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It should all have started some thousand years ago when entrepreneurs on the then merchant ships carried their goods together with written messages for delivery to buyers or sellers. And even earlier and up to the late 19th century messages were delivered orally or written on papyrus by strong and swift men whose service was considered and indeed it was an important mission and a matter of life or death for individuals as well as for tribes and states.
Pheidippides, the Athenian herald, is probably the first and most famous of all messengers ever, whose story before and after the battle in Marathon survived through the ages and has inspired countless people in greatness. The running race of 42 kms was invented and called The Marathon after Pheidippides story.
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As regards Cyprus, it is not until the 14th century AD that we encounter the first letters that survived to our days. These were carried by ships' captains, officials and merchants.
From 1353, during the Lusignan period right through to the end of Venetian administration in 1571 several letters have survived to our days as entires. As envelopes were scarce usually the manuscript was folded and sealed. The plain backside of the paper would become the outer part of the quasi - envelope where the destination address would be written. The carrier or agent would additionally mark the letter but anyway not any standard postal markings were used. Some senders thinking wisely, used to write letters in duplicates and send them via separate routes to ensure as possible the final delivery to the recipient.
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Common destinations for letters originating from Cyprus were Venice, Alexandria, Constantinople, Rome, Amman, Damascus and Tripoli. Some inland mail carried on horses or mules or by wayfarers has also survived. All known letters originated from Nicosia, Famagusta and Larnaca, these being the most significant cites in Cyprus in that era and also the ones where most literate people lived or had their enterprise.
The 16th century was marked by a severe outbreak of plague. Letters during those days had to pass a disinfection procedure to reduce the rate of spread of plague. As a result of this, traces of smoke and vinegar are found on such letters.

capture and seize of Cyprus by the Ottomans in 1570 - 1571 marked the beginning of a long 307 years dark period during which the island was isolated from Europe and its people suffered in every respect.
The uneasiness of today's status of Kypros has its roots in that event.
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The first organized regular mail service to link Cyprus with other Mediterranean countries emanated from the Austro Hungarian Empire in the 19th century and was executed by the means of one shipping company, the legendary Austrian Lloyd which flourished for nearly 80 years till the First World War.
Their agents having permanent presence in Larnaca, the main port in Cyprus of that era, as well as established offices in many other ports to serve the company’s interests, organized a reliable mailing system with the use of Austrian adhesive stamps and various postmarks indicating the date and place of origin of the letter or that of transit or destination. The company’s story is interesting enough to mention in a
dedicated page separately in a brief calendar-like script which has been transferred exactly as it had appeared in their successors' modern site in the web.
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Specimen of a hand-struck stamp, indicating the month and date of mail but not the year. It was used in the Larnaca Austrian Lloyd office to cancel the Austrian adhesives on the mail leaving Larnaca (see picture above), as well as to mark the incoming mail as a proof of arrival in Larnaca. It appears either as a cancellation or arrival postmark in black or greenish blue ink. Two other types of markings are known from their earlier usage in this office; copies of these are shown in the Austrian Lloyd page with examples of mail from that particular period.

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In present days it is most natural that when one wants to convey a message either spoken or in a physical form that is in writing, the phone or a computer will be the only means of doing this; at least for the 95% of us. However, this has not been so till the late 1980s. Leaving the telephone apart (in fact its use started to spread in the 1920s in the western world, where the use of telegraphy had been the sole method for instant messaging for some time), the physical delivery of a message (and goods) would only be possible through the use of the mail (mail without the e-) and the mailman.

A sheet of paper with some writing plus an envelope where that sheet would be treasured and would also serve as the place to designate the From and To (addresses) so as it could reach its destination safely, had then been the prerequisites for the transfer of mail . . . apart from one more thing: the stamp - a small self adhesive tiny piece of paper that by being affixed on the envelope and then cancelled by its carrier with special ink markings - the postmarks - would pay for the service provided i.e. the safe delivery of mail and, additionally, it would have something to say about its country of origin. People have always been fascinated by the idea of letting their ethnic marvels and beliefs travel widely and spread their essence as far as possible. The tiny stamp transformed in a tiny piece of art had provided amply the means to spread the word - every word.
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Retrieving the Past
© 2004-2014 Nicholas Man