Jews in Larnaca and in Cyprus

Евреи в Ларнаке и на Кипре
23 June 2021 DOM LiVE
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Today we will start talking with you about the Jewish population of Larnaca and their multi-thousand-year history.

But, wait! Where and when did the inhabitants of the Israeli land and their descendants appear on our island at all? Why Larnaca, and not Limassol or Nicosia?

Part One: Jews and the First Cyprus Business Center

To understand what connects the island of Aphrodite with the Promised Land, it is enough to open the cards. The distance from Cape Cavo Greco in Cyprus to the Israeli commune of Rosh Hashanah near the buffer zone UN-2000 is only 230 kilometers.

Image source: un.com

What is 230 kilometers?

This is three times closer than the distance from Cape Akamas in Cyprus to Athens and Mainland Greece. Only Turkey, Syria and Lebanon are closer to Cyprus. And only Arabic-speaking countries are closer to Israel, in turn, than Cyprus, and even then not all.

Well, the reason why the inhabitants of Israel ended up in Cyprus is clear — the countries are close to each other, so their inhabitants could easily move to each other. And when did this first happen?

To talk about the first Jews in Cyprus and Larnaca, you need to remember the northern relatives of the Israeli people - the Phoenicians. Trading commerce throughout the Mediterranean in ancient times, the Phoenicians set their eyes on the copper-rich island and founded their first representative offices here.

A reconstructed vessel of the ancient Phoenicians. Source: SW

Soon (and it was in the distant VIII century BC) the Phoenicians found out that the most promising city on the island isKition, and seized power in it. The city was rebuilt as the financial and political center of Semitic Cyprus.

Merchant ships on the wall of the Greek-Phoenician temple in Kition

Enterprising invaders invested in the investment of the city, literally "spent a lot of money" - they created a kind of business quarter, built a large temple complex of the goddess Ishtar on the site of an old temple from the Bronze Age and even laid the first sewage system on the island, which descendants could not surpass or at least repeat until the middle of the XX century.

Remains of the Greek-Phoenician temple complex of Kition

Phoenician sewer in Kition

Five hundred years in Kition spoke Phoenician, wrote on Phoenician letter from which it happened and the alphabet of the Jews, and the alphabet of the Greeks who worshipped the Semitic gods and goddesses (in contrast to the majority of the people of Israel, Phoenicians were polytheists), and the Kition was number one for real estate investment on the island and one of the economic center of the ancient world.

And yes, Kition and Larnaca are the same city.

At that time, the center of Kition-Larnaca was located behind the modern port. First of all, these are the districts of Bambula and Kafari. Source: French Archaeological Mission of Kition

In those distant times, Jews settled in Kition-Larnaca for the first time. However, we know practically nothing about the Jews in Larnaca at that time for one simple reason - having arrived in Cyprus, they quickly mixed with their fraternal Phoenician population, which then represented the financial and political elite of the city. The language of the Phoenicians and Jews was very close and relatively mutual (like, say, the village Cypriot and Attic dialects of Modern Greek), so the Jews quickly became Phoenician Cypriots.

Source: French Archaeological Mission of Kition

However, we have some information about the first Jews of our city — a couple of tombstone inscriptions in the Phoenician language, on which we clearly see Jewish names.

So, our first documented Jews of Larnaca and all of Cyprus were called Haggai and Asafyana.


Numerous Phoenician inscriptions of Kition-Larnaca. Source: French Archaeological Mission of Kition

Part Two: The Golden Age of Jews in Cyprus

However, centuries passed, epochs changed. The financial power of the Phoenicians was undermined by the campaigns of Alexander the Great. After the Middle Eastern campaigns of the Greek-Macedonian forces, the inhabitants of Kition-Larnaca recognized the Greek-speaking rulers as their kings, the Phoenician language began to be replaced by Greek, and the ancient Phoenician culture began to fade.

Конная статуя Александра Великого в Пафосе

The statue of Alexander the Great in Paphos.

The number of Phoenicians on the island began to fall steadily, but the Jews did not lose their identity and remained as a nation both in Israel and on the island of Cyprus.

File:Second Temple.jpg

A model of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, built by the Roman administration. Source: Wikimedia / Ariely

Meanwhile, the destinies of Israel and Cyprus began to intertwine.

First they entered the zone of interests of the heirs of Alexander the Great, and then they submitted to the might of Rome. At the same time, the number of Jews on the island and in our city began to grow exponentially. Palestine and Aphrodite Island became part of a single economic and political space, so Jews could easily move to the island and engage in economic and commercial activities here.

Photo: Pinterest

However, the center of Jewry was actually moved from Kition-Larnaca to Salamis, near modern Famagusta.

Many more Jews lived in Paphos (present-day Kuklia). But why did the Jewish Cypriots prefer Larnaca to other cities of the island?

The golden age of our city is irrevocably gone. The time whenKition was the main settlement of the island in financial and commercial terms, ended. In its place came Paphos and Salamis, traditional Greek-speaking cities. Soon Jews began to move there as well.

