A Brief History of Cyprus
Maybe small in size, but rich in history and tradition, Cyprus has met, throughout changing eras, tremendous changes, wars, rebellions and invasions, mostly due to its strategic position – as it is situated in the crossroad of three continents (Europe, Asia and Africa). In this article we shall take brief look at the most important phases of its history.
The earliest evidence of human settlement in the island of Cyprus goes back to 9.700BC with the hunter gatherers. In the Pre-pottery Era or Pre-Neolithic Era (8.500-7.000BC) the first signs of permanent settlements and agriculture habits are noticed, while in the Akrotiri Aetokremnou manmade artefacts have been discovered.
The most known settlement which shades light to the way of living of the 6th millennium BC is found in Choirokitia. Round houses are sorted in an enclosed village, protected by defensive walls, and are built high enough in order to achieve protection from foreign enemies or hostile invasions. The inhabitants produce stone tools and cultivate their land.
Chalcolithic Age (about 3,800 - 2,400 BC)
This period brings small changes in the way of life of the people. Copper is mined in small quanities and locals made the famous cruciform picrolite figurines.
In the 4th millennium BC copper is widely being used. Αmillennium later, immigrants from Anatolia settle in the island and introduce their techniques and way of living to the locals. During the era of Bronze, the first cities are being constructed. Simultaneously, copper is massively exploited and gradually replaces other materials used for various causes (eg. stone). This massive trade of copper and bronze items brings wealth in the island. At this point trading relationships with Egypt and Asia are commencing and will reach a peak during the late Bronze Age. Cyprus goes through one of its most glorious periods: jewellery and pottery is vastly produced, Cypriot-syllabic is utilized for written communication and habitants enjoy prosperity. This form of language is still not entirely deciphered.
Achaean Greeks inhabit Cyprus mostly after the Trojan war, even though they have been colonizing since 1200BC; Achaeans are spreading Greek language, religion and customs. The hellenisation of the island was then in progress.
Iron Age is divided in two sub-periods, the Geometric (1050-700) characterised by a continuous use of geometrical shapes in the produced pottery and Archaic (700-525 BC). During this era, the cities of Soloi, Kourion, Salamis, Kition, Paphos are built. Wealth enjoyed in this period can be seen in the finds of the Royal Tombs near Salamis. The cult of the goddess Aphrodite flourished on the island, which was her birthplace.
A series of rulers masters the island: Asssyrians, Egyptians and Persians desire Cyprus accordingly. In these hard times, the Cypriot Kingdoms struggle to preserve their independence against the conquerors. Worth mentioning leaders are Zenon Kitieus and Evagoras, the King of Salamis, known for his strong connections with Greece, who fights the Persians in the early fourth century trying to unify Cyprus, and eventually loses. His death seals the end of Classical Age (475-325). Alexander the Great makes Cyprus a part of his vast empire in 333BC, as he defeats the Persians.
After Alexander’s death, Ptolemy, one of his successors, became ruler of the island and Cyprus belonged from then onwards to the Greek Alexandrine world. The Ptolemies abolished the city-kingdoms and unified Cyprus. Pafos became the capital.
Cypriot Kingdoms suffer from the Ptolemaic dominance for more than 250 years, although new cities are founded, eg. Arsinoe.
The Romans, who took control of Cyprus mainly, exploited its copper mines. Cyprus will remain relatively peaceful for more than 6 hundred years. New buildings arise, theatres and gymnasia (eg. Sanctuary of Apollon Ylatis, Kourion Theatre).
Christianity makes its appearance by Apostle Barnabas and Paul and Cyprus became the first country to be governed by a Christian.
After the division of the Roman Empire, Cyprus comes under the Hellenic Empire of Byzantium, with its capital base in Constantinople, after 330. The church of Cyprus achieves independence at this time: the bishop is finally considered autocephalous. Saint Heleni, Great Constantine’s mother comes to the island carrying remnants of the Holy Cross of Jesus, in a time when Cyprus suffers from draught and earthquakes.
Warmly desired by the Arabs, Cyprus undergoes their invasion in 647. Assorted attacks and various incursions cause great disasters as the island is jointly ruled by Arabs and Byzantines. This period comes to an end in 965, when Emperor Nikiphoros Phokas expels the intruders.
