Bible History Online
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
An island situated near the Northeast corner of the Levant, in an angle formed by the coasts of Cilicia and Syria. In the Old Testament it is called Kittim, after the name of its Phoenician capital Kition. The identification is expressly made by Josephus (Ant., I, vi, 1) and by the Cyprian bishop Epiphanius (Haer., xxx.25). In the tablets from Tell el-Amarna it is referred to as Alashia (E. Meyer, Gesch. des Alterthums, 12, section 499), in Egyptian records as Asi, while in the Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions it is named Yavnan.
The island is the largest in the Mediterranean with the exception of Sardinia and Sicily, its area being about 3,584 square miles. It lies in 34 degrees 30'-35 degrees 41' North latitude and 32 degrees 15'-34 degrees 36' East longitude, only 46 miles distant from the nearest point of the Cilician coast and 60 miles from the Syrian. Thus from the northern shore of the island the mainland of Asia Minor is clearly visible and Mt. Lebanon can be seen from Eastern Cyprus. This close proximity to the Cilician and Syrian coasts, as well as its position on the route between Asia Minor and Egypt, proved of great importance for the history and civilization of the island. Its greatest length, including the Northeast promontory, is about 140 miles, its greatest breadth 60 miles. The Southwest portion of Cyprus is formed by a mountain complex, culminating in the peaks of Troodos (6,406 ft.), Madhari (5,305 ft.), Papofitsa (5,124 ft.) and Machaira (4,674 ft.). To the Northeast of this lies the great plain of the Mesorea, nearly 60 miles in length and 10 to 20 in breadth, in which lies the modern capital Nicosia (Lefkosia). It is watered chiefly by the Pediaeus (modern Pedias), and is bounded on the North by a mountain range, which is continued to the East-Northeast in the long, narrow promontory of the Karpass, terminating in Cape Andrea, the ancient Dinaretum. Its highest peaks are Buffavento (3,135 ft.) and Hagios Elias (3,106 ft.). The shore-plain to the North of these hills is narrow, but remarkably fertile.
Cyprus is richly endowed by nature. Its fruits and flowers were famous in antiquity. Strabo, writing under Augustus, speaks of it as producing wine and oil in abundance and corn sufficient for the needs of its inhabitants (XIV, 684). The elder Pliny refers to Cyprian salt, alum, gypsum, mica, unguents, laudanum, storax, resin and precious stones, including agate, jasper, amethyst, lapis lazuli and several species of rock-crystal. His list includes the diamond (xxxvii.58) and the emerald (xxxvii.6, 66), but there is reason to believe that under these names a variety of rock-crystal and the beryl are intended. The chief source of the island's wealth, however, lay in its mines and forests. Silver is mentioned by Strabo (loc. cit.) among its products; copper, which was called by the Greeks after the name of the island, was extensively mined there from the earliest period down to the Middle Ages; iron too was found in considerable quantities from the 9th century until Roman times. Scarcely less important were the forests, which at an early date are said to have covered almost the whole island. The cypress seems to have been the principal tree, but Pliny tells of a giant cedar, 130 Roman feet in height, felled in Cyprus (xvi.203), and the island supplied timber for shipbuilding to many successive powers.
