The links between Cyprus and Sweden date back to the 12th century, when the Vikings served as part of a Byzantine guard in the coastal city of Paphos in the southwest of Cyprus.
The best known among the Swedish visitors of the time is Saint Birgitta, who was recently proclaimed Patron Saint of the European Union. During the time of Birgitta’s two voyages to Cyprus in 1372, the island was an independent kingdom governed by Peter II, under the tutelage of his mother Eleonora of Aragon. Birgitta was warmly welcomed by the queen. However, after seeing a vision, Birgitta accused the queen of immorality and put a curse on the whole population of the island. Birgitta predicted that Famagusta would be destroyed in the same way as Sodom and Gomorrah because of the sins of its inhabitants and the royal court.
After visiting Jerusalem, Birgitta saw another vision about Cyprus which she announced to the Cypriot court in Famagusta upon her return there, which coincided with the dramatic coronation of Peter II. The prophecy soon came true. The coronation ceremony ended in bloody battles between the Venetian and the Genoese that lived on the island. Just two days after her visit, the Genoese attacked Cyprus and after ferocious battles, Famagusta fell to Genoese occupation.
The Swedish traveller Michael Eneman includes a lengthy account of his travels to Cyprus in his book “Trip to the Orient”. Eneman, who arrived in Larnaca in the spring of 1713, was an envoy of the Swedish King Karl XII. The author describes in great detail the vivid commercial exchanges conducted between the Greeks and the Europeans who lived on the island. He also depicts the unjust governance of the Turkish rulers. Among other things, he recounts in a dramatic tone a serious dispute that had arisen between some inhabitants of the island and the Turkish rulers.
Another extensive account of Cyprus in Swedish was written by Eduard Carleson entitled “A Brief Description of the Island of Cyprus, written in the Summer of 1733 by the Court Chancellor and Commander of the Royal Battalion Sir Eduard Carleson, during his Oriental Trip”. Carleson travelled widely in the area with his colleague Carl Fredrik von Höpken in order to research the possibilities of developing Swedish commerce in the Eastern Mediterranean. In this book, which was published in 1761, he describes all the cities of Cyprus: Nicosia with its palm trees, its beautiful gardens and the wall; Famagusta which was also surrounded by a wall; Bafa (Paphos) where the residents worshipped the goddess Aphrodite; Limassol, which according to Carleson was the biggest area and the one with the best sanitation. The description of cities is completed with information about the 840 ‘squalid villages’. Carleson also records in detail the natural wealth of Cyprus, its flora and fauna. However, Carleson did not recommend the development of commercial relations between Sweden and Cyprus because he did not think that Swedish products could be sold on the island.
One of the most vivid travel descriptions of Cyprus belongs to Jakob Berggren, a preacher of the Swedish Embassy in Istanbul, who first travelled to the island in 1820. Berggren was so impressed by the warm hospitality he received by the Cypriots that he returned to Cyprus a year later, only to find a completely different situation, when the liberation struggle against Ottoman rule had just began. ‘Bloodthirsty executioners’, as he called them, tried to crush the liberation movement against the Ottomans. Berggren arrived on the island during the time of the public execution of Archbishop Kyprianos, the bishops of Paphos, Kition and Kyrenia, as well as over 400 other Greek Orthodox Church leaders.
The first ever Swedish archaeologist to arrive in Cyprus was the orientalist Johan David Åkerblad, renowned for his research in the decipherment of Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Åkerblad visited the island in 1788 and wrote extensively about his archaeological and historical findings there.
The first truly scientific links between Cyprus and Sweden started with the work of the Swedish Archaeological Expedition in Cyprus. The most famous Swedish visitor to Cyprus is Einar Gjerstad who started exploring the history of Cypriot archaeology in 1923. This was triggered by a casual meeting between the consul of Sweden in Cyprus, Pierides, and the archaeologist Axel W. Persson. Gjerstad mentions in his book “Centuries and Days” that Pierides had asked Persson to encourage some young Swedish archaeologists to visit Cyprus and start archaeological excavations. Gjerstad was the first to unearth Cypriot Stone Age settlements and artefacts. His excavations, as well as those of the Swedish Archaeological Mission during the 1920s and 30s, are a pioneering work in the field of archaeology and have laid the foundations for the on-going exchanges and close cooperation between Sweden and Cyprus in the field of archaeology.
A strong bond between the two countries has been formed as a result of the Swedish Archaeological Mission, which celebrated its 80 year anniversary in Cyprus in 2007. The largest collection of Cypriot artefacts to be found outside Cyprus, which have been uncovered due to the work of the Mission in Cyprus, is hosted in the Medelhavsmuseet (Mediterranean Museum) in Stockholm.
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Swedish contribution in Cyprus within the UN framework
UNFICYP (United Nations Peace-Keeping Force in Cyprus) was established in 1964 to contribute to the maintenance of law and order and in order to facilitate the conditions for a political solution.
The Swedish involvement in Cyprus is the biggest and lengthiest international participation of Swedish military forces in a UN peace-keeping operation. During the period 1964-87 there were 48 battalions serving in UNFICYP. The Swedish force was at its largest in 1964 with 1,000 troops whereas in 1973 there were only 265 military personnel. When the Swedish battalion withdrew from Cyprus in 1987 only a small force remained on the island. The Swedish participation ended in 1993. During this thirty year period, around 28,000 Swedish peace-keepers had served on the island.
The Swedish contribution to UNFICYP is considered to have had a positive impact on the relations between Sweden and Cyprus. The memories of the Swedes who served in Cyprus as part of UNFICYP remain vivid. Colonel Carl Gustav Ståhl, commander of the Swedish battalion, mentioned the following in his leaving speech during the winter of 1964-65: ‘Now that the battalion is leaving Cyprus, after having successfully fulfilled its mission, I am possessed by two feelings. The first is disappointment, because people are so intransigent, the clouds of war were gathered over this beautiful island and we have not been able to do much in order to change the situation. The other feeling is gratitude for being given the chance to take part in the efforts to avert big scale acts of violence and for being able to inspire understanding between the two sides of the island. I am convinced that without the UN intervention in Cyprus the situation would be a lot worse, more tragic, not only for Cyprus but for the whole world’.
© 2011 - 2023 Republic of Cyprus,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus in Stockholm