A History of Cyprus

Cyprus's history is marked by a dynamism of its own . The island is , if one disregards some exceptions , too small to be able to maintain real independence . It has therefore always been at the mercy of external power constellations . It is possible to observe alternations taking place in long cycles . Sometimes Cyprus was a border area and lay between power blocs ; then its strategic importance became significant . For long periods , however , it was to be found within a power bloc , dependent on the development of a foreign state . Under Roman and Byzantine rule , it experienced a lasting boom and prosperity , under Ottoman rule it was left to decline slowly in keeping with the agony of the empire as a whole . The island has never held a really decisive role , either militarily , culturally or economically . But it was important : rich in mineral and other resources , in principle capable of supporting itself , and with the tenacious way of life of an indigenous culture . Despite the regular domination of foreign elements , it preserved something of its own and assimilated the outside influences . In this ambivalence lies its strength and its tragedy .

Preliminary remarks

In the case of all languages written in a different script , and especially in the case of languages such as Greek and Latin where there is already a long tradition with respect to the adoption of words from them into English , the question of transcription arises . It would be comparatively simple if it just involved certain letters . But many old names have themselves gone through a long history ; the names of ancient cities (e.g. Caesarea/Kayseri) or historical persons , for example . In the case of letters , it is possible to agree on a solution - in this work the Greek f is transcribed with ph instead of with f as is often the practice of late ; c as a rule with ch (Christ , Machairas) , etc . Admittedly , in the case of names there are always versions which have become accepted and , in view of such usage , there are great difficulties in consistently adhering to a form of spelling once selected . This present book thus represents a compromise . It does not succeed in maintaining a form of the transcription of sounds right down to the smallest detail ; the authors would ask the reader's forbearance for this .

Prehistoric period

Neolithic period

Cyprus's history extends far into the past . Already in the Neolithic Age there was human life on the island . But , apparently , there was no continuity in this for thousands of years and it consisted of various independent cultural phases . The first settlement coincided in time with one of the greatest changes ever , the "Agrarian Revolution", the last stage in the transition from a collector and hunter existence to a settled agricultural form of existence . Well organised groups landing in Cyprus in about 7000 before our era brought seeds for domesticated plants , domestic animals and fallow deer with them . Tools have been found , idols and the remains of settlements . The oldest and largest is Choirokoitia , lying close to the coast half way between Limassol and Larnaca on a mountain slope , and protected against attacks by a wall . These settlements remained isolated culturally , and rooted in their traditions ; they vanished without leaving any apparent successors .

The pottery epoch began for Cyprus around 5250 B.C. without its being possible to ascribe the findings to a particular culture . They were uncovered during excavations dealing with the Sotira Culture dated about 4500-4000 B.C. and named after the site located to the west of Limassol . It left settlements following a uniform pattern and with richly decorated clay vessels , the styles of which allow one to assume several epochs . There were regional differences and technical improvements . Of the 30 known villages , only a few were still inhabited in the next period ; why the others were abandoned is not known .

Copper Age

With the Erimi Culture , Cyprus entered into one of the longest phases in its history ; an age in which metal was used and trade links with the mainland were developed , social structures formed and the Cypro-Minoan script introduced . Thus between 4000 and 2500 B.C. a very great deal must have happened , but we do not know how these changes took place . Objects made of copper have been found , but it is unclear whether they were imported or made out of Cypriot ore . Ornaments and cruciform female figures were made out of picrite , a greenish stone occurring in copper deposits . They were worn as pendants or used as grave-goods (cf . fig. 2).

The standardised pottery in the west of the island allows one to conclude that it was produced at just a few places and distributed from there . Seals and large storage vessels in excavated houses make it highly probable that food was centrally administered , something possibly forced on the authorities by an exhaustion of the soils . Grave chambers and complicated burial ceremonies developed : signs of a society which was becoming differentiated .

The Seafarers' World

Bronze Age

Bronze , the collective name for various copper alloys , but mainly for those with tin and copper , made it easier to manufacture objects than from pure copper . Weapons , ploughshares , clasps for clothing and balance weights for spindles made of bronze have been found in Cypriot burial fields . Together with gold , this material stands for anew stage in civilisation .

The epoch was probably brought about by a period of destruction by the migratory movement of the Indo-Europeans . From the second millennium B.C. , they pushed south-westwards , thus setting off population shifts in several waves . One of the first of these led to the settlement of Cyprus . With it began the systematic exploitation of the copper deposits . Cyprus , which at that time was probably called Alashiya , became the most important supplier of copper - cyprium aes - in the old world , and for a time held an important position in maritime trade . The north , where the ore deposits lay , prospered . External relations with Egypt (at times as a vassal) , the Aegean Islands , Palestine , Syria (Ugarit) and Babylon can be shown to have existed .Minoan traders from Crete established colonies on Cyprus and conducted their trade from there . Towards the end of the epoch , fortresses were established close to the coast which show traces of violent destruction . It is not known whether internal disputes or attacks from outside were the cause of this .

Indo-European tribes which had entered Greece (Ionians and Achaeans) merged - quite certainly not always peacefully - with the original Mediterranean population creating the Mycenean culture . The highest class formed a warrior caste . Why their palaces and cities were destroyed or abandoned at the end of the 12th. century has remained a riddle down to the present . At all events , their culture was not apparently continued . Mycenean traders took the place of the Minoan ones who had previously been established in Cyprus and utilised the island , among other things , as a trading post for luxury goods . It became the melting-pot for the artistic styles in the Levant and Aegean . This period of peace and economic growth ended in the 13th. century B.C. What has survived is correspondence between the king of Alashiya and the king of Ugarit who warns his neighbour about foreign ships - but it helped neither of them , their countries were ravaged , like wide parts of the Mediterranean area , by the "People of the Sea" disaster . This wave of peoples known to us from Egyptian sources , was due to a new thrust in Indo-European migration . Trading centres on the coast were destroyed and reconstructed again later - larger and finer than before . But yet once again a 'dark' age , an age of transition began about which we know little . Homer's Odyssey bears witness to it in a literary coded form .

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