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The locust problem in Cyprus

  • Ronald C. Jennings


The fifteenth-century Cypriot chronicler Leontios Machaeras, whose Recital concerning the sweet land of Cyprus concludes in 1432, first mentions locusts thus: ‘And in 1351 the locust, with God's blessing, began to come to Cyprus (and did great damage).’ Strange as it may seem, this may have been the first visit of locusts to the island in numbers sufficient to be destructive. Soon other local chroniclers, as well as travellers, pilgrims, and merchants, joined Machaeras in recording such invasions. They may have been no surprise to the Cypriot chronicler, writing a little under a century later, but in 1351 they could well have been the cause of surprise, even terror, on the island.



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1 Leontios Makhairas, Recital concerning the sweet land of Cyprus, entitled ‘Chronicle ’ [hereafter Machaeras, Cyprus], ed. and tr. Dawkins, R. M., 2 vols. (Oxford, 1932), vol. I, 61. Machaeras could easily have found occasion to mention the presence of locusts prior to 1351 had he had such information but he explicitly says, according to Dawkins, that locusts ‘began to come to Cyprus’ that year. His earliest mention of plague simply says ‘And in the year 1348 God sent a great plague for our sins, and half of the island died’ (vol. 1,41). True, the mid fourteenth century is the point at which Machaeras's Chronicle becomes a full account, but he does give at least an outline of the preceding century. Dawkins, R. M. adds a long footnote of his own on locusts in Cyprus which goes far beyond the limits of the text (II, 44, and 6972). While Dawkins may well have thought that Cyprus suffered from locusts long before c. 1350, he mentions no source to indicate this.

Among the best accounts of the history of locusts in Cyprus is Eugen, Oberhummer'sDie Insel Cypern: eine Landeskunde auf historische Grundlage, 5 vols. (München, 1903, I, 335–44), a solid work of scholarship with considerable value today. Besides having mastered many of the published materials on locusts, around 1890 Oberhummer observed at first-hand the locust problem in Cyprus and British efforts to control it. Although he believed that, like Arabia and the Fertile Crescent, Cyprus had been plagued by locusts since biblical times, he mentions only one reference to locusts on the island earlier than Machaeras's date, in a specious source which is ignored by Dawkins and Sir George Hill (on whom see below). Oberhummer's work may, then, be thought to add weight to the contention that locusts were new to Cyprus in the mid fourteenth century.

The distinguished classicist, Sir George, Hill, in his 4-volume History of Cyprus (Cambridge, 19401952) surveys the island's history from the Stone and Bronze Ages to the early twentieth century. Hill was well aware of the crucial role of locusts on the island and both text and footnotes give clear accounts of their devastating impact. Although of course he makes no claims for a first date, the earliest references to locusts in Cyprus found by Hill are from the mid fourteenth century. Since he was able to draw on the work of Oberhummer (and Dawkins), his silent omission of Oberhummer's one ‘classical source’ would seem to indicate that he found no explicit reference to locusts in the period of his own specialization.

Furthermore, no mention of locusts in Cyprus is found in the major economic and social histories of the classical period, e.g. Rostovtzeff, M., The social and economic history of the Roman Empire (Oxford, 1926) and The social and economic history of the Hellenistic world (3 vols., Oxford, 1926), and Broughton, T. R. S., Roman Asia Minor (An economic survey of ancient Rome, vol. VII, Baltimore, 1938).

Arguing ex silentio is dangerous, and a priori it does seem to me unlikely, or at least surprising that Cyprus should have never had a locust problem before 1350, but the efforts of several excellent scholars have failed to find any explicit evidence for their troubling presence in Cyprus before that time.

2 Machaeras, , Cyprus, vol. i, 72.Machaeras, gives a catalogue of miracles (vol. 1, 31–9) performed by saints in Cyprus, and Dawkins mentions several icons to which miracles have been attributed (vol. II, see index under ‘icons’): Hugh IV ruled 1324–59; Ignatios II went to Cyprus in 1342 and died there in 1353 (cf. Hill, u, 306); S. Terapon must be the St. Tryphon identified by Hasluck as a well known saint and healer in Cyprus whose sanctuary later also became identified with the popular Muslim saint Seyyid, ‘Arab of Larnaka (Christianity and Islam under the Sultans, Oxford, 1929, vol. I, 87 f.). Hasluck also mentions the use of a picture of the Virgin of Sumela Monastery, near Trebizond, against locusts and other misfortunes (p. 66).

3 Matteo, Villani, Cronica di M. V. dall'anno MCCCXViu al MCCCLXII, in Croniche di Giovanni, Matteo e Filippo Villani (Trieste, 1858), vol. II, 125 (1354), 183 (1355); Citations from Mogabgab, T. A. H., Supplementary excerpts on Cyprus or further materials for a history of Cyprus (Nicosia, 1945), vol. III, 107. If this severe locust plague really originated in North Africa, these were probably the large, voracious desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria Forskal) which in their social or swarming stage cover virtually the entire Mediterranean, but are especially entrenched in the western Sahara and the Arabian deserts. According to Waloff, Z., during plagues, the desert locust swarms over 29,000,000 sq. km. of territory between north-west Africa and south-west Asia (The upsurges and recessions of the desert locust plague: an historical survey, Anti-Locust Memoir, 8, London, 1966, 7). ‘A swarm can be defined as an aggregation of gregarious adult locusts which are able to maintain their cohesion during flight by virtue of their reactions to each other or to the group.... All major plagues for which adequate historical data is available (i.e. in the twentieth century) have lasted for several consecutive years, and have been characterized by numerous reports of both swarms and gregarious hopper infestations.’ (Z. Waloff, op. cit., 14 f.).

