Some general notes on the economy of Cyprus during the Ottoman rule

The [huge] property of the Latin Church was overtaken by Ottoman rule after the conquest [Netice Yildiz, 2009]. In contrast with the previous rulers, all the people had the same opportunities in the employment sphere. There were no restricted crafts or trades. Anyone could become a farmer, butcher, silk weaver, or moneylender [Ronald Jennings, 1992]. According to Özkul (2015), trade had stopped [temporarily] in the Mediterranean because of the conflict between the Ottoman Empire and the Venetian in Crete and Peloponnese [hence the trade existed towards Minor Asia and Egypt] [Ali Efdal Özkul, 2015]. It has been calculated by Mas Latrie that about 1395 the commerce of Famagusta under the Genoans represented more than double the capital concerned in the trade of all Cyprus about 1855 [George Hill, 1948]. Many travellers speak about the neglect of the economy of Cyprus, one of them is Henry Light in 1814 speaking about the Larnaca salt lake: “When the Venetians had possession of the island, care was taken to drain the marshes and confine the water to the salt lakes, which produced an immense revenue; but, like all other sources of riches of the Turks, are neglected” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895] [basically all writers speak of the necessity of each governor to gain quick profit of his investment in the short-term, because he can remain governor for a short time before being replaced by the next one, rather than place foundations for the strengthening of the local economy in the long-term]. According to Sakellarios (1890), the income of the Ottomans originating from Cyprus sank to 208,000 ducats in 1585, compared to 940,000 during the Venetian rule [which shows how badly the resources of the island were utilized and it was a sign of the decline that would follow] [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890]. Thomas Sandwith noticed in 1867 that the Christians were “the wealthiest class in the island, being the principal landowners, and, in trade no less than agriculture, possess pre-eminence over the Muslims” [Stephen Boys Smith, 2019].


According to Öztürk (2019), gold and silver Ottoman coins, like those of other countries, circulated widely around the region. Their value was actual, not nominal. Until 1688, the official unit of the Ottoman currency was the akçe. In 1688, the system changed to the Kuruş Para. In addition to the Ottoman akçe and to gold, other coins were in circulation: the Venetian Ducat, the Dutch Florin, the Hungarian Kreuzer, Egyptian, Tunisian and Algerian gold. Amongst silver coins were the Spanish Real (Riyal Kuruş) and the Dutch Thaler (Esedi Kuruş) [Mustafa Öztürk, 2019].


According to the Nicosia kadi’s court records of the 17th century, we learn that prices were usually set twice a year, for the months of March to October and then from October to the following March. The prices were those for the main food products such as bread, meat, oil, cheese, honey and salt. Also set were the prices for goods such as soap, candles, wood, iron, tiles and shoes of different types. Everything was recorded under the supervision of the kadi and a council. Maximum prices were strictly checked by the official of the constabulary and those who exceeded them were punished by having their shops closed, by banishment, and by the cancellation of their permits to trade. From the records he presents we see for example that between 1634-1636 a clerk of the administration earned 3 akçe per day, the cash collector 2 akçe, the imam 7 and a vakf trustee 12 akçe per day. The prices of goods were: 2 akçe for one oke of bread (1.28 kg), 1 akçe for one oke of figs/plums/melon, 18 akçe for large fish and a lamb without the head was 7 akçe [Mustafa Öztürk, 2019].


We know from the research of Recep Dündar (2019) that in 1572 Cyprus had 206 mills, 26 tanneries, 2 soap houses, 3 dye houses, 3 salt marshes and 3 sugar factories. From his research in the Nicosia kadiluk (district) of that year we learn that 116 villages existed of which all produced wheat (565 kg per house), 111 produced barley, 35 produced bitter vetch, 20 okra and 9 produced lentil. Also, 21 produced cotton, 70 olives, 35 silk, 23 wine, 4 walnuts, only one produced carobs and another one produced almonds [Recep Dündar, 2019]. From Jenning’s research who studied the prices fluctuation of certain products between 1571-1640, we learn that Cypriots produced yoghurt, various cheeses, butter, figs, grapes, apples, pomegranates, chick-peas, palouze, carob pastelli, olive oil, honey, sheep and goat meat, grain and bread, sugar, salt, cotton, wool and woollen cloth [Ronald Jennings, 1992]. According to Erdoğru (2015) who studied the productions of the kadiluk of Paphos, we know that the region produced in 1572 wheat, barley, lentils, broad beans, flax, hemp, walnuts, olives and olive oil, colocasia, saffron, cotton, salt, sheep and pigs [Akif Erdoğru, 2015]. To Jean Palerne in 158I, the abundance of grains and vineyards was impressive, and the cotton was the best in the Levant. According to de Villamont in 1589, Cyprus produced very excellent wines, wheat, barley, cattle, salt, oil, sugar, cheese, flax, fine wool, great sheep, capers, pomegranates, sweet and bitter oranges, palms, cucumbers, melons, and fruits of all kinds, and cotton.  Fynes Moryson in 1596 adds pigs, corn. Dandini in 1596 speaks of the wheat, wine, barley, dates, mulberries, oranges, lemons, citrons, sugar, saffron, coriander, sesame, linseed, honey, carobs, glasswort, rhubarb, turpentine, scammony, cotton, salt and capers. Johann van Kootwyck in 1598 in Limassol, mentions the exportation of carobs, as well as the production of bananas, melons, pumpkin, grain, cotton, sugar, lemons, oranges, silk, flax, wool, oil, honey, cheese, wine and raisins, adding that “much of the island is now “uncultivated, neglected and deserted” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895].

