Cyprus Under Rome

Rome, though situated far away on the River Tiber in central Italy. was an increasing power in the eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere. By 190 BC it was the dominant sea power. It was as a placatory gesture to this expanding power that Roman arbitration was sought by the quarrelling sons of Ptolemy V. They appealed to Rome to settle their differences. Even so, there was a prolonged period, some fifty years long, of changing fortunes, kings and alliances. Eventually the squabbling had incurred the displeasure of Rome, the general Marcus Portius Cato was dispatched to Cyprus. He formally annexed the island in the name of the Republic in 58 BC and thereupon became its first Roman governor.

Cato was a stalwart soldier, an honest administrator and a supporter of the Senate of Rome. His political timing was bad. At exactly that period the Senate’s power was lapsing into the hands of the First Triumverate, a group comprised of the great and victorius Roman generals Caesar and Pompey, and Crassus the powerful and wealthy senator.

Cato spent two years establishing Roman law and order in Cyprus. When later, Caesar became virtual dictator, Cato took his own life rather than tolerate the loss of the republican, senatorial regime. The next governor of Cyprus was Marcus Cicero, son of the famous politician and orator (29 BC).

Briefly at this time Cyprus returned to Ptolemaic rule. However, after Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC, the new Roman Triumvirate (Marc Antony, Lepidus and Caesar’s great-nephew, Octavian), seized power then quickly quarrelled amongst themselves. When Octavian, soon to be re-titled ‘Augustus Caesar,’ vanquished Antony and Cleopatra in the naval battle of Actium (31 BC) fought off the western coast of Greece near modern Corfu, Cyprus came back under Roman rule.

From the earliest part of the Roman occupation, starting in 27 BC, Cyprus was an Imperial Province with a military governor but under the personal supervision of the Emperor. After several years of peace however, and as was customary in such circumstances, in 22 BC it gained the status of a Senatorial Province and passed from military rule to being administered under a high-ranking Proconsul.

Shortly, however, a small child born in the not-so-distant city of Bethlehem in the Roman province of Judea, was to cause sweeping changes not only to the province and to Cyprus but to Rome itself. The world would never be the same again.

Meanwhile, Roman government in Cyprus was centred on Paphos and from there the now prosperous island’s affairs were efficiently controlled. Public works of all kinds, roads, bridges, harbours, aqueducts and temples were constructed and there began a long interval of thriving expansion and a prolonged period of stability under Roman rule that was to last until 330 AD.

Extract taken from ‘Brief History of Cyprus in Ten Chapters,’ by Dr Dick Richards