Famine, of course, often accompanied swarming locusts; since Cyprus is also quite vulnerable to drought, when the two calamities strike together, the results are particularly disastrous. Stanley Baron points to incidences where plagues of locusts have been followed by pestilence because the people were already weakened; an outbreak of bubonic plague in Marseilles and the pestilence of 1478 in Florence were preceded by locusts (The desert locust (London, 1972), 6 f.).

The pit system varied in effectiveness. If carried out with determination, it could bring relief. Since the serfs already had a rather onerous existence, they had little time or energy to spare after working in their fields and paying their dues and services.Instead of demanding locusts from them it was wiser to pay them generously to follow their self-interest by collecting locusts.

4 Machaeras, , Cyprus (vol. I, 623). Cycles of three or four years probably involve the desert locust. In the present century four plagues have ranged between seven and 13 years, with the longest recession only six years (Waloff, Z., The upsurges and recessions of the desert locust plague, 89).According to Davies, D. E., ‘Breeding can occur on the island of Cyprus. Monsoon or Winter-Early Spring swarms arrived on the southern coast of the island in March and April, 1915; egg-laying began in April and hoppers of the Main Spring generation appeared in May’ (Seasonal breeding and migrations of the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria Forskal) in north-eastern Africa and the Middle East, Anti-Locust Memoir, 4, London, 1952, 11). 10 June seems to be later than normal for grain harvests to be still in progress. Perhaps the weather was drier than usual.

In a study called Tradition, season, and change in a Turkish village (Chicago, 1963), John, Kolars found that the barley harvest in Geyik Bayin mahallesi followed the wheat harvest, the former coming in July, the latter in late June. That village is near the port of Antalya, where harvests are perhaps a month later than those in Cyprus (see Kolars, 175, and also 172). It is possible that conditions differ in Cyprus, for Kolars indicated that winter wheat in Antalya was also sown earlier in the autumn than barley.

5 Machaeras, , Cyprus, vol. I, 632 f. (Cf. 1411–13, in Hill, , History of Cyprus, vol. II, 464 f. and n.). This is the only account known to me of a death directly attributed to swarms of locusts. While such a thing might conceivably have occurred on the rare occasion, it seems equally likely that the death in this instance was the result of extreme emotional agitation and stress.

6 Chroniques d'Amadi et de Strambaldi, ed. de Mas Latrie, René, vol. I (Paris, 1891), 265.

7 ibid., vol. II, 265. (Hill suggests that Strambaldi's reference to locusts and plague starting in 1402 may in fact concern only plague, with the locusts arriving in 1410, History of Cyprus, vol. II, p. 464 n.)

8 Cyprus, vol. I, 681 f.

9 Chroniques, vol. I, 516. Cf. Hill, vol. III, p. 500 and n.

10 Hill, vol. III, 646. Cf. Machaeras, , Cyprus, vol. II, 6971.

11 de Mas Latrie, M. L., Histoire de I–Ile de Chypre sous le règne des Princes de la Maison de Lusignan (Paris, 1855), vol. III, 392: letter from an envoy sent by the Senate of Venice, dated 24 September 1474.

12 ibid., vol. III, p. 392 n. A different system was used in Aleppo, where water was brought from the well of Zam-Zam in Mecca. To be effective that water could not pass under any gate (Hasluck, , Christianity and Islam, vol. I, p. 203 n.).

13 Viaggifatti da Vinetia alia Tana, in Persia..., (Vinegia, 1545), 44 f. Citation from Travels to Tana and Persia, by Joseph Barbaro and Ambrogio Contarini, tr. Thomas, William and Roy, S. A.. (Hakluyt Society, 49, London, 1873), n.,pp. 78 f. Barbaro, who, according to Ramusio, was unaware of the water's efficacy with locusts, described the fountain in’ Ch^erch’ as follows:’ In this citie there is a pitt like vnto a fountaigne, in the keeping of their Talaftimanni; that is to saie, their priests, the water whereof hath great vertue against the leaprie.’ People came to bathe in that water. There Barbaro met a Frenchman who had come with no relatives or guide, to use the healing powers of the water. ‘What became of him I wote not, but the comon voice went that many were healed there. For whilest I taried there myself, I vnderstode notable things of the vertue of that water’ (Travels, 78). There is nothing in the 1545 text to support the claim attributed in the English translation to Ramusio. There everything claimed by Ramusio is attributed to Barbaro, and Barbara claims the virtue of the water against leprosy and locusts. Which is correct is of no consequence to the present discussion.

R. M. Dawkins, in his edition of Machaeras, gives some detailed information about Chuerch, which is south-east of Tabriz, and about the birds which are attracted to its water and devour all the locusts. The bird, the russet or rose starling (pastor roseus), called the Ararat lark there, is also known in the Caucasus region, which frequently has a severe problem with locusts and, like the fountain, is of interest to the Armenians and Georgians. The red and black birds on Cyprus which fly like starlings are undoubtedly the russet or rose starling, which was formerly very common there

14 I'l tratto di Terra Santa e dell' Oriente, ed. Golubovich, P. Girolamo (Milano, 1900), 241–3; cited in Claude Delaval, Cobham, Excerpta Cypria: materials for a history of Cyprus (Cambridge, 1908), 49.

