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Cyprus in antiquity

Cyprus, the third largest island in the Mediterranean, is tucked into its eastern corner at the crossroads of ancient civilisations. Although subject to widespread influence, the island's own culture and civilization maintained its originality throughout antiquity. Valuable natural resources made the island a prime asset, and consequently it was subject to many different changes of power.

The island was first settled around 8,800 BC from the Near East. Short-lived populations of hunter-gatherers evidently lingered on until the arrival of settlers in larger numbers from the same area some time before 7000 BC. The Late Bronze Age (about 1650-1050 BC) was a time of great prosperity when coastal emporia (trading stations) flourished, and maintained wide-ranging commercial connections with the Near East, Egypt and the Greek world.

Immigrants from the Greek world reached Cyprus on a large scale from about 1100 BC and Phoenicians from the area of modern Lebanon arrived some two centuries later. The island, internally organised into city kingdoms, was subject to the foreign power of Assyria (modern Iraq) from 707 BC to the fall of her capital, Nineveh, in 612 BC. Cyprus was closely related to, if not actually ruled by, Egypt from about 570 BC until the Persians took control in the island from 526/5 BC.

In succeeding years Cyprus was poised between Greece and Persia, but in 333 BC the Cypriot kings voluntarily submitted to Alexander the Great, King of Macedon and leader of the Greeks. Following the death of Alexander, Cyprus was annexed by Ptolemy I, one of Alexander's generals, and became part of the large state of Egypt in 294 BC. The city kingdoms finally ceased to exist and the island mostly remained in Ptolemaic hands for the next 250 years. The Ptolemies were Macedonian Greeks and so Cyprus became artistically orientated to the Hellenistic Greek world. The dynasty did not interfere with local religious practices, though they promoted Greek cults and introduced the worship of the ruling Ptolemy, a dynastic cult that became of prime importance.

Rome first annexed Cyprus in 58 BC. In 30 BC the island again became a Roman province and generally remained loyal. As part of the Roman East, the culture was basically Greek, but certain local elements remained unaffected.

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