Cyprus, an island in the Eastern Mediterranean, at the cross-roads of three continents - Europe, Asia and Africa - has one of the oldest histories of the world, dating back 9000 years. Its strategic position, its wealth in forests and mineral deposits, as well as its skilled craftsmen, made it the prized possession of the powers of the day. Cultural influences came from all directions - all major regional civilisations left their mark on the island, contributing to the development of a very rich and diverse cultural heritage.
The Stone Age
The first signs of human life on the island date back to c. 8500 BC during the Palaeolithic period. Evidence of human activity was found in cave dwellings near Liopetri, though it is not known whether they were just hunting parties passing through or permanent settlers.
The first undisputed settlements are believed to have been established towards the end of the 8th millennium BC. Vestiges of such early communities are found all over the island, such as at Khirokitia, Kalavasos-Tenta, Apostolos Andreas - Kastros, Phrenaros, Petra tou Limniti.
Neolithic Cypriots built circular houses with small undressed stones for the lower structures and sun-dried mudbricks and clay for the middle and superstructure. The Khirokitia neolithic settlement in Larnaca district stands out as a striking example of prehistoric architecture.
The Bronze/ Copper Age
Large copper deposits brought fame and wealth to the island and may have even given it its name. It has been documented that during the bronze age Cyprus had intense commercial relations with the main commercial and cultural centres of that time. During this period metallurgy and pottery flourished while close relations developed, particularly with Crete, which are also expressed in the Cypro-Minoan script which appeared in Cyprus around 1500 BC.
Of special significance for the future of Cyprus was its colonisation around 1200 BC by Mycenaean and Achaean Greeks, a migration process that lasted for more than a century. They brought with them to the island the Hellenic language, culture and religion. Legend has it that the first Hellenes who settled in Cyprus were heroes of the Trojan war. The arrival of the Achaeans greatly influenced town planning, architecture, and pottery. Since then Cyprus has remained predominantly Greek in culture, language and population despite influences resulting from successive occupations.
More and more people from the Greek world came to live in Cyprus. They built city along the lines of the Greek ones. There were about eleven city kingdoms in all: Kourion, Paphos, Soloi, Marion, Lapithos, Salamis, Kition, Kyrenia, Amathus, and Idalion. Although Cyprus was conquered by other peoples, these city kingdoms mostly ruled themselves, paying taxes to their conquerors. The island was conquered in succession by the Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Persians (800-332 BC).
The Classical Period
For more than a century, Cyprus was caught in the middle of the power struggle between Greece and Persia. In the 6th century BC Persia became the dominant power and the kings of Cyprus, while being allowed to retain their autonomy, were obliged to pay tribute to the Persian King and place their military forces at his disposal. Persia's domination, however, was not maintained easily and there were several attempts to overthrow the Persian yoke, the most significant being the Ionian revolt and an attempt by King Evagoras I of Salamis to unite all of Cyprus' city-kingdoms under him. attempts failed.
The Hellenistic Period
Cyprus stayed in Persian hands until Alexander the Great defeated the Persian Empire when the island became part of his huge Empire. Upon Alexander's death Cyprus fell to one of his generals, Ptolemy I, the ruler of Egypt. From then on Cyprus, under the Ptolemies, was an integral part of the Hellenistic World until its integration with the Roman Empire in 30 BC.