The History of Cyprus

Cyprus has a very long history that stretches back to the very earliest Neolithic era. The island had great strategic value and was ruled by many great empires over the centuries, including the Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek, Roman, Persian, Ottoman and British Empires. Many settlers came to the island over the years, including the Phoenicians, the Hittites and the Dorians. The island gained its independence in 1960 and today is a republic and a member of the EU. Here is a brief outline of the island's turbulent and complicated history.

Early history

There are no written records of Cyprus' history until it was mentioned as a conquest of the Assyrian King, Sargon II, and of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Thutmose III, but there is a great deal of physical evidence of early man on Cyprus before this. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Choirokoitia dates back to ancient times, around 6000 BC, but evidence has been found of even older settlements dating back to around 8800 BC. Another ancient site, Sotira, was built in the late Neolithic era. Newcomers came to Cyprus from Anatolia in around 2400 BC and introduced a Bronze Age culture that utilised copper and other metals. Much of the modern city of Larnaca has been built on top of an ancient Bronze Age city, Kition. In the late Bronze Age, Cyprus was controlled by the Hittite Empire.

Greek, Persian and Roman Cyprus

After the Trojan wars, Greek settlers, known as Mycenaeans, came to Cyprus and set up several kingdoms, or city states, that were ruled by different kings. In around 546 BC, the kings surrendered to King Cyrus of Persia, who controlled the island until the Persian Empire was conquered by Alexander the Great. Cyprus became completely Hellenised and embraced Greek culture and language. This continued until it was invaded by Marcus Cato in 58 BC and became a Roman province. During this time, Saint Paul came to Cyprus and introduced Christianity.

Islam and Byzantine

When the Roman Empire was divided, the eastern Byzantine Empire ruled Cyprus. The island suffered an Arabic invasion in 648 AD when Emir Moabia destroyed the capital. Further Arab invasions followed over the next few centuries until Cyprus rejoined the Byzantine Empire in 944 AD.

The Middle Ages

Richard the Lionheart of England landed in Cyprus with his Crusaders in 1191 and left the island the following year. He left his army behind and sold Cyprus to the Knights Templar, who in turn sold it to Guy de Lusignan, a Frankish king. The island became Latin and French-speaking, with Roman Catholicism the official religion. The Lusignan family ruled the island until their last king, James II, married a Venetian. On his death she became queen and gave the island to Venice, which ruled from 1480 to 1571. They were overthrown by the Ottomans, rulers of the Turkish Empire, who took the city of Lefkosia in 1570.

Ottoman Rule

The Ottomans brought 20,000 Turks to settle on the island and restored the Greek Orthodox Church while suppressing the Catholic Church. Ottoman rule lasted until 1878, when Britain signed an agreement with Turkey to share administration of the island. This lasted until the First World War, when Britain and Turkey were on opposite sides and Britain assumed outright sovereignty of Cyprus.

British Rule

Cyprus became a British crown colony in 1925. This was not universally popular, and an opposition group of Greek Cypriots, EOKA, began a terrorist campaign to fight for the island's unification with Greece. The British retaliated by forming an armed militia made up of Turkish Cypriots which led to many years of armed struggle between the opposing sides. The leader of EOKA, Archbishop Makarios, was deported in 1956 but returned in 1959 and was elected President. Britain granted Cyprus independence in 1960.

A Nation Divided

The Greek and Turkish communities on the island agreed to share power at first, but in 1963 Makarios tried to change the constitution. This led to violence between the two sides and in 1964 the United Nations was forced to send a peacekeeping force into Cyprus, where it still remains. There was a failed coup by the Greek military government against Makarios in 1974 and Turkish troops were sent into the island, occupying the north. Greek Cypriots fled to the south and the island became divided. The UN tried many times to make Turkey withdraw its troops from northern Cyprus but they refused and declared the north a separate, Turkish republic in 1983. This republic is not recognized by the UN or by any country except Turkey. Today, Cyprus is still divided, though fortunately without armed conflict, and the official Cyprus government has taken the island into the EU.