15 Cited in Awnsham, and John, Churchill, A collection of voyages and travels… (London, 1732), 437, 441; cf. Martini a, Baumgarten, Peregrinato in Aegyptum, Arabiam, Palaestinam & Syriam (Noribergae, 1594), 129 f.

16 I Diarii di Marino Sanuto, vol. III, ed. Fulin, R. (Venezia, 1882), 106. For locusts in Gerine (Zerines) in 1505, see vol. VI, ed. Berchet, G. (Venezia, 1881), 212.

17 A history of Cyprus, vol. III, 818.

18 I Diarii di Marino Sanuto, vol. XI, ed. Fulani, R. (Venezia, 1884), 645–9.See also Hill, , A history of Cyprus, vol. III, 818.

19 Diarii di Marino Sanuto, loc. cit. The Sophi (Shāh) = the ruler of the Şafavid empire of Persia; the soldan (sultan) = the ruler of the Mamlūk empire of Egypt and Syria. One of the feast days of St. John the Evangelist in the Greek Orthodox church is 10 July. Marcello/marzello = a Venetian coin. A cafiz (cf. R. M. Dawkins) = 33 litres or 7–6 gallons and 8 cafiz = 1 maggio/mozza (bushel); cf. Machaeras, , Cyprus, vol. II, 127, 168 f. This is the earliest passage which shows any perceptive understanding of the locust problem in its various aspects. It remained unsurpassed from this point of view for several decades.

20 Itinerarium Hierosolymitanum (Magdeburgi, 1587), Part 4, caput 7. (See also Oberhummer, 337 f.) De Salignac was the first man to suggest that locusts came from Anatolia, carried by the north wind, to Cyprus. Locusts are endemic to western Anatolia, just as they are to Syria and Arabia, although of course no study has been made documenting that conjecture for the sixteenth century. Moreover, if locusts endemic to western Anatolia were being carried southward to Cyprus, there is every reason to believe that they would be a very different locust from the species identified with Syria and Arabia, namely, the Moroccan locust, smaller, slower moving, and less voracious than the desert locust and, most important, having a much smaller range. According to Uvarov, B. P., the Moroccan locust (Dociostaurus maroccanus Thunberg) is ‘indigenous in Turkey, and certain areas are in constant danger from its invasions’: namely, Eskisehir, Kiitahya, Afyonkarahisar, Beysehir, and Antalya on the Mediterranean. The locusts in western Anatolia have upsurges (e.g. the terrible outbreak between 1910 and 1918) and recessions (like the long period of minimum between 1918 and 1931). (Uvarov, , ‘Ecological studies of the Moroccan locust in Western Anatolia’, Bulletin of Entomological Research, 23, 1932, 273 ff.). The desert locust is yellow or pink with small dark spots; males are 46–55 mm. in length, females 60 mm. The Moroccan locust is pale greyish with dark spots; the male is only 20–28 mm. in length, the female 22–33 mm. No regular periodicity for the outbreaks of either has been observed.’ There is little doubt that in respect of its destructiveness the Desert Locust deserves the first place amongst the locusts of the Old World... ‘, Uvarov, B. P., Locusts and grasshoppers: A handbook for their study and control (London, 1928), 221, 225 f., 230, 250 f., 257.

The Moroccan locust may occasionally have been distinguished from the desert locust with certainty in the eighteenth century, and frequently so from the mid nineteenth century, but even in this century uncertainty and error have persisted. Cf. the judgement of S. Baron: ‘To assess the havoc wreaked by the Desert Locust during thousands of years of infestations is impossible, partly because early writers made no distinction between deaths caused by famine and others resulting from pestilence, which they often associated with locust plagues, but also because, until comparatively recent times, the various locust and grasshopper species were constantly being confused’ (The desert locust, 3).

While desert locusts fly hundreds or even thousands of kilometres, Moroccan locusts could not cover the 100 km. distance between Anatolia and Cyprus without the help of the wind. The north wind is usually the prevailing wind between Anatolia and Cyprus; indeed it so frequently threatened vessels that seamen often avoided the area. It is not known when Moroccan locusts became endemic to Cyprus, but their egg-laying sites are very evident; villagers seeing locusts hatch are only too aware of their presence, so there would be no reason to suspect flights from outside. Moroccan locusts not only needed the assistance of a very strong and steady wind to cover that short 100 km. distance, but even then their numbers would probably have had to be unbelievably great in order for enough of them to survive the journey to do damage. (There is no reason why Moroccan locusts could not have become endemic to Cyprus even before they did in Anatolia, but their migrating northwards from Cyprus would have been unlikely.)

21 Oberhummer, 337 f.

22 I Diarii di Marino Sanuto, vol. XXXII, ed. Stefani, F., Berchet, G. and Barozzi, N. (Venezia, 1892), 101; Hill, vol. III, 818 f:’ 40’ contains an element of truth; however, in the Middle East, and especially among the Turks, the word may be used loosely to mean’ numerous’. Cf. Hasluck, F. W., Christianity and Islam, 391402, esp. 401.

