The Byzantine Period (330 - 1191AD)

LEARN Tuesday, 12 May, 2015

The Byzantine Period (330 - 1191) AD

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 but on a smaller scale and renamed Constantia after the name of 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 marbles.

In 330 AD Constantine, the Great transferred the capital of the Roman Empire to the ancient city of Byzantium which he adorned with magnificent civic buildings and a defensive wall. The newly founded city was named Constantinoupolis (Constantinople) after him although he himself named it New Rome. The citizens used to call it in Greek in an abbreviated form, as "Polis" so when visiting it they were saying. 'Is tin Poli' (to the city) a name that survives in the Turkish name 'Istanbul'. The truly Byzantine period began in 395 AD when the Roman Empire was divided in two: the eastern part called Byzantium and the western part which came to an end in 476 AD. Naturally, Cyprus became part of the eastern part of the Empire and it remained so for almost nine centuries.

The main event in Cyprus in comparison to older times was the spreading of the Christian faith that created a new attitude towards life since its morality was different than that of paganism.

The political history of the island is one of tranquillity until 649 AD when we have the first Arab invasion. Until then people were engaged very much in matters of faith, especially fighting the effort of the Patriarch of Antioch to put the Church of Cyprus under his control. They were finally successful when Archbishop Anthemius guided by a dream discovered the tomb of St. Barnabas with the Saint's body Iying in a coffin and on his chest a copy of the Gospel by St Matthew in Barnabas' own writing. Having the relics with him, Anthemius dashed to Constantinople and presented them to emperor Zeno in 488 AD. The latter was very much impressed and he not only confirmed the independence of the Church of Cyprus but he also gave to the Archbishop in perpetuity three privileges that are as much alive today as they were then, namely to carry a sceptre instead of a pastoral staff, to sign with red ink and to wear a purple cloak during services.

In 649 AD Arabs sailed with a big armada under the leadership of Muawiya against Cyprus. They conquered and sacked the capital Salamis - Constantia after a brief siege and pillaged the rest of the island. In the course of this expedition the maternal aunt 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 much later in 1816 the 'Hala Sultan Tekke' was built there by the Turks.

In 654 AD the second Arab invasion took place that devastated the island again. This time, however, a garrison of 12,000 men was left in Cyprus, an indication of their intentions to incorporate it into the Moslem world. In 677 AD the Arabs aimed straight at the heart of the Byzantine empire, Constantinople itself. They attacked with a huge fleet but they suffered such a defeat that they had to sign a treaty and pay an indemnity to the Emperor. In 683 AD the Moslem garrison was withdrawn and in 688 AD the island of Cyprus was declared neutral, with no garrisons stationed in it, the collected taxes being divided among the Arabs and the Emperor.

The island was finally liberated by Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus Phokas in 965 AD.

In 1191 AD King Richard of England was on his way to the Holy Land participating in the Third Crusade. Some of his ships were wrecked on the coast and the ship carrying his sister Joanna, Queen of Sicily, and his betrothed Berengaria of Navarre, anchored off Limassol. When King Richard arrived, he regarded the Cypriots' behaviour as insulting towards the women and captured the island, starting a new phase, and not a happy one of Cyprus' history.