Cyprus is an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Cyprus’s resources of copper and timber, as well as its strategic location between Asia Minor, the Near East, and North Africa, made it valuable to its larger and stronger neighbors. At various times, Cyprus was ruled by all of the major powers of the ancient Mediterranean world, including the Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans.
Around 1400 B.C., the people of Mycenae, the forerunners of the Greek civilization, established colonies on Cyprus. The Mycenaeans were
followed by two civilizations from the Near East—the Syrians and the Phoenicians. During the 600s B.C., Cyprus was controlled by Egypt and then by Persia. Nevertheless, the Greek influence was the strongest. Greeks founded several city-states*, including Salamis and Paphos, on the island. In addition, many Cypriots—as people living on the island are called—spoke a version of the Greek language. The Cypriots prospered by mining and exporting copper and by harvesting timber for use in shipbuilding.
In the 400s B.C., during the Persian Wars between Greece and Persia, Phoenician communities on Cyprus sided with Persia, and Persia gained control of the island. However, in 333 B.C. all the Cypriot city-states supported Alexander the Great and Greece against the Persians. Alexander defeated the Persians and placed Cyprus under Greek rule. However, in 58 B.C., a stronger power—Rome—took control of the island. At first, Cyprus was part of the Roman province* of Cilicia, but it later became a separate province. The Roman governor ruled from a capital at Paphos.
Around A.D. 115, the Jewish population of Cyprus rebelled against Rome, destroying the city of Salamis. Rome quashed the rebellion and instituted harsh laws banning Jews from the island. Turmoil struck again early in the A.D. 300s, when Cyprus was rocked by a severe and destructive earthquake. Aside from these tumultuous events, however, Cyprus was a quiet minor province of the Roman Empire.
* city-state independent state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory
* province overseas area controlled by Rome