Elisabeth & Teije's reis website

The history of Cyprus


You are here: Home -> Cyprus -> History of Cyprus

The history of Cyprus

Cyprus, though a small island, has always played an important role in the history of the Mediterranean, far exceeding its size. This is mostly caused by it's strategic position in the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore the island was also subject to many invasions and the culture is a mixture of influences from many worlds. Most of the dates we use in this short overview are estimates, for the experts don't always agree about them. We are very grateful to windowoncyprus.com and cosmosnet.net for the information they allowed us to use. When you have any remarks or suggestions about the contents of this page, please mail us. When you might want to use any of these contents, feel free to do so, if you just mention the source. Finally, we describe the events at present mostly from the Greek Cypriot view, but please do check on the North Cypriot sites also.

Prehistoric Cyprus, until 4000 BC.
Cyprus in the Chalcolithic Age, 4000 - 2500 BC
Cyprus in the Bronze Age, 2500 - 1050 BC
Cyprus in the early Iron Age, 1050 - 750 BC
The Archaic and Classical Period, 750 - 333 BC
Cyprus during the Hellenistic period, 333 - 58 BC
Cyprus in the Roman period, 58 BC - 330 AD
Cyprus in the Byzantine Period, 330 - 1191
Cyprus in the late Middle Ages, 1191 - 1571
Cyprus in the Ottoman Period, 1571 - 1878
Cyprus in the British period, 1878 - 1960
Cyprus becomes independant, 1960 - 1974
Cyprus in present times, 1974 - now
Links to other websites with more information on Cyprus history

Neolithic Age (8.000 - 3.500 BC)

Neolithic I, 8000 - 4500 BC.
The first evidence of a human population on the island is from the Mesolithic period (7000 to 4000 BC.). On January, 15 th 1999 some traces from about 1000 years earlier have been found at the Pareklissia-Skilourokambous neolithic settlement. They were hunter gatherers who came from Syria and Silicia. The experts do not all agree about this, however. Vestiges of such early communities are found all over the island, like at Khirokitia, Kalavasos-Tenta, Apostolos Andreas-Kastros, Phrenaros, Petra tou Limniti etc. Neolithic Cypriots built circular houses with small undressed stones for the lower structures and sun-dried mudbricks and clay for the middle and superstructure.
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. Life expectancy was very short; the average age at death was about 34 years, and there was a very high infant mortality rate. 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 Khirokitia off the Larnaca /Limassol highway. It is a very interesting site with massive stone made round foundations to each small "house".

Neolithic II, 4.500-3.500 BC.
The aceramic civilisation of Cyprus came to an end quite abruptly around 6000 BC. It was probably followed by a vacuum of almost 1.500 years until around 4500 BC. when Neolithic II emerges. At this time newcomers arrived in Cyprus introducing a new neolithic era. The main settlement that embodies most of the characteristics of the period is Sotira near the south coast of Cyprus. It had nearly fifty houses, usually having a single room that had its own hearth, benches, platforms and partitions that provided working places. The houses were on the main free-standing, with relatively thin walls and tended to be square with rounded corners.
This Neolithic II culture was destroyed by an earthquake c.3800 BC.

Chalcolithic Age (Copper - Stone Age, 4.000 - 2.500 BC.)

4.000 - 3.500 BC.
In the society that emerged there are no overt signs of newcomers but signs of continuity, therefore despite the violent natural catastrophe, there is an internal evolution. Slowly old settlements are being rebuild and new settlements arise.

3.500 - 2.500 BC.
Metalwork appears now for the first time and will stamp the future of the island for centuries to come. There are found very few chisels, hooks and jewellery of pure copper but in one example there is a minimal presence of tin, something which may support contact with Asia Minor, where copper-working was established earlier.
During the Chalcolithic period changes of major importance took place along with technological and artistic achievements, especially towards its end. The presence of a stamp seal and the size of the houses that was not uniform, both hint at property rights and social hierarchy. The same story is supported by the burials because some of them were deposited in pits without grave goods and some in shaft graves with relatively rich furniture, both being indications of wealth accumulation by certain families and social differentiation. The Chalcolithic period did not come to an end at the same time all over Cyprus. In the Paphos area it lingered on although in northern Cyprus the Bronze Age came into being.

Bronze Age (2.500 - 1.050 BC.)

