1902 Encyclopedia > Cyprus


CYPRUS, one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean, situated in the easternmost basin of that sea, at nearly-equal distance from the coasts of Asia Minor to the north and of Syria to the east. The headland of Cape Kormakiti in Cyprus is distant about 46 miles from Cape Anamur in Cilicia, and its north-east point, Cape St Andrea, is about 60 miles from Latakieh in Syria. It lies between 34° 30' and 35° 40' N. lat., and between 32° 15' and 34° 35' E. long., so that it is situated in almost exactly the same latitude as Crete. Its great-est length is about 145 miles, from Cape Drepano in the west to Cape St Andrea in the north-east, and its greatest breadth, from Cape Gata in the south to Cape Kormakiti in the north, reaches nearly 60 miles ; while it retains an average width of from 35 to 50 miles through the greater part of its extent, but narrows suddenly to less than 10 miles in about 34° long., and from thence sends out a long narrow tongue of land towards the E.N.E. for a distance of more than 45 miles, terminating in Cape St Andrea. It is the third largest island in the Mediterranean, considerably exceeding in area both Corsica and Crete.

Mountains.—Great part of the island is occupied by two mountain ranges, both of which have a general direction from west to east. Of these the most extensive, as well as the most lofty, is that which fills up almost the whole southern portion of the island, and is generally designated by modern geographers as Mount Olympus, though that name appears to have been applied by the ancients only to one particular peak. The highest summit is known at the present day as Mount Troodos, and attains an elevation of 6590 feet. It sends down subordinate ranges or spurs, of considerable altitude, on all sides, one of which extends to Cape Arnauti (the ancient Acamas), which forms the north-west extremity of the island, while others descend on both sides quite to the northern and southern coasts. The main range is continued eastwards by the lofty summits known as Mount Adelphi and Mount Maehera (both of them, however, considerably inferior to Troodos) until it ends in the somewhat isolated peak called Oros Stavro, or Hill of the Holy Cross. This mountain, which is evidently the one designated by Strabo as Mount Olympus, is only 2300 feet high, but is a conspicuous object from Larnaca, from which it is only 12 miles distant, and is well known from being frequented as a place of pilgrimage.

The northern range of mountains, which is not known by any collective name, begins at Cape Kormakiti (the ancient Crommyon) and is continued from thence in an unbroken ridge to the eastern extremity of the island, Cape St Andrea, a distance of more than 100 miles. It is very inferior in elevation to the southern range, its highest summits not attaining to more than about 3200 feet, while in the eastern portion they but rarely exceed 2000 feet. But it is remarkable for its continuous and unbroken character—consisting throughout of a narrow, but rugged and rocky ridge, descending abruptly to the south into the great plain of Lefkosia, and to the noith to a narrow plain bordering the coast.

The Messaria.—Between these two mountain ranges lies a broad tract of plain, extending quite across the island from the Bay of Famagosta to that of Morphu on the west, through a length of nearly 60 miles, with a breadth vary-ing from 10 to 20 miles. It is known by the name of the Messaria, and is watered by two streams, both of which descend from the mountains on the south; but, on reaching the plain, the one turus eastward and flows into the Bay of Famagosta, close to the ruins of Salamis ; the other flows westward into the Bay of Morphu. The greater part of this plain is open and uncultivated, and presents nothing but barren downs; but corn is grown in considerable quantities in the northern portions of it, and there is no doubt that the whole is readily susceptible of cultivation. It is remarkable that Cyprus was celebrated in antiquity for its forests, which not only clothed the whole of its mountain ranges, but covered the entire central plain with a dense mass, so that it was with difficulty that the land could be cleared for cultivation. At the present day the whole plain of the Messaria is utterly bare and treeless, and it is only the loftiest and central summits of Mount Olympus that still retain their covering of pine woods. The disappearance of the forests has naturally affected the rivers, which are mostly mere torrents, dry in summer. The most considerable is that called in ancient times the Pediaeus, which, as already mentioned, traverses the plain of the Messaria, and falls into the sea near Salamis. But even this does not reach the sea in summer, and its stagnant waters form marshes which contribute much to the unhealthy character of the plain.

