The History of Cyprus in 90 Centuries

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As a fertile island, Cyprus is unsurpassed, for it produces good wine, good oil and also enough corn for its own use. In Tamassos there are, moreover, a large number of copper mines, containing copper sulphates as well as copper oxide, which is suitable for medical purposes. Eratosthenes [3rd Cent BC] tells us that in ancient times the plains used to be covered with dense forest and, as a result, could not be cultivated, but the mines remedied the situation, for the inhabitants chopped down the trees in order to smelt copper and silver. Eratosthenes also says that shipbuilding was a further reason for deforestation, for the sea was a traffic route, sometimes for whole merchant fleets. Since the islanders were unable, in spite of this, to master the sheer extent of the forest on the island, they allowed anyone who was willing and able to fell trees to adopt the land thus won as their own property, without having to pay any taxes. - Strabo 14.6.5 [AD 19] - Strabo of Amasia, Greek historian and geographer

Cyprus is a young forward looking country with its roots in the Classical Greek period and stretching back over 90 centuries into the mists of prehistory and legend.

Cyprus lies at the crossroads of great civilisations. It has had a tumultuous past, its history is primarily that of occupation. The conquerors have had a strong influence on the Cypriot character, leaving an impression on the land, in the arts and forming the bedrock of Cypriot culture. Only in its recent history has Cyprus gained independence. An independence that has not been without a heavy price. Cyprus today is a divided island, with the northern part occupied by Turkey.

Epipaleolithic 8500 - 7000 BC

There is no hard evidence for the first human habitation on Cyprus. There is some evidence of communities existing before 6000 BC, but these seem to have come and gone leaving little trace of their existence. Contemporary with these communities were settled communities on the Syrian and Anatolian coasts dating back to before 7000 BC. The earliest known date of man on Cyprus is a tool kit found in a cave in the Akrotiri Peninsula. Radio carbon dating gives a date of 8500 BC. This could have been a passing hunter after pygmy hippopotami - now extinct.

Stone Age 7000 - 3900 BC

The first settlers came to Cyprus during the Neolithic or Stone Age, possibly on rafts from Asia Minor. One of the largest known settlements was at Khirokitia where the remains of 'beehive' stone houses can be found. Other remains can be found at Kastros and Tentra.

Neolithic IA 7000 - 4500 BC

Known as the Aceramic. The settlement of Chirokitia dates from this period, also Kalvassos and Frenaros.

Neolithic IB 4500 - 3900 BC

Also known as early ceramic. The first examples of ceramic art date from this period. Examples of settlements are found at Idalion and Troulloi.

Neolithic II 4500 - 3900 BC

This is the ceramic period - ceramics display a distinctive combed decoration. Excavations at Sotira and Kalavassos suggest migrations from Syria, Palestine or Asia Minor.

Chalcolithic 3900 - 2500BC

Copper discovered but not widely exploited. This is a transition phase between the Stone and Bronze Ages.

Bronze Age 2500 - 1050 BC

Migration from Anatolia and Mycenae. The discovery of copper is now widely exploited to create artefacts, the development of ceramics, trade with other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Early Cypriot 2300 - 1900 BC

The early discovery of copper is now widely exploited. Copper is exported to the countries of the Levant and Aegean. Settlements from this period are found all over Cyprus - Nicosia (Ayia Paraskevi), Sotira, Morphou.

Middle Cypriot 1900 - 1625 BC

Fortresses were erected as protection against raids by Hyksos. Kalopsida developed as an important trading centre. Settlers from surrounding countries arrived.

Late Cypriot 1625 - 1050 BC

A period of cultural innovation. The development of a distinctive script, advances in ceramics, strengthening of ties with the Greek civilisation. The Cypro-Minoan script developed during this period.

1400 - 1300 BC

Arrival of Greek Mycenaeans. Mycenaean pots date from this period.

1300 - 1230 BC

Strengthening of ties with the Greek world - language, customs, religion.

1230 - 1190 BC

Arrival of Achaeans, establishment of new cities which were to later become city states and independent kingdoms - Amathus, Curium, Kition ...