Early Bronze Age, 2.500 - 1.900 BC.
The new era was introduced by people from Anatolia who came to Cyprus because of disturbances in Asia Minor. It is only natural that we observe the first vivid vestiges of this civilisation around 2.300 BC in the northern part of the island, from where it spread south and west.
As the newcomers knew how to work with copper they soon moved to the so-called copperbelt of the island, that is the foothills of the Troodos mountains. This movement reflects the increased interest in the raw material that was going to be so closely connected with Cyprus for several centuries afterwards.
By 2.000 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. Middle Bronze Age

1.900 - 1.600 BC.
The Middle Bronze Age which followed is a relatively short period and its earlier part is marked by peaceful development in contrast to its final years which were marked by wars.
Unlike the early Bronze Age which furnishes no settlements as yet, the Middle Bronze Age shows several settlements in addition to cemeteries that give us an idea about the architecture of the period.
From Alambra in central Cyprus we know that the houses were rectangular with many rooms, while streets were constructed allowing people to movefreely in the community.
During the same period fortresses were built in various places, a clear indication of unrest, although we are not sure about its cause. Late Bronze Age

1.600 - 1.050 BC.
Unrest, tension and anxiety mark the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, probably because of some sort of engagement with the Hyksos who ruled Egypt at this time but were expelled from there in the mid-16th century. 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 domain. Because of this take-over Cyprus is first mentioned in written history. Soon afterwards peaceful conditions prevailed in the Eastern Mediterranean that witnessed a flowering of trade relations and the growing of urban centres. Chief among them was Enkomi the earliest predecessor of modern Famagusta, though several other harbour towns also sprung up along the southern coast of Cyprus. Rich finds from this period testify to a vivid commerce with other countries. Jewellery and other precious objects from the Aegean along with pottery prove the close connections of the two areas, though finds coming from Near Eastern countries are also plentiful.
The years of peace that brought about such a flowering of culture and civilisation did not last. During these years Cyprus reached unprecedented heights in prosperity and it played a rather neutral role in the differences of her powerful neighbours. The Phoenicians arrived to trade from their cities of Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia. 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 of them can still be visited at 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 1190 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. This migration is remembered in many sagas rehearsing how some of the Greek heroes that participated in the Trojan war came to settle in Cyprus. Nothing was left of the old Cypriot culture at the end of the Bronze Age. Cyprus now was a melting pot of different cultures and foreign influences. And it took an important place in history, which it in fact still has, as the meeting point of the different cultures then and now.

Early Iron Age (1.050 - 750 BC.)

1.050 - 750 BC.
In the ensuing Early Iron Age Cyprus becomes predominantly Greek. Pottery shapes and decoration show a marked Aegean inspiration although Oriental ideas creep in from time to time. New burial customs with rock-cut chamber tombs having a long 'dromos' (a ramp leaning gradually towards the entrance) along with new religious beliefs speak in favour of the arrival of people from the Aegean. The same view is supported by the introduction of the safety pin that denotes a new fashion in dressing and also by a name scratched on a bronze skewer from Paphos and dating between 1050-950 BC. This name (O-pe-le- ta-u) is in the Greek language but it is written in the Cypriot syllabary that remained in use down to the 3rd century BC. The alphabetic writing that was adopted from the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC. in Greece proper was introduced to Cyprus as late as the early 4th century BC.
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.

Archaic and Classical Period (750 - 333 BC.)

750 - 569 BC.
The 8th century BC saw a marked increase of wealth in Cyprus. Communications with East and West were on the ascend and this created a prosperous society. Testifying to this wealth are the so called royal tombs of Salamis, which, although plundered, produced a truly royal abundance of wealth. Sacrifices of horses, bronze tripods and huge cauldrons (bowls) decorated with sirens, griffins etc., chariots with all their ornamentation and the horses' gear, ivory beds and thrones exquisitely decorated were all deposited into the tombs' 'dromoi' for the sake of their masters.
The late 8th century is the time of the spreading of the Homeric poems, the 'Iliad' and the 'Odyssey', and this affected Cyprus very much. Funerary customs at Salamis and elsewhere were very much influenced by these poems. The deceased were given skewers and firelogs in order to roast their meat, a practice found in contemporary Argos and Crete, recalling the similar gear of Achilles when he entertained other Greek heroes in his tent. Honey and oil, described by Homer as offerings to the dead are also found at Salamis, and the flames of fire that consumed the deceased were guenched with wine as it happened to Patroclus' body after it was given to the flames. The hero's ashes were gathered carefully wrapped into a linen cloth and put into a golden urn.
In about 750 BC., when the Egyptian sphere of influence was waning, the Cypriot kings choose a new master, Sargon II the King of Assyria. They submitted to him, thereby becoming his protectorate and later (709) when King Assur-bani-pal invaded Egypt, 10 Cypriot Kings supported and joined him. A big mistake. Assyria herself was invaded by the 'Medes'. They captured Ninevah, the capital of Assyria, and that was the end of the Assyrian empire.
Kingship was preserved even under foreign occupations, when the cities of Cyprus remained independent even after their submission to the Assyrians in 709, the Egyptians in 569 and the Persians in 545 BC. Egyptian rule