Minerals.—Next to its forests, which long supplied the Greek monarchs of Egypt with timber for their fleets, Cyprus was celebrated among the ancients for its mineral wealth, especially for its mines of copper, which were worked from a very early period, and continued to enjoy such reputation among both Greeks and Romans that the modern name for the metal is derived from the term of Ms Cyprium or Cuprium by which it was known to the latter. According to Strabo the most valuable mines were worked at a place called Tamasus, in the centre of the island, on the northern slopes of Mount Olympus, but their exact site has not been identified, and no mines are at present worked in Cyprus. Besides copper, according to Strabo, the island produced considerable quantities of silver; and Pliny records it as producing various kinds of precious stones, among which he mentions diamonds and emeralds, but these were doubtless nothing more than rock crystal and beryl. But the mineralogy and geology of Cyprus have as yet been very imperfectly explored. Salt, which was in ancient times one of the productions for which the island was noted, is still made in large quantities, and there are extensive salt works in the neighbourhood of Larnaca and Limasol.

Vegetable Products.—Cyprus was noted among the ancients for its fertility and beauty; and under the Venetian rule it carried on an extensive trade in its various natural productions ; but this has greatly declined in modern times. Besides corn, however, the island exports considerable quantities of wine, oil, madder, the fruit of the carob tree, silk, and wool. Tobacco and cotton are also grown in small quantities, and their cultivation might doubtless be largely increased. The small plains at the foot of the range of Mount Olympus, between the underfalls of the mountains and the sea, as well as the narrow strip of level land along the north coast, though limited in extent, are districts of great fertility ; the latter especially is described by Colonel Leake as one of the most beautiful and best cultivated districts in Turkey. The great central plain, on the contrary, is in many parts marshy and unhealthy; and indeed the whole interior of the island suffers much from unhealthiness, and is subject to fevers of a peculiarly dangerous description.

Harbours.—One of the greatest disadvantages of Cyprus is the want of ports, there not being a good natural harbour in the whole island. Larnaca and Limasol, which are the chief places of trade at the present day, have nothing but mere roadsteads; and Salamis, which was the chief port of the island in antiquity, as well as Famagosta, which held that position under the Venetians, were only artificial har-bours upon an open sandy coast. Tzerinia, on the north coast, which serves as the place of direct communication with the mainland of Asia Minor, has a very small and bad port, which, bad as it is, is the only one on this side of the island.

Towns.—The only towns in Cyprus worthy of notice are the following. 1. Lefkosia, or, as it is more commonly called, Nicosia, has since the time of the Lusignan kings been the capital of the island. 2. Famagosta, on the east coast, near the ruins of Salamis, also first rose to importance under the Lusignan dynasty, by whom it was fortified, and continued under the Venetians to be the chief port, as well as the strongest fortress in the island. It became celebrated by its heroic defence against the Turks in 1571. It still retains its external walls, but is a very poor and decayed place, with only a few hundred inhabi-tants. 3. Larnaca, on the south-east coast, on the site of the ancient Citium, is now the chief place of trade, and the most rising and flourishing town in the island. It con-tains from 5000 to 6000 inhabitants, and consists of two portions—the old town, a short distance inland, and the Marina, immediately facing the sea, where the foreign con-suls reside, and foreign steamers touch, which gives a degree of life and activity to the place unknown to the rest of Cyprus. Becent excavations have discovered here many interesting remains of the ancient city of Citium. 4. Limasol, on the south coast, some miles west of the site of Amathus. is still a place of considerable trade, though partially eclipsed by the rising prosperity of Larnaca. It is the principal place of export of the wines of Cyprus, which enjoy a high reputation throughout the Levant. 5. Baffo, or Papho, on the site of the ancient Paphos, called for distinction's sake New Paphos, at the south-west angle of the island, has a small but insecure port, and is a very small place, though still the seat of a Greek bishop. 6. Tzerini or Tzerinia (the ancient Kerynea) has been already mentioned. It retains its old Venetian fortifications, and has therefore still the air of a town, but is a very inconsider-able place.

The population of the island, which is said to have amounted under the Venetians to not less than 1,000,000 (probably, however, a great exaggeration), is now estimated at about 135,000 souls, of whom about two-thirds are Greeks, the rest principally Turks.

History.—The early history of Cyprus is very obscure and imperfectly known. It is certain, indeed, that it was colonized at a very early period by the neighbouring Phoenicians, who introduced the worship of the goddess Ashtaroth (called by the Greeks Astarte, and identified by them with their own Aphrodite), for which the island always continued to be celebrated in ancient times. But nothing is historically known of the period or extent of these Phoenician settlements. Equally uncertain is the history of the Greek colonies in the island, which are found in historical times existing side by side with the Phoenicians. Their foundation was ascribed by popular legend and tradition to the heroic ages—Salamis, for instance, being supposed to have been founded by Teucer, the brother of Ajax—but there can be little doubt that they were in reality posterior to the Phoenicians. Of the relations between the two we know little, except from conjecture or inference ; but it seems probable that the Greeks gradually established a political supremacy, while the Phoenicians continued to form an important element in the population, and exercised an influence over the manners and customs, arts and religious rites of the inhabitants in general, wholly different from anything found in Crete, Bhodes, or the other islands of the .Egean. The first positive fact in the history of Cyprus is its conquest by the Egyptian king Amasis in the 6th century B.C. (Herodot., ii. 182). It did not, however, long continue subject to the Egyptian monarchy, having revolted on occasion of the invasion of Egypt by Cambyses (525 B.C.), when it declared in favour of the Persians, and became thenceforth a tributary province of the Persian empire.