4. Early History:
The original inhabitants of Cyprus appear to have been a race akin to the peoples of Asia Minor. Its vast resources in copper and timber gained for it a considerable importance and wide commercial relations at a very remote period. Its wealth attracted the attention of Babylonia and Egypt, and there is reason to believe that it was conquered by Sargon I, king of Accad, and about a millennium later by Thothmes III, of the XVIIIth Egyptian Dynasty (1501-1447 BC). But the influences which molded its civilization came from other quarters also. Excavation has shown that in Cyprus were several seats of the Minoan culture, and there can be little doubt that it was deeply influenced by Crete. The Minoan writing may well be the source of the curious Cyprian syllabic script, which continued in use for the representation of the Greek language down to the 4th century BC (A. J. Evans, Scripta Minoa, I). But the Minoan origin of the Cyprian syllabary is still doubtful, for it may have been derived from the Hittite hieroglyphs. Phoenician influences too were at work, and the Phoenician settlements--Citium, Amathus, Paphos and others--go back to a very early date. The break-up of the Minoan civilization was followed by a "Dark Age," but later the island received a number of Greek settlers from Arcadia and other Hellenic states, as we judge not only from Greek tradition but from the evidence of the Cyprian dialect, which is closely akin to the Arcadian. In 709 BC Sargon II of Assyria made himself master of Cyprus, and tribute was paid by its seven princes to him and to his grandson, Esarhaddon (681-667 BC). The overthrow of the Assyrian Empire probably brought with it the independence of Cyprus, but it was conquered afresh by Aahmes (Amasis) of Egypt (Herod. ii. 182) who retained it till his death in 526 BC; but in the following year the defeat of his son and successor Psamtek III (Psammenitus) by Cambyses brought the island under Persian dominion (Herod. iii.19, 91).
5. Cyprus and the Greeks:
In 501 the Greek inhabitants led by Onesilus, brother of the reigning prince of Salamis, rose in revolt against the Persians, but were decisively beaten (Herodotus v.104 ff), and in 480 we find 150 Cyprian ships in the navy with which Xerxes attacked Greece (Herod. vii.90). The attempts of Pausanias and of Cimon to win Cyprus for the Hellenic cause met with but poor success, and the withdrawal of the Athenian forces from the Levant after their great naval victory off Salamis in 449 was followed by a strong anti-Hellenic movement throughout the island led by Abdemon, prince of Citium. In 411 Euagoras ascended the throne of Salamis and set to work to assert Hellenic influence and to champion Hellenic civilization. He joined with Pharnabazus the Persian satrap and Conon the Athenian to overthrow the naval power of Sparta at the battle of Cnidus in 394, and in 387 revolted from the Persians. He was followed by his son Nicocles, to whom Isocrates addressed the famous panegyric of Euagoras and who formed the subject of an enthusiastic eulogy by the same writer. Cyprus seems later to have fallen once again under Persian rule, but after the battle of Issus (333 BC) it voluntarily gave in its submission to Alexander the Great and rendered him valuable aid at the siege of Tyre. On his death (323) it fell to the share of Ptolemy of Egypt. It was, however, seized by Demetrius Poliorcetes, who defeated Ptolemy in a hotly contested battle off Salamis in 306. But eleven years later it came into the hands of the Ptolemies and remained a province of Egypt or a separate but dependent kingdom until the intervention of Rome (compare 2 Macc 10:13). We hear of a body of Cyprians, under the command of a certain Crates, serving among the troops of Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria and forming part of the garrison of Jerusalem about 172 BC (2 Macc 4:29). This interpretation of the passage seems preferable to that according to which Crates had been governor of Cyprus under the Ptolemies before entering the service of Antiochus.
6. Cyprus and Rome:
In 58 BC the Romans resolved to incorporate Cyprus in their empire and Marcus Porcius Cato was entrusted with the task of its annexation. The reigning prince, a brother of Ptolemy Auletes of Egypt, received the offer of an honorable retirement as high priest of Aphrodite at Paphos, but he preferred to end his life by poison, and treasures amounting to some 7,000 talents passed into Roman hands, together with the island, which was attached to the province of Cilicia. In the partition of the Roman empire between Senate and Emperor, Cyprus was at first (27-22 BC) an imperial province (Dio Cassius liii.12), administered by a legatus Augusti pro praetore or by the imperial legate of Cilicia. In 22 BC, however, it was handed over to the Senate together with southern Gaul in exchange for Dalmatia (Dio Cassius liii. 12; liv.4) and was subsequently governed by ex-praetors bearing the honorary title of proconsul and residing at Paphos. The names of about a score of these governors are known to us from ancient authors, inscriptions and coins and will be found in D. G. Hogarth, Devia Cypria, App. Among them is Sergius Paulus, who was proconsul at the time of Paul's visit to Paphos in 46 or 47 AD, and we may notice that the title applied to him by the writer of the Acts (13:7) is strictly accurate.