1190 - 1150 BC

The strategic location of Cyprus and its natural resources attracted the attention of many invaders and rulers. Assyrians, Egyptians and Persians raided the island.

1150 - 950 BC

A second wave of Achaeans settled in Cyprus. Earthquakes caused the destruction and abandonment of many cities.

Cypro-Geometric Period 1050 - 750 BC

Some of the destroyed cities were rebuilt and several new ones established during the first 100 years of this period. The Phoenicians arrived and settled, dominating the city of Kition - later to become their most powerful stronghold. Salamis, Paphos, Curium, and Amathus thrived during this period.

Cypro-Archaic Period 750 - 475 BC

Assyrians ruled from 709 - 669 BC. Tributes were collected from Cypriot kingdoms. An inscription on a pillar in Kition refers to seven Cypriot Kings who paid tribute to the Assyrian ruler Sargon II circa 709 BC. Another inscription refers to ten Cypriot cities - Salamis, Paphos, Curium, Soloi, Tamassos, Ledra, Kition, Amathus, Idalion, and Chytroi.

Following Assyrian rule Cyprus achieved a rare period of independence. This lasted almost a century until 565 BC when Cyprus was subjugated by the Egyptians. The Cypriot kingdoms remained independent but had to pay tax.

Egyptian rule lasted until 546 BC to be replaced by Persian domination. Although brief, Egyptian rule had considerable influence over the arts.

Persian rule lasted until 332 BC. A revolt in 449 BC was brutally suppressed.

Cypro-Classical Period 475 - 325 BC

[Evagoras] assumed control of the government of [Salamis], which as a result of Phoenician domination was run by barbarians; the city despised the Greeks, showed no interest in the arts and had neither a market place nor a harbour; Evagoras remedied all these deficiencies and increased the city's territory still further, surrounding it with new walls and providing it with triremes ... - Isocrates Evagoras 47 - Isocrates

A period dominated by Evagoras I (411 - 374 BC), King of Salamis, who waged war against the Persians. He was honoured by the Athenians for fighting the Persians, then abandoned when Athens signed a peace treaty with Persia.

Cyprus was caught in the middle between wars between Persia on the one hand, and Athens and Sparta on the other.

Apart from its importance as a source of wood for shipbuilding, Cyprus was an important naval base. The Persian Mediterranean naval fleet was based at Cyprus. The Persian fleet that destroyed Sparta's fleet at Knidos in 394 BC set sail from Cyprus.

Persian domination ended following the intervention of Alexander the Great and his victory at Tyre.

Hellenistic Period 325 - 50 BC

The intervention of Alexander the Great ushered in the Hellenistic period. On his death the empire was fought over by Ptolemy and Antigonos. Eventually Ptolemy prevailed. Cyprus was annexed by Egypt with Alexandria as its capital. A governor-general was appointed to run Cyprus. The Cypriot kingdoms were abolished in 312 BC.

During this period the arts flourished. It was also a time of public works - theatres, gymnasiums were established. Paphos flourished as the capital of Cyprus.

Roman Period 58 BC - 330 AD

By our Aphrodite of the mountains, by our mistress, by our Apollo Hylates, by our Apollo of Kyrenia, by our guardians the Curetes, by all the gods of Cyprus together with the council, the gods and goddesses of our fathers who belong to this island, the birthplace of Aphrodite, by Caesar Augustus who is our god, by eternal Rome and by all other gods and goddesses, we and our children do hereby solemnly swear ... to remain loyal to Tiberius Caesar and to honour him ... to have the same friends and the same enemies ... to accord holy honours to Rome and to Tiberius Caesar Augustus ...and only to the sons of his blood. - oath of allegiance to Rome [14 AD]

Rome annexed Cyprus in 58 BC, first as a province of Syria, then as separate province under a proconsul. A period of large public buildings - the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates at Kourion, the Temple of Zeus at Salamis. Further impressive remains can be found at Nea Paphos and Soli.

Both Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony offered Cyprus as a gift to Cleopatra.

