Cyprus and the Roman Empire

2022-05-13 13:15:50

Cyprus has seen many invaders and rulers come and go over the years including the Roman empire.

 Before the arrival of Rome the Island was under the control of Egypt around the time of Queen Cleopatra. Much bargaining was done between her, Mark Antony and Caesar himself as she attempted to hold onto what was left of her empire. In fact Cyprus was temporarily passed over to Cleopatra first by Julius Caesar and then later by Mark Antony only to revert to Roman control in 30 BC as a senatorial province. 

The events leading up to this time have been well documented and most readers will be aware of some of what went on between this passionate power crazed love triangle. It looked like the Romans where here to stay but for them at least the saying all good things come to an end was eventually to ring true. Empires rise only to fall so the Romans were not destined to remain in Cyprus for ever and although they left a lasting legacy on the Island it is Greek culture that has survived the test of time.

Under Roman rule Cyprus remained in peace or pax romana as it was known for over three hundred years until 115 AD. At this time the Jews inspired by a belief that the coming of their Messiah was imminent started a revolt against Rome on the Island. They were led by a man called Atermion a Jew who had taken a Greek name as was the custom at the time. There were hardly any Roman troops stationed in Cyprus at this time which explains why the revolt grew so quickly. The Roman emporer Trajan dispatched one of his generals to the Island and the rebellion was quelled. Historians say that 24 ,000 Jews were massacred on the Island by this roman army but there is a likelyhood that the actual numbers were significantly less. Following the revolt a decree was issued that Rome would forbid any Jew to ever set foot in Cyprus ever again even if shipwrecked.

Many people will be aware that Rome was in fact one of the first empires to accept Christianity and this too has its roots in Cyprus. Round about 45 AD the Apostle Paul accompanied by Barnabas and Saint Mark set off on his first missionary journey to spread the Gospel. They arrived first at Salamis which is now in the occupied North of the Island before traveling to Paphos. It was here that Paul was bound to a pillar and received 39 lashes for preaching the gospel to the Greeks. Visitors to Paphos can see this pillar next to the Church on Apostolou Pavlou Avenue (St Pauls Avenue) near the church of Saint Kiriaki. 

Whilst preaching in Cyprus the Apostles were obstructed by a local Magician known as Bar Jesus and Paul sent him temporarily blind in Gods name. The then Governor of Cyprus Sergius Paulus was so amazed by all this that he converted to Christianity and so Cyprus became the first Christian state in the world. Saint Lukes Gospel vividly describes in great detail Pauls journey into Cyprus.

Evidence of the Roman occupation of Cyprus can be found all over the Island and there are numerous guided tours available too. Paphos is a great place for the start of any cultural expedition because there is lots to see all in one place. A short walk from Paphos harbor itself is a beautifuly restored roman ampitheatre where you can listen to concerts and watch dramas throughout the summer months. Close by are the excavated houses of several Roman nobles including the famous house of Dionysus with its fabulous mosaic tiled floors. 

The mosaics are made from thousands of tiny cubes of stone and marble into intricate images. They are in remarkably good condition despite being around two thousand years old. With sites dotted all over the Island including the ancient City of Salamis in Northern Cyprus you should never be very far from seeing some evidence.