The Cyprus numismatic system adapted that of Venice during its very first years under Venetian administration. Toward the end of the 15th Century, many foreign coins were in circulation with those minted by the Lusignan kings causing a widespread transactional chaos. Thus from 1511 until 1518 the Venetian administration countermarked all coins in circulation on the island, in accordance to the value of Venetian soldia or bezants. While from 1515 until the end of Venetian rule, the Council of Ten minted small copper coins in Venice – known to the people as “carzia” – for circulation in Cyprus. The last coins minted by the Venetians on the island were the 1570 bronze bezants, which were issued by the Venetian general-commander of Cyprus, Marc Antonio Bragadino
The presence of Venetian merchants in Cyprus dates to the beginning of the 12th century, and various Lusignan kings helped these merchants to strengthen their position on the island during the Frankish period (Aristeidou 2003, 33). The Venetian period officially begins in 1489, when the Republic of Venice forced Catherine Cornaro to resign her titles and cede Cyprus to the Republic (Maltezou 2001, 7). In February of that year, the Venetians raised the flag of St. Mark in the square at Famagusta, and Catherine sailed for Italy (Hill III, 748-749). The former and final Queen of Cyprus spent her remaining years as the Sovereign Lady of Asolo, a county in the Veneto.
The Venetians reorganised the administration of Cyprus, bringing the island under the strict authority of the Republic. A Venetian nobleman, the Luogotenente, and his two advisors, the Consiglieri, governed the island, while the Captain of Famagusta, Capitano di Famagusta, held military power, which he shared in emergencies with a governor, the Proveditore General (Hill III, 765-767). The primary aim of the Venetian administration was to secure Cyprus as a base for the Venetian fleet, to exhaust its resources, and to control the island’s commerce. The development of agriculture in Cyprus was extremely important to the Venetians, especially the production of grain and salt; in the 16th Century, Cyprus was the primary provider of grain and salt to Venice. Cotton and sugar were also important exports during this period, according to the official reports of various Venetian governors. Cyprus produced a steady flow of income to Venice; in addition to its agricultural production and mercantile revenue, the Venetians imposed heavy taxes on the island, and much of the Cypriot population lived in misery and poverty.
During eighty years of Venetian rule, “the island became not only the meeting point between merchants from East and West but also one of the contact points of Greek tradition with the cultural movements of Western Europe” (Maltezou 2001, 8). This cultural transaction was a two-way exchange, and as Western Civilisation, as reshaped by the Renaissance, reached Cyprus, so the essence of the island and its people was carried to the West by progressive Cypriots, especially those who fled to Venice after the Turks subjugated the island in 1571, where they held a special status in the Greek Confraternity (Maltezou 2003, 75).
The Cyprus numismatic system adapted that of Venice during its very first years under Venetian administration. The coins of the Republic of Venice included the basic gold ducat, the lighter-weight escudo, the silver moceningo and marcello in various denominations, the soldia, and lower-value billon coins. Toward the end of the 15th Century, many foreign coins were in circulation with those minted by the Lusignan kings and, according to letters from the Luogotenenti (lieutenant) of Cyprus to the Council of Ten, this mix of coins on the island caused widespread transactional chaos. Many foreign coins were lighter in weight than corresponding Frankish coins, while others contained far less gold or silver than their name value indicated (Aristeidou 1990, 393-394). To standardize transactions in Cyprus, the Venetian administration examined all foreign coins in use on the island and fixed a new value for these coins in Venetian soldia or in bezants, depending on the weight or the gold and silver content of each particular coin (Michaelidou 2002, 254).
Thus, from 1511 until 1518, when new denominations of 16 and eight soldia were issued in Cyprus, the Venetian administration countermarked all coins in circulation on the island, whether these coins were Cypriot gros, foreign currency or Venetian coins (Pitsillides 1990, 17). The coins were marked with five circular stamps: one in the centre verified the value of the coin, while four at the edge of the coin, set in perimetrical order, prevented further clipping of the metal. A sixth stamp often appears below the central stamp and most likely denotes the code number of the authority or city where the mark was punched: “1” corresponded to Nicosia, “2” to Famagusta, “3” to Limassol and “V” to Larnaca (Metcalf and Pitsillides 1992, 66-88). These countermarked coins provide important information regarding the circulation of coins in Cyprus circa 1518, especially the silver issues, which were the coins par excellence of the Frankish and the Venetian periods. Included among these coins were the gros of the Lusignan kings, which remained in circulation for more than 200 years (Metcalf 1995, 281-287).