23 I Diarii di Marino Sanuto, vol. XL (Venezia, 1984), 199.

24 Bordone, , Isolaria (Venezia, 1534), fols. lxv, lxvi; quoted in Cobham, , Excerpta Cypria, 62.

25 Quoted in Mogabgab, T. A. H., Supplementary excerpts on Cyprus, vol. III, 152; ‘Hill, vol. m, p. 819 n. also reports that relics were sometimes used to drive off the insects. This description is fairly accurate except that there is no three-year cycle of locusts, and drought alone is no stimulus to their breeding. Cf. Merton, L. F. H., ‘a warm, moist February is best; high, well distributed rainfall may increase numbers’ (Studies in the ecology of the Moroccan locust (Dociostaurus maroccanus Thunberg) in Cyprus, Anti-Locust Bulletin, 34, London, 1959, 110).

26 Description de toute I'Isle de Cypre (Paris, 1580, repr. Famagouste, 1968) f. 211. Presumably the locusts from Syria would have been desert locusts, although the Moroccan species also occurs in Syria. Of course, Lusignan's claims about their coming from Syria cannot be presumed accurate, although he was well informed about local events. In any case, if the locusts reaching the island were from anywhere other than possibly southern Anatolia, they were probably the highly mobile desert locusts. Very likely there had been an upsurge in desert locusts for a few years, enabling some to move far beyond their normal range.

On the periodicity of desert locust, Z. Waloff points out that there have been no major swarms in Cyprus since 1915 (writing in 1966). ‘All major plagues on which adequate historical data are available have lasted for several consecutive years, and have been characterized by numerous reports of both swarms and gregarious hopper infestations.’ Desert locusts have a flying speed of c. 12 mph and what Waloff calls ‘considerable flying endurance’. Desert locusts often traverse ‘thousands of kilometres before they encounter conditions in which they can endure and breed’ (The upsurges and recessions of the desert locust plague 22, 15 f.).

27 Richard, Hakluyt, The principal navigations, voyages, traffiques & discoveries of the English nation (Glasgow, 1904), vol. V, 85 f. See also Cobham, Excerpta Cypria 68 f. 12 August is too late in the year to find swarming locusts in Cyprus. Presumably Locke went to the marketplace and observed the locust eggs which people brought to meet their tax obligations. Possibly a few of the specimens survived alive.

If Moroccan locusts were not endemic to Cyprus prior to the mid sixteenth century, they must have become so by then. Most years the farmers of Cyprus lost almost half their grain crop (the staple of their diet and hence almost universally cultivated, even in villages where orchards or vineyards predominated); in many years they lost all their grain. People did not stand back passively and watch the locusts act destructively; and the Venetian colonial government made a concerted effort to combat them, by closely overseeing the collection and destruction of their eggs. Near coastal areas the pulverized eggs might be thrown into the sea, but in many places that was not possible. Beating the locust eggs into powder before throwing them into the sea was essential, for otherwise most of them would survive, and be thrown up on to the shore by passing storms.

28 Description de Toute I'Isle, f. 212. Cf. Hill, vol. HI, 1147. The hope of somehow attracting sufficient birds to consume enough swarming locusts to reduce their numbers is an old one. Indeed, that was the hope underlying the locust water from Persia. Although doubtless many birds relish a surfeit of locusts, there is no hard evidence of swarms of locusts ever having been decimated by birds. Cf. Gerard C., Dudgeon's official Report on the great invasion of locusts in Egypt in 1915 (Min. of Agric, Cairo, 1916) and the measures adopted to deal with the problem. That report states that ‘most birds eat the young very readily. The most energetic at this work, however, were: (1) a small bird called ombah by the bedouins [the crested lark]. This little bird seemed to live almost entirely on the nymph. (2) The anas [stork]. This bird was very energetic, but unfortunately rather rare. It is a large bird, with the wing-spread of a kite, white, with black wing-tips, (and) long legs’ (p. 64).

Z. Waloff says that small swarms or groups might be eliminated by birds such as kites, kestrels, vultures, and storks in east Africa: 1000 locusts were found in the alimentary canal of a marabou stork, 300 in a white stork; hence a hundred white storks might’ have a disruptive effect which could help break up small swarms.... when locust breeding was both heavy and widespread the available predatory birds could not control an infestation, but... small bands resulting from scattered layings were completely eliminated’, The upsurges and recessions of the desert locust plague, 72 f. Cf. Ashall, C. and Peggy E., Ellis, Studies on numbers and mortality of field populations of the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria Forskal), Anti-Locust Bulletin, 38, London, 1962, 50 ff.

29 Cobham, , Excerpta Cypria 143. A Latin ruling class of French or Italian origin had governed Greek Orthodox Cyprus since the Third Crusade. They long worked unsuccessfully to lead Cypriots to an acceptance of the Papacy.

30 Vol. IV, 67.

31 Hans Ulrich, Krafft, Reisen und Gefangenschaft, ed. Haszler, K. D. (Bibliothek des Litterarischen Vereins in Stuttgart, 61, 1861), 296 f. See also Oberhummer, 339. The policies of the Ottoman governors were similar to those of their Venetian predecessors, except perhaps that in ordering the daily collection of eggs and ‘worms’ they showed more zeal than ever before. It is possible to believe that the first years of Ottoman rule might have been distinguished by unusual swarms of locusts since such phases can occur at any time—there is no regular periodicity. If Moroccan locusts were becoming endemic to the island in the mid sixteenth century that would go a long way to explaining the authenticity of Krafft's reports. He describes the yearly cycle perfectly, except that he assigns to specific days phenomena which occur over a period of weeks, the actual days depending on the weather. (The belief that their numbers increase every year was of course a superstition.) See Merton, L. F. H., Studies in the ecology of the Moroccan locust, passim; and Dempster, J. P., The population dynamics of the Moroccan locust (Dociostaurus maroccannus Thunberg) in Cyprus, Anti- Locust Bulletin, 27, 1957, passim, and Observations on the Moroccan locust (Dociostaurus maroccanus Thunberg) in Cyprus 1950, Anti-Locust Bulletin, 10, 1951, passim. Krafft either had some exceptional informant or the information he records was common knowledge to some of the inhabitants of the island. ‘Zuuor’ is probably a corruption of tuyūr, the plural form of tair, meaning bird or any winged thing, of Arabic origin.