7. Cyprus and the Jews:
The proximity of Cyprus to the Syrian coast rendered it easy of access from Israel, and Jews had probably begun to settle there even before the time of Alexander the Great. Certainly the number of Jewish residents under the Ptolemies was considerable (1 Macc 15:23; 2 Macc 12:2) and it must have been increased later when the copper mines of the island were farmed to Herod the Great (Josephus, Ant, XVI, iv, 5; XIX, xxvi, 28; compare Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum, 2628). We shall not be surprised, therefore, to find that at Salamis there was more than one synagogue at the time of Paul's visit (Acts 13:5). In 116 AD the Jews of Cyprus rose in revolt and massacred no fewer than 240,000 Gentiles. Hadrian crushed the rising with great severity and drove all the Jews from the island. Henceforth no Jew might set foot upon it, even under stress of shipwreck, on pain of death (Dio Cassius lxviii.32).
8. The Church in Cyprus:
In the life of the early church Cyprus played an important part. Among the Christians who fled from Judea in consequence of the persecution which followed Stephen's death were some who "travelled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus" (Acts 11:19) preaching to the Jews only. Certain natives of Cyprus and Cyrene took a further momentous step in preaching at Antioch to the Greeks also (Acts 11:20). Even before this time Joseph Barnabas, a Levite born in Cyprus (Acts 4:36), was prominent in the early Christian community at Jerns, and it was in his native island that he and Paul, accompanied by Barnabas nephew, John Mark, began their first missionary journey (Acts 13:4). After landing at Salamis they passed "through the whole island" to Paphos (Acts 13:6), probably visiting the Jewish synagogues in its cities. The Peutinger Table tells us of two roads from Salamis to Paphos in Roman times, one of which ran inland by way of Tremithus, Tamassus and Soil, a journey of about 4 days, while the other and easier route, occupying some 3 days, ran along the south coast by way of Citium, Amathus and Curium. Whether the "early disciple," Mnason of Cyprus, was one of the converts made at this time or had previously embraced Christianity we cannot determine (Acts 21:16). Barnabas and Mark revisited Cyprus later (Acts 15:39), but Paul did not again land on the island, though he sighted it when, on his last journey to jerus, he sailed south of it on his way from Patara in Lycia to Tyre (Acts 21:3), and again when on his journey to Rome he sailed "under the lee of Cyprus," that is, along its northern coast, on the way from Sidon to Myra in Lycia (Acts 27:4). In 401 AD the Council of Cyprus was convened, chiefly in consequence of the efforts of Theophilus of Alexandria, the inveterate opponent of Origenism, and took measures to check the reading of Origen's works. The island, which was divided into 13 bishoprics, was declared autonomous in the 5th century, after the alleged discovery of Matthew's Gospel in the tomb of Barnabas at Salamis. The bishop of Salamis was made metropolitan by the emperor Zeno with the title "archbishop of all Cyprus," and his successor, who now occupies the see of Nicosia, still enjoys the privilege of signing his name in red ink and is primate over the three other bishops of the island, those of Paphos, Kition and Kyrenia, all of whom are of metropolitan rank.
