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Cyprus

The earliest known human settlements on Cyprus date as early as 6000 BC. The abundance of copper on the island brought traders and settlers from all over the east, and a variety of nations ruled from the earliest times. Egypt controlled the island for long stretches of its early history, and some Phoenician traders and colonies popped up as early as the 8th century BC. Egyptian domination passed to Persian control and remained so for 200 years until the rise of Alexander the Great.

Cypriot culture, though influenced by many others, developed with a strong Hellenic presence. Even during the Persian occupation of the 6th to 4th centuries BC Greek culture prevailed. The rise of the Macedonian King Alexander the Great and his campaigns against the east sealed Cypriot and Hellenic ties. During Alexander's short reign the kings of Cyprus continued to exist as Greek clients, but after his death, Alexander's successors altered the course of Cypriot history. Egyptian influence, at least as far as national rule is concerned, returned to Cyprus under the Egyptian Ptolemy Dynasty and Hellenic culture continued to propagate.

Roman intervention on the island took considerable time to develop considering the relative isolation of Cyprus. The internal strife present in the royal family of Egypt inevitably brought Roman focus. Pompey's campaigns in the east in the 70's and 60's BC were initially targeted Cilician pirates, but soon expanded to include the entire territory of present day Turkey and the Mediterranean coast of the Middle East. Cyprus, though, still remained under Ptolemaic rule for about another decade. The dynastic struggles of the Ptolemies led eventually to Roman annexation, and in 58 BC, after the disputed will of the Egyptian King, the Romans invoked their right to the island. The great political enemy of Caesar, Marcius Porcius Cato, was sent to Cyprus to oversee the task, and it was accomplished with little difficulty. The island, likely named after the Greek word for Copper was a great prize in mineral wealth, and the Romans certainly risked the resistance met by the Egyptian people in response, in order to take control. In fact, the Roman historian/geographer Strabo said, "Cyprus is second to none of the islands of the Mediterranean; it is rich in wine and oil, produces grain in abundance and possesses extensive copper mines at Tamassos."

Initially organized as a part of the province of Cilicia, Cyprus still remained an aloof part of the Roman provincial make up. Though the disputed annexation of the island created problems in Egypt resulting in the exile of Ptolemy XII (and eventual return to power through Pompey), the Hellenized people of Cyprus likely found little difference between Macedonian Egyptian and Roman rule, and continued to live in relative peace. Caesar returned the administration of Cyprus to Egypt, through Cleopatra in 47 BC, and Marcus Antonius repeated the gesture 11 years later in 36 BC. However, the victory of Octavian at Actium in 31 BC, not only altered the course of Roman history, but that of Cyprus as well. It was separated into a separate province from Cilicia in 27 BC under Imperial control, and then organized as a Senatorial province just 5 years later. Situated in the heart of the Roman controlled Mediterranean, there was little need for military presence in any great capacity, and the province flourished under Roman authority. The Romans certainly exploited the mineral wealth available but brought stability and prosperity in exchange. The enforced peace of the region allowed mines, industries, commercial enterprises, new roads, harbors and great public works to be undertaken.

Over the course of the next 5 centuries Cyprus remained a relatively problem free province for Rome. Jewish revolts in the early 1st century AD forced Emperor Trajan to intervene and eventually expel the Jews from the island. Raids by Goths in 269 AD briefly stopped at Cyprus after attacks on Crete and Rhodes, but were quickly reduced to a memory. Perhaps the single outstanding event that occurred under Roman control was during the reign of Claudius. In 45 AD, the great Christian authority, Paul, arrived on the island to practice and spread the faith. He and along with the apostle Barnabas, were highly influential in setting a Christian foundation on the island and even succeeded in a Christian 'first'. The Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, was apparently converted and has become recognized by scholars as the first Roman of noble birth to do so. By virtue of his position, he also must've been the first Christian governor of a Roman province.

As the Empire aged and began to falter for a variety of reasons, the relative isolation of the island and its wealth allowed it much better protection from the economic collapse that befell the later western Empire. With the passing of the west, Cyprus fell under the administration of the 'Byzantine' Empire at Constantinople and would remain so, though disputed, until the 12th century AD.





Cyprus Travel Books

Roman Province Index


Cyprus - Related Topic: Copper


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