Henry de Beauvau in 1604, reported that Cyprus “is very fertile in all kinds of grain, olive trees, grapes, lemons, carobs, capers, salt” [Ronald Jennings, 1992]. In 1605, according to Pedro Texeira, Cyprus was famous for producing and exporting more than 5000 bags of cotton, 3000 bags of very fine wool, plenty of wine, cheeses, some silk, and some sugar. The land also produced turpentine from terebinths, and laudanum [Pedro Texeira, 1610]. Several decades later, Cornelis van Bruyn in 1683, emphasizes the production of cotton, silk, turpentine, wines and laudanum, and the utilization of capers [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895].

John Heyman in the 1700s mentions: “the island is very fruitful in corn, oil, honey, wax, saffron, and wool, and it is computed that one-third more is produced than is consumed in the island”. He also adds that carobs, salt, wine, turpentine, saltpetre and cheeses are produced, but the production of sugar has been ignored. He as well mentions the beccaficos. In 1738 Richard Pococke mentions as products of exportation the corn, cotton, wood, red dye, colocynth seed and silk. In 1745 Alexander Drummond claimed that the collection of salt had declined. At that time Cyprus exported silk, cotton, wool, madder roots, green earth, carobs, wines, preserved meats, cheese, biscuits and pasta [He doesn’t mention sugar, oils and corn which were previously mentioned by others, presenting a change in agriculture] [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895]. Larnaca was the centre of commerce during the 1760s. The principal exportation products of the island during that time were silk, exceptional quality cotton, wool, nutmegs (a ground spice), commandaria, turpentine, kermes, laudanum, madder roots, wheat, barley, colocynths, carobs, ortolans, tar, glasswort, salt, timber, and green earth. Cypriots produced “excellent wine” and the soil was highly favoured by nature. On the contrary, olive oil was not enough for the needs of the islanders who needed to import more. For non-table needs, they exploited the plant Ricinus communis (castor oil plant). The fruit trees were few, excluding at least the orange and lemon trees. A great part of the island was not cultivated due to the lack of people, and it produced nothing but thyme and other odoriferous herbs [Giovanni Mariti, 1791]. Archbishop Constantius in 1766 speaks of the neglect regarding the production of salt, olive oil, cotton, silk, wheat and barley.  J. Sibthorn in 1787 many times came across corn crops around Cyprus. Archimandrite Kyprianos in 1788 mentions the production of wool, silk, cotton, barley. According to Michael de Vezin, in the late 18th century, Cyprus exported salt, cotton, silk, wheat, barley, madder, wool, olive oil and commandaria. Cyprus also produced linen, capers, dates, corn, pitch and tar (Polis Chrysochou), tobacco (Avdimou), carobs and brandy (Limassol), hardwood (Famagusta and Karpasia) and hams (Orini). Edward Clarke in 1801 mentions several products of the island: apricots, pumpkins, cucumbers, corn, wheat, wines (commandaria, muscat, red), artichokes, asparagus, oranges, lemons, plums, carobs, white mulberries, figs, pomegranates [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895].