569 - 525 BC.
Egypt was on the up, and again she took control of Cyprus, this time by Amasis II who was Pharaoh from 570 to 525 BC. The period of Egyptian domination, though brief, left its mark mainly in arts especially in sculpture, where we observe the rigidity and the dress of Egyptians. Soon, however, the Cypriots discarded both for the sake of Greek prototypes. Persian rule

525 - 499 BC.
In 525 BC. the Cypriot kings joined the Persian Empire which again invaded 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'. Written by Herodotus, 440 BC.).
Under the Persians, the kings of Cyprus retained their independence, although paying tribute to their overlord. They could mint their own coins without even his portrait on it. Thus King Evelthon of Salamis (560- 525 BC) probably the first one to cast silver or bronze coins in Cyprus shows a ram on the obverse and an 'ankh ' (Egyptian symbol of good luck) on the reverse.
In their new fate the Greeks of Cyprus had as companions the Greeks of Ionia (west coast of Asia Minor - now Turkey) with whom they forged closer ties. When the Ionian Greeks revolted against Persia (499 BC) the Cypriots except for Amathus, joined in at the instigation of Onesilos, brother of the king of Salamis, whom he dethroned for not wanting to fight for independence.
The Persians reacted quickly sending a considerable force against Onesilos. 'Miletus' was a city in Ionia and with aid from the Athenians they captured the Persian city of Sardes. The Persians landed near Salamis and while their vessels lay in the harbours they 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.

499 - 333 BC.
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 their advantage. However, they were constantly arguing among themselves, and infected the Cypriot Cities with the same disease.
Following these events Persian rule became more oppressive and it favoured the Phoenician element at the expense of the Greek. A Phoenician 'usurper' ascended the throne of Salamis and it took several decades before Evagoras, a true scion of the Teucrid family, succeeded in seizing the throne in 411 BC. He tried to unite the Cypriot kings and cities, but in the end, failed.
Evagoras dominated Cypriot politics for almost forty years until he died in 374/3 BC. He favoured everything Greek and he urged Greeks from the Aegean to come and settle in Cyprus. He assisted the Athenians in many ways and they honoured him by erecting his statue in the Stoa (portico) Basileios in Athens. The successors of Evagoras continued his struggle against the Persians but to no avail until Alexander the Great defeated the Persians at the battle of Issos near modern Alexandretta (Iskenderun) in 333 BC. From then on the Cypriot kings were only too happy to transfer their allegiance to him.

Hellenistic Period (333 - 58 BC.)

Alexander the Great, 333 - 323 BC.
The success story of Alexander of Macedonia was to become legendary. 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. 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. When Alexander the Great was marching southwards and then towards the heart of the Persian empire and finally India, the Cypriot Kings assisted him in many ways especially with their ships in the siege of Tyre. In appreciation, Alexander set them free. Struggle again

323 - 295 BC.
Cyprus was to have almost 3 centuries 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 he took over in 318 BC. He sent his brother Menelaus to crush the resistance, which included Amathus and Kitium. King Pygmalion of Kitium was executed and King Nicocles of Paphos committed suicide.
But ten years later (306 BC.) Antigonus' son Demetrius took the island. He freed Menelaus and all his other prisoners in a gesture of good will. He lasted for 10 years.

295 - 58 BC.
In 295/294 BC. Ptolemy took control again. There was no resistance except in Salamis. Ptolemy was a cultured man. There was built a great university in Alexandria dedicated to the Muses 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 (born 336 BC.) of Kitium established his school of philosophy in Athens. But Ptolemaic rule was also rigid and exploited the island's resources to the utmost, particularly timber and copper.
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 many years of squabbling between Kings and alliances, Rome arrived in force in the shape of Marcus Portius Cato. Rome was called upon to re-establish peace on the island; peace came, but included a change of power. This time the island became part of the large the Roman Empire with it's own internal peace, Pax Romana.

Roman Period (58 BC. - 330 AD.)

