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Hazard, H. W. (ed.) / Volume III: The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries

XI: The Kingdom of Cyprus, 1369-1489,   pp. 361-395 PDF (8.0 MB)

Page 394

the Moslem east and, even more, in the Christian west. We hear little enough,
except in parentheses, so to speak, of the Cypriotes them selves and of how
they fared under their foreign rulers and feudal lords; in the minds of the
western chroniclers they seemed scarcely to exist. It was taken for granted
that the peasantry, who were largely synonymous with the Cypriote people,30
were there to produce the crops and their share—in manpower and taxes—of
the sinews of war, but without any say in the country's affairs. Indeed,
the lowest of the three classes into which they were divided consisted of
serfs. On the ecclesiastical side we know more, for the records contain full
details of the subjection of the ancient autocephalous church of Cyprus to
the Latin church of its rulers. 
While it is unlikely that the Cypriote peasantry under the Lusignan kingdom
were politically worse off, despite their passive role, than the peasantry
of other Near Eastern countries during the same period, it is not surprising
that by the end of the Venetian occupa tion they had come to conceive, albeit
more on religious than political grounds, a profound hatred of the Latin
xenocracy. Venice, it is true, maintained as the basis of the island's legal
system the Assizes of Jerusalem, to which the people were accustomed, and
caused them to be translated from French into the Venetian dialect by the
chronicler Florio Bustron.31 But when in 1571 the Turks displaced the Venetians
they would be welcomed by the Cypriotes as liberators from the detested Latin
yoke. It was the barrier of religion rather than that of language that prevented
any fusion between the Cypriote people and the French and other Latin stocks
in Cyprus during all the centuries of their presence beside them. That the
language difficulty had to some extent, at least, been overcome in the later
period of Lusignan rule we may infer from the statement of the Cypriote chronicler
Leontius Machaeras that "we write both French and Greek in such a way that
no one in the world can say what our language is." But the two churches—the
intruding and dispossessing, the indigenous and dispossessed—stood
rigidly apart. 
The status and dignity of a kingdom conferred on Cyprus by the Lusignan dynasty
were slow to disappear. When Peter Bembo wrote of Catherine's abdication
ceremony that a kingdom was thus reduced to a province, he stated a fact
but not the theory. Venice took very 
 30. Only a few Cypriote families, prominent among them the Podocataros,
the Synkleti kos, and the Sozomenos, made their way into the nobility of
the kingdom, and they were probably descended from the old Byzantine aristocarcy.
 31. F. Bustron's original holograph translation, made at the direction of
doge Andrew Gritti and "the illustrious lords rectors of this kingdom of
Cyprus" in 1531, was in the possession of the late author of this chapter.

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