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This article treats the history of Cyprus during Classical Antiquity, from the 8th century BC to the Middle Ages. The earliest written records relating to Cyprus date to the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 15th c. BC), see Alasiya.

Assyrian Period

The first written source shows Cyprus under Assyrian rule. A stela found in 1845 in Kitionmarker commemorates the victory of king Sargon II (721-705 BC) in 709 over the seven kings in the land of Ia', in the district of Iadnana or Atnana. The former is supposedly the Assyrian name of the island, while some authors take the latter to mean Greecemarker (the Islands of the Danaans). There are other inscriptions referring to Ia' in Sargon's palace at Khorsabadmarker.The ten kingdoms listed by an inscription of Esarhaddon in 673/2 BC have been identified as Soloimarker, Salamismarker, Paphosmarker, Kourionmarker, Amathusmarker and Kitionmarker on the coast, and Tamassos, Ledrai, Idalion and Chytroi in the interior. Later inscriptions add Marion, Lapithosmarker and Kerynia (Kyreniamarker).The city-kingdoms began to strike their own coins around 500 BC, using the Persian weight system.

The City-Kingdoms

Cyprus gained independence around 669/663. Cemeteries of this period are chiefly rock-cut tombs. They have been found, among others, at Tamassos, Soloi, Patriki and Trachonas. The rock-cut 'Royal' tombs at Tamassos, built ca. 600 BC imitate wooden houses. The pillars show Phoenicianmarker influence. Some graves contain remains of horses and chariots.

The main deity on the Island was the Great Goddess, Phoenician Astarte, later known under the Greek name of Aphrodite, who was called 'the Cypriote' by Homer. Paphian inscriptions call her the Queen. Pictures of Aphrodite appear on coins of Salamis as well, demonstrating that her cult was of more than local importance. The king of Paphos was high Priest of Aphrodite as well. Other Gods venerated were the Phoenician Anat, Baal, Eshmun, Reshef, Mikal and Melkart and the Egyptian Hathor, Thoeris, Bes and Ptah, as attested by amulets. Animal sacrifices are attested by terracotta-votives. The Sanctuary of Ayia Irini contained over 2000 figurines.

In 570, the Island was conquered by Egypt under Amasis.The period of Egyptian domination, though brief, left its mark mainly in arts especially in sculpture, where we observe the rigidity and the dress of Egyptians. Soon, however, the Cypriots discarded both for the sake of Greek prototypes.

Statues in stone show a mixture of Egyptian and Greek influence; in particular ceramics recovered on Cyprus show influence of ancient Cretemarker. Men often wear Egyptian whigs and Assyrian-style beards. Armour and dress show western Asiatic elements as well.

Under the Persiansmarker, the kings of Cyprus retained their independence, although paying tribute to their overlord. They could mint their own coins without even his portrait on it. Thus King Evelthon of Salamis (560 BC-525 BC), probably the first one to cast silver or bronze coins in Cyprus, shows a ram on the obverse and an "ankh" (Egyptian symbol of good luck) on the reverse.

Except for Amathusmarker, the Kingdoms of Cyprus, took part in the Ionian rising in 499 BC, following the lead of Onesilos of Salamismarker, brother of the king of Salamis, whom he dethroned for not wanting to fight for independence. The Persiansmarker crushed the Cypriote armies and laid siege to the fortified towns in 498 BC. In Paphos, remains of a Persian siege-ramp and counter-tunnels have been excavated at the North-gate. Soloi surrendered after a five-month siege.Around 450, Kition annexed Idalion with Persian help. The importance of Kition increased again when it acquired the Tamassos copper-mines.

The Teucrid dynasty of Salamis had been displaced by a Phoenician exile around 450 BC. Only in 411 did Evagoras I regain the throne of Salamis. At the beginning of the 4th century BC, he took control of the whole island and tried to gain independence from Persia with Athenianmarker help. Ca. 380 a Persian force besieged Salamis . Evagoras was forced to surrender, but stayed king of Salamis until he was murdered in 374. Together with Egypt and Phoenicia, Cyprus rebelled again in 350 BC, but the upraising was crushed by Artaxerxes III in 344.

The Greek alphabet was introduced by Evagoras I. of Salamis, in other parts of the island, the Phoenician script (Kition) or the Cypriot syllabic alphabet was still used, either for inscriptions in the local Greek dialect (Arcado-Cypriot) or in the so called Eteocypriot language (Amathus). Only during the 4th century , the Cypriot gods became known under Greek names. Anat, who had a temple at Vouni was called Athena, Astarte Aphrodite, the main male God as Zeus. Reshef and Hylates were equated with Apollo, Eshmun with Asklepios.

Full Hellenisation only took place under Ptolemaic rule. Phoenician and native Cypriot traits disappeared, together with the old Cypriot syllabic script. A number of cities were founded during this time, e.g. Arsinoe that was founded between old and new Paphosmarker by Ptolemy II.