Early Roman Period, 58 BC. - 45 AD.
Cato 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. Cyprus, together with Sicily, became a Roman province. 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 August 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. Christianity introduced

45 - 330 AD.
Christianity hit the island in a big way in the form of St. Paul and Barnabas in 45 BC. Together they converted the Roman Proconsul, Sergius 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.
Pax Romana (Roman peace) was only once disturbed in Cyprus in three centuries of Roman occupation. This serious interruption occurred in 115/6 AD when a revolt by the Jews inspired by Messianic hopes broke out. Their leader was Artemion, a Jew with a hellenised name as was the practice of the time. Historians put the number of those massacred to 240,000. No doubt the number is exaggerated but one must not forget that in Cyprus practically no Roman troops were stationed and this facilitated the Jewish revolt. Soon, however, the then Roman Emperor Trajan, dispatched to Cyprus one of his generals who suppressed the insurrection and expelled all Jews from the island, not allowing them to tread her soil even when ship-wrecked. Under Roman custody the Cypriots had lived for almost 4 centuries of quiet provincial prosperity. but still they hadn't found peace for themselves.

Byzantine Period (330 -1191)

330 - 649 AD.
In 330 AD. Constantine the Great transferred the capital of the Roman Empire to the ancient city of Byzantium which he adorned with magnificent civic buildings and a defensive wall. The newly founded city was named Constantinoupolis (Constantinople) after him although he himself named it New Rome. The citizens used to call it in Greek in an abbreviated form. as "Polis" so when visiting it they were saying. 'Is tin Poli' (to the city) a name that survives in the Turkish name 'Istanbul'. The truly Byzantine period began in 395 AD. when the Roman Empire was divided in two: the eastern part called Byzantium and the western part which came to an end in 476 AD. Naturally Cyprus became part of the eastern part of the Empire and it remained so for almost nine centuries.
The main event in Cyprus in comparison to older times was the spreading of the Christian faith that created a new attitude towards life since its morality was different than that of paganism.
Monasteries and churches were founded, like the Stavrovouni Monastery.
The cities of Cyprus were destroyed by two successive earthquakes in 332 and 342 AD. and this marked the end of an era and at the same time the beginning of a new one, very much connected with modern life in Cyprus. Most of the cities were not rebuilt, save Salamis but on a smaller scale and renamed Constantia after the name of the Roman Emperor Constantius II, son of Constantine the Great, residing in Constantinople.
The new city was now the capital of the island. It was mainly Christian and due to this some alterations were made during the rebuilding. The political history of the island is one of tranquillity until 649 AD. when we the first Arab invasion came.

649 - 695 AD.
In 649 AD. Arabs sailed with a big armada under the leadership of Muawiya against Cyprus. They conquered and sacked the capital Salamis - Constantia after a brief siege and pillaged the rest of the island. In the course of this expedition the maternal aunt of the Prophet, Umm-Haram fell from her mule near the Salt Lake at Larnaca and was killed. She was buried in that spot and much later in 1816 the 'Hala Sultan Tekke' was built there by the Turks.
In 654 AD. the second Arab invasion took place that devastated the island again. This time, however, a garrison of 12.000 men was left in Cyprus, an indication of their intentions to incorporate it into the Moslem world. In 677 AD. the Arabs aimed straight at the heart of the Byzantine empire, Constantinople itself. They attacked with a huge fleet but they suffered such a defeat that they had to sign a treaty and pay an indemnity to the Emperor. In 683 AD. the Moslem garrison was withdrawn and in 688 AD. the island of Cyprus was declared neutral, with no garrisons stationed in it, the collected taxes being divided among the Arabs and the Emperor.
The island was finally liberated by Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus Phokas in 965 AD.

965 - 1191 AD.
Cyprus is part of the Byzantine empire again, but the empire weakens and the crusaders realize Cyprus could be of great strategic value to them and their desire for the conquest of the Holy Land. In 1191 AD. King Richard of England was on his way to the Holy Land participating in the Third Crusade. Some of his ships were wrecked on the coast and the ship carrying his sister Joanna, Queen of Sicily, and his betrothed Berengaria of Navarre, anchored off Limassol. When King Richard arrived, he regarded the Cypriots' behaviour as insulting towards the women and captured the island, starting a new phase, and not a happy one of Cyprus' history.