According to John Kinneir in 1814, Cyprus produced silk, cotton, barley, wines, olive oil, oranges, wheat, corn. Additionally, the island abounded in partridges, quails, woodcocks, snipes, hares, sheep and cattle. Henry Light in 1814: “The produce of the island is still considerable in corn, wine, oil and silks, notwithstanding its neglected state. A considerable quantity of salt is collected in the neighbourhood of La Scala”. According to William Turner’s information [of the custom-house], in 1815, Cyprus exported cotton, wool, silk, cattle, sheep, barley, corn, olive oil (sometimes imported as well), carobs, wines, raki, coloquintida, madder, green earth, charcoal and salt, adding that the commerce was diminishing yearly because the population itself was diminishing”. Thomas Gordon speaks about the products of Cyprus in 1834: “Cyprus is renowned for the quantity of its fruit, wine, oil and silk: it abounds in oxen, sheep, fowls and game [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895].

Land ownership

The emergence of chiftliks

According to Sant-Cassia (1986), many chiftliks emerged in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Most of these new chiftliks were concentrated in the Paphos and Larnaca lowlands, had a perennial source of water, and were close to the main ports. According to McGowan (1981), they were created mainly by:

  • usurpation, such as seizure,
  • occupying land abandoned due to flight,
  • over taxation and debt, or by
  • receiving land from villagers in return from tax collectors (often one and the same person), or finally
  • in return for relief from deliberate terror and harassment.  The last was a favourite tactic as shown by numerous village petitions and was still being practised in 1806 when Ali Bey noted that [P. Sant-Cassia, 1986].

How the immense land property of the Church of Cyprus was created

According to Sant-Cassia (1986), the Church’s holdings must have amounted to 16.4 % of the total agricultural land in 1844. Together with Evkaf and large estates (chiftliks), amounted to 23.3 % of total agricultural land in 1844. In earlier periods, with lower population and a smaller cultivable land area, the percentage must have been much higher. The church acquired properties in three ways :

  • through the transfer of many properties held by the Catholic Church in Venetian times [Christodoulou (1959) has suggested that ”some of the property of the Latin Church passed to Moslem religious institutions, but some may have found its way back to the Greek Orthodox Church. The Ottoman Government showed respect to the Orthodox Church whose property was as privileged as the Waqf property”],
  • through bequests [Christians could leave up to one-third of their properties to the Church which could be exacted from the heirs through a court],
  • through the transfer of land by peasants to escape usurpation by Ottoman officials [grants from people who feared the envy of officials and usurpation. Once the properties passed into the name of the Church or monastery they were safe] [P. Sant-Cassia, 1986].

Locusts as economy devourers

The existence of locusts that troubled the islanders kept being record even during the Ottoman period. Such mentions were made by Angelo Calepio in 1572, by Ullrich Krafft in 1573 who mentioned: “They fly about from one green place to another and eat every green thing, grass, grains, and fruits, right down to the very roots. They eat trees down to the hardwood. Every year the Ottoman governors give very strong orders that every inhabitant must collect a large sackful every week and burn it and the worms, although that does not make any considerable reduction in their numbers” [Ronald Jennings, 1992]. The locusts’ phenomenon also impressed de Villamont in 1589 [Jacques de Villamont, 1606], Ioannes Cotovicus in 1598-99, Antioch Makarios in 1645 and Cornelis van Bruyn in 1683 [Ronald Jennings, 1992]. Locusts existed even during 1745-1750 because Drummond mentions “locusts, which I have seen in incredible swarms, are so prejudicial to the farmers, as to destroy one-third of the grain”. Archbishop Constantius in 1766 speaks of “countless myriads of locusts, which collect like thick clouds and sweep down on the fields”. Dr J. Sibthorp in 1787 mentions “Swarms of locusts in their larva state often blackened the road with their number and threatened destruction to the crops of corn now almost ripe” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895]. The end of locusts coincided around the end of Ottoman rule. Sakellarios wrote in 1890: “Worth mentioning during the last years of the Ottoman rule was the prudent governance of Said Pasha. Active and intelligent enough managed to eliminate the eternal problem that plagued Cyprus, the locust. To this, it said that the archbishop Sofronios contributed, as well as from Larnaca philanthropist Richardos Matteis” [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890].


