The History of Cyprus

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   juliasun.gif (24966 bytes)      From the Beginning    juliasun.gif (24966 bytes)

Once upon a time when the world was already hundreds of million years old, in the Secondary Cretaceous or Mesozoic geological age, ( about a hundred million years ago.) The mountains of the Kyrenia Range were being formed on the Ocean floor.
The limestone they are composed of was created by layers and layers of generations of the shells and bones of zillions of dead sea creatures, piling up on one another.
Eventually these layers reached the surface and became land.
Then because of changing sea levels, this land mass again sank beneath the ocean.
The next development was that sand and silt were deposited on the top, which made sandstone.

Later because of pressure from Asia to the north and Africa to the south, this part of the ocean floor (which was flat ) crumpled and buckled, some huge folds were pushed up above sea level, and through the resultant cracks poured out molten rock, great fiery streams of lava, which made islands in the sea.
These formed the basis of the Troodos Mountains. This small group of islands were then weathered over the centuries and as the mountain tops eroded the silt was washed down to form the Mesaoria plain and the fertile coastal regions that now make up Cyprus. At that time this land mass was joined to both Turkey and Africa, but as the Mediterranean basin filled with melting ice from the Ice age, Cyprus became a separate entity.

                      
Mythology and Folklore of Cyprus

The first evidence we have of a human population on the island is from the Mesolithic period (7000 to 4000 BC.) If the island was inhabited before then, traces of them have yet to be found.(15 th January 1999 they have been found from 1000 years previously at the   Pareklissia-Skilourokambous Neolithic settlement.) It is however believed that hunter gatherers did live on the island who came from Syria and Silicia. The trouble is , it depends who you read, and having now read quite a lot the only conclusion I can come to is that no-one really knows.
The skeletons that have been found show us that these early inhabitants were Homo sapiens sapiens. They were short and sturdy, but the same as we are today. These people knew about agriculture, they grew and stored corn using wooden ploughs and flintstone bladed sickles. They made pottery and lived in communities. You can visit one of these at Chirokitia off the  Larnaca / Limassol highway. It is a very interesting site with  massive stone made round foundations to each small "house".

The excavation of Khirokitia began in 1936 under the direction of Porphyrios Dikaios.The work has been continued by French archaeologists.

 The settlement was built on the slope of a hill, and was watered by the river Maroni which ran at the foot of this south facing hill. You will find a plan here of part of the settlement ,just the 'head' so to speak, as to me , a layman, it resembles a dragon laying on the slope of a hill,

    khirokitia in Cyprus  
Khirokitia

Below is 'My Dragon 'The ultimate ring symbols.


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There is a wall running up the hill, and on both sides you will find the remains of round 'houses' similar to ones found near Volos in Greece. These are known as tholoi and were from the Thessalian Sesklo culture there. The biggest of these houses have an external diameter of ten metres and an internal diameter of five metres, the smallest 2-3 meters.

It seems that these people buried their dead under the floors of the houses in a crouching position, Up to 26 skeletons have been found in a single dwelling.

There were apparently two phases of settlement here. (more to follow)

It then seems that the island was abandoned for unknown reasons, and the next group of remains to have been uncovered date from between 4500 and 4000 BC. At this time there was a much larger population, and interesting remains can be found at Sotira, near Ayia Napa. They produced a very distinctive type of pottery, lived in circular houses and buried their dead in a crouching position underneath the floors just as the Khirokitians did..

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In about 3000 BC. Copper was first used to make weapons. By 2000 BC metalwork had developed to produce bronze (Copper with a 10% tin mixture) and the pottery was looking good, so trade with other countries in the Mediterranean was a reality.

There was an abundant supply of copper on the island and business was flourishing when in 1500 BC Thutmosis III ( A great Egyptian Pharaoh ) decided to include Cyprus in his domaim.i.e http://www.thutmos3/Cyprus.html.  no don't click it !
Because of this take-over Cyprus is first mentioned in History.