Late Middle Ages (1191 - 1571)

Frankish Period, 1191 - 1350 AD.
King Richard of England was reluctant to keep Cyprus under his control as his main aim was Palestine. For this reason he sold it to the Knights Templar. The Templars ruthlessly exploitated Cyprus so the inhabitants rose against them in the Easter of 1192 A D. Realising that it was difficult to keep it under their control they sold it in turn to the King of Jerusalem (Jerusalem was now in the hands of the Arabs) Guy de Lusignan who took possession of the island in May 1192 AD. From the very beginning Guy saw the Cypriots as serfs so he invited the French nobility to come from Syria and Palestine and settle in Cyprus awarding them estates and ranks in his newly founded Kingdom. He reigned for almost two years. His brother Amaury who succeeded him reigned for eleven years (1194- 1205A D) and he is the real founder of the Lusignan Kingdom of Cyprus. He established the offices of the State which was organised on pure feudal principles.
The entire Greek population was reduced to a subject race by the French rulers. The hostility between the two was exacerbated by the introduction of Catholicism which people reacted to.

1350 - 1489 AD.
This climate changed only after mid 14th century and the Greek population was allowed relative freedom in religious matters. This allowed the Greeks to ascend the social ladder and even become officers in the army. The French dynasty co-operated with the Orthodox Church and mixed marriages were on the increase despite the obstacles put forth by the Catholic Church.
Trade with the Muslem countries flowered, also because of the arrival of traders from Ventice, Genua and Pisa. They lived in Famagusta and when fights broke out between the Genuans, Venitians and the house of Luisignan in 1372, the Franks had to surrender Famagusta to the Genuans.
In 1426 Egyptian Mameluks invade Cyprus and destroy the city of Nicosia.
The last Frankish King James reigned from 1464-1473 AD and he chose as his consort a young Venetian girl of the noblest families, Caterina (Catherine) Cornaro, a marriage that was destined to seal the chapter of the Frankish Kingdom of Cyprus. Before her departure from Venice, Caterina was adopted by the Venetian State so when James II died unexpectedly a few months after his wedding and so did happen to his offspring James III, a few weeks after it was born, Caterina was persuaded in February 1489 AD to abdicate voluntarily. Venice offered to her an estate at Asolo where she spent her days until her death in 1510 AD.

Venetian domination, 1489 - 1571 AD.
The noble local Frankish families resented the way they were treated by the Venetians and the Greeks gained nothing from this change, in fact they were sgueezed by heavy taxes. The Orthodox Church, however, gained full freedom for political purposes. Rebellions did occur but were easily crashed.
Meanwhile, as all the countries around Cyprus fell to the Ottomans, obviously Cyprus could have been their prey any moment. The Turks sent an ultimatum with insulting terms in March 1570 AD to the Council of Ten in Venice, demanding the immediate cession of the island. Venice tried in vain to send reinforcements so any resistance was doomed to failure.
The Turks under Lala Mustafa landed near Larnaca, proceeded unharrassed and laid siege on Nicosia on 25 July 1570 AD. Having relatively easily conquered that in about one and a half months they proceeded to Kyrenia which surrendered without a shot. The same happened with Paphos and Limassol, so Lala Mustafa moved his entire army outside Famagusta on 23 September. On 1 August 1571 AD Famagusta surrendered. The rising supremacy of Spain and Portugal in worldtrade (discovery of the New World) has a bad influence on the Venetians and with the advancing Ottomans they had no chance to keep their power. The people of Cyprus were glad to get rid of them when in 1570 the Turks invaded Cyprus.

Ottoman Period (1571 - 1878)

1571 - 1754
In the famous sea battle of Lepanto the Turks are first defeated, but in 1573 Venice let go of her claims on Cyprus and the Cypriots welcomed the Turks as their liberators.
The Turkish occupation brought about two radical results in the history of the island. For the first time since the late 13th, 12th and 11th centuries BC a new ethnic element (save the Phoenicians in the 9th century BC) appeared, the Turks, whose religion prevented them from being assimilated by the strong and resolute Greek population, which is what happened earlier with the indigenous Cypriots, the Phoenicians and others.
The second important result of the Turkish occupation benefited the Greek peasants who no longer remained serfs of the land they were cultivating. Now they could acquire it against payment, thus becoming owners of it. At the same time the Orthodox Church was liberated because the Turks were afraid of the presence of the Catholic Church as it might instigate an attack of Western Europe against them.

1754 - 1878
Gradually the Archbishop of Cyprus became not only religious but ethnic leader as well, something the Turks promoted wanting to have somebody responsible for the loyalty of the Greek flock. In 1754 the Archbisshop was officialy recognized by the Turks as leader of the Greek Cypriots and was allowed to collect taxes. In this way the Church undertook the task of the guardian of the Greek cultural legacy which is partly carried on even in our days, although diminished after independence.
From 1818 (Greek wars of Independance, 1818-1829 Russian-Turkish War) the power of the Ottoman empire diminished. The Turks asked Britain for help and in 1878 Great Britain was taking up the possession and administration of the island, but it stayed part of the Ottoman empire.