The Roman period saw the spread of Christianity. The Apostles Paul, Barnabas and Mark landed in Cyprus in the year 45 AD. The first Bishoprics were established on the island. Barnabas died a a Martyrs death in Salamis.

A Jewish revolt in 116 AD led to the death of of an estimated 240,000 people and the destruction of Salamis, later rebuilt with financial help from Emperor Hadrian.

The Roman period came to an end with the division of the Roman Empire. Cyprus become part of the Byzantine Empire.

Byzantine Period 330 - 1191 AD

With the split of the Roman Empire, Cyprus was allocated to the East Roman or Byzantine Empire. In 330 AD Constantine the Great founded a new capital for the empire on the site of ancient Byzantium.

A period of prosperity for the island. Numerous churches were constructed, existing temples became churches. The island suffered numerous Arab raids resulting in an Arab presence on the island dividing the Byzantine Period into two smaller periods.

Early Byzantine 330 - 649 AD

The first two centuries were peaceful and prosperous. Constantine had officially recognised Christianity in 313 AD. In the late 4th century AD Emperor Theodosius ordered the closure of all pagan temples. This put an end to the rituals at the Temple of Aphrodite in Pathos, though worship of Aphrodite continued to the present day.

Helena the mother of Constantine visited the island in 327 AD on her way from Jerusalem. She carried a fragment of the cross. A 36 year drought and famine ended on her arrival. She was prompted in a dream to found the Monastery at Stavrovouni. Within the monastery the fragment of the cross is kept in a gold case.

332 - 333 AD, Cyprus hit by destructive earthquakes.

Led by a vision, Archbishop Amthemios discovered the tomb of St Barnabas. Within he found the gospel according to St Mark hand written by Barnabas. This earned him great fame and privileges (he was allowed to sign papers in Imperial purple ink) and led to Cyprus being granted the status of an independent church in 478 AD.

Large number of Christian Basilica Churches constructed.

Arab Raids 647 - 965 AD

The first of a series of Arab raids took place in 647 AD. Again in 653 and 654. These escalated over a period of about 300 years.

Salamis-Constantia was ransacked in the first raid and never recovered. The harbour towns of Paphos, Kourion and Lambousa were depleted as the inhabitants moved to higher, safer ground further inland.

Late Byzantine 965 - 1191 AD

Arabs were not finally removed from the island until 965 AD.

Many churches were constructed during this period. The Monastery of Kykkos established.

Richard I 1191 AD

Richard the Lion Heart (Richard I, King of England) was forced by bad weather to land at Limassol whilst out crusading. The reception was not good and so Richard conquered the island. Needing money to finance crusades the island was sold to the Knights Templars in 1192. Equally short of cash and finding Cyprus a troublesome investment the Knights Templars sold the island at a loss back to Richard. He in turn sold it on to a Frankish crusading knight - Guy de Lusignan.

Richard married Queen Berengaria of Navarre and crowned her Queen of England in Limassol castle - the only Royal Wedding and Coronation to have taken place outside of England.

Lusignan Rule 1192 - 1489

The Lusigans introduced a Norman feudal model, the Cypriots reduced to the status of serfs. The Latin church was introduced, the Orthodox church persecuted. Through trade the island prospered, Famagusta became one of the richest cities of the East.

Several Gothic buildings were constructed during this period - the cathedrals of Ayia Sophia in Nicosia, Saint Nicolas in Famagusta and Bellapais Abbey.

After the death of Peter I in 1369 the Lusignan influence slowly weakened. There were frequent raids on the island, the Genoese and Mamelukes caused widespread devastation. When the Genoese seized Famagusta the Venetians were called upon to help. The Venetians routed the Genoese, promptly annexing Cyprus for themselves

Thomas Aquinas dedicated De Regimine Principium to the 13th century King Hugh III.

Venetian Rule 1489 - 1571

In 1489 Catherine Kornaro, the last Queen of Cyprus, ceded Cyprus to the Venetians. This brought to an end the Medieval period and ushered in the Venetian Period.