32 Cited in Cobham, 177; cf. Oberhummer, 338. The belief that however many are destroyed, more will reappear the following year is not surprising, considering the capacity of the locusts to reproduce themselves. Indeed, the Moroccan locusts in Cyprus lay their eggs in places and ways that might well influence observers to agree. The particularly favoured egg-laying areas are on ‘islands’ of uncultivated barren spots on the flat, intensively cultivated central plain. ‘Those “islands” of undisturbed soil, with short grass cover, appeared to be particularly suitable for the breeding of the locust, which occurred mostly in concentrations’, Uvarov, B. P., ‘Cyprus Locust Research Scheme’ in Observations on the Moroccan locust, Anti-Locust Bulletin, 10, 1951, 1. According to L. F. H. Merton, eggs are laid on ‘irregular patches of bare soil, usually 1–4 feet across’; and ‘The breeding areas... are in contact with, or surrounded by, arable land...’ Studies in the ecology of the Moroccan locust, 9 f. 11, 26 ff.

De Villamont believed that the locusts were not consumed by the birds but destroyed by their song and flight. Possibly that was part of the account of his monk-informant from Famagusta, but it seems more likely that he somehow misunderstood what he was told and distorted it.

33 Ioanne, Cootwijk, Itinerarium Hierosolymitanum (Antverbiae, 1619), 112, quoted from Cobham, 201; see also Oberhummer, 339. The wind is very important in the movements of Moroccan locusts. If it is strong, they simply do not move. Otherwise they fly with it. If it leads them to the sea, they of course are destroyed. The stench of millions of dead locusts was all too evident to those who visited the island in August or September, like Cotovicus.

34 Hill, vol. IV, 67.

35 Travels of Macarius, ed. Belfour, F. C., vol. II (London, 1836), 349. Cf. Machaeras, Cyprus, vol. II, 348 f. In Aleppo, to combat locusts, Muslims Christians and Jews ‘combine in supplication’ using icons or holy water and ‘even share the same procession’ (Hasluck, F. W., Christianity and Islam, vol. I, p. 66 n. Cf. Hill, vol. iv, 68, 353).

36 Bas.bakanlik Arsjvi, Istanbul. Muhimme Defterleri, register 3360, no. 6268. I am grateful to Suraiya Faroqhi of the Middle East Technical University in Ankara for pointing out this reference to me.

37 Reisen van Cornelis de Bruyn Door de vermaerdste Deelen van Klein Asia (Delft, 1698), quoted in Cobham, 241 f. See also Oberhummer, 339. Van Bruyn arrived at just the right moment to see thelocust hoppers turn into adults and achieve their full growth. See Merton, L. F. H., Studies in the ecology of the Moroccan locust, 38, 111 f. Little rain falls in the season when adult locusts swarm, so that the sky obscured by the thickness of the insects would in fact be bright and clear. Rounding up locust eggs or catching locust hoppers is a relatively easy task, but collecting large quantities of adults, as per the governor's orders of 1668, would be a formidable task, despite their ubiquity. Van Bruyn apparently never saw birds in action against the locusts himself and he may have offered the two incidents involving birds eating the insects by way of’ scientific’ evidence. For storks and other birds in this context see Waloff, Z., The upsurges and recessions of the desert locust plague, 72 f., and Dudgeon, , Report on the great invasion of locusts in Egypt in 1915 (Egyptian Min. of Agric, 1916), 64, discussed above. ‘Gor’ may be the plural form of ‘tuyūr’, meaning birds and other flying things (seen. 31).

38 ‘A description of the East...’ in John, Pinkerton, A general collection of the best and most interesting voyages and travels in all parts of the world (London, 1811), vol. x, 591. See also Cobham, 268. At that time good quality silk was a major local industry.

39 Travels through different cities of Germany, Italy, Greece and several parts of Asia (London, 1754), 254, 261, 264. See also Cobham, 271, 276, 293 f.

40 Reise nach Palastina in den Jahren von 1749 bis 1752, tr. Linnaeus, Carl (Rostock, 1762), 251–5. Although Hasselquists had studied the flight patterns of locust swarms, he had clearly not thought to examine individual specimens during his travels through Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Cyprus and western Anatolia. As we have seen, the primary locust pest of the Arabic-speaking world is the desert locust, while the Moroccan locust prevails in the two last-named regions. Although he himself states that the locusts which came from the Arabian desert covered very long distances, even reaching Poland, Hasselquists is clearly quite ignorant of the fact that the locusts he saw off the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts were the Morrocan variety. He describes graphically the inability of all but a few isolated specimens among them to reach his ship, but since the vessel was becalmed, those locusts would have had to have flown that far alone in some way. The strong north wind which often blows in the direction of Cyprus would certainly help them to cover much greater distances than otherwise, and indeed, both desert and Moroccan locusts generally fly with the wind at their backs.

