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History of Cyprus

Early History

Human settlements existed on Cyprus as early as 5800 B.C., during the Neolithic Era or New Stone Age. The Neolithic Cypriots' origin is uncertain. Some evidence, including artifacts of Anatolian obsidian, suggests that the setters were related to the peoples of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). The discovery of copper on the island around 3000 B.C. brought more frequent visits from traders. Trading ships were soon bringing settlers to exploit the mineral wealth.

During the long progression from stone to bronze, many Neolithic villages were abandoned, as people moved inland to settle on the great plain (the Mesaoria) and in the foothills of the mountains. Also during this era of transition, Cypriot pottery was distinctive in shape and design, and small figurines of fertility goddesses appeared for the first time. During the same period, Cypriots were influenced by traders from the great Minoan civilisation that had developed on Crete, but, although trade was extensive, few settlers came to Cyprus. The Minoan traders developed a script for Cypriot commerce, but unfortunately extant examples still await decipherment. The cultural advances, thriving economy, and relative lack of defenses invited the attention of more powerful neighbours, and during the Late Bronze Age (about 1500 B.C.), the forces of the Egyptian pharaoh, Thutmose III, invaded the island.

After 1400 B.C., Mycenaean and Mycenaean-Achaean traders from the northeastern Peloponnesus began regular commercial visits to the island. Settlers from the same areas arrived in large numbers toward the end of the Trojan War (traditionally dated about 1184 B.C.). Even in modern times, a strip of the northern coast was known as the Achaean Coast in commemoration of those early settlers. The newcomers spread the use of their spoken language and introduced a script that greatly facilitated commerce. They also introduced the potter's wheel and began producing pottery that eventually was carried by traders to many mainland markets. By the end of the second millennium B.C., a distinctive culture had developed on Cyprus. The island's culture was tempered and enriched by its position as a crossroads for the commerce of three continents, but in essence it was distinctively Hellenic. It is to this 3,000 years of Hellenic tradition that the present-day Greek Cypriots refer when arguing either for enosis or for their own dominance in an independent state.

The Late Bronze Age on Cyprus was characterised by a fusion of the indigenous culture and the cultures brought by settlers from the mainland areas. This fusion took place over a long period and was affected by shifting power relationships and major movements of peoples throughout the eastern Mediterranean area. Cyprus was affected particularly by the introduction of iron tools and weapons, signaling the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age, near the end of the second millennium B.C. Iron did not displace bronze overnight, any more than one culture immediately displaced another (pockets of native Cypriot culture, for example, existed for several more centuries), but the introduction of iron heralded major economic changes, and the numbers of Greek settlers ensured the dominance of their culture.

An important eastern influence during the early part of the first millennium B.C. came from a Phoenician settlement. The principal Phoenician concentration was at Kition, the modern city of Larnaca, on the southeast coast. Three thousand years later some Turks and Turkish Cypriots would try to use such influences to prove that eastern cultures predated Greek influence on the island. On this basis, modern Cypriots were said to be descended from Phoenician Cypriot forebears. Greek Cypriots responded that, even though visits by Phoenician traders probably occurred as early as the third millennium, colonists did not arrive until about 800 B.C. The Phoenicians settled in several areas and shared political control with the Greeks until the arrival of the Assyrians.

In 708 B.C. Cyprus encompassed seven independent kingdoms that were conquered by the Assyrian king, Sargon II. During the Assyrian dominance, about 100 years, Cypriot kings maintained considerable autonomy in domestic affairs and accumulated great wealth. The number of city-kingdoms increased to ten, one of which was Phoenician. The Cypriot kings were religious as well as secular leaders and generally commanded the city's defense forces. When Assyrian power and influence began to decline, near the end of the seventh century, Egypt filled the resulting vacuum in eastern Mediterranean affairs.

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