A period noted for its persecution of the Greek Orthodox Church. Massive fortresses were constructed against the threat of an Ottoman invasion. Both Nicosia and Famagusta were encircled by great walls and bastions, the remains of which can still be seen. The Turks stormed Nicosia in 1570 and Famagusta in 1572 bringing to an end the Venetian period.

Turkish Rule 1570 - 1878

Cyprus was annexed by the Ottoman Empire. Many Turks arrived and settled on the island creating the two communities. The Latin Church was evicted, the Orthodox Church allowed to continue. Under Turkish rule the island fell into economic decline.

In 1878 under the terms of an alliance the Sultan ceded Cyprus to the British for the purpose of defence and administration, though it remained the property of the Sultan. In 1914 when Turkey entered the War on the side of Germany, Cyprus was formally annexed by Great Britain. In 1923, under the Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey renounced all claims to the island.

British Rule 1878 - 1960

Under British rule the island prospered. Problems arose when many Greek Cypriots began to demand union with Greece. This also sent alarm bells ringing in the minority Turkish community. The demand for unity with Greece pre-dates British rule and dates back to the independence of Greece.

In 1950 and again in 1955 the Cypriots asked the UN to recognise their demand for independence.

In 1955 Colonel George Grivas launched a terrorist campaign against the British (or an armed struggle for independence depending upon your viewpoint).

The British brought in troops to quell the disturbances. This proved to be counter-productive and merely generated more support amongst the Greek Cypriots. The British then made a grave mistake, a mistake that was to lead to riots, splits between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and the eventual partition of the island.

Playing on Turkish Cypriot fears and with the collusion of the Turks, the British set up Turkish Cypriot terror units. These proved all too successful, the different communities retreated into their own enclaves, and the island came very close to civil war a few years later during independence.

Two more appeals were made to the UN in 1957. A fifth appeal was made in September 1958.

The British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, put forward plans for the partition of Cyprus. These led to Greco-Turkish talks which finally led to the Zurich Agreement, signed in London in February 1959. Under the Zurich Agreement Cyprus was to become an independent state with Britain, Greece and Turkey acting as guarantors.

Cypriot Independence 1960

In 1960 Cyprus was inaugurated as the independent Republic of Cyprus with Archbishop Makarios as the first President of Cyprus.

Cyprus had gained independence but it was not at peace with itself. Inter-ethnic fighting periodically flared up, in August 1964 Turkey launched air strikes against Cyprus, in the same year UN troops were dispatched to the island in an attempt to keep the peace between the two communities (and have been there ever since). Makarios's relationship with the fascist regime in Greece gradually deteriorated. The demand for union with Greece had not gone away. A group of Cypriots, with the backing of the military junta in Greece, launched a coup against Makarios and appointed Nicos Sampson as President. This gave Turkey the excuse it was looking for, five days later Turkey invaded Cyprus.

Turkish Invasion 1974

On 20th July 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus. In 1983 the North was unilaterally declared as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. A state that no other country with the exception of Turkey recognises.

Cyprus is today a divided island. A green line divides the island. On the Turkish side razor wire, minefields, watch-towers every few hundred metres. A scene reminiscent of the cold war and the Iron Curtain dividing East and West Germany. Famagusta is a ghost town. Many refugees, both Turkish and Greek Cypriots fled to the South. Turkish Cypriots were forced by their own leaders and the action of illegal paramilitary units to flee to the occupied north.

An estimated 40-50,000 Turkish troops illegally occupy Northern Cyprus. Possibly as many as 100,000 Turkish settlers, many against their will, have moved into Northern Cyprus. Stories of atrocities filter across the border. Reports filter out of systematic and widespread plunder and destruction of Greek archaeological sites. Younger Turkish Cypriots are emigrating, either to Europe, the USA, or Turkey, leaving behind an ageing and increasingly despondent native population. The North is increasingly becoming to look like a Turkish colony.

With the exception of the North, Cyprus has flourished under the influence of tourism. The North has steadily declined under Turkish occupation.

Cyprus has applied for membership of the European Community. Consideration of membership depends upon resolution of the 'Cyprus Problem'.