Photo source: Wikimedia / Evil berry and Zamonin

Back in the days of the Hellenistic kings, Jews throughout the ancient world became allies of Rome and received a "protective status" from Roman military leaders. What for?

Jews were living everywhere by that time, and the Roman army had a chance to declare war on anyone who would conflict with Jews. The main thing is that the war is in their interests. And the Jews, in turn, received an unusual protected status. Let it be purely nominal, no one wanted to cross the road of Roman soldiers.

Decimation - The Cruelest Punishment in the Roman Army | History of  Yesterday

Source: historyanswers.co.uk

Thanks to the Jews, Christianity appeared in Larnaca, as well as in all of Cyprus.

Do not forget that the first followers of Christ (like Christ himself) were residents of the land of Israel. Let us note here the name of another Cypriot Jew, Saint Barnabas, who, together with the Apostle Paul, arrived on the island to preach a new religion. It is now impossible to say exactly where Barnabas was from Cyprus. But, early Christian sources definitely indicate that he was born (and died) on our island.

Saint Barnabas (Apostle from 70), one of the most famous Cypriot Jews of antiquity

The Cypriot Jews lived in their own communities, which had their own laws, their own economy and the opportunity to worship one God.

The central authorities recognized the rights of Jews to an original life, the Jews had real autonomy on our island. One that no one else had. The golden age of Cypriot Jewry has come, which lasted several hundred years. Until the Second Jewish War happened, which turned the earthly paradise of the Jews into a real hell for many millennia.

Part Three: Cypriot Jews without their own home

Mutually beneficial relations between Jews and Romans (and, therefore, Jews and Greek Cypriots) ended with the arrival of Roman troops in Jerusalem. As usual, the new gentleman turned out to be no better than the old one. The Jewish wars began, the wars for the liberation of the Jewish people from the domination of the Roman emperor and pagan laws. 

Arch of Titus Menorah.png

Source: Wikimedia /ייי הללוו

As a result of the First War, a significant part of the Jewish population was expelled from Palestine. Jews also fled to Cyprus, replenishing the local diaspora.

Episode of the Roman-Jewish Wars

Half a century later, the Second War began (115 AD), which affected Jewish communities outside Israel.

A lot of blood was shed in Cyprus. Perhaps it was the blackest page in the history of the island. Then the number of Jewish Cypriots was quite large relative to the total population of Cyprus. Most Jews lived in Salamis, but there were diasporas in Kition-Larnaca, and in Paphos, and in many other cities of the island. Oh yes, and the total population of Cyprus was comparable to the modern one!

The uprising of the Jews began in Cyprus.

Photo source: Pinterest

According to Dion Cassius, the uprising of the Jews of the island was led by a certain Artemion (a Cypriot Jew with a Greek pagan name).

During street clashes between Greek and Jewish Cypriots, about a quarter of a million Greeks were killed! 

Probably, there were about the same number of dead Jews (after the Cypriot Jews defeated the Greeks, Roman soldiers landed on the island, who physically destroyed tens, if not hundreds of thousands of rebels). The survivors were deported, and all Jews were forbidden to visit Cyprus under threat of death. Even in the event of a shipwreck.

The Greek-Jewish clash in Cyprus was perhaps the most terrible event in the entire 12-thousand-year history of the island. A significant (if not a large) part of the population was killed. Pagan and Jewish temples were looted and desecrated. The economy and infrastructure of the island were literally wiped off the face of the earth.

Photo: pikist

But why did the Greeks and Jews, who have been living in harmony in Cyprus for centuries, take the path of confrontation and hatred towards each other?

Let's go back a few centuries. When the Cypriot Jews lived in the Phoenician Kition-Larnaca, they lived side by side with their brothers, who were close and understandable in culture and language. There were not so many Jews in the city, and socialization took place quite quickly and gently.

However, with the arrival of Alexander's troops in the Middle East, everything changed. The Phoenician brothers began to lose their identity, their children began to switch to Greek, marry Greek Cypriots, thereby dissolving among the Greek Cypriot majority. Soon the Phoenicians were gone. At that moment Cyprus became a complete stranger to the Jewish Cypriots.

Part Four: how did the paths of Greek and Jewish Cypriots diverge?

The first thing that the Jews could not understand and accept was the Cypriot religion.

From the earliest periods of its history (of which we can only judge), Cyprus has been a typical pagan island. After the arrival of the Phoenicians in Kition-Larnaca, a huge pagan complex appeared in the center of the city. The main goddess of the commercial capital of the island was Ishtar, a formidable warrior mother (the Phoenician Cypriots called her Ashtar).

File:British Museum Queen of the Night.jpg

Ishtar is one of the oldest pagan goddesses known to science. Source: BabelStone / Wikimedia

In addition to the Semitic goddesses and gods, the island was full of cults of Greek, Anatolian and Egyptian supernatural forces. Everyone who came to ancient Larnaca brought their native customs with them.

The symbol of the Aegean bull in Kition-Larnaca. The ruins of the temple where the natives of Greece worshipped their deities. «The Greek " temple was attached to a large Middle Eastern complex.

