Post-classical history


A Byzantine possession until 1184, the island of Cyprus was under the independent rule of the Greek usurper Isaac Komnenos when it was conquered in 1191 by Richard I (the Lionheart), king of England, who had come to the East in the course of the Third Crusade (1189-1192). After being held for a short time by the Order of the Temple, Cyprus was granted to Guy of Lusignan, the dispossessed king of Jerusalem. Latin (Frankish) rule over the island lasted from 1192 until 1489, by which time it had effectively become a Venetian protectorate. Cyprus was then a colony of Venice until its conquest by the Ottoman Turks in 1571.

Crusader Conquest and Latin Settlement

Cyprus had been detached from the Byzantine Empire in 1184 when Isaac Komnenos, a member of the imperial dynasty of the Komnenoi, seized power and had himself proclaimed emperor of the island. Although the pretext for King Richard’s conquest was Isaac’s ill treatment of his sister Berengaria when her ship arrived on Cyprus, the king realized the value of the island in supplying men, money, and provisions to the Frankish states of Outremer, which had been greatly reduced following the conquests of Saladin in 1187. Pope Innocent III likewise appreciated the island’s value in this regard, urging the military orders of the Temple and the Hospital to assist in the defense of Cyprus against a possible Byzantine invasion and rejecting the arguments of the Byzantine emperor Alexios III Angelos for the restoration of the island to Byzantine rule.

Richard initially sold the island to the Templars, but their attempt to impose new taxes on the Greeks led to a rebellion in Nicosia (mod. Lefkosia), which they suppressed bloodily. Unsure of their position, they returned the island to him, and he sold it to Guy of Lusignan as part of a general settlement between rival claimants to the throne of Jerusalem. In 1197 Guy’s brother and successor, Aimery, who had succeeded him in 1194, was formally crowned king of Cyprus by Bishop Conrad of Hildesheim, who was a representative of the pope and also the chancellor of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, to whom King Aimery owed fealty.

Prior to the Latin conquest Cyprus’s population had been mainly Greek. It also included Syrian Melkites, who shared the Greeks’ confessional allegiance to the Orthodox Church, as well as Maronites, Armenians, Jews, and some Latins. The Latins were mostly Italians: Venetians had settled on the island following the grant of commercial privileges to Venice on Crete and Cyprus by the Byzantine emperor John Komnenos in 1126, and Latin merchants resident in Limassol (mod. Lemesos) provided King Richard with intelligence concerning Isaac Komnenos after Richard landed there and captured the city.

Following the conquest and the establishment of the Lusignan dynasty, Pisan and Genoese merchants settled on Cyprus along with the Venetians, and they settled in all the main towns of the island, where they established communities headed by consuls or baillis (governors) and centered on loggias (lodgings for merchants), where disputes of a commercial nature were settled by the officers of their communes, although the Crown retained a monopoly on criminal justice.

Guy of Lusignan was well aware of the Greeks’ hostility to the Latins, and so he encouraged Latin nobles, knights, and burgesses, chiefly from Outremer, to settle on the island, granting them lands, property, and even dowries in accordance with their social station. This Latin or Frankish element was reinforced throughout the thirteenth century and especially between 1263 and 1291: with the conquest of the Frankish territories and cities on the mainland of Palestine and Syria by the Mamlûk sultans Baybars I and Qalāwūn, numerous Latin (as well as Syrian Christian) refugees came to settle on Cyprus. In military terms the Latin presence was strengthened by the Templars, the Hospitallers, and the Teutonic Knights, who acquired estates on the island. Probably in response to injunctions of Pope Innocent III to strengthen the island’s defenses, castles were constructed by the Templars at Gastria near Famagusta (mod. Ammochostos) and by the Hospitallers at Saranda Kolones behind the harbor of Paphos (mod. Pafos).

