Cyprus: From BC to AD

By Serpil Kadilar…….

It’s difficult to separate the subject of the Cypriot population from the politics surrounding the status quo. For many, and especially those who are unfamiliar with the recent and ancient history of Cyprus, it may seem logical to agree that Cyprus is Greek, and that Turkish Cypriots are but a minority who are often treated as the thorn in the sides of politicians.

It is only by studying and understanding the history of this vastly beautiful island, that one can understand how inaccurate this assumption is. From the very first population, the indigenous, to the formation of the current population, including the massive shift in the status-quo during the late 19th and early 20th century, which manifested into a surge of nationalism, resulting in the deaths of several thousands of Cypriots.   In this first part of historical summarizing, we will be focusing on the very beginning of Cypriot civilization, and progress into the very start of the Anno Domini.

The first civilization in Cyprus began around 10,000 BC, when seafaring settlers, known as the Hittites, from ancient Anatolia in the north and Syria in the east, arrived on the Island and they were far from primitive. Being the civilization at the dawn of the Neolithic age, this initial group of settlers, who became the first ever Cypriots, were exposed to the human advancements, which meant that they were among the most proficient in farming, and were heavily dependent on their cultivation of wild cereals, wheat, grains, and their cattle for survival. This is probably one of the only original Cypriot cultures which subsequently continued to flourish in what was, and still is, one of the most fertile lands on the planet.  The Neolithic age saw the beginning of technological advances for humans of the time. The development of stone tools had commenced, the origin of which region it began in is argued, within the Levant (Jericho, now the West Bank) or Anatolia. Historians and Archaeologists have thus far been unable to distinguish to which region Neolithicism first came, due to the similarity of archaeological finds and the carbon dating of those objects.

One of the greatest discoveries of the Neolithic era was uncovered in the Anatolian region of South-East Turkey, Now ‘Gobekli Tepe’. Led by Klaus Schmidt, from 1996 until his death in 2014, the German team of archaeologists unearthed what has been proven to be the first temple to have ever been constructed on earth. Built around 9500 BC, this spectacular temple was composed with walls and pillars, intricately crafted by the use of stone tools.

Top Image: The ruins of Gobekli Tepe
Bottom Image: Artists impression of Gobekli Tepe

The sheltered quarters, an indication of a sanctuary (though Schmidt refuted the theory of it being a settlement), nonetheless, used by the civilization of the time. Carvings of animals and humanoid figures suggests the religious importance of such an astonishing build, the first of its kind and it seems rather futile to mention that pottery was one of the innovations of the Neolithic period, in comparison to the grandeur of Gobekli Tepe! However, it is actually a rather crucial piece of evidence which indicates the origin, and culture of the first ever Cypriot people. These experts in pottery left their mark. It is none other than a privilege for us, that their works of art were made to such quality, that archaeological findings of intact pottery in Cyprus dating as far back as 2000 BC are available for us to see in various Museums all over the world!

Copper was discovered in 3000 BC and Cyprus became a trading ground for empires stretching across the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean. More Anatolian settlers arrived to prosper from this copper. The second largest influx of Anatolian settlers, the Trojans, migrated to Cyprus around 2400 BC. It was probably through this hubbub of trading where outside empires began recognizing the logistical importance of the island, which was at the heart of trading routes, with easy access to every continent known at the time.

It wasn’t until 1400 BC that Greek traders began visiting Cyprus, and later, around 1184 BC, when settlers from Greece, the Ionians, arrived on the island. At this point, Cyprus was not under the rule or government of any empire, and still belonged to the same Cypriots who had initiated human life and development on the island during the Neolithic Era. In 800 BC, Phoenicians (Mycenaeans) began settling on the island, and joined the Cypriot indigenous, who were now becoming a mixed society. The Mycenaeans were a Semitic people, and the Phoenician (Mycenaean) Empire, active between 1500-300 BC. Originating in the Eastern Mediterranean, and later spreading towards the west, the Mycenaeans covered Turkey, Syria, Malta, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Jordan and Palestine. With an empire so vast, it may be impossible to pinpoint exactly which ethnic group of Phoenicians settled on the island, but one may assume that it’s likely that they would have arrived from one of the regions within a closer proximity to Cyprus, Such as Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Libya or Tunisia.

Despite all of the migration and many settlers in Cyprus, somehow the Cypriot language and text remained. An old tablet, now held at the British Museum in London, holds Cypriot Scriptures which are yet to be deciphered. The first translatable Cypriot text is dated around 1200 BC.

Cypriot Heiroglyphs

Towards the end of the 8th Century BC, The Assyrian Empire, led by King Sargon II conquered Cyprus. A Stele found near Kition (Larnaka) in 1845, commemorates the Kings victory over Cyprus. It was speculated that he’d referred to Cyprus as the land of ‘La’- although no record or inscription of this was ever found in his fortress, either in Cyprus, or in his palace in Khorsabad, which was the former Capital of the Assyrian Empire. Khorsabad is now a village in Northern Iraq, 15 km outside of Mosul. King Sargon was succeeded by Esarhaddon, his grandson, who he’d elected as the next Monarch of the Assyrian Empire. Inevitably, this did not please King Sargon’s sons, who sought to discredit Esarhaddon.

It appeared though, that Esarhaddon had a far bigger responsibility than only Cyprus. Advised by the Oracle (an appointed spiritual guide considered to be the gateway to communication with the Gods), that It was to be the life work of Esarhaddon to capture Jerusalem, liberating the people, and then, to rebuild the city of Babylon. Esarhaddon’s disgruntled Uncles pursued Esarhaddon into Jerusalem, which resulted in a bloody six week civil war in which Esarhaddon was victorious. With his new responsibilities, Esarhaddon divided Cyprus into ten regional kingdoms, as  he’d listed on a Prism found in his palace in Ninevah (Mosul, Iraq);

Soloi (Guzelyurt), Salamis, Paphos (Baf), Kourion, Amathus (Limassol), Kition, Tamassos, Ladrai (Ledra), Idiaion (Nicosia) and Chytoi (Degirmenlik).