Persian Period

Achaemenid empire at its greatest extent
After the Persian defeat, the Greeks mounted various expeditions against Cyprus in order to liberate it from the Persian yoke, but all their efforts bore only temporary results. In 526 BC, the Persians conquered the island. Some years later, the island was incorporated into the 5th Satrapy (Ionia), and East Greek influence can be seen in the Cypriot material culture. The Persians did not interfere in internal affais, the city-kingdoms continued to strike their own coins and to wage war among each other.

Royal palaces have excavated in Palaepaphos and in Vounimarker in the territory of Marion on the North coast. They closely follow Persian examples like Persepolismarker. Vouni, on a hill overlooking the Morphou Baymarker was built around 520 BC and destroyed in 380. It contained Royal audience chambers (liwan), open courtyards, bathhouses and stores.The towns were fortified with mudbrick walls on stone foundations and rectangular bastions. The houses were constructed of mud-bricks as well, public buildings were faced with ashlar. The Phoenician town of Carpasia near Rizokarpassomarker ( ) had houses built of rubble masonry with square stone blocks forming the corners. Temples and sanctuaries were mainly built according to Phoenician templates. Soloimarker had a small temple with a Greek plan.

In the sphere of arts we have a definite influence from Greece that was responsible for the production of some very important sculptures. The archaic Greek art with its attractive smile on the face of the statue is found on many Cypriot pieces dating between 525-475 BC, that is the closing stage of the Archaic period. During the Persian rule, Ionian influence on the sculptures intensified, copies of Greek korai appear, as well as statues of men in Greek dress. Naked kouroi, common in Greece, are extremely rare while women (Korai) are always presented dressed with rich foldings of their himations.

In the pottery, definite local styles develop, some Greek pottery was imported as well.

The most important obligation of the kings of Cyprus to the Shah of the Shahs of Persia was the payment of tribute and the supply of armies and ships for his foreign campaigns. Thus when Xerxes in 480 BC invaded Greece, Cyprus contributed 150 ships to the Persian army.

Evagoras (435374 BC) was an important pro-Greek king of Cyprus. He dominated Cypriot politics for almost forty years until he died in 374 BC. He favoured everything Greek and he urged Greeks from the Aegean to come and settle in Cyprus. He assisted the Athenians in many ways and they honoured him by erecting his statue in the Stoa (portico) Basileios in Athensmarker.He tried to unite the cities of Cyprus. He met resistance on the parts of the kings of Kitionmarker, Amathusmarker and Solimarker who fled to the great king of Persia in 390 BC. requesting him to prevent Evagoras from carrying out his plans. Evagoras also didn't receive much help from Athenians and at the end could remain ruler of Salamis only accepting to be a vassal of Persia.

Tiffany Premack [SUNY Albany]

Hellenistic Period

Map of Alexander's empire.
During the siege of Tyremarker, the Cypriot Kings went over to Alexander of Macedon and supported him with ships. In appreciation, Alexander set them free. This period, however was very brief since the Macedonian King died soon afterwards and Cyprus became a bone of contention among his successors. In 321 four Cypriot kings sided with Ptolemy I Soter and defended the island against Antigonos. Ptolemy lost Cyprus to Demetrios Poliorketes from 306 to 294 BC, but after that it remained under Ptolemaic rule till 58 BC. It was ruled by a governor from Egypt and sometimes formed a minor Ptolemaic kingdom during the power-struggles of the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. Strong commercial relationships with Athensmarker and Alexandriamarker, two of the most important commercial centres of antiquity, developed.

Ptolemaic rule was rigid and exploited the island's resources to the utmost, particularly timber and copper. A great contemporary figure of Cypriot letters was the philosopher Zeno who was born at Kition about 336 and founded the famous Stoic School of Philosophy at Athens where he died about 263 BC.

Roman Period

Cyprus became a Roman province in 58 BC, according to Strabo because Publius Clodius Pulcher held a grudge against Ptolemy. The renowned Stoic and strict constitutionalist M. Porcius Cato 'Uticensis' was sent to annex Cyprus and organize it under Roman law, and Cato was relentless in protecting Cyprus against the rapacious tax farmers that normally plagued the provinces of the republican period.After the Caesarian civil wars that ended the Roman republic, Mark Antony gave the island to Cleopatra VII of Egypt and their daughter Cleopatra Selene, but it became a Roman province again after his defeat at the Battle of Actiummarker (31 BC) in 30 BC.From 22 BC, Cyprus was a senatorial province, after the reforms of Diocletian it was placed under the Consularis Oriens.

Pax Romana (Roman peace) was only twice disturbed in Cyprus in three centuries of Roman occupation.The first serious interruption occurred in 115-116, when a revolt by the Jew inspired by Messianic hopes broke out. Their leader was Artemion, a Jew with a hellenised name as was the practice of the time. The island suffered great losses in this Kitos War, when it is believed that 240,000 Greek and Roman civilians were killed. Though probable that the number massacred is greatly inflated, there were few or no Roman troops stationed on the island to suppress the insurrection as the rebels wreaked havoc. After forces were sent to Cyprus and the uprising was put down, law was passed that no Jew was permitted to land on Cyprian soil, not even in case of ship wreck.The second turomoil sprang up in 333-334, when the magister pecoris camelorum Calocaerus revolted against Constantine I, claiming the purple. This rebellion ended with the arrival of the troops led by Flavius Dalmatius and the death of Calocaerus.

