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History of Cyprus

Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, has a long history, primarily during Greek and Roman rule when the sea was the easiest and most commonly used transportation medium, making Cyprus, in many ways the center of the known world.

From as far back as about 1000 BC the island's people were traders and it was during this period that the Greeks began to settle on the island and intermingled with the local people. From this time the island consisted of small city states, ruled first by the city's leaders, then the Persians, the Greeks, Alexander the Great, and after him, the Ptolemy rulers of Egypt.

In about 50 BC, Cyprus came under the rule of Rome and under their rule (and later Byzantium rule), Cyprus was primarily left alone and prospered. They quickly converted to Christianity and have remained so since this period. This time of peace and prosperity ended with the attempted introduction of Islam to the island. The coasts were repeatedly raided and eventually the island fell under joint rule of the Christians and Muslims until about 1000 when the local Cypriot Christians regained control under Byzantium power.

In 1191 Richard the Lionheart of England made a stop in Cyprus on his way to the Holy Land for a crusade when he decided to claim it for himself and sell it to the Knights Templar, who then sold it to the disposed king of Jerusalem. This king decided to let the island be a refugee ground for his displaced Jerusalem citizens, but after the crusades, the island became a center of the trading world. Unfortunately, their church fell under the pope's jurisdiction and the orthodox Greeks refused to pay the Roman Catholic church, creating the formation of many mountain villages and churches.

The Italian city-states then laid claim to Cyprus, beginning with Genoa, then in about 1500 by the Venetians, but in 1570 the island was taken by the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Rule was primarily just a combination of neglect and indifference, but it also led to the settlement of many Ottoman Turks and the lessening of the influence of the Roman Catholic church.

In the late 1800s Britain took Cyprus (not officially until 1923), as many believed the island would be united with Greece, but due to a number of conflicts, serious talks on this issue didn't happen until the 1950s. Britain's stalling tactics on the union were due to the island's minority population of Turks, who feared becoming a part of Greece. This led to Greek and Turkish arguments, eventually forcing the two sides to allow Cyprus's freedom in 1960 in order to prevent further conflict.

The agreement to give Cyprus freedom also included a provision that if Cypriot independence was threatened in anyway, Greece, Turkey, and Britain had the right to intervene. This was enacted by Turkey in 1974 when Cyprus's government was overthrown in a coup and more pro-Greek politicians came to power. Since this time, Turkey has controlled the northern half of the island.

Today the island remains divided and the ethnic division is along the Green Line as Greeks fled south and Turks fled north after Turkey's invasion. Although the north has since claimed independence, no nation other than Turkey recognized this claim and the northern half of the island's population is dissipating due to a lack of international rights and economic restrictions.

Today reunification talks come and go, but never seem to progress beyond talks. With Greece and Cyprus in the European Union and Turkey attempting to join, talks are again under way for some sort of union, but no major change has taken place for some time. The south (the seat of the officially recognized Republic of Cyprus) has improved its economy greatly since 1974 and today boasts a huge tourism industry and growing economic levels.

This page was last updated: March, 2013