze being replaced by iron. The Geometric Era (1050 BC – 750 BC), the Archaic Era (750 BC – 475 BC), the Classical Era (475 BC – 325 BC), the Hellenic Era (325 BC – 58 BC) and the Roman Era (58 BC – 395 AD) conveniently subdivide the Iron Age. In the Geometric Era Phoenicians and Doric people established kingdoms on the island by way of colonies. Examples are Soli and Salamis. The Archaic Era ushered in domination by outside empires – the Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Persians. In the Classical Era control of Cyprus passed from the Egyptians to the Persians and from them to Alexander. Following the Macedonian victory at Issus, the kings of Cyprus came under Alexander’s rule and the Persian ascendancy came to a close.

With the Hellenic Era we start to see theatres, gymnasiums, public baths and public statues in Cyprus. On Alexander’s death, when would be successors to his empire fought for its parts, Cyprus came under the rule of the Ptolomys of Egypt.

With the Roman Era more developed structures appeared such as theatres, agoras, stadiums, baths and aquaducts. Also arriving on the island at this time was Christianity in the form of St. Barnabus.

At the start of the Byzantine Era (395 AD – 1191 AD) the emperor Constantine (337 AD – 361 AD) rebuilt Salamis, which had been destroyed by an earthquake, and changed its name to Constantia. Around this time Cyprus started to be troubled by Arab raiders commanded by Muavia, with the result that whole populations moved from the immediate coast further inland for protection. The inhabitants of Salamis moved to Famagusta, and the castles of St. Hilarion, Buffavento and Kantara were built to meet the new threat. At the end of the Byzantine Period, English King Richard I (1184 – 1191) took Cyprus while crusading but, due to the ruinous cost of waging war and putting down insurrection, he sold it to the Knights Templar for 100,000 pieces of gold. From this time the island became a centre of religious and military organization on behalf of the crusaders.

The period of rule by the Knights Templar (1191 – 1192) was rather short. Finding the local lifestyle unappealing and constant civil conflict wearing, the Knights gave the island back to Richard. Richard then passed it on to Guy de Lusignan, a nobleman of French origin and at that time King of Jerusalem, who thus also became King of Cyprus. The Lusignan Period lasted a good deal longer than the one preceding it, and from 1192 to 1489 Lusignan kings reigned from their capital Nicosia. To ensure defence and to develop the infrastructure, large taxes were extorted from the people, and chapels, churches, cathedrals and monasteries were built, as well as mansions and palaces. Eager to take over, the Genoese attempted full scale invasion but only managed to take Famagusta, where they duly settled in 1374. Also campaigning in Cyprus was the Memluk Sultan Baybarsin who descended on the island in 1425 carrying away the then King Janus into captivity.

The Venetian Period 1489 – 1570

After the death of King Jacques of Cyprus in 1484, the Venetian Queen Kornaro ruled the island for five years before bequeathing it to Venice. A military governor was duly put in charge, but the Venetian Republic found itself becoming more and more directly involved in the affairs of the island with its diseases and natural disasters, particularly the earthquakes of 1491, to trouble it. They also found themselves paying 8000 gold duckets in tribute to the Egyptian Memluks, an imposition dating from the hapless King Janus’s time.

The Ottoman Period 1570 – 1878

Egypt was conquered in 1571 by Yavuz Sultan Selim. Selim came to an arrangement with the Venetians in Syria to the effect that the 8000 gold duckets that the Egyptians had been getting out of Cyprus would now come to the Ottomans. Thus, the Ottomans began to have an interest in and a tie with Cyprus. The Venetians continued to rule the island, but pirate attacks launched from Cyprus on shipping, both trading and pilgrim, caused such instability that the people of Cyprus asked the Ottomans to step in. The Sheik Islam Ebussuud Effendi announced a fatwa regarding the conquest of Cyprus as a consequence of the Venetians failure to keep their treaty obligations, and under the reign of Selim II, Lala Mustafa Pasha and naval commander Piyale Pasha were set the task of conquering the island. On 2nd July 1570 Limassol fell, on 4th July Tuzla, on 9th July Kyrenia castle, on 9th September Nicosia, and on 12thSeptember Paphos was reduced. Famagusta was placed under siege, and the inhabitants held off the Ottomans with their sophisticated ordinance for some time. But on 1st August 1571 the city surrendered, and the whole of Cyprus was Ottoman.

Under the Ottomans a lot of construction took place to improve the cultural and social framework, and to make Cyprus more habitable. People with appropriate skills were brought from Anatolia to improve the population. As with other Ottoman territories, land was overseen by trusts. Travellers’ inns were established along with baths, public water systems, aquaducts, libraries and mosques. Old buildings were restored and enlarged.

Russia declared war on the Ottomans in 1877, and this led to the treaty of 3rd March 1878 between the two countries. In the meantime secret agreements were signed with the British (4th June 1878, 1st July 1878) who were to assist the Ottomans in resisting the Russians. As part of these understandings Cyprus was to be temporarily run by Britain in return for a payment of ₤87,799 or 22,936 sacks of gold for the first year. And ₤92,799 for the second year. On 22nd July 1878 control of Cyprus passed from the Ottomans to the British after a reign of 308 years. But this was supposed to be temporary. However, using the pretext of the Ottomans taking the wrong side in the First World War, the British annexed the island outright on 5th November 1914. Following Turkey’s War of Deliverance and its successful outcome under Ataturk, the Turkish Republic was recognized by the Allied Powers with the Treaty of Lausanne (23rd July 1923), and the twenty-first article of this agreement accepted the British annexation of Cyprus.

The British Colonial Period 1878 – 1960

The Greek Cypriot portion of the island’s population supported the idea of union with Greece (enosis), and to this end they staged a rebellion in 1931 with Greece’s support. “Enotists” soon realized that only violent means could secure their goal, and the terrorist organization EOKA was set up in 1953. In an announcement on 1st April 1955, EOKA, under the leadership of Grivas, declared itself at war with the British and the Turks in their determination to join Greece, and that they would destroy these enemies. First Greek Cypriots attacked British soldiers and their families, and then Turkish Cypriots. Many innocents died, and life on the island became very strained. The British did not deal effectively with the EOKA threat, and Turkish Cypriots were driven to form the Turkish Cypriot Resistance Organisation – TMT – on 1st August 1956. TMT was successful in obstructing the projected union with Greece. Britain meanwhile tried to come to terms with Greek Cypriot leaders Makarios and Kyprianou on the basis of “self-government,” and when these efforts failed the two were packed off into exile. Britain suggested joint Turkish and Greek Cypriot rule of the island with an overseeing role for Turkey, Greece and Britain. Although the Greeks did not agree to this, when Turkey appointed a representative to look towards this aim on 1st October 1958 the Greeks brought themselves to the negotiating table.