9. Later History:
Cyprus remained in the possession of the Roman and then of the Byzantine emperors, though twice overrun and temporarily occupied by the Saracens, until 1184, when its ruler, Isaac Comnenus, broke away from Constantinople and declared himself an independent emperor. From him it was wrested in 1191 by the Crusaders under Richard I of England, who bestowed it on Guy de Lusignan, the titular king of Jerusalem, and his descendants. In 1489 it was ceded to the Venetians by Catherine Cornaro, widow of James II, the last of the Lusignan kings, and remained in their hands until it was captured by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Selim II, who invaded and subjugated the island in 1570 and laid siege to Famagusta, which, after a heroic defense, capitulated on August 1, 1571. Since that time Cyprus has formed part of the Turkish empire, in spite of serious revolts in 1764 and 1823; since 1878, however, it has been occupied and administered by the British government, subject to an annual payment to the Sublime Porte of œ92,800 and a large quantity of salt. The High Commissioner, who resides at Nicosia, is assisted by a Legislative Council of 18 members. The estimated population ia 1907 was 249,250, of whom rather more than a fifth were Moslems and the remainder chiefly members of the Greek Orthodox church.
An exhaustive bibliography will be found in C. D. Cobham, An Attempt at a Bibliography of Cyprus, Nicosia, 4th edition, 1900. The following works may be specially mentioned: E. Oberhummer, Aus Cypern, Berlin, 1890-92; Studien zur alten Geographic yon Kypros, Munich 1891; A. Sakellarios, Ta Kupriaka, Athens, 1890-91. References in ancient sources are collected in J. Meursius, Cyprus, Amsterdam, 1675, and W. Engel, Kypros, Berlin, 1841. For Cyprian archaeology see P. Gardner, New Chapters in Greek History, chapter vi, London, 1892; J. L. Myres and M. OhnefalschRichter, Catalogue of the Cyprus Museum, Oxford, 1899; M. O. Richter, Kypros, die Bibel und Homer, Berlin, 1893; D.G. Hogarth, Devia Cypria, London, 1889; and J. L. Myres' article on "Cypriote Archaeology" in Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition, VII, 697 ff. For excavations, Journal of Hellenic Studies, IX, XI, XII, XVII, and Excavations Cyprus, London (British Museum), 1900; for art, G. Perrot and C. Chipiez, Art in Phoenicia and Cyprus, English translation, London, 1885; for coins, B. V. Head, Historia Numorum, Oxford, 1911; for inscriptions, Sammlung der griech. Dialekt-Inschriften, I, Gottingen, 1883; for the Cyprian church, J. Hackett, History of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, London, 1901; for authorities on medieval and modern history, CL. D. Cobham, Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition), 11th edition, VII, 701.
Marcus N. Tod
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'cyprus'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
; 1915.Copyright Information
© International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)
ISBE Bible Encyclopedia Home
Bible History Online Home
Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)
Online Bible (KJV)
Naves Topical Bible
Smith's Bible Dictionary
Easton's Bible Dictionary
Schaff's Bible Dictionary
Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Matthew Henry Bible Commentary
Hitchcock's Bible Dictionary
Related Bible History
Popular and Trending:
Meaning of the name
Alexander, Alexander the Great, Alexander the Coppersmith,
Syria and Bible Prophecy,
Bible Study about Syria, What the Bible Says about Syria and Damascus, Isaiah 17,
The Bible and Palm
Trees, Bible Study about the Palm Tree, The Righteous Will Flourish like a Palm
Tree Psalm 92:12,
Definition of Paraclete, Bible study about the Holy Spirit and the Paraclete,
Paracletus in the Greek,
Games in the Bible, What
Games Did Kids Play in Biblical Times? Which Kinds of Games Existed in the Time
of Jesus?, The
Church at Thyatira, What Was the Message to Thyatira, Revelation 2 and Thyatira,
history of Thyatira,
David and Goliath, How Tall Was Goliath, Archaeological Discoveries and Goliath,
Goliath And Philistine History,
Who Was Titus in the Bible,
Paul's Letter to Titus, Bible Study Lessons in Titus,
Meaning of the Name
Tanner, Bible Study about Simon the Tanner, Acts 10:6 Peter Was Staying at the
House of Simon the Tanner, What Was a Tanner