British Period (1878 - 1960)

1878 - 1914
The occupation of Cyprus was effected peacefully and on 22 July 1878 the first High Commissioner, Sir Garnett Woolsley arrived at Larnaca. From an international point of view, according to the Anglo-Turkish Convention of Istanbul, Great Britain was taking up the possession and administration of the island, but the de jure jurisdiction over it continued to be vested in the Sultan. This international status continued until 1914 when the island was annexed to the British Empire. To avoid any misunderstandings with the Turkish authorities, the Cypriots continued to be considered Ottoman subjects until 1914. Initially, the British High Commissioner was responsible towards the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but after December 1880 the Cyprus affairs were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Colonial Office in London. With the British occupation, the internal administration of Cyprus was fundamentally reorganised. The executive power was in the hands of the High Commissioner who governed with the help of a group of senior British administrative officials. An Executive Council, comprising the highest British officials, had only a consultative status. The most significant change which the British occupation brought about in the administration system was the introduction, for the first time in the history of Cyprus, of some parliamentary forms through the establishment of a Legislative Council.
The British administration did not, however, mark the end of the exploitation of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots by heavy taxation. The main problem which gave rise to continuous political protests by the population of Cyprus since the beginning of the British occupation was the fact that the British had imposed taxes to cover the compensation which they were paying to the Sultan for the concession af Cyprus to them. This arrangement was provided for in the Convention of 1878 and meant that Cyprus, although under British occupation, would have to pay a tax of tribute to the Sultan. The amount of this compensation had been agreed in the Convention of Istanbul as 92,799-11-3 (eleven shillings and threepence!) and had been calculated on the basis of the average of the surplus of collections over expenditure during the last five years of the Turkish occupation. According to a British official estimate of that time, the sum of the compensation corresponded to a taxation of 10 shillings (half a pound) per Cypriot (men, women and children), which was too high considering the incomes and the purchasing potential of the citizens at the time. In reality, the sums collected as above were never paid to the Turkish Treasury; they were actually used in repayment of the interest due to the British and French holders of the bonds of the Ottoman public loan of 1855, which the Ottoman Government had denounced in 1875-1876 and which thus had to be repaid by the guarantor governments of France and Great Britain. This arrangement implied considerable financial burdens and sacrifices for the Cypriots, who had nothing to do with the loan, and who continuously protested. The injustice done to them was repeatedly recognised even by British officials, including Winston Churchill who, as Deputy Minister for Colonies, visited Cyprus in 1907. By this time the Cypriot cry for 'Enosis' (Union, in this case with Greece) already was very loud, but the British Government continued to be very clear and categorically negative on the satisfaction of the demand by the Greek Cypriots for 'Enosis' with Greece.

1914 - 1925
On November the 5th, 1914 Cyprus was annexed by Britain when the Ottoman Empire enters into World War I on the side of Germany.
On 16 October 1915 the British Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sir Edward Gray, informed by telegram the Prime Minister of Greece, Alexandros Zaimis and the High Commissioner of Cyprus Sir John Clawson, that Great Britain was ready to transfer Cyprus to Greece if Greece ceased to be neutral and immediately proclaimed war against the enemies of the Entente powers. The Greek Government rejected the offer as the King of Greece who was of German origin was playing an important part in politics and did not want Greece to fight against Germany and her allies. In Cyprus the rejection of the offer was received with great disappointment by the Greeks and a sigh of relief by the Turks.
In July 1923 the Treaty of Lausanne settled the international status of Cyprus. Under Article 21 of the Treaty, the Turkish subjects who were permanent residents of Cyprus on 5 July 1914 would be deprived of their Turkish nationality and become British subjects. Because of this a small number of Turkish Cypriots preferred to emigrate, an act that Turkey was strongly recommending, though with very little success. By virtue of Article 16 of the same Treaty, Turkey renounced all her rights and demands on Cyprus.