Succession to the Kingdom of Cypress, 1192-1498

Succession to the Kingdom of Cypress, 1192-1498

The Latin Kingdom under the Lusignan Dynasty (1192-1489)

The continuing arrival of Latin settlers in the early thirteenth century led to tensions among the Frankish nobles culminating in civil war in 1228-1232, when supporters of the powerful Ibelin family, who were relative newcomers to Cyprus, clashed with older established families under the leadership of Aimery Barlais. Barlais enjoyed the support of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, the formal suzerain of Cyprus. The death of King Hugh I (1218) and the minority of his son and successor, Henry I, meant that royal authority was effectively absent, and although the pro-Ibelin nobles who controlled the young king eventually won the war with Genoese help, the commercial concessions granted to Genoa subsequently led to tension between them and the crown. The king, heavily in debt as a result of payments for troops, was forced to sell or lease properties to the Latin Church in return for cash. It was during the reign of Henry I that Venetian properties on Cyprus were sequestrated for some unknown reason, although the Venetians and the Genoese continued to be the chief commercial powers throughout the period of Lusignan rule.

Cyprus was of considerable strategic value to the crusading movement as a place of assembly for crusading campaigns and as a source of men and supplies to the beleaguered Franks of Outremer. The Latin nobles of Cyprus and their forces took part in two major crusades: the Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) and the first crusade of King Louis IX of France (1248-1254). Together with the Franks ofOutremer they also took part in various other military campaigns against the Muslims throughout the thirteenth century, fighting at the battle of La Forbie (1244), in which the Christian forces were badly defeated by the Muslims; defending Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel) with a fleet in 1247; and sending forces to assist in the defense of Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) and other places in 1265, 1266, and 1271.

From 1268 to 1291 three kings of Cyprus were also kings of Jerusalem. The senior branch of the royal house of Jerusalem became extinct on the execution of Conradin of Staufen at the hands of Charles I of Anjou (1268), whereupon Hugh III of Cyprus became king of Jerusalem. Hugh’s rights to both Cyprus and Jerusalem were contested by rival claimants, Count Hugh of Brienne and Maria of Antioch, who arguably had a stronger legal title but who lacked Hugh’s capacity to deploy the military resources of Cyprus in the defense of Outremer. This he did to the best of his ability, although he was hampered by the opposition of the Cypriot nobles to military service on the mainland and by the intervention there of Charles of Anjou after Maria of Antioch had sold her claim to him in 1277. Hugh III was succeeded in both kingdoms by his sons John I and Henry II.

The Muslims’ realization of Cyprus’s usefulness in assisting the Franks of Outremer impelled them to organize two naval raids against Limassol: the first (1220-1221) caused the Latins great loss of life; in the second (1270) the Muslim fleet was wrecked on the shoals off Limassol and the survivors captured. Such assistance, however, did not stop the Mamlûk conquest of Frankish Palestine and Syria. In 1291 Acre was captured after a long siege despite the assistance provided by King Henry II, who went there in person with a large force of Cypriot knights and foot soldiers. The later Lusignan kings continued to use the title of kings of Jerusalem after the loss of Acre.

The refugees from Latin Syria who flooded into Cyprus after the fall of Acre, Tyre (mod. Soûr, Lebanon), and the remaining coastal towns, such as Tortosa (mod. Tartûs, Syria), suffered great hardship, and provision for them placed a considerable burden on the Crown, which imposed the testagium (head tax) to raise funds. The Latin Church of Cyprus had to cater to numerous refugee clerics, such as the patriarch of Jerusalem, the bishops of Beirut and Laodikeia, as well as monks and cathedral clergy from the places lost to the Muslims. Limassol now became the headquarters of the Orders of the Temple and the Hospital, which both developed fleets with which to conduct raids against Muslim Syria and Palestine. From 1299 to 1301 the two orders and the Cypriot Crown tried to coordinate military campaigns against the Mamlûks with the Mongols of Persia, but without success, and a Templar expedition to the island of Ruad (mod. Arwād, Syria) was a resounding failure, ending in 1302 with the death or capture of over 500 Templars when a powerful Muslim fleet besieged and retook the island. These failures were a contributory factor in the ultimately unsuccessful conspiracy organized in 1306 by Amaury, brother of King Henry II. Amaury had Templar and Genoese support, but although he managed to have himself made regent and exile the king to Cilician Armenia, he was murdered in 1310 and the king was restored with Hospitaller assistance.

