About the Era

The beginning of Byzantine rule in Cyprus

[After the death of the Roman emperor Maximinus Daza in 313, the Roman Republic was divided between Emperor Constantine the Great and Licinius]. Following two great battles, Constantine prevailed on Licinius and according to Zosimus (appr. 460-520), divided the Empire into four regions and according to T. Balsamon (12th cent.) Cyprus was subjected to the commander of Antioch.

The legend of the great 36 years of drought in Early Christian Cyprus

The legend repeated by Macheras (15th cent.) says about 36 of draught in Early Christian Cyprus. Oberhummer (1903), found two other sources that decrease the number of years of the famine to 17 and 7 respectively, which sound more realistic, but at the same time raise concerns as to whom we should account for credibility. According to that legend, Helena, mother of Emperor Constantinos, was in Cyprus in 328 and found the island “deserted”. Following her visit, the rain returned back and so did the people who had previously migrated, as well as others [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890]. Pavlides (2013) implies that this is a myth for the following reasons [Andros Pavlides, 2013]:

  • archaeological findings acknowledge prosperity during that period
  • in 324, Cyprus was asked for and provided Licinius with 30 ships
  • in 325, Cyprus sent a mass delegation to the First Ecumenical Council that took place in Nice

It is the author (of this website) perception that this is nothing more than religious propaganda, for Santa Helena, having brought the holy relics to Cyprus and built churches, God “blessed” the island with the return of the rain and therefore, its people.

The appearance of the Arab raids and the subjection to them

It was in 633/4 [Andros Pavlides, 2013] when according to Constantine VII Flavius Porphyrogenitus (905-959) the Arab invaders showed themselves up in Cyprus, under Abu-Bakr (573-634), and plundered Kition [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890].

The Arabs attacked Cyprus from Acre (today Akko in Israel) with 1700 ships in 647 under Muawiya, emir of Syria, who persuaded the Caliph to undertake this expedition, which was the first maritime enterprise of the Arabs on a grand scale. His fleet included a contingent supplied by the governor of Egypt. Summoned to surrender and pay tribute, the Cypriots trusted their defensive walls and refused to do so. Muawiya then landed and laid siege to Constantia (Salamis), took it and destroyed it, massacring the inhabitants. He passed over the whole island, taking possession and laying it under an annual tribute of 7200 gold coins. The booty was shared between the Egyptians and the Syrians. It was during this invasion that Umm-Haram, Abu-Bakr’s daughter died accidentally in Larnaca and was buried at the place where Hala Sultan Tekke exists today [George Hill, 1940]. According to Theophanes, Muawiya retired from Cyprus two years later, after he heard that the imperial General Cacorhizus was approaching with a large military force [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890].

Under the terms imposed on the Cypriots, they were to keep the Arabs informed of any projected attack from the side of the Greeks, to allow their island to be used as a halfway house for attacking the enemy, and to refrain from giving the enemy any support. The Cypriots didn’t keep the agreement and when in 653 the Cypriots lent ships to the Greeks for an expedition – or because the Greeks had sent troops to Cyprus – Muawiya despatched a second force of 500 ships under Abu’l-Awar. The inhabitants fled to the hills and hid in caves from where they were dragged out. Others fled the island and others took refuge in the city of Lapithos. Abu’l-Awar spent around 40 days in Constantia killing all the people “head by head”. He plundered the whole island and again offered peace under terms to the refugees in Lapithos, something that was again refused. Eventually,  the inhabitants capitulated obtaining from Abu’l-Awar a promise that though he would take all their gold, silver and riches, he would do no harm to the people. And so he did and returned back to Syria, having left behind a huge garrison of 12,000 men in a city especially built to stage them and they remained in Cyprus until Caliph Yazid withdrew them between 680-683. Mosques were also erected [something that would be a reason for another invasion by the Ottomans in 1750]. The terms of the tribute exacted on the former occasion were confirmed, but this time, a stable and permanent occupation was intended. Caliph Abd-al-Malik (reigned 685-705) added another 1000 dinars to the annual tribute. Omar II (reigned 717-720) cancelled this addition; Hisham (reigned 724-743) restored it and finally, Abbasid Mansur (reigned 754-775) returned to the conditions imposed by Muawiya, refusing to oppress the Cypriots any longer [George Hill, 1940].

