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CYPRUS (sī'prŭs, Gr. Kypros, copper). An island in the eastern part of the Mediterranean directly off the coast of Syria and Cilicia, 148 miles (246.7 km.) long and about 40 miles (66.7 km.) across. Historically its roots are deep in the past. The OT refers to it as the “Isles of Chittim” (Kittim, Ezek.27.6; rendered by niv as the “coasts of Cyprus”).

The island is rich in copper deposits, hence its name. In the pre-Christian era, a large colony of Jews settled there and later formed the nucleus of the Christian church ministered to by Paul and company. During the Roman rule, the Jews were expelled from Cyprus in the days of Hadrian.

Barnabas, who accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey, was a native of the island (Acts.4.36); with John Mark he returned to evangelize Cyprus after they had left Paul’s company (Acts.15.36-Acts.15.39). The apostolic party passed through the island from Salamis to Paphos. At Paphos, Sergius Paulus, the imperial deputy of the island, came to believe in Christ (Acts.13.12).

Cyprus has known various conquerors, in addition to the Assyrians, who had been attracted by its rich resources. The Egyptians, Hittites, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Turks, and British have all taken advantage of its attractive character.

The aboriginal inhabitants of Cyprus seem to have been of Minoan stock. After the breakup of the Minoan civilization, the dark ages settled down on the island. The curtain rose again when Hellenistic settlers from the Greek mainland reached it. Sargon in 709 b.c. made himself ruler of Cyprus, and it paid tribute to Assyria until the days of Esarhaddon. The demise of the Assyrian Empire appears to have brought the island relative freedom, until it was annexed to Egypt in 540. With the rise of Cambyses (526), Cyprus passed under Persian rule until the time of Alexander the Great, to whom it surrendered voluntarily and helped with the siege of Tyre. During the late intertestamental period it fell into the hands of the Romans (cf. 1Macc.10.13). A number of the ill-famed guard of Antiochus Epiphanes were Cypriots. In 58 Cyprus was accorded provincial status by the Romans. In 22 it was made the direct charge of the Senate. Roman coins of this particular period are numerous.——JFG

The Christian Church in Cyprus claims as its founders Paul and Barnabas, who ministered there during missionary journeys. Because of its island geography and its apostolic founder, the early church on Cyprus strove to proclaim its independence from any patriarchal see. The Third Ecumenical Council which met in Ephesus in 431 decided in favor of the independence of the Cypriot Church. This decision went against the wishes of the patriarch of Antioch, who desired to dominate the island church. The council declared the Cypriot Orthodox Church to be autocephalous, or self-governing-and this is its present status.

The island came under the control of Islam when it was captured in 647 by the Arabs. The Cypriot Christians struggled and maintained their identity. Cyprus freed itself from the control of Islam from the middle of the eighth century to the early part of the ninth, but it was then recaptured by the Arabs under the Abbasid dynasty, and remained under Islamic rule until the middle of the tenth century. During the Crusader period the island passed from one controlling power to another. Richard I of England who had taken the island sold it to the Knights Templars*; they did not remain long; they were soon replaced by the Knights of St. John. Once Constantinople was captured by the participants of the Fourth Crusade (1204), Latin ecclesiastical superiors attempted to dominate the Cypriot scene. The Greek Christians of Cyprus found it difficult to determine where they should direct their loyalty.

When the Ottoman Turks took over in the last part of the sixteenth century, Cypriot Christianity came under the millet system of the Turks. Millets were religious nations under the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Each organized branch of Christianity which won a millet status was given power to exercise legal authority over its followers. This involved collection of certain taxes, marriage, and divorce courts, and certain aspects of local laws. Thus the head of the church became legal authority with close connections to the state. This tradition of the closeness of church and state was familiar from the days of the Byzantine Empire.

In light of the millet structure, it is not surprising that the Cypriot people elected the head of the church to become their first president on gaining independence from the British in 1960. During the eighty-eight year rule by the British the Greek Orthodox Church was entirely free to carry on its activities. Protestant missionary societies are found on the island, but their numbers and their effect on Cypriot life tend to be negligible.

H.T.F. Duckworth, The Church of Cyprus (1900); J. Hackett, A History of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus...a.d. 45-1878 (1901); G. Hill, A History of Cyprus (4 vols., 1940-52).

Culture was ancient in the island, and a long period of vigorous life in neolithic times preceded the prosperity of the Bronze Age. Archeological investigation has revealed its high quality. In the middle of the 2nd millennium, when Cyprus entered Mediterranean history, there was active interchange and communication, perhaps through Rhodes with the tribes of Mycenaean Greece. Relations with the communities of Asia Minor to the N and Syria to the E, were simultaneous, but the influence of the Mycenaean culture, according to the record of archeology, penetrated deeper, developing urban life, roading systems, customs of burial, and providing a mode of writing which survived for a thousand years. Finds at Ras Shamra (Ugarit) show that relations with Syria were almost equally close. In short, the picture which the archeologists construct of Cyprus in the Mycenaean Age is one of diversified and active life, of vigorous trade and widespread international relations. Salamis was perhaps the chief center at this time, and both Hitt. and Egyp. texts suggest that the name of the island was Alashia. This may be equated with Elishah of the OT, which traded purple with Tyre (Ezek 27:7) and which, according to the Hitt. texts, exported copper. The same geographical vagueness which haunts the name Kittim, attaches also to the name Alashia. It seems clear that Cyprus was an Egyp. sphere of influence around 1450 b.c., in the days of Egypt’s imperial strength.

