Writing a brief history of Cyprus is challenging, if only because there's so much of it. When writing about Cyprus in The Road to Oxiana, Robert Byron said:
History in this island is almost too profuse. It gives one a sort of mental indigestion.
This was written back in 1937, before the shit really hit the fan, so I hope this short history doesn't prove too indigestible, or too brief.
8000 BC – 2300 BC
Ancient settlements from this period have been found in Choiokoitia and Sotira, where copper production develops and ceramics are produced.
2300 BC – 1050 BC
This period is characterised by trade with Egypt and Syria, the introduction of a Cypro-Minoan script (still not deciphered), and the first fortifications in places like Kition in modern-day Larnaka.
1050 BC – 750 BC
This is a bit of a dark age, with Cyprus being cut off from the rest of the world for a couple of centuries. Also known as the Geometric Age after the designs on contemporary pottery.
750 BC – 475 BC
Apart from a few decades of Assyrian rule, Cyprus flourishes as an independent state, the last time Cyprus is both united and independent until the 20th century.
475 BC – 325 BC
Cyprus becomes a Persian naval base, and Cyprus gets involved in the struggle between Persia and Greece, which will characterise the island's tug-of-war position for the rest of its history.
325 BC – 294 BC
Cyprus becomes a province of Greece after siding with Alexander the Great against the Persians.
294 BC – 58 BC
After Alexander's death, Cyprus is witness to a brief civil war in which Ptolemy I of Egypt prevails. Egyptian rule is relatively peaceful and prosperous.
58 BC – 395 AD
In 58 BC Cyprus becomes a province of the Roman Empire, during which time the mosaics of Pafos are built, and Christianity comes to the island.
Early Byzantine Period
395 – 647
Ruled from Constantinople as part of the Empire's Byzantium area, many Christian basilicas are built after a number of earthquakes decimate the island's Roman cities.
648 – 963
Under the Arab-Byzantine treaty, the island accepts Muslims and remains demilitarised. However, Arab rule is based on raping and pillaging the island, and during this time many religions icons are hidden in caves to avoid not only the Arabs, but also the iconoclasts, who believe in the destruction of all religions iconography.
Middle Byzantine Period
963 – 1184
Byzantine Emperor Nikiphorous II Phokas drives the Muslims out of Cyprus, leading to two centuries of relative calm and prosperity.
1184 – 1192
In 1184 the greedy and cruel Isaac Komnenos seizes power and breaks from Constantinople, but in 1191 Richard the Lionheart takes Cyprus after his sister and fiancée are nearly taken hostage there. After plundering the island, Richard sells the island to the Knights Templar and continues crusading, and they then sell it to a minor French noble and crusader, Guy de Lusignan.
1192 – 1489
Descendants of Lusignan rule the island and marry into European royal families, signalling a decadent ruling class while the Greek Orthodox population bides its time. A war with Genoa in 1373 seriously weakens the Lusignans' position, and when King Kames II marries a Venetian royal in 1472 and then dies, it paves the way for the Venetians to force an abdication of the last Lusignan.
1489 – 1571
Byzantine painting flourishes under the Venetian Republic, but Venetian rule is seen as even more oppressive than the Lusignans, and in 1562 a popular uprising helped weakens the Venetians. Egypt falls to the Ottoman Empire in 1517, surrounding Cyprus on three sides with Turkish rule, and when the inevitable Ottoman invasion comes in 1570, Cyprus only holds out for a few months.
1571 – 1878
Ottoman rule tolerates both Muslim and Christian beliefs, but Cyprus becomes one of the worst ruled and most neglected parts of the Ottoman Empire. The people suffer under huge taxes, and regular rebellions ensue. In 1878 the Anglo-Turkish Convention is signed, in which Turkey hands over administrative and occupation rights on Cyprus to the British, in return for the British helping to stop the Russian advance on Istanbul the year before.
1878 – 1960
The Cypriots hope that the British will do the same with Cyprus as they did with the Ionian islands – hand them over to Greece, in other words – but instead the British formally annexe Cyprus in 1914, and alongside a reasonable governmental system, they impose crippling taxes on the population, partly due to the wording of the Anglo-Turkish Convention, which precludes Britain from spending too much on Cypriot development. In the 1930s, calls for enosis (union with Greece) reach fever pitch, resulting in the first of many civil disturbances. After World War II an offer from the British for limited self-rule is rejected by supporters of enosis, and by 1950 Archbishop Makarios III calls a referendum that shows 96 per cent of Greek Cypriots support enosis; however the Turkish minority (18 per cent of the population) are strongly opposed to union with Greece, and combined with a little 'divide and conquer' politics by the British, this sets the scene for arguments between Britain, Greece and Turkey on the issue. In 1954 EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) is formed by Makarios and General George Grivas, and starts a campaign to oust the British and bring about enosis. The British arrest and deport Makarios, but the British finally accept the concept of independence 'in principle' and he returns in 1957. In 1958 the TMT (Turkish Resistance Organisation) is founded to counter EOKA activity, and a bomb in outside the Turkish press office in Nicosia (later shown to have been planted by the TMT) sparks off Cyprus's first intercommunal riots. After the riots are quelled and EOKA and TMT sign a truce, the British finally hand over control of the island on , apart from three sovereign bases, which remain British. Archbishop Makarios is installed as the first President, and as part of the constitution Britain, Turkey and Greece are appointed as guarantors of peace in independent Cyprus, and Grivas leaves for Greece in disgust at Makarios' sell-out of the enosis cause.
1960 – 1964
Peaceful independence proves impossible under the constitution drawn up as part of the independence process, and Makarios' proposal of thirteen amendments, which remove the power accorded by the constitution to the minority Turkish Cypriots, is met with disdain from Turkey. On , shots are exchanged between Greek-Cypriot police and a Turkish-Cypriot motorist, and within hours EOKA and TMT are back in action. Chaos strikes the capital Nicosia, and a UK-brokered cease-fire on Christmas Day brings the Green Line into being. The UN is brought in to maintain the peace.
1964 – 1974
Although this period is relatively stable, the Turkish-Cypriots maintain their own self-contained areas of the island, preferring to live in enclaves that are separated from the Greek-Cypriot majority, the division in Nicosia being a prime example. In 1971 Grivas slips back into Cyprus and forms EOKA-B with support from Greece's military junta, but he dies in while still in hiding. Makarios writes to the Greek junta asking them to remove their EOKA-B troops, but in response the junta authorises the overthrow of Makarios, installing their own puppet President, Nikos Sampson. This gives Turkey an excuse to invade the island, in their role as guarantor of peace, and Cyprus becomes the battlefield for EOKA-B and Greek forces on one side, and the Turkish army on the other. The whole affair topples the Greek junta from power, and at the UN-brokered cease-fire on the island remains split between Turkey in the north and Cyprus in the south. Makarios is reinstalled as President, and the blueprint for the current situation in Cyprus is set.
A Split Country
Despite periodic pressure from the UN, Cyprus remains split in two. The south experiences a massive boom in tourism, while the north fares less well. Pressure to unify before joining the EU brings about unification demonstrations in Nicosia in 2003, but nobody really knows what will happen.