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The Roman period in Cyprus ended when most of the cities were hit by two successive earthquakes in 332 and 342 AD. This marked the beginning of a new era, very much connected with modern life in Cyprus.
Most of the cities were not rebuilt, except Salamis which was rebuilt on a smaller scale and renamed Constantia after the Roman Emperor Constantinus II, son of Constantine the Great, residing in Constantinople and became the capital of the island.
The main event in Cyprus in this period was the spreading of the Christian faith. People were engaged very much in matters of faith, especially fighting the effort of the Patriarch of Antioch to put the Church of Cyprus under his control. They were finally successful in 488 AD when Archbishop Anthemius guided by a dream discovered the tomb of St Barnabas with the Saint's body lying in a coffin and on his chest a copy of the Gospel by St Matthew in Barnabas' own writing. Having the relics with him, Anthemius dashed to Constantinople and presented them to Emperor Zeno. The latter was very much impressed and he not only confirmed the independence of the Church of Cyprus but he also gave to the Archbishop in perpetuity three privileges that are as much alive today as they were then, namely to carry a sceptre instead of a pastoral staff, to sign with red ink and to wear a purple cloak during services.
Since 650 AD Arabs kept on attacking the island and bringing it under Muslim influence. When the Arabs invaded Cyprus in 688, the emperor Justinian II and the caliph Abd al-Malik reached an unprecedented agreement. For the next 300 years, Cyprus was ruled jointly by both the Arabs and the Byzantines as a condominium, despite the nearly constant warfare between the two parties on the mainland and the collected taxes were divided among the Arabs and the Emperor. Isolation of Cyprus from the rest of the Greek speaking world assisted the formation of a separate Cypriot dialect. This period lasted until the year 965, when a resurgent Byzantine Empire under the leadership of Nicephorus Phocas conquered the island.
In 1185, the last Byzantine governor of Cyprus, Isaac Comnenus of Cyprus from a minor line of the Imperial house, rose in rebellion and attempted to seize the throne. His attempted coup was unsuccessful, but Comnenos was able to retain control of the island. Byzantine actions against Comnenos failed because he enjoyed the support of William II of Sicily.
In the 12th century A.D. the island became a target of the crusaders. Richard the Lionheart landed in Limassol on the 1191 and occupied Cyprus and raised taxes. After local revolts he decided to sell the island to the Knights Templar, who were unable to hold the island because of further hostility among the local population due to tax raising. A rebellion which took place on April 6 1192 made the Templars sell the island to Guy de Lusignan (1192-1194) who established himself in May 1192who set the foundation of Cypriot society. He invited Palestinian barons, disenfranchised by Saladin to move on the island, granting them feudal rights over huge estates, using the Cypriots as serfs.
Patriarch of Constantinople Gregory II's autobiography gives valuable information on the transition from Byzantine to Lusignan rule and its impact on the local population and especially education. In 1374, the island surrendered to the Genoese under terms of tribute, payment for damages, and loss of Famagusta to the Genoese, effectively ending prosperity.
In 1426 the Mameluks raided the island, and Cyprus was now ruled by the Mameluks.
Venetian Period 1489-1571
Caterina Cornaro left her kingdom on the doge's ship in 1489, apparently against her will as she was well loved by the inhabitants. She survived almost 20 years after her reluctant abdication, and the rule of Cyprus passed over to the Venetian Signory. Venice had been accumulating land, despite its early success solely as a sea power, and Cyprus came under its jurisdiction.
The island was run by three men; the lieutenant and two councilors collectively known as the three rectors, as well as a captain for the army. The Signory feared these men becoming too powerful, so these positions changed every two years. As a result this administration was greedy, lethargic, and overall inadequate, and although taxes were high they were still not enough to run the island. One pilgrim noted that "all the inhabitants of Cyprus are slaves to the Venetians." Salt was the major item of production on the island in this period, taken from Larnaca. In earlier times it was used in the cult of Aphrodite, as the salt lake produces around a one inch thick deposit. It was said that Larnaca provided enough salt to fill 34 ships, all of this profit went not to the island, but straight back to Venice.
In 1562 the Greeks raised a failed revolt. In 1566, Suleiman the Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman Turks had been advised by his grand vizier to leave Cyprus alone, due to friendly relations with the Signory and the prosperity that the Ottomans were enjoying as a result of trade with them but his son Selim didn't care for the advice of this vizier, he sent an insulting request for cession of the island to the Signory. This request claimed for the immediate ceding of the island, citing the condominium of 649-965AD and the debts of James the Bastard to the Caliphate as reasons why this island was the property of the Muslims; this was pure instigation citing these rather bogus reasons. The Venetians prepared for invasion, updating sites as Nicosia, Kyrenia, and Famagusta. The Lusignan walls were restored; they were made shorter and thicker to adjust to more formidable artillery of the period. Earth was also put on top of the walls, to better handle the impact. Nicosia indeed was perhaps the vanguard of military technology at the time. Bastions stationed around the roughly circular plan allowed the gunners collectively full range of 360 degrees.
The Venetians couldn't rely on the Cypriots themselves, who hated their over bearers. Mustafah, in an unexpected move, pursued the nobility of the island and attacked Nicosia first. Though Nicosia had adequate supplies and great architecture, its undoing proved to be its leadership, led by Dandalo. The fort was surrendered after only 6 weeks, perhaps Dandalo thought he himself would get special treatment from the enemy. There was none to be found, and the city was massacred, save for the Cypriot peasants who during the course of the battle had hauled down the Venetian flag and had raised the Ottoman. A mosque was erected in honor of the deceased standard bearer, who had been the first to set upon the walls. The heads of Dandalo and the other nobles were sent to Kyrenia, which surrendered without a fight. Visit Nicosia with Cyprus Car Rental and visit its museums to view the artifacts of these times.
Mustafah next doubled his army to almost 200,000 for the siege of Famagusta, attracting people with promises of booty multiple times better than that of Nicosia. Famagusta was led by the only great leader on the island, the Venetian Marc Antony Bragodino though the fort itself was undersupplied, and the harvest hadn't been brought in for the year as well. Bragodino had only about 10,000 men defending. The Venetian gunners had to fire sparingly as their powder supply was quickly dwindling, and the best tactic against the enemy were fireworks shot at them. Wealthy Venetians offered financial incentive to those who fought the Turks in single combat.
After about a year, the ravelin fell, and Bragodino surrendered, seeing further defense as useless. He came to agreeable terms with the Turks, securing safe passage of the inhabitants from the island. However, these terms were rescinded; the Venetians say that Mustafa was angry at seeing the pathetic status and numbers of the army that had troubled him while the Ottomans say that the Venetians mistreated Turkish prisoners. The prisoners were kept, and Bragodino himself had his eyes and nose cut off, was flayed alive, and stuffed with hay to be paraded around Istanbul. Later his body was recovered and brought back to Venice. Good feeling in Istanbul wasn't to be found, as the Turks had suffered a defeat in the battle of Lepanto in 1571, ending Ottoman westward expansion. But the declining empire lived on and ruled the island of Cyprus until 1878, the beginning of the British occupation.
Wherever you go in Cyprus you will find traces of its rich past history. You can be very free by car from Cyprus Car Hire and design your holidays meaningfully.
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