The Dorian invasions which closed this millennium and ended the Mycenaean culture, seem to have had little effect on Cyprus. Archeological investigation, which finds Rhodes full of Dorian remains, has discovered little of like origin in Cyprus, where the Gr. stock, rooted for almost a millennium, seems to have remained Achaean. This ethnic continuity is further demonstrated by the survival of Achaean dialect forms in the Cypriot Gr. of the Classical period. Similarly, the continuity of the Bronze Age script is argument against any such catastrophic change as came to so many parts of the middle Mediterranean world at the dawn of the Iron Age.

Iron Age tribes from Syria, however, do seem to have moved into Cyprus, with some modification of Cypriot art. There appears to have been a large influx of Phoenicians around the year 800 b.c. Evidence from a cent. later points to periods of Assyrian rule, and the 6th cent. saw another long span of Egyp. domination. In short, the fragmentary picture reveals the fated pattern of history in a land so geographically located that rival empires and systems necessarily vie for its possession, and so endowed that neighboring peoples inevitably cast covetous eyes on its wealth or facilities. Cyprus in modern times reveals the same ebb and flow of history.

The Gr. city-state seems never to have established its form in Cyprus. The Achaean system of petty autonomous kingship seems to have maintained itself in some recognizable fashion, even through periods of alien intrusion and down to Ptolemaic times. In 525 b.c. Cambyses brought Cyprus under Pers. rule, and an attempt by the islanders to assert their freedom in 498, at the time of the great revolt of the Gr. Ionian cities of western Asia Minor, was successfully frustrated by the Persians. After the Pers. wars, Cimon, the Athenian soldier, boldly liberated the island. It was a major symptom of Pers. decline that he was able to do so. It was on this campaign (449 b.c.) that Cimon died, and peace with Persia followed. Phoenician control, however, seems to have ensued until 411 when the great Cypriot, Evagoras of Salamis, reasserted the independence of the island, an independence which was maintained for twenty years or more. Persia was dominant again in 387 b.c., but in 350 a league of Cypriot kings again asserted the island’s freedom. In 333 Cyprus declared for Alexander. With the death of the great conqueror, the island became part of Antigonus’ heritage. Later Ptolemaic Egypt gained control, and held it firmly for two and a half centuries, one of the longest periods of stability in the long history of so disputed a territory. It was during this period that Jewish immigration began, prob. from Alexandria, the largest center of the Dispersion.

Cyprus became a Rom. possession in 58 b.c. During the earlier period of Rom. rule Cyprus was under the control of the governor of Cilicia, and a fortunate turn of politics in Rome secured in 51 b.c. the appointment of Cicero, the famous orator and statesman, as governor of this province, much against his will. The purity of his administration in that age of callous Rom. exploitation of the provinces forms one of the brightest pages in the brave record of Cicero. Some of his intimate letters to Atticus leave a fearful impression of the cruel victimization of the island of Cyprus, and particularly of Salamis, by the Rom. financiers and their publicani, or tax officials, a scandal in which Brutus, the tyrannicide, was deeply involved. The political organization called the Empire, or more properly the principate, put a salutary end to Republican corruption. The year 27, with Augustus’ reorganization of the Rom. world, saw Cyprus become a separate province, first “imperial,” that is, under the prince’s direct control, and then “senatorial,” governed, as Luke properly stated (Acts 13:7), by a proconsul.

Luke’s account gives a few details of Paul’s mission on the island which had prob. been originally evangelized from the active center of Christian witness in Syrian Antioch. Note the “men of Cyprus” of Acts 11:20. The reason for the choice of Cyprus on Paul’s first journey, was no doubt the fact that his friend and colleague in the project was a Cypriot Jew of wide connections (Acts 13:4-12). The party landed at Salamis, the natural ingress from Syria, and activity began as was customary with Paul by diligent preaching in the Jewish synagogue. A three or four days’ journey followed, taking the visitors through the whole island to Paphos in the SW. New Paphos, as the town might rightly be called, like Old Paphos, was a center of the worship of Aphrodite. The old town, a Phoen. foundation, stood somewhat inland. The new town had grown up following the Rom. annexation, and was the seat of the proconsul’s residence and administration. Here Paul met the proconsul Sergius (Acts 13:6, 7, 12), an encounter which may have helped form his vision of a Christian strategy in the empire. Here, too, he met Elymas, the renegade Jew. Another early Christian from Cyprus was Mnason (Acts 21:16). With these brief references in Luke’s narrative, the history of early Christianity in Cyprus passed from view, and little more is known until the island contained fifteen bishoprics.

The Jews of Cyprus took part in the great revolt of their race in the Eastern Mediterranean while Trajan was preoccupied with his Parthian campaign, from a.d. 115 to 117. Nearly a quarter of a million Gentiles are said to have been massacred in this insane uprising. The result was merciless suppression and the expulsion of all Jews from the island.

Under the Byzantine emperors Cyprus was too perilously exposed to the E not to suffer much on all occasions when the strength of Byzantium failed to hold and control its more distant marches. Saracens, Richard of England, Knights Templars, and Venetians repeated through the succeeding centuries the old forms and movements of history. British rule came in 1878 by a convention which recognized the nominal authority of the Sultan. The rest of the island’s story, not dissimilar in the pattern of its detail, is contemporary history.


S. Casson, Ancient Cyprus (1937); G. H. Hill, A History of Cyprus, 4 vols. (1940-1952).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. Name:

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.

2. Geography:

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.

3. Products:

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 Ac (13:7) is strictly accurate.

7. Cyprus and the Jews:

The proximity of Cyprus to the Syrian coast rendered it easy of access from Palestine, 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 (Ac 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:

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 $92,800 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