History of Cyprus

Aphrodite’s Rock – Pafos, Cyrpus



My tour of the Mediterranean (Malta and Valencia earlier this spring) ends with our family holiday on the island of Cyprus this week. This is our second visit to the island. Due to the inexpensive flights on the Hungarian budget airlines, Whizz Air, Nadia booked us a week in a resort on the south coast, close to where we stayed last year. I enjoy learning the history and culture of the places I visit and as with all the places in the Mediterranean, Cyprus has a long history. The first settlers reached the island around 6000 BC. Recorded history began with Hellenic settlers forming city-states all over the island beginning in 1400 BC. One of these ancient cites, Amathous, is close to our hotel, and was founded around 1000 BC.

Also similar to other islands in the Mediterranean, a series of outside groups had control for generations through its history. The Persians (Iranians today) ruled for approximately 200 years, although they mostly left the Hellenic city-states alone and just collected taxes. Some of the most famous names in history ruled the island, at least as part of a larger empire. In 333 BC, Alexander The Great released the island from Persian control, and had it part of the Greek Empire. After his death ten years later, Ptolemy I of Egypt took over, and the Hellenistic Egypt administered the island for another 300 years.

The Romans took over in 58 BC, and one of my favorite public speakers, Cicero, was one of its first Proconsuls (like a Governor-General). The Roman General, Mark Anthony gave the island to his lover, Cleopatra VII of Egypt in 40 BC. After they died the Romans took the island back under Roman control. The Romans ruled for 600 years and built roads, aqueducts, and palaces.

The early Christian apostles came to the island from nearby Turkey in 45 AD. The apostle Paul and his local buddy Barnabas (Agios Varnavas in Greek), a Greek Jew, began converting Cypriots to Christianity. Paul is alleged to have blinded a magician for the Roman court for mocking Jesus, which convinced the Roman Proconsul to convert to Christianity and it became the first country in the world to be ruled by a Christian. The practice of Christianity grew, with even Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by Jesus, was the archbishop of the Church of Cyprus, which is one of the oldest independent churches in the world. When the Roman Empire split in 395 AD, the Byzantines took over and sent officials from Constantinople to govern the island.

The Arabs started raiding the island in 647 AD. In one battle, the wife of an Arab commander, was the Prophet Mohammed’s Aunt, fell from a mule and died on the shores of a salt lake near Lanarka. The mosque there is now a holy place in the Muslim world. The island was jointly ruled by the Byzantines and Arabs from 688 AD to 965 AD after a truce. This is very similar to today’s arrangement of both “Greek” and Turkish rule. The Byzantines took sole control of the island after that and due to the fighting, many coastal cities were destroyed and inland cities built.

Next up were the Brits, with King Richard the Lionheart (great nickname) taking over in 1184. He was here because of the Crusades and it was used as a Christian supply station for “the front” of the Crusades. He sold it to the Knights Templar (see my post on Malta) who could not afford to keep it and sold it to a French nobleman, Guy de Lusignan in 1192. He founded a dynasty that lasted until 1474. The City-States of Genoa and later Venice ruled the island until 1571.

Islam made an appearance again, this time in the form of the Ottomans, who captured the island in 1571 from the Venetians. I know a lot about Ottoman rule, as it is the same history as in Serbia. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the British came back and took over in 1878, after an agreement ceded the island to Great Britian. The Brits held the island until 1960, when Cyprus gained independence. They kept the Turks and Greeks apart on the island, with a Bosnian-type representative government of 70% Greek and 30% Turk. This only lasted 14 years, as interference from mainland Greece and Turkey, resulted in the Turkish military seizing the northern 37% of the island. Greek Cypriots living in the north fled south and Turkish Cypriots in the south, moved north. The UN came in and set up the famous “Green Line”. No one crossed for almost 30 years until restrictions were eased in 2003. Today it is quite easy to cross the border and we hope to try doing our holiday here.

The island today is similar to its past, being fought over by the Greeks, in the form of a Greek culture independent and EU member Cyprus, and an Islamic side, controlled by Turkey. History repeats itself and this arrangement is similar to when the Persians and Arabs were dealing with the Hellenes or Romans/Byzantines over who got to rule the island. As I feel about all islands, it is common sense to govern them as one entity. The water is a natural border and a protective layer. However, Cyprus is closer to Turkey than it is to Greece, so I see where conflict can arise. I like the idea of a being a separate country from both Turkey and Greece, and have both communities come together as Cypriots. I don’t foresee this happening anytime in the near future.

View from top of Amathus




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