History of Cyprus

Brief history of Cyprus summarized

A clear, simple and brief overview of the history of Cyprus, an island south of Turkey.

Ancient Cyprus

The first people in Cyprus were stone age farmers around 8,000 BC. By 4,000 BC they were making pottery and copper tools. By 2,500 BC the people of Cyprus had learned to make bronze.

Cypriot society gradually became more sophisticated from 1600 BC A form of writing was invented. A highly civilized society arose in Cyprus with many cities and palaces. Trade with other parts of the Mediterranean flourished and contact with other civilizations was common.

After 800 BC a series of great empires arose in the Middle East. The first was the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians never conquered Cyprus, but they did force its rulers to pay tribute for a short period, from 708 BC to 669 BC.

Then, in 545 BC, Cyprus was forced to submit to Persian rule. The Persians, in turn, were overthrown by the Greeks led by Alexander the Great after 333 BC When Alexander died in 323 his empire was divided between his generals. One of them, named Ptolemy, took over Egypt.

After a period of fighting, he and his successors came to rule Cyprus and Greek culture became dominant on the island. However, a new power arose – Rome. The Romans took Cyprus in 58 BC and it became part of the Roman Empire.

Christianity was introduced to Cyprus by two men named Paul and Barnabas around 45 AD. Then, in the 4th century AD, the Roman Empire was divided into two parts: East and West. Cyprus became part of the Eastern Roman Empire. When the Roman Empire in the west fell in AD 476, the eastern part continued. It is known to us as the Byzantine Empire.

Middle Ages

Under Byzantine rule, Cyprus prospered despite incursions by the Arabs between the 7th and 10th centuries. However, by the 12th century the Byzantine Empire was declining.

In 1184 a Byzantine prince named Comnenus declared Cyprus independent from the rest of the empire. However, independence did not last long. In 1191 Richard I, King of England, captured Cyprus. He sold it to a Frenchman named Guy de Lusignan.

The Lusignans ruled Cyprus for 3 centuries. Cyprus became a feudal kingdom where a Catholic elite ruled over the Orthodox majority. However, in the 14th century the Italian cities of Genoa and Venice became increasingly wealthy and powerful, threatening the independence of Cyprus.

In 1425 the Mamluks from Egypt attacked Cyprus. Finally a king of Cyprus married a Venetian woman. The king died leaving the queen as sole ruler of Cyprus. In 1489 she was persuaded to abdicate and Cyprus came under direct Venetian rule. However, the Ottoman Turks were now the emerging power in the Mediterranean. In 1571 they conquered Cyprus.


At first, most Cypriots welcomed the Turkish regime, preferring it to the oppressive Venetian regime. The feudal system was abolished and the Turks respected the Orthodox Church. However, plague struck Cyprus at intervals, and eventually there were rebellions against Turkish rule.

In the 19th century, Great Britain became a superpower. In 1875 the Suez Canal was opened and Britain was keen to protect the route to India. In 1878 the British were allowed to occupy and administer Cyprus (although Turkey was still technically sovereign).

However, in 1914 the Turks joined the German side in World War I and Britain formally annexed Cyprus. In 1925 Cyprus became a British Crown Colony.

However, Orthodox Greek Cypriots now demanded enosis (union with Greece), and in 1931 riots broke out. During World War II many Cypriots fought for the British. However, when peace came, Orthodox Greek Cypriots once again demanded union with Greece. The Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, wanted British rule to continue.

Cyprus at the end of the 20th century

In 1955 a Greek Cypriot organization called EOKA started a series of bombings in Cyprus. In 1958 a Turkish organization called TMT was formed and inter-communal struggle started. Finally, in 1960, Cyprus gained independence. Archbishop Makarios was elected president.

However, in 1963 the Greeks proposed changes to the constitution. The Turks refused and there was more intercommunal fighting. In 1964 the United Nations sent a peacekeeping force to Cyprus. However, no solution was found and in April 1974 Greek hardliners staged a coup.

Archbishop Makarios was overthrown and fled abroad. As a result, in July 1974, Turkish forces invaded Northern Cyprus. The island was divided. Refugees from both sides crossed the border between the two parts of Cyprus. Meanwhile, hardliners fell from power, and in December 1974 Archbishop Makarios returned from exile. He died in 1977.

In 1975, the Turkish section called itself the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus and it seemed that some kind of federation of the two parts would be possible. However, in 1983, the Turkish section of Cyprus declared full independence. It called itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

XXI century

The two sections of Cyprus remained separate and in 2004 the Southern (Greek) Republic of Cyprus joined the EU. However, in 2008 Cyprus joined the euro. As a result, Cyprus suffered a serious economic crisis in 2013. However, the economy is growing again. Currently, the population of the whole of Cyprus is 1.2 million.

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