Since Hasselquists's time, desert locusts have in fact been encountered flying across the Red Sea, and Mediterranean ships have often sighted them. Moreover, ships in the Atlantic have occasionally observed desert locusts flying more than a thousand miles off the west African coast (Waloff, Z., The upsurges and recessions of the desert locust plague, 73) and thus for the desert variety, the short flight from Syria to Cyprus would not be difficult: certainly the migration routes of locusts is still an area in which entomological research needs to be encouraged.

The idea that locusts might lie concealed on ships is whimsical and fortunately did not take root; if Hasselquists had visited Cyprus in the spring he would have seen, as did Krafft, that locusts were endemic there. As for their absence from Egypt, the official report to the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture on the great locust invasion of 1915 (see n. 28 above) dispels that belief and also mentions other serious attacks in 1891 and 1901 (p. 9). Hasselquists's theory thus prejudged the matter.

41 Cobham, 310 f. As the Archbishop lived in the Sinai, or at least in Palestine, his experience would have been with desert locusts (and he clearly did not know there was any other kind) which are quite capable of the Syria to Cyprus journey, even without a strong wind. Locusts in Cilicia (the lowlands where Anatolia and Syria meet) would presumably have been Moroccan, and would have faced the difficulties described by Hasselquists.

42 Travels in the Island of Cyprus, tr. Cobham, C. D. (Cambridge, 1909), 73 f. Cf. Oberhummer, 339 f. One of Mariti's weakness as a source is his bitter anti-Ottoman feeling. Clearly from his experience in Cyprus he knew well the bad fortune of the simultaneous appearance of winter wheat and locust hoppers. He had no grasp, however, of the effective policies of earlier Ottoman governors, nor did he know that the reluctance of some Greek Orthodox Christians to disturb the locusts antedated Ottoman rule. His observations that their ‘chief habitat’ is the plain of Mesaria is, however, astute. Cf. Uvarov, B. P.: ‘These surveys suggested that the main areas of reproduction of the Moroccan locust in Cyprus are on the central Mesaria plain enclosed between the Troodos mountain range and the northern Kyrenia range’ (‘Cyprus Locust Research Scheme’, Anti-Locust Bulletin, 10, 1951, 1). Cf. A. R. Waterston, ‘Observation on adult locusts’ (ibid., 36).

Moroccan locusts seek out especially what look like bare areas of ground for their egg-laying. B. P. Uvarov found that the plain was almost entirely cultivated, except for scattered barren patches. ‘Those “islands” of undisturbed soil, with short grass cover, appeared to be particularly suitable for the breeding of the locust’ (art cit., Anti-Locust Bulletin, 10, 1951, 1). Cf. A. R. Waterston (ibid., 36) who states that in Cyprus the Moroccan locust is confined to ‘the numerous flat outcrops of limestone, which are uncultivated’. According to Merton, L. F. H., egg-laying places were ‘areas of low vegetational cover with a considerable proportion of bare, compact soil’ (Studies in the ecology of the Moroccan locust, 50, 114 f., 116 f.).Waloff, N. found locust hoppers do best on firm, undisturbed soil with numerous bare spots (‘Observations on locust hoppers’, Anti-Locust Bulletin, 10, 1951, 19). Cf. the account of Archimandrite Cyprianos, published in 1788 (Cobham, 356).

43 Hill, vol. iv, 67 f.

44 Viaggio da Constantinopoli a Bassora ([Yverdun], 1786), 130. Quoted in Cobham, 340.

45 Voyage en Grèce et en Turquie, fait par order de Louis XVI, et avec l'autorisation de la cour ottomane, vol. I (Paris, 1801), 79–83, 86.

Cf. Oberhummer, 340. Although he rightly ridicules Hasselquists, his own observations on the west coast of Africa and those of C. Niebuhr on the east side of the Red Sea both certainly involved desert locusts. On the range of the desert locust, see Uvarov, B. P., Locusts and grasshoppers, 253 f. and the maps in Baron, S., The desert locust, 16 f., 99 IT.

46 Itinéeraire d'unepartiepeu connue de Asie Mineure... (Paris, 1816), 258. Cf. Oberhummer, 340. Corancez arrived at Famagusta sometime around 1814. The Prussian traveller John Bramsen, who reached the island in September 1814, also reported immense quantities of locusts on the island. Letters of a Prussian traveller, vol. I, (London, 1818), 310.

47 Domingo Badia y, Leblich, Voyages d'Ali Bey el Abbassi en Afrique et en Asie, vol. II (Paris, 1814), 152 f. Quoted from Cobham, 410 f. Cf. Oberhummer, 340. Ali Bey thought rather well of himself.

48 Hill, vol. iv, 68. This precise idea does not seem to have arisen previously. However, cf. Krafft, 297, who reports that locusts appear in greater numbers the following year, and de Villamont (Cobham, 177) says that the more they destroy, the more the earth produces the following year.

49 Reisen nach Kos, Halikamassos, Rhodos und der Insel Cypern (Halle, 1852), 88 f. (my tr.). Cf. Oberhummer, 341. No account since that of Krafft in 1579 compares with this in its grasp of the nature of the Moroccan locust's occupation of Cyprus. While Ross was there at a time when he would have been aware of the locust menace, his stay was short and so he relied on unnamed ‘informants’. He successfully identified two of the regions where locust eggs are most commonly laid. He was wrong to imply that they are laid only on southern slopes, for they are also laid near the northern slopes of the Troodos range, but certainly in Karpas and Mesaria districts most would have been laid on southern slopes; and he was correct to mention stony, uncultivated land. His description of how they are destroyed is accurate. Only the notion that all are born the same evening is far off target, but one might concede that, given a single season's observations in a year which was to see major swarms, it might well have seemed that they did hatch as quickly as that.

