Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Arab Conquest of Cyprus

Arab Warrior

The Roman Period

The Island of Cyprus became a Roman province in 58 BCE. This came about, according to Strabo, because Publius Clodius Pulcher held a grudge against Ptolemy of Cyprus

The renowned Stoic and strict constitutionalist Cato the Younger was sent to annex Cyprus and organize it under Roman law. Cato was relentless in protecting Cyprus against the rapacious tax farmers that normally plagued the provinces of the Republican period. 

After the civil wars that ended the Roman Republic, Mark Antony gave the island to Cleopatra VII of Egypt and their daughter Cleopatra Selene, but it became a Roman province again after his defeat at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE. 

From 22 BCE onwards, Cyprus was a senatorial province "divided into four districts centred around Paphus, Salamis, Amathus and Lapethus. After the reforms of Diocletian it was placed under the Diocese of Oriens.

The Pax Romana was only twice disturbed in Cyprus in three centuries of Roman occupation. The first serious interruption occurred in 115–16, when a revolt by Jews inspired by Messianic hopes broke out.  Turmoil sprang up two centuries later in 333–4, when the magister pecoris camelorum Calocaerus revolted against Constantine I. 

The Eastern Roman Period
After the division of the Roman Empire into an eastern half and a western half, Cyprus came under the rule of Byzantium. 
The cities of Cyprus were destroyed by two successive earthquakes in 332 and 342 AD and this marked the end of an era and at the same time the beginning of a new one, very much connected with modern life in Cyprus. Most of the cities were not rebuilt, save Salamis which was rebuilt on a smaller scale and renamed Constantia after the Roman Emperor Constantius II, son of Constantine the Great, residing in Constantinople. 
The new city was now the capital of the island. It was mainly Christian and due to this some alterations were made during the rebuilding. The palaestra was turned into a meeting place and many architectural elements were used to erect spacious churches decorated with murals, mosaics and coloured marbles.

The Roman Ruins at Salamis, Cyprus

Byzantine Fortifications
Paphos Castle is located on the edge of Paphos harbor.  It was orginally built as a Byzantine fort to protect the harbor.  It was rebuilt in the 13th century after being destroy in the earthquake of 1222.  In 1570 it was dismantled by the Venentians and later restored and strengthened by the Ottomans.  (Paphos Castle).

The Arab Conquest

For 700 years in the east the Romans had fought against the organized conventional armies of the Persian Empire.

The final great contest between Rome and Persian lasted from 602 to 628 AD.  The Romans were victorious but both empires were shattered politically and economically.

Because of the endless warfare in the east, Persians were always on the minds of Rome.  The Arabs, if they were thought of at all, were considered bandits and raiders.

In September of 629 the newly created Muslim armies of Arabia first appeared in battle against Rome just to the east of the Jordan River.

In 632 Saint Maximos the Confessor wrote a contemporary reference to the barbarian ravages on the frontier that must have been about the Arabs:

"What more unfortunate circumstances could there be here than these 
that hold the inhabited world in their grip? . . .  What could be more 
lamentable and more terrible to those upon whom them fell?  To see 
how a people, coming from the desert and barbaric, run through the 
land that is not theirs, as if it were their own; how they, who seem 
only to have simple human features, lay waste our sweet and 
organized country with their wild untamed beasts."
Heraclius, Emperor of Byzntium - Walker Kaegi (pg 218)

From 629 to 637 saw the Muslim Arab conquest of Palaestina Prima and Syria.  Egypt fell in the 640s.  In 647 the Muslims started their march across Byzantine North Africa to Carthage.

These were huge changes to the Empire in a short 20 year span of time.

During this time frame in 650 AD the Arabs made the first attack on the island of Cyprus under the leadership of Muawiyah I with a fleet out of Alexandria, Egypt.

The Arabs conquered the capital Salamis - Constantia after a brief siege, but drafted a treaty with the local rulers. In the course of this expedition a relative of the Prophet, Umm-Haram fell from her mule near the Salt Lake at Larnaca and was killed. She was buried in that spot and the Hala Sultan Tekke was built there. 

After apprehending a breach of the treaty, the Arabs re-invaded the island in 654 AD with five hundred ships. This time, however, a garrison of 12,000 men was left in Cyprus, bringing the island under Muslim influence.

In 688, the emperor Justinian II and the caliph Abd al-Malik reached an unprecedented agreement. The Arabs evacuated the island, and for the next 300 years, Cyprus was ruled jointly by both the Caliphate and the Byzantines as a condominium, despite the nearly constant warfare between the two parties on the mainland. The collected taxes were divided among the Arabs and the Emperor.

Under Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867–886) Byzantine troops recaptured Cyprus, which was established as a theme, but after seven years the island reverted to the previous status quo

Once again, in 911, the Cypriots helped a Byzantine fleet under admiral Himerios, and in retaliation the Arabs under Damian of Tarsus ravaged the island for four months and carried off many captives. The isolation of Cyprus from the rest of the Greek-speaking world assisted the formation of a separate Cypriot dialect. This period of Arab influence lasted until the 10th century.

The Byzantine Reconquest

In the year 958, when a resurgent Byzantine Empire under the leadership of Nikephoros II Phokas conquered the island. The actual conquest was under the Byzantine general Basil.

A rebellion by governor Theophilos Erotikos in 1042, and another in 1092 by Rhapsomates, failed as they were quickly subdued by imperial forces.

In 1185, the last Byzantine governor of CyprusIsaac Komnenos, from a minor line of the Komnenos imperial house, rose in rebellion and attempted to seize the throne. His attempted coup was unsuccessful, but Komnenos was able to retain control of the island. 

Byzantine actions against Komnenos failed because he enjoyed the support of William II of Sicily. The Emperor had agreed with the sultan of Egypt to close Cypriot harbours to the Crusaders.

In the 12th century A.D. the island became a target of the crusadersRichard the Lionheart landed in Limassol on 1 June 1191.  Richard attacked the island which was easily subdued. After local revolts he decided to sell the island to the Knights Templar. 

AUB Discovers Byzantine Cyprus

Video  -  Students from the American University of Beirut went to Cyprus for a Field Trip in the context of the course Early Christian Art given by Dr. Lena Kelekian in order to visit some of the Byzantine Churches of the country. This is an overview of the trip.

Byzantine frescoes in Asinou Church, Nikitari, Cyprus.

Byzantine Fortress of Kyrenia
The Byzantines built the original Cyprus castle in the 7th Century to guard the city against the new Arab maritime threat. The first historical reference to the castle occurs in 1191, when King Richard the Lionheart of England captured it on his way to the Third Crusade.  The current version of Kyrenia is a 16th-century castle built by the Venetians over a previous Crusader fortification.  (Kyrenia Castle)

(cucy.soc.srcf.net)      (Deremilitari.org)      (san.beck.org)

(books.google.com)      (books.google.com)      (academia.edu)

(Cyprus in the Middle Ages)      (Ancient history of Cyprus)      (Muslim conquests)

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