On occasion of the Ionian revolt in 500 B.C. the Cyprians were persuaded to take part in the insurrection, but after a year's interval were again reduced to subjection, and contributed a contingent of not less than 150 ships to the Persian fleet under Xerxes (Herod., vii. 90)—a striking proof of the power and prosperity they at this time possessed. During the subsequent wars between the Greeks and Persians Cyprus was frequently the scene of hostilities; and after the peace of Antalcidas (387 B.C.), Evagoras, king of Salamis, succeeded in extending his authority over the greater part of the island, as well as in rendering himself independent of the Persian monarch. This state of things, however, did not last long; and after the death of Nicocles, the son and successor of Evagoras, the island again became tributary to the Persian empire. But after the battle of Issus, when Alexander advanced into Phoenicia, all the cities of Cyprus declared in his favour, and sent their fleets to assist him in the siege of Tyre.

During this period, though the island was subject, with brief intervals, to Persia, the several cities enjoyed the privi-lege of local self-government. Their institutions, however, presented one marked difference from those of other Greek cities, that they were always governed by kings, of whom there were not less than nine in the island. The cities which were the seats of these petty monarchies were :—1. Salamis, on the east coast, the most important of the Greek colonies, which often held a kind of supremacy over the whole island ; 2. Citium, on the same site as the modern Larnaca, originally a Phoenician settlement, and which always retained a predominant Phoenician character, and became only partially Hellenized ; 3. Amathus, on the south coast, near Limasol, also a Phoenician colony; 4. Curium, some miles further west, at a spot now called Episkopi; 5. Paphos, at the south-west angle of the island, sometimes called New Paphos, in order to distinguish it from the more ancient Phoenician city of the name, called in the days of Strabo Pate Paphos, which was one of the principal seats of the worship of Astarte, the Phoenician Venus; 6. Marium, afterwards called Arsinoe, on the north coast, at a short distance from the promontory of Acamas; 7. Soli, on the same coast, further east; 8. Kerynea, which still retains its ancient site and name as Tzerinia; 9. Lapathus, or Lapethus, on the same coast, intermediate between the two cities last mentioned. Others, however, assign this ninth place to Chytri, a town of the interior, on the road from Salamis to Kerynea, and it is likely that the sovereign cities were not always the same. Several other towns are mentioned by Strabo and Ptolemy, which were apparently in earlier times subject to those above enumerated. Idalium and Golgos, the names of which are celebrated from their connection with the worship of Venus, seem to have been merely sanctuaries or holy places, which had grown up around the temples of the goddess, and, in Greek times at least, were never towns of importance.
After the death of Alexander, the possession of Cyprus, so important from its position and on account of its inexhaustible forests, became an object of contention among his successors. After various vicissitudes it passed into the hands of Ptolemy, king of Egypt; but in 306 B.C. a great effort to recover it was made by Demetrius, the son of Antigonus, who reduced the whole of the rest of the island and laid siege to the capital city of Salamis. The attempt of Ptolemy, who arrived with a great fleet, to raise the siege, led to one of the most memorable naval battles in all antiquity, in which Ptolemy was utterly defeated; and Salamis, with all the rest of Cyprus, passed into the power of Demetrius. He did not, however, long retain his new acquisition; the island was recovered by Ptolemy in 295 B.C., and continued thenceforth to form one of the most valuable possessions of the Greek nionarchs of Egypt. It was generally placed under the government of a man of the highest rank, who was often a kinsman of the Egyptian king ; and, during the dissensions of the royal family which marked the declining period of the Ptolemaic dynasty, Cyprus was more than once held by one of the rival candidates as an independent sovereignty. In this manner it was governed as a separate kingdom by Ptolemy Lathyrus for not less than 18 years (from 107 to 89 B.C.), and it was held by a younger brother of Ptolemy Auletes, in 58 B.C., when it was determined by the Romans to dispossess him,—an act of shameless aggression, which was proposed by the tribune Clodius, and reluctantly carried into effect by Cato. From this time Cyprus became a Roman province; it was at first united with Cilicia, but afterwards was constituted as a separate government.