Several earthquakes led to the destruction of Salamis at the beginning of the 4th century, at the same time drought and famine hit the island.

Olive Oil Trade in the Late Roman Period

Olive oil was a very important part of daily life in the Ancient Mediterranean World in the Roman Period, including Cyprus. It was used for food, as a fuel for lamps, and as a basic ingredient in things like medicinal ointment, bath oils, skin oils, soaps, perfumes and cosmetics. Even before the Roman Period Cyprus was known for its olive oil, as indicated by Strabo when he said that “in fertility Cyprus is not inferior to any one of the islands, for it produces both good wine and good oil.”

There is evidence for both local trade of Cypriot oil and for a larger trading network that may have reached as far as the Aegean, though most of the oil trade was probably limited to the Eastern Mediterranean. Many olive oil presses have been found on Cyprus, and not just in rural areas, where they might be expected for personal, local use. They have been found in some of the larger coastal cities as well, including Paphos, Curium, and Amathus. In Alexandriamarker , Egypt there is a large presence of a type of amphora made in Cyprus known as Late Roman 1 or LR1 that were used to carry oil. This indicates that a lot of Cypriot Oil was being imported into Egypt. There is also evidence for Cypriot trade with Cilicia and Syria.

There is also evidence that olive oil was traded locally, around the island. Amphorae found at Alaminos-Latourou Chiftlik and Dreamer’s Bay, indicate that the olive oil produced in these areas was mostly used locally or shipped to nearby towns that were larger. The amphora found on the Cape Zevgari ship wreck indicate that the ship, which was a typical small merchant ship, was carrying oil and other pieces of evidence on the ship and the location of the wreck itself imply that it was traveling a short distance, probably west around the island. These both indicate that much of the oil trade in the late Roman Period was local.


Roman Cyprus was visited by Apostles Paul, Barnabas and St Mark who came to the island at the outset of their first missionary journey in 45 AD. After their arrival at Salamis they proceeded to Paphos where they converted the Roman Governor Sergius Paulus to Christianity. In the Acts of the Apostles, St Luke describes vividly how a magician named Bar-Jesus (Elymas) was obstructing the two Apostles in their preaching of the Gospel, so Paul by his word only set him blind for some time. As a result of this, Sergius Paulus believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord. In this way Cyprus became the first country in the world to be governed by a Christian ruler.

The apostle Paul of Tarsus is reported to have converted the people of Cyprus to Christianity. St. Barnabas was supposed to have founded the Church of Cyprus, underpinning claims for ecclesiastical independence from Antioch. According to the apocryphal Acts of Barnabas, Barnabas carried a copy of the Gospel with him, which he had written and that was buried with him, and later unearthed after a dream by Archbishop Anthemius of Salamis. At least three Cypriot bishops (sees of Salamis, Tremithus and Paphos) took part at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, twelve at the council of Sardica in 344. In 400, the Metrolitan see was located at Salamismarker (Constantia).

Early Cypriot Saints include St. Heracleidius, St. Spiridon, St. Hilarion and St. Epiphanius. A fragment of the true cross was deposited by St. Helena at Tochnimarker, the cross of the penitent thief at Stavrovounimarker, which helped to relieve a terrible drought.During the 5th century AD, the church of Cyprus achieved its independence from the Patriarch of Antioch at the First Council of Ephesus in 431. Emperor Zeno granted the archibishop of Cyprus the right to carry a sceptre instead of a pastoral staff.


  • Veronica Tatton-Brown, Cyprus BC, 7000 years of history (London, British Museum 1979).
  • C. D. Cobham, Excerpta Cypria, materials for a history of Cyprus (Cambridge 1908). Includes the Classical Sources.
  • D. Hunt, Footprints in Cyprus (London, Trigraph 1990).


Leidwanger, J. 2007, “Two Late Roman Wrecks from Southern Cyprus.” IJNA 36: 308-316.Leonard, J. and S. Demesticha. 2004, “Fundamental Links in the Economic Chain: Local Ports and International trade in Roman and Early Christian Cyprus.” In Transport Amphorae and Trade in the Eastern Mediterranean: Acts of the International Colloquium at the Danish Institute at Athens, September 26-29, 2002, edited by J. Eiring and J. Lund, 189-202. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.Papacostas, T. 2001, “The Economy of Late Antique Cyprus.” In Economy and Exchange in the East Mediterranean during Late Antiquity: Proceedings of a conference at Somerville College, Oxford, 29th May, 1999, edited by S. Kingsley and M. Decker, 107-128. Oxford: Oxbow Books.Tyree, E.L. 1996, “The Olive Pit and Roman Oil Making.” The Biblical Archaeologist 59: 171-8.

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