From 1515 until the end of Venetian rule, the Council of Ten minted small copper coins in Venice – known to the people as “carzia” – for circulation in Cyprus (Papadopoli 1906, 22-26). Beginning in 1553, these coins were inscribed with the name of the doge, the elected chief magistrate (Papadopoli 1907, 233-234). The coins depict the Lion of Cyprus and a cross, with a diamond-shaped ray in each corner, encircled by the name of the doge. The five doges who issued carzia until the end of the Venetian period included: Marcantonio Trivizano (1553-1554), Francesco Venerio (1554-1556), Lorenzo Priuli (1556-1559), Girolamo Priuli (1559-1567) and Pietro Loredano (1567-1570). In addition to carzia, Pietro Loredano also issued sizins, equal to four carzia, to cover the increasing cost of defending the island and on account of the dearth of lower-value coins in Cyprus, since the carzia had been greatly devalued (Papadopoli 1907, 294-295). Loredano’s sizins were billon and depicted a haloed Lion of Cyprus.
The Ottomans threatened to capture Cyprus throughout the entire Venetian period. In response, the Venetians brought engineers from Venice to fortifications in Famagusta and Nicosia, the two largest cities on the island. Using designs based on the work of Giulio Savorgnano, the Venetians constructed new walls around Nicosia these walls circumscribed a closer perimeter around the city than the Lusignan walls, which had been demolished. The new walls were circular and featured eleven heart-shaped bastions named for the families who contributed funds toward the completion of the fortification. Construction began in 1567, and laborers were paid in fiduciary money (credit coins), the ferlino; the ferlino bore, on the reverse, the coat of arms of the families who had financed the project (Grivaud 1988, 276-277). In Famagusta, the Venetians gradually reinforced the city's medieval wall, building Othello’s Tower in 1492, the Bastion of the Archer in 1544, the Sea Gate in 1495 and the Martinego Bastion in 1558. When the Ottomans invaded Cyprus in July of 1570, the walls of Nicosia were still under construction. (Hill III, 849-864).
The last coins minted by the Venetians on the island were the 1570 bronze bezants, which were issued by the Venetian general-commander of Cyprus, Marc Antonio Bragadino. These coins were struck to pay soldiers and to purchase provisions, since all silver and bronze coins had been taken out of circulation in advance of the impending Turkish invasion. The bronze bezants of Bragadino had the name value of the bezant; they were used as fiduciary money, to be exchanged for silver after the war (Hill III, 956; Gatos 1926, 29). On their obverse, these coins depict the winged lion of St. Mark with “1570” and “PRO REGNI CYPRI PRESIDIO” (for guarding the kingdom of Cyprus) inscribed beneath it; on their reverse, these coins depict a small, winged Eros – possibly a reminder of the birth of Aphrodite on the shores of Cyprus – above the inscription “VENETORUM FIDES INVIOLABILIS” (under the inviolable faith of the Venetians) and “BIZANTE I” or “I.F”. The numismatic type “I” was probably issued in Nicosia and circulated throughout the island; the type “I.F” must have been issued in Famagusta during the siege of the city, as “F” is most likely the initial for Famagusta (Pitsillides 1976, 11-14; Michaelidou 2002, 258-259).
The Turks captured Nicosia in September 1570 and turned their forces toward Famagusta. The siege began on 16 September 1570 and, although the besieged residents of Famagusta city resisted the Turkish onslaught for almost a year, the city fell, and Bragadino surrendered to the Turks with honour on 1 August 1571. Bragadino signed a treaty, and the surviving residents of Famagusta opened the city gates, whereupon Mustafa Pasha and his soldiers slaughtered the survivors and sold the women and children of Famagusta into slavery. Mustafa Pasha tortured Bragadino , flayed him alive and, finally, beheaded him.
For many years following the Turkish devastation of Famagusta, its port remained closed to ships from the Christian states of Europe. It was thus that the dark ages of Ottoman rule came to Cyprus and continued for three centuries, until 1878.