The Venetian Period in Cyprus 

To understand the causes which led to the occupation of Cyprus by Venice, it is necessary to review briefly the history of that republic. At the head of the Adriatic, between the Alps and the sea, lies the rich plains of Lombardy, formed by the soil washed down by the rivers from the mountains. A strong current sets round the northern Adriatic coast from east to west. This current catches the silt brought down by the rivers and deposits it in long banks parallel to the shore. Between these sandbanks and the shore lie brackish lagoons and groups of muddy islands. Behind the Lido, or sandbank, on a group of islands in the middle of a lagoon, lies the city of Venice. 

The soil is an oozy mud which can only be built upon by driving piles from a foundation. There is no land for agriculture or for the rearing of cattle. The sole natural food supply is the fish from the lagoon and water stored from the rainfall. The hardy fisher folk who first lived on these islands were augmented by refugees driven from the mainland by the barbarian invasion of the fifth century AD Gradually, twelve independent townships grew up on the islands in the lagoon, and their growing prosperity, based on maritime skill and local trade, made them the object of attack from the mainland and led them to seek alliance with Eastern Roman Empire. The attempt to incorporate them in the kingdom of Italy in the eighth century and their stubborn defence welded the islanders into a homogenous state. In 810, a treaty between Charlemagne and Nikephorus recognised the Venetians as subjects of the Eastern Roman Empire, while preserving to them their trading rights on the mainland. 

The growing wealth of Venice in the next 200 years attracted the cupidity of the pirates of Dalmatia and forced her to arm her vessels in self-defence. In the eleventh century, when the crusades began, the Venetians had crushed the Dalmatians and had become supreme in the Adriatic. Venice now commanded the sea route to the Holy Land and could supply the transport required by the crusaders. From this she reaped large profits and further trading rights. After the Third Crusade, Venice had trading settlements in Tyre, Sidon, and other cities of the Levant. After the Fourth Crusade, she received more than half of the Eastern Roman Empire. Her fleets now commanded the Adriatic, the Aegean, and the Black Sea. She was established in the seaports of Syria and held the trade routes between Europe and the East. She was thus raised to the position of a European Power. For over a hundred years she fought with Genoa for the command of the sea, until finally in 1380 the Genoese fleet, while blockading Venice itself, was trapped in the lagoon. Genoa never recovered from the blow, and Venice became undisputed mistress of the Mediterranean trade. 

In the fifth century Venice expanded to the mainland in order to acquire a food-supplying area and also to gain a duty-free outlet to Europe for her merchandise. This led her into conflict with the European Powers who were jealous of her growing strength and, when in 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, Venice was left to fight the Turks single-handed. The acquisition of Cyprus marks the extreme limit of Venetian expansion in the Levant. From that date she began to lose her overseas possessions. The greatest blow to the prosperity of Venice came not from her enemies but from the rounding of the Cape by Diaz in 1486. The discovery of the Cape route to India diverted the stream of trade from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. The new route saved the breaking of bulk between India and Europe and avoided the dues levied by the rulers of Syria and Egypt. Trade passed into the hands of the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the English, and Venice lost her monopoly of trade with the East and the revenues which accrued thereby. 

  • From: Newman, P., (1940), "A Short History of Cyprus", Longmans, Green & Co., London.

Chronological History