The co-exploitation of Cyprus by the Byzantines and the Arabs

At the second renewal of a peace treaty between the Byzantine Emperor Justinian II and the Umayyad Arab Caliph Abd-al-Malik in 688 or 689 [in 686 renewed for 10 years according to Paul the Deacon (c.720-c.799) [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890]], there was a provision that both sides would split the revenues extracted from Cyprus. Another provision was the payment of tribute from the Arabs to the Byzantines. In 692 [in 688 according to Sakellarios [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890]] the Emperor broke the peace with the excuse that the payment of the tribute was made with Saracen coinage, bearing inscriptions from the Koran, and not the portrait of the Emperor with the cross. In order to deprive the Caliph of his tributaries, he ordered the relocation of Cypriots near Cyzicus [today’s central Northern coasts of Turkey] [George Hill, 1940].

Cypriots in Nova Justinianopolis and back

The chronicler Michael the Great, following Justinian’s II decision to relocate the Cypriots near Cyzicus as a “pillaging” of Cyprus. Abulfaraj informs that he was also removed from Cyprus as captives to the Arabs who at that time were there. Hill writes, “How many reached their destination on the Hellespont we do not know, but a large number were drowned by a storm that caught the transports or died of disease. Many of those who survived drifted back to Cyprus”. The new home of the Cypriots, who were displaced in 692, was given by the Emperor the name “Nova Justinianapolis”. The archbishop of Cyprus changed his title to Archbishop of Nova Justinianapolis, [George Hill, 1940] something that survives until our days; the current title is “Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus”.

The “banishment” of Cypriots in Minor Asia ended in 698 when Emperor Tiberius III Apsimarus decided to resettle the island, the population of which had been seriously depleted. He also sent to the Caliph three noble Cypriots accompanied by an imperial official asking that the Cypriots who were in Syria should be returned to their homes. The Caliph responded positively and dispatched throughout Syria a number of Saracen high officials, who collected the Cypriots and transported them to Cyprus. Similarly, an imperial official collected all the Cypriots in Minor Asia, Cyzicus, and the Cibyrrhaeote and Thracesian regions, and sent them back to repopulate Cyprus [George Hill, 1940].

The introduction of the Coast Guard soldiers in Byzantine Cyprus

A very important role in Cypriot history played the coast guard soldiers (Stratiotai) who were introduced into the island to safeguard it from Arab raids. According to Sathas the establishment of Stratiotai in Cyprus was due to Tiberius III Apsimarus [698-705], who before his seizure of the throne in 698, had been admiral of the Cibyrrhaeotes and thus in close touch with Cyprus. It is conjectured that the Stratiotai were recruited from the Mardaites [guerillas] or Apelatai [outcasts, grabbers] of Tarsus, who were under the command of a Katapan in Attalia on the Pamphylian coast. Sathas finds reason for this conjecture in three facts:

  • the so-called apelatic poems were more plentiful preserved in Cyprus than elsewhere
  • Mamas, the apelatic patron saint, came according to tradition from Tarsus [SE Minor Asia] to Cyprus
  • the Mardaites in Attalia and the Stratiotai in Cyprus were organized together against the Saracens

Hill disagrees with Sathas and claims that the Stratiotai were according to his opinion introduced earlier in Cyprus, in the time of Justinian [reigned 527-565] [George Hill, 1940].

More Arab raids against Cyprus

Despite the fact that Cyprus was paying tribute to the Byzantines and the Arabs, it was never effectively controlled by either of these powers, but it was contributing in the form of taxation only so much as either could exact. But despite the existence of taxation, the Arabs kept raiding Cyprus [George Hill, 1940]. This happened as we know in:

