Cyprus and Genoa: Origins of the War of 1373-1374
Edbury, Peter.   "Cyprus and Genoa: The Origin of the War 1373-1374."   In his Kingdoms of the Crusaders.  Ashgate, 1999, Section XIV
The author of the article is Peter W. Edbury and it is contained in his book  The Kingdoms of the Crusaders From Jerusalem To Cyprus.  The book comprises of a collection of articles that discuss various aspects of this period.  The article in question is approximately 17 pages long.  In focusing on the two countries of Cyprus and Genoa, Edbury draws upon numerous sources to explain what lead to the War of 1373-1374. 

Edbury divides his article into three major areas that explain the crux of his argument.  These areas represent the various aspects of the relationship between Cyprus and Genoa.  In putting forth his ideas Edbury brings each of these major sections through the same pattern.  They all begin early in the relationship between these two countries and proceeds along a predetermined path which concludes just prior to 1373.  Edbury begins with a brief introduction that describes what the War means to the history of Cyprus and how he describes it as being a watershed in the countries history and resulted in its ultimate destruction.  Edbury mentions right away that the immediate causes of the War 1373-1373 were 'the desire of Genoese to exact reparations from an obdurate Cypriot government and their alleged concern to avenge the murder of the previous King Peter I' (Section XIV, pg.110).  He then goes on to discuss why the War of 1373-1374 took place and could not be avoided. 

The three main areas that Edbury proceeds along in his article are those of: the actual relations between Cyprus and Genoa a century prior to 1373 and how these relations changed; the economic and commercial importance of the Eastern Mediterranean  and its importance to Cyprus; finally the legalities of Cyprus and their relations with the West and the Genoese on the Island itself.  He concludes his article revealing that the war took place due to the policy's and relationship of both parties and that Cyprus and Genoa should shoulder the blame. 

Edbury begins his expedition into the history of Cypriot and Genoese affairs 100 years prior to the conflict that would change Cyprus forever.  He states that Cypriot and Genoese relations were not always antagonistic rather they were at one time on good terms.  This was around 1218 and these 'warm' feelings lasted until about 1258.  From 1258 onward Cypriot and Genoese relations began a steady decline that culminated in 1373.  In 1256 Genoa and the Venetians were engaged in the War of St. Sabas.  During this conflict Cyprus in 1258 choose to quietly support the Venetians, though as Edbury points this perhaps more moral support to a degree and did not result in any military support.  With this action Cyprus goes against Genoa and it is this that marks the decline of relations between the two countries.  Edbury points out that 'if the War of St. Sabas marks the beginning of strained relations between Cyprus and Genoa, it also marks the beginning tendency which lasted throughout the next century for successive rulers of Cyprus to show favour to Genoa's rivals.' (Section XIV, pg.111)  These rivals consisted primarily the Venetians.  Edbury describes that Cyprus continually leaned toward the Venetians versus Genoa, and he provides ample evidence of this in that the Genoese and the Venetians were involved in two other conflicts: the War of Curzola 1294-1299 and the Straights War 1350-1355.  In both these instances Cyprus favoured the Venetians.  Edbury sees the period of 1290-1360 Cyprus clearly favouring the Venetians over Genoa which only further heightened the antagonistic relationship between Cyprus and Genoa. 

The economic and commercial importance of the Eastern Mediterranean trade in particular as well as Western Mediterranean trade were of strict importance to Cyprus.  The period from about the late thirteenth century to the late fourteenth century saw Cyprus with its port of Famagusta enjoying considerable prosperity.  This economic prosperity was due to numerous factors that Edbury goes into depth about.  This prosperity was due to in part that Cyprus lay in the path of the trade routes of the period and that with the loss of the Crusader States Cyprus increasingly became an important link in the trade with the Levant.  Cyprus also used its navy to police the seas in conjunction with a papal ban that prevented Christian trade with Muslims, they hoped to prevent trade with Syria thereby forcing people to trade with them.  This however, as is fairly obvious, led to conflicts with not only Genoa but with Western Europe who had their ships seized by the Cypriot navy.  Edbury points out that this economic policy was '. . .an important reason for the Genoese hostility at the early years of the fourteenth century.' (Section XIV, pg. 117)   The situation for Cyprus changed in the mid- 1300s as the trade routes slowly shifted due to the steady decline of the papal ban.  This shift put Cyprus out in the cold of Eastern Mediterranean trade.  Economically with Cyprus working to maximise its profit and Genoa wanting the something relations between these two countries declined further, especially in face of Cypriot actions between 1291-1370 on trying to be at the centre of Eastern Mediterranean trade.  These actions were partly shaped by the papal ban instituted by the papacy. 

The final factor that Edbury points to as a cause of the antagonistic relationship between Cyprus and Genoa is within the arena of privileges.  By privileges Edbury means special rights that the Cyprus government offered to individuals in attempts to attract trade to Cyprus in times of economic turmoil.  The problem with this was that when economic turmoil gave way to economic prosperity these privileges were no longer seen as necessary.  Consequently and invariably disagreements arose over the legalities of these privileges.  Genoese arguments in these areas are based, Edbury says, within the agreement of 1232 granted to them by Henry I.  'The 1232 grant gave four things: jurisdiction over Genoese nationals to be exercised by officials from Genoa; freedom to trade and freedom from commercial imposts; ownership of certain properties in the island and the obligation of the kings to defend Genoese subjects and their possessions on land and sea.' (Section XIV, pg.121)  The above mentioned grant and its clauses were open to constant dispute further exacerbating the relations between Cyprus and Genoa.  Part of the problem he defines with the privileges was who were under Genoese jurisdiction and who was not. 

Edbury sums up his discussion in three ways.  First, he makes it known that the article takes a pro Cypriot view and therefore the turmoil's of Genoa and its interests were not included.  Secondly, '. . . that if the relations between Cyprus and Genoa were bad, this was definitely not simply the results of an aggressive, unscrupulous maritime power preying on and exploiting a passive and largely defenceless island.  That there were acts of piracy and provocative behaviour by individual Genoese cannot be denied, but against such acts must be set the willingness of successive kings of Cyprus to take individual Genoese into their service and on occasion reward them with high offices.' (Section XIV, pg. 125)  Thirdly, 'the Genoese exasperation with a kingdom which had done so much to thwart its interests over the years and which was weakened by the effects of a costly war, from which it had little to show, and by its own internal political wrangles, came to ahead.' (Section XIV, pg.126)  In other words then Edbury in his article brings to light that prior to that one act that sent Cyprus and Genoa into battle in 1373, there was the compounding element of a century of rising tensions and an non-conciliatory manner between Genoa and Cyprus.

  • By: Paul Hand, October 11, 2000

Chronological History