Here they worshipped the gods, praying in front of the image of Aegean bulls, in front of Middle Eastern boulders.

Blood sacrifices, including human sacrifices, were performed here. Pagan temple prostitution existed here.

After Alexander's wars, the Greek world came to Kition-Larnaca. The cult of Apollo replaced the cult of Reshep, Aphrodite took the place of Ishtar, a second life appeared in the cult of Adonis, Aphrodite's mortal lover. By the way, Adonis is directly connected not only with Cyprus, but also with the Jews, since the cult was borrowed from the Semites.

Jose de Ribera. Adonis and Aphrodite. 1637. Adonis was originally a Semitic pagan god. The Greek Cypriots absorbed the cult, but turned Adonis into a mere mortal and Aphrodite's lover. The Jews, abandoning polytheism, began to use his name as an epithet of the One God (Adonai).

Of course, many Jews who had long since converted to monotheism did not like it.

However, there was peace in Larnaca and there were never any religious wars. With all its terrifying features, pagan religion is by nature neighborly. She is ready to coexist with the cults of other gods (or even one Single God), since she herself is polytheistic.

There was mutual indifference between pagans and Jews in Larnaca. The Phoenicians and Greeks did not care that Jews did not participate in their religious life, and the Jews, in turn, freely practiced the cult of God and did not climb into the pagan processions of the urban majority.

William Strickland (1788-1854). Landscape with Temple on a Cliff.

Everything changed when the island came under the control of Rome.

It was at this time that the formation of imperial power was taking place, which was spreading to the masses not only with the help of Roman legionaries, but also with the help of religion. The cult of the Roman emperor was brought to the island, the head of the empire should have been revered by the islanders as a full-fledged god.

Of course, it was not difficult for the pagan population of Cyprus — among dozens of large and hundreds of small deities, another one appeared. One more, one less. But, the Jewish Cypriots could not agree with this. How can one worship an implanted god if there is only one God in the world? Moreover, how can an ordinary mortal be made a God? The Jews of Cyprus took the Roman law with hostility, the Greeks adapted it without any problems and demanded the same from the Jews. So the first insoluble contradiction was formed.

William Strickland (1788-1854). Academic Study (Possibly of the Acropolis in Athens).

The second contradiction was the desire of the Jewish Cypriots to preserve their identity.

They did not want to repeat what happened to their Phoenician brothers who mixed with the Greeks. The Jewish population of the island was also in danger of dissolving among the Greeks.

If you had come to the antique market in Kition-Larnaca or Paphos, you would hardly have distinguished a Cypriot Jew from a Greek. Unless, of course, they would have been given wardrobe items or food preferences. A significant part of the Jewish population both on the island and in Israel itself spoke Greek, if not as their native language, then as a second language.

Source: mezze.life

After Alexander's campaigns, the entire Eastern Mediterranean began to speak the Greek dialect, which was brought by the Greek-Macedonian soldiers — the so-called Greek coin.

Even before the birth of Christ, the Jews in Alexandria translated the Old Testament into Greek, which they clearly spoke as their native language. The first Christians also immediately switched to Greek and even wrote the New Testament in this coin.

Source: Wikimedia

After Alexander's campaigns, Hellenistic Judaism began to spread among Jewish communities both in Israel and abroad.

The Jews continued to worship the one God, but they began to adopt the Greek language, philosophy, literature, culture, and everyday life. Exactly the same trends occurred in Cyprus. Let us recall that even the leader of the Jewish Cypriots had a Greek pagan name.

Part of the Jews in Cyprus accepted the new state of affairs and together with the Greek Cypriots (who were also very different from the mainland Greeks) switched to a new language and submitted to a single Hellenistic world order. Other Jewish Cypriots were afraid of what was happening and tried to close themselves off from the outside world in order to preserve their Jewish identity.

The Cypriot Jews withdrew into their community and began to have less contact with the Greek pagan world. Enmity, misunderstanding, aggression increased every year between the Cypriots. In 115 AD, under the influence of events in other regions of the Roman Empire, Cyprus caught fire and was covered with terrible blood.

Source: weaponsandwarfare

Soon Roman soldiers landed on the island, who deported the surviving Jewish population from Cyprus.

As it turned out later, the history of the Jews in Larnaca and Cyprus did not end there, although it stopped for many centuries...

We will tell you about the subsequent pages of the Jewish Larnaca and Cyprus in the next article.

If you are looking for accommodation in Larnaca, then contact the DOM office by phone +357 24621001, or come to the address: Gregoriou Afxentiou 7, Larnaca, 6023, Cyprus. Here you will always be provided with competent advice and help with renting or buying and selling your home.

See also:

  1. First acquaintance with Larnaca (link)
  2. Larnaca is the most promising city in Cyprus for real estate investment (link)
  3. Oroklini village near Larnaca. Tour zone (link)
  4. How sugar made medieval Cyprus the commercial center of the Eastern Mediterranean (link)
  5. Top 15 buildings of Cypriot modernism (link)
  6. Cypriot Gothic (link)
Source: DOM LiVE
Photos: pixabay.com
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