  • 726, while Maslama invaded Cappadocia, Muwiya sailed against Cyprus [George Hill, 1940].
  • 743, when the Caliph Walid II appears to have raided Cyprus and carried off the inhabitants to Syria according to Paul the Deacon (c.720-c.799) [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890]. According to Biladhuri (820-892), Walid, the son of Yazid, expelled many Cypriots to Syria because he suspected them; they were returned home by his son Yazid III the next year, in 744. Tabari (839-923) also certifies this event [George Hill, 1940].
  • 747, according to Theophanes (c.758-c.818), when the Arabs sent an expedition against the island from Alexandria, but the Emperor had a timely warning, and the Cibyrrhaeote admiral was ordered to meet the enemy. He found the Arab fleet in a port of Cyprus, taking it completely by surprise, blocked the harbour mouth and destroyed all but three of the thousand ships [dromonds] [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890]. This incident was crucial because the Egyptian fleet was destroyed and rebuilt after 853 [George Hill, 1940].
  • 773 it is recorded that the Muslim fleet raided Cyprus and carried off the governor [George Hill, 1940].
  • 8061In 802 writes Sakellarios [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890], according to Theophanes, the Caliph despatched a fleet to Cyprus under Humaid, the wali of the Syrian coast. The invaders laid waste on the island, burning and destroying churches, and took away with them many captives, which according to one account numbered 16,000, including the “bishop of Cyprus” [George Hill, 1940]. According to Al-Baladhuri (9th cent.), the captives were ransomed and released soon afterwards. The archbishop of Cyprus brought them 1000 dinars [Andros Pavlides, 2013].
  • 911, Dimyana, commander of the fleet, seized the island and held it for four months, burning and plundering, taking captives and seizing many places, according to Masudi (896-956) [George Hill, 1940]. Pavlides also accuses Dimyana of mass rapes and killings. The captives were taken to Baghdad and with them was the bishop of Chytroi [later Saint Demetrianos] who followed them with his own will, with his actions towards the Caliph and the intervention of the Patriarch of Constantinople, the bishop managed to get approval for the release of the captives who, from those who survived the almost three years’ journey to and from Baghdad through hostile grounds, led back to Cyprus [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

It is exactly due to these Arab raids that Cypriots during this period abandoned their residences located near the coast and moved higher inland where they could hide behind the hills in times of necessity and be able to observe the threat coming towards them from a distance from observatories on top of the hills [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

The iconoclastic persecution/schism

According to Alexander Vasilyev (1867-1953), Cyprus, like other places of the Empire, must have received many immigrants flying from the iconoclastic persecution [George Hill, 1940]. According to Pavlides, the iconoclastic crisis lasted from 726 until 843, when Empress Theodora permanently restored the icons. Cyprus was peaceful during the persecution since all were icon supporters and there was no “religious war”, there was an environment of neutrality, and that is why many icon supporters fled to Cyprus to save themselves from icon enemies [Andros Pavlides, 2013]

The liberation of Cyprus from the Saracens

According to Joannes Zonaras (12th cent.), Cyprus was definitively liberated from the Saracens around 964/5 by Niketas Chalkoutzes, under Emperor Nikiphoros II Phocas [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890]. According to Pavlides, there is no information regarding battles on the island, so most likely the Arabs withdrew from Cyprus following the defeats by the Byzantines in the Syrian territory. Cyprus re-joined the Byzantine Empire in 965 and the new capital was Lefkousia [Andros Pavlides, 2013].

The attack by Renaud de Chatillon

Emperor Manuel enlisted the services of Renaud de Chatillon in 1155 against Prince Thoros II of Armeno-Cilicia, which became independent from the Empire. A battle took place in Alexandretta but soon afterwards de Chatillon made peace with the enemy. According to Hill, it is said that he launched the attack against Cyprus because Manuel had failed to keep a promise to pay him a large subsidy, and by attacking Cyprus, he was compensating himself. De Chatillon ranged through the island, burning towns and churches, mutilating the inhabitants, both peasants and clergy, by cutting off their hands and feet, noses and ears [this generalisation might be an exaggeration]. He plundered gold, silver and any other valuable he could carry. Inhabitants were driven down to the shore and set free after they had agreed on a huge indemnity, the price of their lives and cattle. Also, hostages were taken and held until the ransom was paid [George Hill, 1940].

Tyrant Isaac Comnenos and the end of the Byzantine rule in Cyprus

According to Sakellarios, Isaac Comnenos arrived in Cyprus with an army and presented fake documents to the island’s authorities that he was appointed as a new governor of the island by the Emperor, appointing himself ruler of Cyprus in 1184. Emperor Andronikos I Komnenos didn’t do much about it, but his successor, Isaac Angelos urged Isaac Comnenos to resign and tempting him to accept money in return but having failed he sent 70 ships’ fleet against him in 1186. Isaac Comnenos won the battle and he continued to rule undisturbed. Feeling secure in his position, he was proved to be an even more ruthless ruler than his predecessor [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890]. Choniates (c.1155-1217) and Neophytos Enkleistos (1134–1214) accuse him of wanton murders, they characterise him as a ravisher of virgins and robber of the wealthy, reducing them to beggary and starvation [George Hill, 1940]. He imposed heavy taxation in his need to create an army and ruled as a tyrant for seven years until he met Richard the Lionheart in 1191 and treated him with disrespect [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890].

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