It was around this time that the involvement of the military orders in Cypriot affairs was greatly reduced. The Order of the Temple was dissolved in 1312 after being subjected to trials at the instigation of the French monarchy in 1310-1311. Almost contemporaneously, the Hospitallers moved their headquarters to Rhodes (mod. Rodos, Greece) after their conquest of that island from the Byzantines in 1307-1308, while the Teutonic Order redeployed to the Baltic region after 1309. Thereafter the Hospitallers and the Teutonic Knights simply maintained estates on the island, although those of the Hospitallers, greatly augmented after they were given the confiscated Templar properties, were of considerable economic importance as a source of income and agricultural produce right up to 1570.

Cyprus under the Lusignan Dynasty

Cyprus under the Lusignan Dynasty

From 1344 to 1426 a series of events took place that permanently weakened the Lusignan royal house and the Latin nobility and also damaged the flourishing economy of Cyprus. In 1344 the papal embargo on direct trade with the Muslims was lifted, and Cyprus was increasingly bypassed by merchants in favor of other destinations such as Alexandria, Beirut, and Rhodes. The Black Death, which swept across Europe and the Mediterranean in 1348, carried off one-third of the population. The wars begun by King Peter I from 1359 onward against the Turks of Anatolia and the Mamlûks of Egypt and Syria, while resulting in notable successes, such as the sack of Alexandria in the crusade of 1365, were ruinously expensive and involved the increasing use of foreign mercenaries. This caused resentment and fear on the part of the Latin nobles, a party of whom murdered the king in 1369. His son Peter II was a minor when he came to the throne, and Genoa, angered in part by the sack of Alexandria, which had damaged its trade, invaded Cyprus in 1373. The ensuing war was ruinous for the kingdom, resulting in the destruction of a large section of the noble class, the loss of Famagusta to the Genoese (who kept the city until 1464), and the payment of a heavy annual war indemnity to Genoa.

To finance the indemnity from their now shrunken revenues, the kings of Cyprus encouraged raids against the Mamlûk-ruled mainland by Catalan, Rhodian, and Cypriot pirates. These eventually provoked a Mamlûk invasion of Cyprus in 1426, resulting in the defeat and capture of King Janus at the battle of Khirokitia. He was only freed following the payment of a huge ransom (paid in part by the Hospitallers) and the imposition of Mamlûk suzerainty on Cyprus together with an annual tribute, which now had to be financed alongside the annual indemnity paid to Genoa. The monarchs of Cyprus were no longer able to maintain an effective royal fleet, and in the mid-fifteenth century the kingdom was also subject to raids by Turkish pirates operating from the emirate of Karaman opposite the northern coast of Cyprus. Royal estates were mortgaged to an increasing extent to the Venetians and Hospitallers to raise cash to pay the Mamlûktribute and the Genoese indemnity. King John II’s inability to pay his debts led to tensions with both Venice, which in 1452 ordered its subjects to leave the island, and Genoa, which occupied the coastal town of Limassol in the same year.

With the death of King John II in 1458, civil war broke out. On one side were the supporters of his daughter Queen Charlotte, the legitimate heir to the throne, who had married Duke Louis of Savoy and enjoyed the support of the papacy and the Hospitallers; they were opposed by James (II), John’s illegitimate son by his Greek mistress, Maria of Patras. James made his way to Egypt, where he acknowledged Mamlûk suzerainty, and in late 1460 he invaded Cyprus with a Mamlûk force to augment his supporters, who included Catalans and Neapolitans. By 1464 James II had succeeded in making himself master of the island, capturing Famagusta from the Genoese and Kyrenia (mod. Keryneia) from the supporters of Queen Charlotte, who with Hospitaller help had held it under siege for four years.

Sometime after 1461, Genoa had lost control of Limassol. By the late fifteenth century the republic had declined as a maritime power, with a contracting share of international trade. In 1458 Genoa was annexed by France, and in 1463, after a brief spell of independence, it became part of the duchy of Milan. Venice was now the strongest Christian maritime power in the Mediterranean, and fear of Ottoman expansion impelled it to come to an understanding with James, who was firmly established on the throne by 1464. In 1468 James II married Catherine Cornaro (Corner), the daughter of a noble Venetian family with large estates in Episkopi near Limassol, but his death in 1473, followed by that of their son James III (1474), effectively opened the way for the imposition of what was in effect a Venetian protectorate. Catherine remained queen until 1489, when she abdicated under Venetian pressure, but although her rule was nominal it was remembered with affection by the people of Cyprus and especially those of Nicosia, who wept at her departure.

