Cyprus has one of the longest and richest histories in the Mediterranean World, having been at the crossroads of many different civilizations over thousands of years. It has, at various times, been ruled by the Phoenicians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Arabs, French Catholics, Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottomans, among others.
During the period of Ottoman rule (1571-1878), Cyprus languished due the Sublime Porte’s neglect, with its mostly Greek Orthodox population largely cut-off from contact with the Euro-Christian world, save for the presence of French traders along the coasts. Little effort was made to record the island’s history during this time or preserving the memory of the periods before Ottoman rule, such that many consider this era to have been the cultural-historical nadir of Cyprus.
In 1878, Britain gained de facto rule over Cyprus from the Ottomans, taking advantage of the Sublime Porte’s weakness in the wake of its defeat during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8, while valuing the island’s ultra-strategic location as base for its Royal Navy (the Ottomans would henceforth have no power over the island, although their de jure sovereignty would not be abolished until 1914). While British rule was colonial in nature and often patronizing, and in some ways even harsh, towards the Greek Orthodox population, it did usher in many great improvements with respect to the study and preservation of the island’s history and culture.
Claude Delaval Cobham: One of the First Great Modern Cypriologists
Claude Delaval Cobham (1842 – 1915) was one of the leading figures in reviving the study of Cypriot history and archaeology. A native of England, and an Oxford arts and law graduate, Cobham entered the British colonial service and was one of the first senior officials sent to Cyprus in 1878, upon the British takeover of the island.
He served as the District Commissioner (essentially governor) of Larnaca Province for 28 years, from 1879 to 1907, living in a massive old mansion which he named the Villa Claudia. While a diligent and hardworking administrator, Cobham’s true passion was historical discovery and he notably supervised many archaeological digs, including the excavations conducted by Max Ohnefalsh-Richte at Salamis, while he cooperated with the esteemed Cypriot antiquarian Demetrius Pierides. He also collected a vast quantity of ancient artifacts, saving many from looters, some of which are today preserved at the British Museum and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (Exeter, England). His voluminous personal library is now housed at the University of Cambridge.
An extraordinarily gifted linguist, Cobham went to great efforts to acquire and decipher innumerable rare and important primary sources on Cypriot history, taking advantage of the vast resources of the British Museum and various English libraries, so giving his academic works an unprecedented gravitas.
The Present Work in Focus
Cobham’s magnum opus was the Excerpta Cypria, here present in the very rare first edition, published in Nicosia by Herbert E. Clarke, in 1895. Importantly, it is the first anthology of primary sources of Cypriot history. A great achievement of scholarship, it is one of the foundational works of Cypriology.
The book consists of 35 articles, personally translated by Cobham from 12 different languages, many of which were very rare and difficult to source. Thirty-four of the works are firsthand accounts of experiences in Cyprus written by Greek, Italian, French, British, Dutch, Swedish, German, and Turkish visitors or residents, with the earliest being the writings of Neophytos (1196 AD), and the most recent that of Philemon (1870), although most of articles (numbering thirty) date from the period of Ottoman rule (1571-1878). These accounts provide crucial contemporary insights into the physical appearance of places and the cultures and circumstances of their inhabitants, as well as valuable information on politics, agriculture, commerce, and taxation, in many cases not preserved by any other source. The one remaining article concerns the inscriptions on epitaphs of important people dating from between 1685 and 1849.
The entries within the present first edition of the Excerpta Cypria (1895) were all previously published between 1892 and 1895 as separate articles within The Owl, an English language weekly newspaper issued in Nicosia.
A second edition of the Excerpta Cypria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908) was greatly expanded (running to 524 pp.), adding 45 articles, of which 44 were previously printed by Cobham in Larnaca, for private circulation, between 1896 and 1902, while the remaining article, was originally issued with the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, in 1897.
The Excerpta Cypria remains today a vital resource for scholars and has been reprinted on many occasions in recent decades.
As for Cobham’s other academic works, next to the Excerpta Cypria, his most important was An Attempt at a Bibliography of Cyprus (1886; subsequent editions, 1889, 1894, 1900, 1908), the first serious listing of key historical sources on the island. Also notable, were his original works, the Laws and Regulations affecting Waqf Property (1899); Churches and Saints of Cyprus (1910); Arnalda Capt i va Vitrix (1910); and Patriarchs of Constantinople (1911). Some of Cobham’s key translations of previous works were Ilmu Hal, A Manual of Islam (1889); Giorgio Mariti’s Travels In the Island of Cyprus (1895); A.M. Graziani’s The Sieges of Nicosia and Famagusta, with a A Sketch of the Earliest History of Cyprus (1900); (with B. Potter) A Catechism of the Great Church (1903); and (with J.T. Hutchinson until 1907) Handbook of Cyprus for the years 1901, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1907 and 1909.
A Note on Rarity
The present first edition of Excerpta Cypria, printed in Nicosia in 1895, is very rare. We are only aware of another example as appearing on the market in the last 25 years. Unhelpfully, online databases seem to convolute the original 1895 edition with listings for the 1908 Cambridge issue, as well as electronic copies, making it difficult to discern the number of institutional examples of the present issue. However, we gather that there are around a dozen or so examples of the 1895 edition in libraries (mostly in Britain), while the 1908 second edition is much less scarce. It is worth noting that all 19th century Cypriot imprints are today rare, as they tended to be issued in only small print runs, while their survival rate is low.
References: British Library: 10077.l.20.; Cambridge University Library: RCS.Cob.18c.75 (the author’s persona example); Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin: 4″@Uk 9510/10; OCLC: 251959784, 557904484; Anthi ANDRONIKOU, Italy, Cyprus, and Artistic Exchange in the Medieval Mediterranean (Cambridge, UK, 2022), p. 141; Christopher DUFFY, Siege Warfare: The Fortress in the Early Modern World 1494-1660 (London, 2013), p. 267; Orientalische Bibliographie, no. 9 (1896), p. 285.