The Phoenicians arrived to trade from their cities of Tyre and Sidon in Babylonia. They built large towns at Kitium, Amathus and Lapithos.

Then in the 13th century BC the Aegean people came, and stayed. They built many fortified settlements. One that you may like to visit is the Mycenaean Maa-Paleokastro location at Coral Bay , near Paphos.

The great trading centre of Knossos in Crete took care of the development of trade. They had huge fleets of ships which traded with everyone all the way to the Atlantic coasts of Africa and Spain. And then suddenly Knossos was destroyed ! It is not known how, but whatever the reason it is known that the Dorians invaded Greece in about 1200 BC. They were aggressive and had iron weapons and an enormous number of Greek speaking people fled. Many of them arrived in Cyprus and so began the Hellenic connection which has remained strong to the present day. So the island was now predominantly Greek speaking, but still a colony of the Egyptian Pharaohs.

Smaller City states were divided into 'nationalities' Marion, Salamis and Soli were basically 'Ionian.' Curium was 'Dorian' and Kouklia and Kitium were 'Mycenian'   They practiced the original form of democracy which meant that only native people and wealthy citizens had the right to vote. Trade was booming and exports in Corn, oil, wine and copper were top of the list.

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In about 750 BC when the Egyptian sphere of influence was waning the Cypriot kings chose a new master. Sargon II the King of Assyria. They submitted to him, thereby becoming his protectorate and later when King Assur-bani-pal invaded Egypt 10 Cypriot Kings supported and joined him.
Big mistake. Assyria was herself invaded by the 'Medes,' they captured Ninevah the capital of Assyria  and that was the end of that. Egypt was on the up, and yet again she took control of Cyprus, this time by the hand of Amasis II who was Pharaoh from 570 to 525 BC.

The next bid for power from the Cypriot Kings was on the winning side.
In 525 BC they joined the Persian Empire and again invade Egypt.
King Darius I organised his empire into 'satrapies' or provinces. There were 20 in all and Cyprus formed part of the fifth along with what is now Syria , Israel and the Lebanon.

(The country reaching from the city of Posideium , built by Amphilochus, son of Amphiaraus, on the confines of Syria and Cilicia) to the borders of Egypt, excluding there from a district which belonged to Arabia and was free from tax, paid a tribute of three hundred and fifty talents. All Phoenicia, Palestine Syria, and Cyprus, were herein contained. This was the fifth satrapy. By Herodotus Written 440 B.C)

Well they won and went on to subjugate the independent Greek Aegean islands, but no one was happy. The people of Cyprus had been used to freedom and did not like their new situation hence them joining the Ionian revolt in 500 BC.  'Miletus' was a city in Ionia and with aid from the Athenians they captured the Persian city of Sardes. The Cypriot Kings joined the Ionians ( except the Phoenicians of Amathus).( see here *for a description of the time)

    The Persians landed near Salamis and while their vessels lay in the roads were attacked by the Ionian fleet and thoroughly defeated. However the battle on land did not go so well. In the height of battle the Prince of Curium changed sides, as did the charioteers of Salamis. The Cypriots were defeated and subject again to Persia. They had to add their vessels to the Persian fleet and send it on a punitive attack on their allies the Ionians. The entire population of Miletus were slaughtered or enslaved.

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The Cypriots did not give up however, and for the next 200 years or so they struggled bravely against the Persians whenever they could.

From 487 BC for about another 100 years Cyprus was liberated 'on and off'. The Greeks of Greece had formed a confederacy called the Darian League. They wanted to liberate Cyprus so that they could use her sea faring and ship building talents to advantage. However they were constantly arguing among themselves, and infected the Cypriot Cities with the same disease. One of the exceptions was King Evagoras of Salamis * who worked to unite them all, but in the end, failed.