The UN Declared Year of Cyprus 1997

1996 saw some of the worst incident's on the Green Line since partition, with several deaths in the buffer zone and Tansu Ciller (Turkey foreign Secretary and ex-Prime Minister) showing her usual respect for human rights by threatening to cut down any one who touched the Turkish Flag.

The UN in 1996 declared 1997 to be the 'Year of Cyprus'. This was in recognition of the island's dubious status as one of the World's trouble spots.

The UN declaration and the deteriorating situation spurred a flurry of activity. The British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind arrived at the end of 1996, the first British Foreign Secretary to take an interest in the island since partition. He arrived flourishing a 10-point Plan. A plan that contained no mention of Turkish withdrawal. A plan that in effect was a de facto recognition of Turkish occupation. Rifkind experienced a cool reception. Not surprising when he arrived empty handed and poorly briefed.

January saw the arrival of a US Cyprus envoy. He was unable to give the one thing the Cypriots were looking for - an unconditional guarantee of their sovereignty and independence.

Both US President Bill Clinton, and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made reference to Cyprus during their respective inaugurations. If nothing else, Cyprus was moving up the International political agenda.

Hot on the heels of the US envoy arrived Robin Cook, UK Shadow Foreign Secretary. The most he could offer was a few weasel words and that if elected as the next Government the British Labour Party would push Cyprus up the European Agenda (a promise that was conveniently forgotten once Robin Cook became Foreign Secretary). The track record of the EU in former Yugoslavia bodes ill for Cyprus. Cook made no reference to Turkish withdrawal, neither would he comment on British plans to carry out military manoeuvres in an environmentally sensitive area. The latter having been condemned by all political groups in Cyprus. If nothing else Cook showed an acute insensitivity to the people of whose country he was a guest.

An abyss started to open up in Cyprus. It was confirmed (to widespread international condemnation) that Cyprus had agreed to purchase Russian anti-aircraft missile systems, but installation would be put on hold for 16 months. The response from Turkey was to threaten pre-emptive air strikes against Cyprus. Later in January a small flotilla of Turkish warships sailed into Famagusta in a blatant show of military strength designed to intimidate the Cypriots and heighten an already tense situation. Turkey threatened to establish military bases in the North, though to many Cypriots they thought this was already the case.

In May, an International Rock Concert organised by the UN took place in Nicosia. It had a mixed reception. Many did not attend as it was felt to be too close to the events of the previous summer, nor did it help that the date of the concert coincided with an important anniversary of atrocities committed by the Turks. Both during the concert and afterwards there were riots in the streets of Nicosia. Those who did attend regarded it as a success. They were able to meet both friends and strangers from across the Green Line, many exchanged addresses and telephone numbers and promised to try to keep in touch. Musically, the concert was pretty good too.

The concert was an example of what can be done to improve contacts across the Green Line, lower barriers and increase confidence. It was also a classic example of how not to go about it.

Half-way through the 1997 there was a flurry of activity, it was almost as though the international community had suddenly realised that the 'Year of Cyprus' was already half-way through. President Clinton appointed Richard Holbrooke as special envoy for Cyprus. Holbrooke had earned his reputation by banging heads together in former Yugoslavia and brokering the Dayton peace agreement. Talks took place under the auspices of the UN. These included face-to-face talks between Glafcos Clerides (President of the Republic of Cyprus) and Rauf Denktash (spokesman for the illegal occupying regime) - the first such talks between the two men in three years. These were followed by further talks in which it was agreed to supply whatever information was available on the missing and to improve the lot of the enclaved.

Coincidental with this flurry of activity the EU announced (Agenda 2000) it would be inviting six countries to apply for EU membership. Cyprus was among the six, it came as no surprise to anyone other than the Turks themselves, that Turkey was not among the six. In a childish tit-for-tat response Turkey announced that it would be integrating the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus with Turkey, and gave strong hints that further agreed talks on the future of Cyprus would be halted. Tansu Ciller, when Turkish Prime Minister, had issued the same crude threats two years earlier in a similar attempt to derail EU talks.