The Latin and Greek Churches

In 1196 a Latin Church hierarchy was established on the island in accordance with a bull of Pope Celestine III. It was headed by an archbishop at Nicosia, with three suffragan bishops at Limassol, Paphos, and Famagusta. The Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus had been weakened by the flight of most of the Greek nobles (who were mainly of Constan- tinopolitan origin) to Byzantium immediately after the Latin conquest, which deprived it of a fundamental source of patronage. The Latin Church, by contrast, was augmented by the arrival of Latin monastic and mendicant orders. The Benedictines, Praemonstratensians, Cistercians, and later the Carmelites took over monasteries from the Greeks or established new ones. The Franciscan and Dominican mendicants obtained houses in the towns, notably in Nicosia, the capital, and Famagusta, which became the chief commercial port of the island.

Venetian walls in the old town of Famagusta, northeastern Cyprus. (James Davis; Eye Ubiquitous/Corbis)

Venetian walls in the old town of Famagusta, northeastern Cyprus. (James Davis; Eye Ubiquitous/Corbis)

During the reign of Henry I, religious strife arose between the Latin and Greek churches as a result of the agreements of 1220 and 1223 concluded between representatives of the Latin nobles and the Latin secular church. These concerned the payment of tithes to the Latin Church by the nobles but also reduced the number of Greek bishoprics from fourteen to four, limited the number of Greeks able to become priests or monks, and subordinated the Greek Church to the Latin one. Some Greek clerics cooperated with the Latins, but others resisted, encouraged by the patriarch of Constantinople, himself in exile at Nicaea as a result of the Latin conquest of Constantinople in 1204. This resistance came to a head in 1231 with the martyrdom of thirteen Greek monks who were burnt at the stake in Nicosia for refusing to accept the validity of the Latin doctrine of unleavened bread.

The Greek clergy continued to resist subordination to the papacy and the Latin Church until 1260, when Archbishop Germanos and his remaining Greek suffragan bishops accepted the terms of the Bulla Cypria of Pope Alexander IV, which made them jurisdictionally subordinate to the pope and the Latin archbishop and bishops of Cyprus. Their acceptance provoked unrest in Nicosia in 1261, and disaffection continued into the fourteenth century. In 1312 and again in 1360 the Greeks of Nicosia and their bishops rioted against the policies of visiting papal legates. Yet apart from these incidents, the Greeks accepted (albeit with some resentment) the new arrangements, which remained in place until the Turkish conquest of 1570.

Economy and Society

The economic and social structure of Cyprus under Frankish rule shows a marked continuity with the Byzantine period, especially in the countryside. The estates of the Byzantine emperor, the former Greek archontes (magnates), and the Greek Orthodox Church were taken over by the Lusignan Crown, the Latin nobles, and the Latin Church, who employed officials (Fr. baillis, Lat. appaltores), who were often of Greek or Syrian origin, to administer these estates and ensure that the peasants discharged their feudal obligations. These included various labor services, such as working two days a week on the domains of their lords, and the payment of fief rents to the Latin land-owners, usually in kind and amounting to one-third of their annual produce. Unlike their counterparts in Frankish Greece, the Greek peasants did not pay tithes directly to the Latin Church, for the lords themselves paid these, as was the custom in the kingdom of Jerusalem. Besides the serfs, there was also a class of free peasants who had no labor obligations, were free to leave their lands, and paid their lords one-fourth to one- third of their annual income.