1925 - 1945
In 1925 Cyprus was proclaimed a Crown Colony and the British Government tried to contain Greek nationalist feelings with a policy that resulted in the uprising of 1931.
The Ottoman Penal Code was replaced in 1928 and in 1935 the principles of the British Common Law were enacted. In 1946 the important law on Immovable Property was introduced. Generally the British courts were fair and impartial, justly winning the respect of the people. The crisis of Cyprus society, which had not yet come to surface, was reflected in the Legislative Council, and burst out in April 1931, when the government of Sir Ronald Storrs decided to impose a law for increments in the customs duties, in an attempt to balance the budgets. This law did not pass, because the Turkish Cypriot deputy Misrlizad Netzati Bey voted against it together with the Greeks. However, the Governor enacted this law in September 1931 by an executive order. Meanwhile people were demanding constitutional changes but the British Government reacted negatively. In addition to this it applied a stricter policy regarding education etc.
It is within this climate that the events of October 1931 evolved rapidly into demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience on the part of the Greek Cypriots, leading finally to clashes and bloodshed with the British administration. The October uprising was suppressed by severe measures and restrictions for all Cypriots.
In the thirties and forties Greek and Turkish Cypriot workers in the Transport and Port Workers' Trade Union cooperated closely. On 6 March 1939, at the meeting which led to the foundation of the Limassol Porters' Trade Union, 40 Turkish Cypriots were present. A fortnight later the first committee of the Famagusta Porters' Trade Union included three Greek and an equal number of Turkish Cypriots.

1945 - 1955
A most important event for the people of Cyprus was the decision of Governor Lord Winster for constitutional changes. To discuss such changes Lord Winster called a meeting for 1 November 1947, which was named 'Diaskeptiki'. In the discussion that followed Greeks and Turks were present. The Turkish Cypriot delegates rejected the proposition for self-government and the same happened with the Greeks but for different reasons. The right wing rejected it because it was closing the door for Union with Greece and the left wing because it was not envisaging a true self-government. Thus the meeting was dissolved without progress.
After two world wars in which the Greek Cypriots fought on the side of the British, they demanded that Britain should give a permanent solution to the Cyprus problem according to the will of the vast majority of the people, which was 'Union' with Greece, in exchange for British military facilities in the island.
Britain, thinking still in terms of being an Empire, turned down outright the idea of offering Cyprus to Greece and this stance inevitably led to the armed conflict of 1955-59.
A political event which influenced for the worse the labour and political relations between Greeks and Turks in the following years was the plebiscite for 'Union' with Greece, which took place on 15 January 1950 and was conducted by the 'Ethnarchy'.
Out of the 224,757 Greek Cypriots who had the right to vote 215,108, or 95.7%, voted for the 'Union'. Among those who voted for 'Union ' were 800 Turkish Cypriots. Generally, the majority of the Turkish Cypriots reacted strongly to this organised expression of the Greeks' desire to unite with Greece. The slogan 'Enosis' gradually became the main weapon in the hands of the British colonial administration which, applying the policy of "divide and rule", created all those conditions that favoured the intercommunal clashes. At the end of 1951, the first purely anti-Greek Turkish Cypriot organisation was founded under the name of VOLKAN- which started organising the Turkish Cypriot minority under the slogan "Cyprus is Turkish". Successor to VOLKAN was the chauvinist and terrorist organisation TMT (Turkish Resistance Organisation). This organisation turned its activity against the Greek Cypriots and those Turkish Cypriots who favoured the peaceful coexistence and cooperation between the two communities. By 1958 they were killing Turks as well as Greeks in order to prevent any form of cooperation of the two.

1955 - 1959
The armed struggle of EOKA, the Greek Cypriot terrorist movement (although some see them as libertyu fighters), started at dawn on 1 April 1955, was taken advantage of by the British in order to involve Turkey as an interested party in the Cyprus problem, and to create a 'cold climate' between the Greeks and Turks of Cyprus. In May 1956, following clashes between Greeks and Turks, the British drew a dividing line in Nicosia.
The activity of the terrorist organisation TMT, the murder of progressive Turks and similar acts gave rise to panic and fear among the Turkish Cypriot population, who were thus obliged to withdraw from the Trade Union Movement and gradually to sever themselves completely from the Greek Cypriot working people. Besides, the setting of fire to Greek houses in the Turkish quarters of Nicosia, Larnaca and Limassol, the murders of Greek and Turkish Cypriots in many parts of the island, created conditions of great turmoil in the relations of the two communities. Using the intercommunal troubles of 1958 as evidence, the British tried to argue that "it was impossible for the two communities to live together in peace". So even though the Ottoman Empire lost Cyprus in 1878 and in 1923 it was deprived of any legal rights on the island, Britain effectively involved Turkey in the affairs of Cyprus once again. In fact in 1958 a partitionist plan the socalled MacMillan plan, was proposed and because of this imminent danger, the Greek Cypriots abandoned their struggle for self-determination and were obliged to compromise and accept an independent Cyprus. In this way they avoided temporarily as it happened the partition of their country as envisaged by the MacMillan plan. Thus on 19 February 1959, Britain, Greece, Turkey and representatives from the Greek and Turkish communities of Cyprus signed in London the complex agreements that created the Independent State of Cyprus. On August, 16th, 1960 the Republic of Cyprus is born, Archbisshop Makarios being the first president. The Turk Cypriot Fadil Küçük becomes vice-president.