The most remarkable event in the history of Cyprus, while it was under the Roman empire, was a great revolt of the Jews, who had established themselves there in large numbers, in which they are said to have destroyed not less than 240,000 of the other inhabitants (117 A.D.). Christianity, which had been introduced into the island by St Paul, quickly rose to a flourishing condition, and not less than thirteen bishoprics were established in the island. After the division of the Roman empire Cyprus naturally passed, with all the neighbouring countries, into the hands of the Eastern or Byzantine emperors, to whom it continued subject, with brief intervals, for more than seven centuries. In 646 the Arabs under the caliph Othman made them-selves masters of the island, and destroyed the city of Salamis, which had until that time continued to be the capital. But it was recovered by the Greek emperors two years afterwards ; and, though again conquered by the Arabs under the reign of Haroun el Baschid (802), it did not long remain in their hands, and lapsed again into the power of the Byzantine empire. In 1184 Isaac Comnenus, the nephew of the reigning emperor, established himself in possession of Cyprus as an independent sovereignty; but during the third crusade (1195) it was wrested from his hands by Richard I., king of England, who bestowed it upon Guy de Lusignan, the titular king of Jerusalem, as some compensation for the loss of the holy city.

From this time Cyprus was governed for nearly three centuries by a succession of kings of the same dynasty, who introduced into the island the feudal system and the other institutions of Western Europe. During the latter part of this period, indeed, the Genoese made themselves masters of Famagosta—which had risen in place of Salamis to be the chief commercial city in the island—and retained possession of it for a considerable time ; but it was recovered by King James II., and the whole island was reunited under his rule. His marriage with Catherine Cornaro, a Venetian lady of rank, was designed to secure the support of the powerful republic of Venice, but had the effect after a few years, in consequence of his own death and that of his son James III., of transferring the sovereignty of the island to his new allies. Catherine, feeling herself unable to contend alone with the increasing power of the Turks, was induced to abdicate the sovereign power in favour of the Venetian republic, which at once entered into full possession of the island (1487).

The Venetians retained their acquisition for about eighty years, notwithstanding the neighbourhood of the Turks. It was not till 1570 that the latter, under Selim II., made a serious attempt to conquer the island, in which they landed an army of 60,000 men. The greater part of the island was reduced with little difficulty ; Nicosia, the capital, was taken after a siege of 45 days, and 20,000 of its inhabitants put to the sword, famagosta alone made a gallant and protracted resistance, and did not capitulate till after a siege of nearly a year's duration (August 1571). The terms of the capitulation were shamefully violated by the Turks, who put to death the governor Bragadino with the most cruel torments. Since that time Cyprus has remained in the hands of the Turks, and its history has been almost a blank. A serious insurrection broke out in 1764, but was speedily suppressed; another in 1823 became the occasion of a frightful massacre of the Greek population. Mean-while the prosperity of the island was continually declining, it is only of late years that the increasing commerce of the western nations of Europe with the Levant has given some stimulus to trade, and encouraged the cultivation of the natural productions of an island which, under more favour-able circumstances, might be one of the richest in the Mediterranean.

[Further Reading.] -- Though Cyprus has been visited and described by several travellers—among others by Dr Pococke (Description of the East, Lond. 1743), by Mariti (Viaggi per I'isola Cipro, 1769), and more recently by M. Seiff (Reisen in der Asiatischen Turkei, 8vo, Leipsic, 1875)—there is no full and comprehensive account of it, such as we possess of Crete, and many parts of Asia Minor. The work of Engel (Kypros : eine Monographic, 2 vols. 8vo, Berlin, 1841) is a diligent compilation of all that could be gathered from ancient authorities concerningthe geography, history, and mythology of the island, but was not based upon any original researches. Its geology and natural history are still very imperfectly known, and its antiquities had, untd lately, been almost entirely neglected. But within the last few years extensive excavations have been carried on in different parts of the island—especially at Golgos, Idalium, and Curium—by Mr Lang and General de Cesnola, which have brought to light a vast number of statues and other works of art of the highest interest, as throwing light on the re-ligion and mythology of the inhabitants—which appear to have always presented a singular mixture of the Hellenic and Oriental elements—as well as displaying a peculiar style of art, in some degree intermediate between that of Assyria and continental Asia on the one hand and the early Greek sculptures on the other. Unfortunately these collections have been removed to New York, while no detailed description of them has yet been published. It is, however, announced that General de Cesnola is engaged in a compre-hensive work giving an account of his researches and their results, which will doubtless throw much light on the ancient geography and history of Cyprus. (B. H. B.)

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