The success story of Alexander of Macedon was however to become a byword. Alexander the Great took command of his fathers armies in 336 BC aged 23. The next 10 years were spent thrashing Persia and Mesopotamia.
He conquered everyone. (See here * for writings by Plutarch)
Alexander had been a student of Aristotle and was a total fan of Greek culture and he spread its art, literature, political concepts and philosophy as far as he conquered. Cyprus was to have 300 years of Hellenistic civilisation. The only problem after Alexander's early death was which one of his 3 Generals should the Cypriots support ? Out of Ptolemy, Antigonus and Seleucis most favoured Ptolemy and took over in 318 BC. He sent his brother Menelaus to to crush the resistance, which included Amathus and Kitiion. King Pygmalion of Kitium was executed and  King Nicocles of Paphos committed suicide.

But things are prone to change, and ten years later in 306 BC Antigonus' son Demetrius took the island. He was a good guy and freed Menelaus and all his other prisoners in a gesture of good will. He lasted for 10 years.

Then back to Ptolemy in 295 BC. There was no resistance except in Salamis, but Demetrius' gentlemanly behaviour paid off and he was showered with gifts instead of executed. Ptolemy was a cultured man. There was built a great university in Alexandria dedicated to the Muses ( nowadays known as a museum ) and as Cyprus was only 200 miles away by sea there was plenty of trade and cultural exchange, education amongst the upper classes was at a peak. Things were good.. It was at this time that Zenon of Kitium established his school of philosophy in Athens.


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In 190 BC The sons of Ptolemy V were quarrelling, they appealed to Rome, an increasing power in the Mediterranean, to settle their differences. This was done in order to keep Rome out, but after fifty or so years of squabbling between Kings and alliances, Rome arrived in force in the shape of Marcus Portius Cato.* He became the first official Roman Governor in 58 BC. He was a good and honest administrator and  spent 2 years establishing Roman law and order in Cyprus, and he was a supporter of the senate. When Caesar became a dictator, Cato took his own life, he was not happy that the senate and Republicanism should no longer have power.
Cyprus was given as a gift by Caesar to Queen Cleopatra VII, the last of the Ptolemies, but after the assassination of Caesar in 44 BC, the new Augustus Caesar (Octavian) vanquished Anthony and Cleopatra* in the Naval battle of Actium in 33 BC and took Cyprus back.

The next governor in 29 BC was Marcus Cicero, son of the famous orator and politician. Cyprus was now an Imperial Province with a military governor and under the personal supervision of the Emperor, but in 22 BC after a few peaceful years it earned the status of  a Senatorial Province, and was allowed an administration under a high ranking Proconsul rather than a military man.  Paphos became the seat of government and prosperity spread. New roads, public buildings, aqueducts, bridges and temples were built, come and see for yourselves.

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Christianity hit the island in a big way in the form of St Paul and Barnabas. in 45/46 AD. (Barnabas. was originally called Joseph, a Jew of the house of Levi, he had lived in Salamis and was converted and renamed by the Apostles.) Together they converted the Roman Proconsul, Segius Paulus who was the only 'known' Christian of the ruling classes, So Cyprus was the first country to have a Christian ruler. Four years later Barnabas returned to the island with St. Mark and strengthened the church in Cyprus enormously.

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Main Cyprus History Timeline

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Survey of opinions for History page

What will be left as artefacts of our civilisation in

  1. 10,000 years ?
  2. 30,000 years ?

What will people finding  those artefacts be able to state about our
   
     3.  Way of life
     4.  Culture
     5.  Religious beliefs

We would be very grateful if you could spend the time to answer these questions, and we will publish your results .  Just answer the questions by number. 
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To go to our brief history of Cyprus in words and pictures click here

Historical Writings about Cyprus

Myths and Legends of Cyprus

 

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29/08/12       Original graphics on this page are courtesy of Steve Bennett of KarmaStorm Digital Arts & Web Animation Gallery

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