Cyprus remained under Assyrian rule for the length of three monarchies.

570BC, and again, Cyprus is conquered. This time by the Egyptians under Amasis II. The greatest Egyptian influence which remained on the island were mainly in the form of art. Carved figurines, statues, and paintings on clay bowls, pots and vases. The Egyptian style of scripture was also adopted, as was fashion! Yes! The Cypriots appeared to appreciate the elegance in the Egyptian clothing, the texture of the materials and the weight of the garments proved far more suitable for the Cypriot weather. Men had taken a fondness and would often wear Egyptian wigs, matched with their Assyrian style beards.

Much to the disappointment of the Egyptian mainland, Cyprus did not remain under Egyptian rule for long. After just 50 years, the celebrated capture of Cyprus was met with an invasion by the greatest threat to Egypt- The Persians.

After a successful coup by Dârayavauš (Darius the Great), Cyprus became a part of the Persian Empire. King Darius had taken a rather soft approach to Cyprus in comparison to other such Persian conquests, and allowed the rule of the island to remain under the ten kingdoms formed by former Assyrian ruler Esarhaddon, with the agreement that the Kingdoms swore allegiance to the Persian King. The island gave perfect leverage for the king to pursue his conquests elsewhere, in which during his reign, had conquered Lydia (Now modern day Uşak, Manisa and inland İzmir, Western Turkey), Babylon (94 km Southwest of modern day Baghdad, Iraq), as well as a huge area of Central Asia. The Cypriots did not resist, and settled into its place as another part of the vast Persian Empire, where it remained until the arrival of Alexander the Great in 333 BC.

King of Macedonia and conqueror of Byzantine, Alexander the Great was born on July 20, 356 BC, in Pella, a city in Macedonia within the Greek Empire. During his leadership, from 336 to 323 BC, he united the Greek city-states and led the Corinthian League. He conquered the feared Persian Empire, and took his throne as king.  Babylon, Asia and Egypt fell to Alexander the Great, who created Macedonian colonies in these regions. With the Conquest of Persia came the conquest of Cyprus. A lover of Hellenism, Alexander the Great pushed the Hellenic culture into Cyprus, where it was quickly adopted. Shortly after, Cyprus was granted its independence, and again, for a brief time, Cyprus was back in the hands of the Cypriots.

294 BC, Ptolemy takes control of Cyprus. The Egyptian Astrologer, Mathematician and Geographer of Macedonian descent (mother unknown, possibly a concubine, Ptolomy was said to have been only 16 years old when he assumed the throne of Cyprus. Following the sudden, violent deaths of the last two legitimate members of the Ptolemaic family in Egypt, the people of Alexandria  invited Ptolemy XII to assume the throne. Although he was known as a son of Ptolomy IX Soter II, his mother was a mistress of Soter, not a wife. (Soter: Deliverer or Saviour).  He was sent by his grandmother, Cleopatra III, queen of Egypt, in the company of his brother and Ptolomy XI Soter II, his predecessor, to Cos, (an Aegean island South West of modern day Turkey)  for safekeeping. Captured  by Mithradates VI Eupator, ruler of Pontus, a kingdom in Asia Minor (South West Turkey) that was then at war with Rome, young Ptolemy appeared in Syria, from where, according to Cicero, he arrived in Egypt, while his brother became King of Cyprus.  In Rome, however, anti-Senate politicians raised the issue of Ptolemy’s legitimacy, producing a questionable will of Ptolemy XI Alexander II purporting to bequeath Egypt to the Roman people. Ptolemy, seeking Roman support, sent troops to assist the consul and general Pompey the Great in Palestine. Cicero, representing Pompey’s interests, persuaded the Senate to oppose Roman annexation. Facing serious opposition from the people of Alexandria and still unsure of his status in Rome, Ptolemy bribed Julius Caesar,  one of the Roman consuls, in return for which Caesar passed a law acknowledging his kingship.

Rome nevertheless divested Egypt of Cyprus the next year, and, when his brother in Egypt failed to support him, the island’s king committed suicide.

The loss of Cyprus and Ptolemy’s submissive attitude to Rome outraged the people of Alexandria, who drove Ptolemy out of Egypt and accepted his queen, Tryphaeana, and his eldest daughter, Berenice IV. It was ultimately the dependency of Ptolemy upon the support of the Romans which led to Cyprus falling into the hands of the Romans in 58BC. Cyprus remained a part of the Roman Empire until the 647th year of the new Anno Domini.

From the very beginning, Cyprus has had a history of mixed ethnicities and influences, empires and kingdoms. All of which heavily influenced the culture and progression of the island. To summarise, From BC to AD, Cyprus has seen;

Anatolian/Syrian initial settlers (The Hittites)

Anatolian Trojan Settlers

Ionian Greek Settlers

Semitic Phoenicians (Mycenaeans)

The island fell under the ownership of great Empires and the rule of Great Kings;

The Assyrian Empire

The Egyptian Empire

The Persian Empire

The Kingship of Alexander the Great

The Kingship of Ptolomy

And finally, The Roman Empire. In its ancient history alone, Cyprus has one of the most active, diverse and multi cultural histories on Earth, with an ancient history which set the tone for centuries to follow. To be continued……

(The information within this text has been sourced from The Smithsonian Institute, The British Museum, “The Middle East: Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt” by Greenwood Publications, Livius.org and Encyclopaedia Britannica)