50 Recherches scientifiques en Orient entreprises par les ordres du Gouvernement pendant les annees 1853–4, (Paris, 1855), 147–9. To fulfil his commission Gaudry travelled extensively in the Middle East, but he devoted particular energy to his study of the agriculture of Cyprus, finding it both easily accessible and a good model for an understanding of Middle Eastern agriculture as a whole (pp. iii f.). Gaudry's work is itself a fine model for the study of the agriculture of Cyprus. He was familiar with the historian M. L. de Mas Latrie's French translations of the chroniclers Dt Strambaldi and F. Amadi, published in Paris in 1852. See also Oberhummer, 340.

51 ‘Reise nach Cypern und Klein Asien 1859’, Petermann's geographische Mittheilungen, 8, 1862, 289306, esp. 293.

52 Die Insel Cypern, ihrer physischen und organischen Natur (Wien, 1865), 462–73 (my tr.). Cf. Oberhummer, 340 f. By this time 13 species of locusts had been identified in Cyprus. A further trip was made all around the southern and western coasts from Larnaka to Kyrenia, where locusts were also found. The range of the Moroccan locust must have been much greater than it was in the 1950s, because apparently none are at present to be found in the mountains or along the north and south coasts. Perhaps this confirms Rainey's theory, which was actually put forward in the context of desert locusts. R. C. Rainey hypothesized that when the numbers of locusts increase, their range increases also. In low years the desert locust is confined to the route from Saharan western Africa to the Red Sea and on to the southern coast of Persia and India, but in prolific years it expands to southern Europe and central Asia. ‘Weather and the movements of locust swarms: a new hypothesis’, Nature, 168, 1951, 1057–60.

53 Quoted in Sir Harry, Luke, Cyprus under the Turks 1571–1878: a record based on the archives of the English consulate in Cyprus under the Levant Company and after (London, 1921 repr. 1969), 206. This is a compassionate and moving statement of the problem which had plagued the island for over half a millennium.

54 Hill, vol. IV, 234.

55 ibid., 236 f.

56 Luke, , Cyprus under the Turks, 226 f. The above extract is taken from a report by the English vice-consul in Cyprus responding to an official enquiry on conditions in the island. In 1867 the locust tax amounted to 4,000,000 piastres (p. 247).

57 Hill, vol. IV, 241, 248. See also Luke, , Cyprus under the Turks, 250f.

58 Hill, vol. IV, 250. See also Luke, , Cyprus under the Turks, 253.

59 Reisen in der Asiatischen Türkei (Leipzig, 1875), 96. See also Oberhummer, 341.

60 ‘Meine zweite Reise auf Cypern im Frühjahr 1873’, Globus, 34, 1878, 135. See also Oberhummer, 341.

61 Levkosia: the capital of Cyprus (London, 1881), 19.

62 Hill, vol. IV, 250, 417: and see below.

63 Clarke, E., Cyprus, past and present (London, 1878) 46.

64 ‘Cyprus’, Macmillan's Magazine, 38, 1878, 332. Cf. Oberhummer, 341. According to Uvarov, B. P., Moroccan locusts have between 18 and 40 eggs per pod (Locusts and grasshoppers, 221). Recent’ frequency analyses of the number of eggs per pod’ reported in Cyprus by L. F. H. Merton show t h a t ‘... the mean varies from about 24 to 3 3.... The highest number of eggs recorded is 40 except for a single peak of 42, but pods with as few as 6 or 7 eggs have been found ‘(Studies in the ecology of the Moroccan locust, 70 ff.). Lang himself provides good descriptions of the egg-laying sites.

65 See Lang's, Cyprus: its history, its present resources, and future prospects (London, 1878), 242–51. Obviously the establishment of the British protectorate over the island in 1878 aroused interest in this information, which had been gathered almost a decade earlier. The same description of Mattei's role is found in Schneider, K., Cypern unler der Englander (Köoln, 1879), 83 f.

66 Cyprus: historical and descriptive, tr., with much additional matter, by Joyner, Mrs. A. Batson, (New York, 1878). The extract above is from pp. 132–4. (The original was also published in 1878.) Loher's serious misconceptions include the idea that locusts shed their skin twice (and in a brief space of time), that they die when their work is done (rather than when their lives reach their term), and that locusts are of a single kind. On the other hand, his descriptions of the rapacity of locusts, of the pasha's policy, and of the method of Mattei are excellent.

67 London, 1886, see pp. 11 ff., 7 f., 5 f., 14, 17 ff., 4. Again and again foreigners underestimated the tenacity of the island's locusts. The British at first neglected the locusts, perhaps assuming that problem had been overcome, for Brown encountered huge swarms.

68 For the relevant laws see The Statute Laws of Cyprus, 1878–1923, vol. I (London, 1923), 511–18, 518–20. By 1891 the funds accumulated for locust destruction far exceeded what could be used for that purpose, and grievances arose when the British openly used them for other purposes. Cypriots were infuriated at the misuse of their taxes. At that point, most of the taxes were reduced by half, while others were eliminated completely. Cf. Hill, vol. IV, 44 f. and n.