The loss of Outremer to the Mamlûks in 1291 impelled the popes to declare an embargo on direct trade (especially in strategic materials such as weapons, iron, and timber) between Western merchants and Muslim lands, and Cyprus benefited greatly from this. Western merchants came to Cyprus to sell textiles and other goods; there they bought silks, spices, and other luxury articles; Cypriot traders disregarded the embargo and brought such goods from Mamlûk territories to Cyprus to resell them at considerable profit to the merchants from the West. The Venetians and Genoese continued to be the most powerful of the trading nations frequenting Cyprus, but Catalans, Provençals, Anconitans, Pisans, Florentines, and Ragusans also traded with the island from the late thirteenth century onward. Besides luxury articles originating from the East, they purchased Cypriot agricultural products such as wheat, pulses, carobs, cotton, wine, and sugar as well as salt from the two salt lakes of Larnaca (mod. Larnaka) and Limassol, which was a royal monopoly.

Cyprus also became a destination for short-distance trade with the Venetian possessions of Crete and Negroponte, Hospitaller Rhodes, and the Genoese colonies of Chios and Pera. The Crown benefited greatly from such trade by way of increased revenues and customs dues, as did nobles and peasants through the demand for and sale of agricultural produce. By the early fourteenth century Famagusta, whose development had been fueled by the influx of refugees from Outremer, had become the chief port of the kingdom and a major emporium of the eastern Mediterranean along with Alexandria and Ayas (Lajazzo).

The prosperity of Cyprus at this time also enabled the kingdom to send assistance to the embattled kingdom of Cilicia, which was threatened by the Saljûqs of Rûm, the Mongols, and the Mamlûks,and to take part in the naval leagues organized from 1333 onward to combat Turkish piracy in the Aegean. Together with Venice, the papacy, and the Hospitallers of Rhodes, Cyprus contributed ships for this purpose, and following the capture of Smyrna (mod. Izmir, Turkey) from the Turks in 1342, Cyprus provided ships and funds for the garrison at Smyrna, which the Christians managed to hold until 1402.

Kings and Queens of Cyprus

Guy (lord of Cyprus)




Hugh I


Henry I


Hugh II


Hugh III (also of Jerusalem as

Hugh I) 1267-1284

John I (also of Jerusalem)


Henry II (also of Jerusalem)


Hugh IV


Peter I


Peter II


James I




John II




James II


James III


Catherine Cornaro


The Black Death of 1348, the wars of King Peter I against the Turks and Mamlûks, and the Genoese invasion of 1373 all weakened the Crown and nobles economically but brought some benefit to the non-Latin population. Many serfs were able to purchase the status of free peasants, and in the Venetian period (1473-1570) the latter greatly outnumbered the former. The administration of justice also exhibits continuity with the Byzantine period in that under the Lusignans it remained a Crown monopoly, for unlike their counterparts in Latin Greece, the Cypriot nobles did not have the right to administer high justice. The High Court of the nobles and the Court of Burgesses were modeled on those of the kingdom of Jerusalem, and from the 1230s onward the Assizes of Jerusalem were also applied in Cyprus. In addition, the Syrians had their own courts in Nicosia and Famagusta, while the Greeks retained their own ecclesiastical courts, from which it was possible, however, to lodge appeals to the Latin ecclesiastical courts and the papal Curia. Under the Venetians, the High Court was abolished and its functions taken over by magistrates dispatched from Venice, but the other courts continued to operate. The assizes of the Court of Burgesses are known in Greek versions from 1469 and 1512 and were also translated into Italian in 1531 (published in 1535).

By the fifteenth century Greeks and Syrians were entering the royal administration to an increasing extent. By this time all the officials at the royal secrète (the office responsible for tax collection) other than the bailli were Syrians or Greeks, and from the mid-fifteenth century onward this office, too, was held exclusively by Greeks or Syrians. In 1455 the nobleman James of Fleury complained, “The government of this kingdom has fallen entirely into the hands of Greeks and people of no consequence” [Raffaele di Tucci, “Il matrimonio fra Ludovico di Savoia e Carlotta di Cipro,” Bol- lettino storico-bibliografico subalpino 37 (1935), 87]. This opinion was shared by Pope Pius II, and Greeks purchased many of the fiefs sold by the Crown for cash after the war of 1373 with Genoa. Leontios Makhairas, a Greek whose family had close connections with the royal court, wrote the first chronicle of Cypriot history in popular (that is, demotic) Greek in the mid-fifteenth century. This work was continued by another chronicler, George Boustronios, in the early sixteenth century. These two chronicles, together with the two Greek versions of the assizes of the Court of Burgesses, represent a tradition of prose writing in popular Greek found in no other part of the Greek world at this time.