Republic of Cyprus (1960 - 1974)

Cyprus gains independence and becomes 99th member of the United Nations. Britain, Greece and Turkey become guarantors of the constitution and territorial integrity of the Republic under the 1960 'Treaty of Alliance and Guarantee'.
Independence did not ensure peace. Serious problems concerning the working and interpretation of the constitutional system appeared immediately. These problems reflected the sharp bicommunal division in the constitution and the historical and continuing distrust between the two communities. Turkish Cypriots, after eight decades of passivity under the British, had become a political entity. Makarios wanted complete integration; Küç¨k favored segregated companies. On October 20, 1961, Küç¨k used his constitutional veto power as vice president to halt the development of an integrated force. Makarios then stated that the country could not afford an army anyway; planning and development of the national army ceased.
Underground organizations of both communities revived during 1961 and 1962. EOKA and the TMT began training again, smuggling weapons in from Greece and Turkey, and working closely with national military contingents from Greece and Turkey that were stationed on the island in accordance with the Treaty of Alliance.

On November 30, 1963, Makarios advanced a thirteen-point proposal designed, in his view, to eliminate impediments to the functioning of the government. The thirteen points involved constitutional revisions, including the abandonment of the veto power by both the president and the vice president, an idea that certainly would have been rejected by the Turkish Cypriots, who thought of the veto as a form of life insurance for the minority community. Küç¨k asked for time to consider the proposal and promised to respond to it by the end of December. Turkey rejected it on December 16, declaring the proposal an attempt to undermine the constitution. Severe intercommunal fighting breaks out in December 1963 and later in March and April 1964.
In 1964 The United Nations send a mediator to Cyprus, but to no avail. In Nicosia the Green line was established, dividing the Greek and Turkish communities.
Rauf Denktasj succeeds Küçük in 1973 as vice-president.

Present Period, 1974 - 2002

1974
In July 1974, a coup is staged in Cyprus by the Military junta, then in power in Athens, for the overthrow of President Makarios. On 20 July 1974, Turkey launched an invasion with 40,000 troops against defenseless Cyprus. 200,000 Greek Cypriots, 40% of the total Greek Cypriot population, were forced to leave their homes in the occupied area and were turned into refugees. The invasion of Turkey and the occupation of 37% of the island's territory as well as the continuing violation of the fundamental human rights of the people of Cyprus have been condemned by international bodies, such as the UN General Assembly, the Non-aligned Movement, the Commonwealth and the Council of Europe.

1975-1983
Start of inter-communal talks in Vienna. The "Turkish Federated State of Cyprus" was proclaimed. In 1983, by means of a unilateral declaration of independence, Turkish Cypriots created the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" ("TRNC"), but by the early 1990s, only Turkey had recognized it as a nation. Rauf Denktas, who had been the political leader of the Turkish Cypriot community since the 1970s, was elected president of the "TRNC."

1983-2002
Talks continue, are stopped, boycotted, started again, but with no or only small results. The situation is too complicated to tell it here in a few sentences. For who wants to know more, have a look at the websites below. The situation is still tense, but in December 2001 talks were resumed on the highest level; The Turkish resident Denktash visited the Greek part of the island and in January 2002 the Greek Cypriot president Clerides visited his colleague, Denktash on Turkish territory.
When you have read all this page till here, have read about all the wars, the atrocities, do you see any justification for war anymore? Political, economical, religious justification doesn't exist, not for killing or torturing another human, or taking over a country. We hope people sort it out, all over the world.

Websites with more information about the history of CyprusNaar boven

Library of congress, a very extensive study on the past and present history of Cyprus
Virtual library, the World Wide Web Library with detailed information, not only about history.
Northcyprus.net, present situation as viewed from the Turkish Cypriot side
The latest news from Cyprus, the latest news from Cyprus
Peace organization, Peace organization on Cyprus, for a better world

© Teije & Elisabeth 2000 - 2018 To the top of the page