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Background for Historical Reference
2001-09-05 23:43:20

Cyprus has played an important role in the history of the Eastern Mediterranean on account of its privileged geographical position on the crossroads between the Orient and the Occident. The island’s prehistory runs as far back as the 8th millennium B.C. Subsequent cultural phases developed during the Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze Age periods until end of the 2nd millennium B.C. However the most important event in the history of Cyprus is the arrival of the Achaean settlers at the end of the 12th and during the 11th century B.C.

The new Greek settlers brought a new vigour to the already flourishing culture of the island by establishing new towns and by introducing the Greek language, new techniques in metallurgy, new artistic styles and even religious elements from the Greek world.

In the subsequent Geometric period the hellenization of Cyprus was completed and this is, most probably, the period of the establishment city kingdoms, which are well attested in written sources in the following Archaic and Classical periods.

Cyprus was well-known to the ancients for its copper mines and forests. No wonder its wealth made it the object of contest among the great powers of the Eastern Mediterranean in antiquity: the Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Persians, who in turn became its masters.

During the 5th century B.C. Athens played an important role in Cyprus, cooperating with the main cities of the island against the Persians. It was during this time that Evagoras of Salamis rose to power, a figure of worldwide radiance at the time. On the partition of the empire of Alexander the Great, who finally liberated the island from the Persians, Cyprus became one of the most significant parts of the empire of the Ptolemies of Egypt; later it came under the dominion of the Romans in 58 B.C. Both during the Ptolemies and later under the Romans, the Sanctuary of Aphrodite at Paphos was the centre of the national, religious and cultural life of the island. In 330 A.D. it became a province of the Byzantine Empire.

During the Crusades period, Richard the Lionheart of England, on his way to the Holy Land, conquered the island. Richard passed the island onto the Knights Templar and they, in their turn, to the Lusignans from France, who established a Kingdom on the western feudal model (1192-1489).

The last Lusignan Queen, Caterina Cornaro, was forced to pass her rights onto the Republic of Venice, which ruled the island until 1571, when it was conquered by the Ottomans. The Ottoman period lasted until 1878 when the expansionist policy of Tsarist Russia led the Turks to cede Cyprus to Britain, which promised to help Turkey in the event of an attack by Russia on certain bordering provinces.

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