The Evolution of the Political, Social and Economic Life of Cyprus, 1191-1950

Εκδότης: Palgrave Studies in Economic History
Σειρά: Σπύρος Σακελλαρόπουλος
Σελίδες: 347
Σχήμα: 14 x 20,5
ISBN: 978-3-030-91838-5

The Evolution of the Political, Social and Economic Life of Cyprus, 1191-1950

The book examines the evolution of the political, social and economic life of Cyprus from its conquest by Richard the Lionheart to the 1950 referendum on Enosis. Even with such a long period, around 900 years, the interest in controlling the island becomes clear given its particularly advantageous geographical position between Europe, Africa and Asia. Undoubtedly, Cyprus has always been an important centre for military and economic activity in the wider region. This book provides an interdisciplinary approach which combines history, political science, sociology, international relations and economics. It will be of interest to academics in Economic History, Middle-Eastern Studies, Mediterranean Studies and researchers in general, as well as anyone interested in political theory and the role of the state in particular.



Book Review

Ilia Xypolia

Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 2024

The German philosopher Georg Hegel, in his Lectures on the Philosophy of History, famously viewed history as a ‘slaughter bench, on which the happiness of nations, the wisdom of States, and the virtue of individuals were victimised’ (1894, p. 22). For Hegel, history covers periods of turmoil and conflict. The periods of ‘happiness’ and ‘harmony’ are the blank pages in history books (1894, p. 28). This is very true for the case of Cyprus. The historical treatises that explore the periods of non-conflict—in the mainstream understanding of the notion of violence—are sadly lacking in these books. This results from a misconception of conflict and history.

Are revisionist historical accounts important and needed? One only has to look at the efforts of British colonial government officials who tried to rewrite history in order to put forward a controlled narrative that would dampen any national aspirations to overthrow colonial rule.

The Cyprus issue is often presented as a conflict due to competing nationalisms. Yet revisionist historians argue that imperialism is to be blamed for much of the structural arrangements and divisions that led to a violent conflict. Even if we are blessed with insightful analyses of various key instances in the recent history of the island, there has been a lack of a comprehensive treatise from a radical perspective.

Historical accounts pay too much attention to the national identity while ignoring other aspects such as socio-economic developments or cultural issues. Marxist analyses of the history of Cyprus, for example, have largely focused on certain periods or aspects of progressive movements or leftist parties like the Communist Party of Cyprus. Only recently has the focus on cultural issues gained some prominence. Yet imperialism and social transformations need to be explored further and move beyond the political histories of left-wing parties.

Sakellaropoulos’ book attempts to fill this gap by looking at the interplay between external and internal forces over a long period of time (p. 9). Spyros Sakellaropoulos, a professor based in the Department of Social Policy at Panteion University, Greece, specializes in state and political theory. Taking a Marxist perspective, he has written extensively on imperialism and several aspects of Greek and Cypriot history. The book title is an extended and updated version of the first three chapters of his Greek monograph, The Cypriot Social Formation (1191–2004), published by Topos Books, Athens, in 2017.

It is a commendable if not arduous task to cover such a lengthy period of nine centuries in a single book. The dimensions of history are also ambitious as it aims to explore the ‘political, social, and economic life’ of the island. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that not all centuries are treated equally. In a mere two chapters (Chapters 2 and 3), taking up a third of the book, Sakellaropoulos takes the reader on a whirlwind tour, covering a staggering eight centuries. In the remaining three chapters, the eight decades of British rule are covered in much more detail and comprise about 200 pages. This asymmetry can of course be justified to a certain extent by the relative lack of historical sources for the former and the wealth of material for the latter period.

The book begins with the conquest of the Island by Richard the Lionheart and ends with the 1950 referendum for Union with Greece. It remains unclear why the book does not discuss events leading up to 1960 or why it does not go up to the twenty-first century like the Greek version. The method is an interdisciplinary approach which combines history, sociology and international relations, informed by a Marxist theoretical framework, to examine the organization of Cypriot society in the longue durée. The book’s main argument is that the transformation of Cypriot society is a result of the interplay between external and internal forces over a period of nine centuries. Overall, it is a work of synthesis rather than a novel historical argument. Every chapter combines theoretical overviews with historical examples.

The exploration of socio-economic issues in a long historical perspective with an emphasis on the relationship and the parallel and asymmetric development of the two main communities on the island is of paramount importance. Sakellaropoulos seems to make a deliberate choice not to consult primary sources, archival or published sources. Yet there is wealth of secondary material in both Greek and English; little in French, but there are no sources in Turkish. Sakellaropoulos includes some maps but no tables. Some data, especially regarding the economic history, could have been explained through some graphs.

While it seems that the main points have already appeared in the literature, this is an important monograph. Other books that address this Herculean task to cover almost an entire millennium of the history of Cyprus are either textbooks or very concise. Future research could untangle threads from Sakellaropoulos’ book. Particularly fascinating would be to explore and interrogate further the role of Russia in a macro-historical perspective. This could be done together with the role of Italy, especially during the interwar period, to find important missing pieces in the puzzle of the global politics dimension of the Cyprus issue.

Though a lot has been written about Cyprus, there is an urgent need for fresh perspectives. Sakellaropoulos has eloquently injected a Marxist perspective, and his book, The Evolution of the Political, Social and Economic Life of Cyprus, 11911950, is an important and timely study. Those interested in the intersection of social class, politics and identity under colonialism will find Sakellaropoulos’ study valuable regarding how such features were mobilized in the formation of power and conflict.


Alexis Alecou

Book Review. 2024. Cyprus Review 35 (2) pp 226- 228