Many governors come and go; take the lead, are murdered... Isaac Comnenus proclaims himself emperor of Cyprus and rebels against King of England Richard the Lionheart. Cyprus passes then to the hands of Frank Guy de Lusignan.
Cyprus gradually enjoys another round of prosperity, Orthodox Greek are free to practice their religious habits, new churches and monasteries come up all over the island and decorated them with unique and beautiful frescoes. Nicosia then becomes the capital of the island; many beautiful gothic edifices come up, for example the Cathedral of Agia Sophia in Nicosia and the Bellapais Abbey. The last Lusignan King, James II marries a Venetian noblewoman, who becomes Queen of Cyprus and is the last royal member of the Lusignan dynasty. Catherine Kornaro, goes to Venice in 1489.
Cyprus is ruled by the Venetians from 1489 till 1571. Nicosia is fortified with immense walls in an encircled way, but fails to maintain safety, as Ottomans commence to attack. Cypriots continue to suffer under the new dominants.
Greek Orthodox faith becomes stronger against the power of Islam. The Ottomans, ruling Cyprus for about 300 years, restore the hierarchy, suppress the Latin Church and increase the taxes. More than 20,000 Turks settle the island. Corruption and violence mark and this era and climax as the Greek War of Independence breaks in 1821. Cypriot Archibishop Kyprianos and many other Cypriots are executed by the Turks.
Britain signs an agreement with Turkey and ‘rents’ Cyprus, which is officially declared as a Crown Colony in 1925. The administration of the island is basically carried out by the British. This passing control over the British is initially received with hope, as Cypriots urge for achieving enosis with the mainland Greece and believe that British will not object this aim. Gradually violent pro-enosis insurgences break out (Riot of 1931).
Led by Archibishop Makarios, the demand for enosis becomes even more essential: this is a time of preparation for the Armed Liberation Struggle (1955-1959). EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) with George Grivas as a leader, starts fighting against the Governor on the 1st of April 1955. Archbishop Makarios is forced into exile in the Seychelles.
After the end of the rebellion, Zurich and London Agreement/Treaty is signed: Britain abandons the island, although remains a guarantor and maintains its military bases in Dekeleia and Akrotiri-Episkopi. Greek and Turkish military forces are obligated to protect Cyprus. Cyprus becomes an independent state in 1960, with a Greek Cypriot President and a Turkish Cypriot Vice President.
The autonomy of Cyprus, however, is not achieved in a bloodless way, neither is the transition from colony to independent nation unproblematic. The constitution of 1960 has, major inequalities, which gradually causes conflicts between Muslim Turkish Cypriots and Orthodox Greek Cypriots. These conflicts are not peaceful, obliging the United Nations to send peacekeeping forces in 1964 in order to support British troops. This is when "Green Line", a boundary dividing Nicosia, is decided.
As aggression grows stronger, political differences become unbridgeable: a decade later, Military Junta of Greece in collaboration with Greek Cypriots who insisted in Union undertook a military coup, attempts to overthrow President Makarios III. This fact opens the way to Turkey to illegally invade Kyrenia with 40.000 troops.
Cyprus remains since 1974 divided: 37% of the island is under Turkish occupation. Almost 200.000 Greek Cypriots were forced to abandon their homes, thousands of people were injured in the onslaught or immediately killed and others were considered missing – during the past few years, bones of many people who were considered (till recently missing) are found in big common graves. Simultaneously, thousands of Turkish Cypriots were forced to abandon their homes and move to Northern Cyprus or Turkey.
Despite the resolutions of the United Nations, and Cyprus’s continuous efforts against the violations of its sovereignty rights, Turkey still remains the sole country which recognises "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", declared so in 1983, as a legal state.
Long negotiations regarding the unification of Cyprus have been conducting for many years. In 2004, the Greek Cypriots rejected the suggested by UN and EU plan, while the Turkish side consented. Since 2003, checkpoints at various border points have been opened, allowing both sides to visit one another.
Cyprus becomes an official member of the European Union in 2004 and adopts Euro in 2008.