During the 1760’s hyacinths, ranunculus, anemones, orchises, and narcissuses thrived in nature and locals were undigging them to place them in their gardens [Giovanni Mariti, 1791] [All these plants are found in nature until nowadays, except for the narcissuses, which are not so easy to find in the wild]. John Heyman in the 1700s mentions that hunting is very delightful all over the island, as it everywhere affords plenty of snipes, partridges, hares and muflons. He also adds the existence of beccaficos [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895]. Foxes, hares, rails, partridges, snipes, quails,  thrushes, beccaficos and ortolans existed in abundance in the 1760s according to Giovanni Mariti. Rails and partridges were at that time sold for 2.5 pence, snipes a little bit more, whilst the rest of the birds were sold at very cheap prices [G. Mariti says they were rather “given away” than being sold and makes fun of the Cypriots that sold them at a low price and at the same time they thought they were making a good sale. Especially, in regards to the ortolans whose hunting is prohibited today due to EU regulation, they were caught near Agia Napa and were exported in 400 barrels filled with vinegar, each contained 200 or 400 birds]. Oxen existed on the island but Cypriots never ate them, they used them to cultivate the land [Giovanni Mariti, 1791]. According to Dr J. Sibthorp in 1787, the stools on which he sat were made of the Ferula plant; the stems were cut into slips and placed crossways were nailed together. He claimed that “the stalks furnish the poorer Cyprian with a great part of his household furniture”. Additionally, he claimed that “the wild boar inhabits Cape Gatto [in Akrotiri peninsula]” [nowadays wild boars do not exist in the Cypriot nature]. Furthermore, “Asses, I heard on good authority, were found in a wild state at Carpaso [Rizokarpaso], and that it was permitted to any person to hunt them; but that when caught they were of little value, it being almost impossible, from their natural obstinacy, to domesticate them”. Also, “Immense flights of ortolans appear about the time of the vintage; these are taken in great quantities, preserved in vinegar, and exported as an object of commerce”. In regards to the animals living in the torrents, Sibthorp found that ” the eel was their only inhabitant” [this actually is not true as crabs still exist, whilst the eels have extincted] [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895].


According to Cornelis van Bruyn in 1683, “the Turks will not allow the mines to be worked” and so does John Archbishop Constantius noticed in 1766: “All excavation, exploration or search for metals has been forbidden by its rulers, and the copper once so precious and plentiful remains unworked in the bosom of the mountains which enfold it, as well as vitriol of two kinds, lead, iron and other metals, which formerly made this island universally known and renowned” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895]. According to Giovanni Mariti, the same prohibition existed in the Limassol region in the 1760s for the stone of asbestos [today at the location of Pano Amiantos] [Giovanni Mariti, 1791].


Johann van Kootwyck was in Limassol in 1598: “On account of the frequent earthquakes all the dwellings are small and low, constructed, like a floor, of wattles and clay, of one storey only. The doors are so low that you must stoop to enter them, a device to prevent the Turks bursting in and stabling their horses in private houses” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895].

Öztürk in 2019 conducted research on the architecture of the 17th century, both in the city of Nicosia and villages: “Cypriot homes were of one or two storeys. Almost all had yards and various trees in their gardens. Most of the trees were olives, pomegranates and figs. Every house had a well or stream. Houses were mostly of 2 to 3 rooms. The more valuable houses had from 6 to 9 rooms… Almost every house had balconies… Village houses were of a similar style to those in the towns. All the houses had gardens, wells or streams. Most village houses had barns” [Mustafa Öztürk, 2019].

In the 1760s, public buildings such as churches, mosques and hospitals were built of stone. Where stone was available stone houses were built. In the rest cases, the houses were built of bricks made of moist earth and chopped straw. The walls could be whitened [probably with gypsum; G. Mariti calls it “talc”]. The roofs were formed of wooden beams, laths, reeds, white and white clay mixed with straw. Each[?] house had a garden. Regardless of race, peoples’ houses were large and spacious [Giovanni Mariti, 1791]. In 1801 Edward Clarke gives a description of Larnaka: “Almost every house has its garden; the shade and verdure thus afforded is a delightful contrast to the glare of white and dusty soil, everywhere observed around. In these gardens, we noticed two sorts of jasmine, one common in European countries, and the other derived from Syria; the double-blossomed pomegranate, a most beautiful shrub; also lemons, oranges, plums, and apricots”. Ali Bey in 1806 was hosted in a palace, of which he gives as some description: “The roofs and part of the staircase are of wood. The corridors and passages are also closed with jalousies. The floors of all the rooms are of marble, also the jambs of the windows and doors, and the first few courses of the building: the rest of the walls is constructed of rough stone, badly baked bricks and lime. The houses are not covered with tiles; the roofs are flat and extremely weighty”. Charles Frankland observes in 1827: “in most of the houses at Larneca the ceiling of the large rooms is supported by a Gothic or rather Saracenic arch. The beams likewise rest upon such wooden projecting supports or buttresses as we see in old churches in England under the woodwork of the roof. Many of the houses have a kind of facade extending half the height of the house, of stone, and of the same order of Saracenic architecture” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895].

error: Content is protected !!