Robin Cook, as the New Labour Foreign Secretary, in a major speech in London, said human rights was at the top of his political agenda and would be at the centre of UK foreign policy. He made no reference, let alone criticism of Turkey, and a few days later agreed to massive arms sales to Indonesia (16 Hawk ground attack aircraft, 100 Saracen armoured personnel carriers). Like Turkey, Indonesia is another country with an appalling human rights record. What price hypocrisy?

Mid-August, the UN organised a trip to the Apostolos Andreas Monastery in the Karpass Peninsular in the occupied north. More than six hundred Greek Cypriots took part in this pilgrimage to one of the Greek Orthodox Church's holiest shrines. Whilst welcoming a rare chance to visit the occupied area, the Greek Cypriots were nevertheless shocked by the level of poverty that met their eyes and disappointed that they were unable to visit their abandoned homes and villages, but they were able to make use of the occasion to meet with their enclaved compatriots. There was to have been an Easter pilgrimage, but this had to be abandoned after Rauf Denktash insisted on the right of veto over who was allowed to go on the pilgrimage. Earlier in the year, several hundred Turkish Cypriots from the occupied north had been granted permission to visit a mosque in the south of the island.

Coincidental with the pilgrimage to the monastery, a week's fruitless talks in Montreux between President Glafcos Clerides and Rauf Denktash came to an end. Taking his lead from his masters in Ankara, Denktash refused to engage in any meaningful dialogue and threatened to withdraw from talks altogether, unless Turkey was invited to join the EU. Once again Denktash was showing his true colours, that is he was dancing to the tune from Ankara, not acting for the Turkish Cypriots for whom he was the self-declared representative.

October 1997, Turkey heightened tension by 'buzzing' Greek planes flying over Cypriot airspace, including a plane carrying the Greek Minister of Defence. Greece also helped to raise the temperature by holding a joint military exercise with Cyprus code-named 'Nikiforos 97'.

November 1997, Richard Holbrooke, US Special Envoy to Cyprus, apologised for the US involvement in the military coup in Greece, the abortive coup in Cyprus (which led to the invasion and occupation of Cyprus by Turkey). This was seen as a useful first step, but of little consequence if it did not ultimately lead to join action by the US and UK to remove Turkey from Cypriot soil.

15th November 1997, 14th anniversary of the TRNC unilateral declaration, a convoy of refugees attempted to return to their homes in the occupied north. Coincidental with the Turkish celebrations, and under the guise of 'a military exercise', Turkey poured in massive troop reinforcements, including tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery.

Mid-December 1997, Rauf Denktash, in an interview with the BBC World Service, declared the peace process dead, he went on to say that a federated solution was now off the agenda. He gave as his reasons the invitation to Cyprus to join the EU and the exclusion of Turkey.

As the UN 'Year of Cyprus' drew to an end there was no sign of progress. Whilst in part the blame could be laid at the intransigence of leaders on both sides of the Green Line, especially Denktash, the major blame had to be laid at the door of the rest of the world, in particular US and UK for doing nothing. The 'Year of Cyprus' was an opportunity wasted. The US and UK were strong on rhetoric, but lacked the will to take any action against Turkey.

The only glimmer of hope came on 23 January 1998, after the end of the 'Year of Cyprus', when, for the first time since the cessation of hostilities, both sides of the Green Line agreed to an exchange of information on the missing.


One step forward, two steps backward, that's the name of the game across the Green Line. A day, 24 January 1998, after the planned exchange of data on the missing the Cypriot government opened up a military airport next to Paphos for use by the Greek Airforce. The knee-jerk reaction from the Denktash regime was to threaten to open up a disused airfield for use by the Turkish Airforce.

On Saturday 31 January 1998, to celebrate the end of Ramadan and organised under the auspices of the UN as part of their confidence building measures, a convoy of 1,000 Turkish Cypriots set off from Nicosia to visit the Hala Sultan Tekke on the edge of the Salt Lake at Larnaca. The mosque is one of the holiest places in Islam, reputed to contain the tomb of an aunt of the Prophet Mohamed. For many of the pilgrims it was their first opportunity to visit a part of the island not under Turkish occupation.

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(c) Keith Parkins 1996-2006 -- September 2006 rev 25