It is no accident that many of the Latin churches and abbeys still standing, such as the cathedrals of St. Sophia in Nicosia and St. Nicholas in Famagusta and the Praemon- stratensian abbey of Belapais near Kyrenia, not to mention the numerous Latin churches in Nicosia and Famagusta, were constructed or embellished in the first half of the thirteenth century, showing influences from the Gothic architecture of northern France, Italy, and elsewhere. Greek iconography, at times commissioned by Latin patrons, was itself influenced by the art of Outremer and subsequently by that of the Italian Renaissance, as well as by that of Byzantine Constantinople, while the fourteenth-century church of St. George of the Greeks in Famagusta was constructed in the Gothic style.

The court of King Hugh IV of Cyprus was open to Greek and Arab scholars as well as Latins; the Greek George Lap- ithes, for example, was described as a theologian fluent in both Classical Greek and Latin. Moreover, musical motets performed at the court of King Janus in the early fifteenth century included themes taken from Greek hagiography. A lively tradition of manuscript copying and illumination developed on Cyprus, continuing to the Venetian period, and under Venetian rule Cypriots of Latin, Greek, and Syrian origin went to study at the University of Padua, which was a Venetian possession. Some of them attained doctorates in law, medicine, and theology.

Cyprus as a Venetian Colony (1489-1571)

Following the enforced abdication of Queen Catherine in 1489, Cyprus became a Venetian colony. Venice was in a position to make use of over two centuries of experience gained in governing Greek lands, such as Crete, Euboea, the Ionian Islands, and the Cyclades. In keeping with its policies elsewhere, Venice sought to gain the allegiance and the cooperation of the local elites, and so from 1521 onward the urban assemblies formerly summoned at irregular intervals in Nicosia and Famagusta became regular town councils. Although they submitted demands to the Venetian Senate, these were not invariably satisfied. The Cypriot nobles cooperated with Venice, however, and among them were several Greek families, including the Podocataro, the Con- tostephano, the Sozomeno, and the Synclitico families.

Around 1535 Zegno Synclitico was probably the wealthiest individual in Cyprus. Mindful of the depopulation Cyprus had suffered on account of war and emigration, the Venetians encouraged settlement from Syria, the Peloponnese, Crete, and even Venice itself, so that by 1541 there was little land left for settlement. Bread riots in Nicosia marked the final decade of Venetian rule; the population, which may have risen from around 110,000 in 1490 to just under 200.000 by 1570, had grown faster than grain production. Measures were taken to combat a plague of locusts, although poverty continued to exist in both the towns and the countryside. The towns other than Nicosia and Famagusta were largely neglected, and the inhabitants of Limassol and later of Kyrenia lost their civic status as a result.

By 1522 the Ottomans had conquered Mamlûk Syria, Palestine, and Egypt as well as Hospitaller Rhodes, thereby virtually surrounding Cyprus, and the need to construct new fortifications capable of withstanding artillery bombardment became ever more pressing. Famagusta had acquired a new circuit of walls by 1544, and the castle at Kyrenia seems to have been refortified by this time. Other forts, such as those at Limassol, Paphos, and those along the northern coast, were not strengthened owing to lack of manpower, and only in 1567 did work begin on providing new walls for Nicosia. These were still unfinished when the Ottomans invaded Cyprus in July 1570, and the capital fell in September after a siege of five weeks. Kyrenia surrendered a few days later without resistance, but in Famagusta, Venetian and Cypriot forces under the command of Mar- cantonio Bragadino resisted the Turks heroically for nearly a year. They surrendered only in August 1571 on account of the lack of victuals and gunpowder. Mustafa Pasha, the commander of the Turkish forces, admitted that he had lost 80.000 men in the course of this hard-fought siege, and he had the unfortunate Bragadino flayed alive following the Venetian surrender. With the fall of Famagusta, Latin dominion over Cyprus ended, and the island became an Ottoman province.

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