69 ‘Report of Lt. General Sir Robert Biddulph, late H.M. High Commissioner, Cyprus’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, 11, 1889, 711 ff. It is possible that excessive population growth in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, combined with the rapid growth of Nicosia and Famagusta, especially after the fall of Acre in 1298, and the spread of plantation cultivation of first sugar (which requires great amounts of firewood in the refining process) and then cotton led to deforestation and destruction of other wild vegetation which may have created the circumstances which gave locusts an opportunity to become entrenched in Cyprus. See the conclusion below for a further discussion of the problem. L. F. H. Merton writes,’... it can be stated that the vegetation of lowland Cyprus is Mediterranean and the natural climax forest or maquis... most of the uncultivated areas in the lowlands are today occupied by highly degraded communities resulting from centuries of interference by man and his animals. Such are the places where locusts breed’ (Studies in the ecology of the Moroccan locust, 4 f.). The principal breeding areas are ‘usually on gently sloping or almost level ground. They are on uncultivated land, invariably grazed by semi-nomadic flocks of sheep and goats. For the most part these pastures have been derived from forest (the natural climax vegetation), originally by cutting, latterly by persistent and heavy grazing. Only rarely do the breeding areas occur on abandoned cultivation or long fallows. Dociostaurus does not occur in forest or maquis, nor does it occur on land under cultivation except as swarms or hopper bands’ (ibid., 112). ‘A number of workers have commented on the unevenness or patchiness of the vegetation... ‘(ibid., 35).

70 See Biddulph Report, 711 ff.

71 Oberhummer, 343 f., but the British possibly wanted to give the impression that they were doing better than they were. The first five years or so of British rule certainly seem to have seen a worsening of the situation.

72 Department of the Interior, Second Report of the United States Entomological Commission for the Years 1878 and 1879, relating to the Rocky Mountain Locust and the Western Cricket and treating of the best means of subduing the locust in its permanent breeding grounds... in pursuance of appropriations made by Congress for this purpose (Washington, 1880). 42 f.

73 Egyptian Min. of Ag., Report on the great invasion of locusts in Egypt in 1915, 42 ff. As they and their predecessors had in Cyprus, the British colonial administration in Egypt required corvee labour; in Egypt villagers were forcibly recruited for ‘several weeks’, during which time they received no pay and only in case of necessity were provided with food, but were paid 5 Pts. per oke (1.248 kg. in Egypt) for eggs and 1 millieme per oke for locusts. The entire able-bodied population was expected to dig trenches or drive locust hoppers, as in 1891 and 1904 (pp. 9, 44 f.).

74 ‘The locust in Cyprus’, Annals of Applied Biology, 4, 19171918, 119–22. Stebbing himself was perhaps overly impressed by what he considered to be the British role in reducing the Moroccan locust menace in Cyprus. His raising the issue o f Eastern fatalism’ is unscientific and ignores long periods when effective efforts were made to eliminate or control locusts. Indeed, Stebbing's account of Cypriot villagers scaring locusts away by making loud sounds with sticks and old tins is directly counter to reports from Egypt that noise was found to be inconsequential in driving them. Brushfires would appear to be an extremely desperate and dangerous ploy for the British to oversee, and destructive of Cyprus's meagre wood supply. Burning ‘heath and rubble’ to scare off the locusts and digging trenches were both used, to no avail, in North Africa in 1725, according to Thomas Shaw, D.D., Observations relating to parts of Barbary and the Levant (Oxford, 1738), 257.

According to WalofFs distribution map of desert locusts, Cyprus is the only place in the whole eastern Mediterranean (or Aegean) where desert locusts swarm. All the other places shown on her map for the period for which she collected data (1910–65) are either in the basin of the Red sea or the Persian Gulf (The upsurges and recessions of the desert locust, 6, map 1; 22, table 1). But in fact, the only documented appearance of desert locusts in Cyprus is Stebbing's report on 1915, so Cyprus has only rarely been exposed to the desert locust. (1915 was a year when locusts were also swarming in Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Iran, western Pakistan, north-west India, north-central India and eastern India, so that in that year at least, they swarmed over vast contiguous areas. See also Davies, D. E., Seasonal breeding and migrations of the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria Forskal) in North-Eastern Africa and the Middle East, Anti- Locust Memoir, 4, London, 1952, p. 11 and maps 8, 9, and 12; pp. 51, 52, 55.)

75 Stebbing, ’The locust in Cyprus’, 119–22.

76 Locusts and grasshoppers; a handbook for their study and control, op. cit., 225 ff., 230 ff., 326–9. Uvarov also erred about western Anatolia, where he thought breeding occurred on the high plateaux. An official invitation from the Turkish government in 1931 to study the local locust problem and to advise on locust control gave Uvarov the opportunity to learn otherwise. See ‘Ecological studies of the Moroccan locust in Western Anatolia’, Bulletin of Entomological Research, 23, 1932, 277 f. There were no ‘reservations’ on the plateaux nor in the valleys, only on the slopes of plateaux or mountain ridges, at elevations of between 500 and 100 m. ‘Where the eggs are found are usually the barest of all, often with large outcroppings of stones.’ On Uvarov and the Anti-Locust Research Centre, see Baron, S., The desert locust, pp. x–xi.

77 Uvarov, , ‘Cyprus Locust Research Scheme’, Anti-Locust Bulletin, 10, 1951, 1. As mentioned above, Uvarov had been partially disabused of his early views on the egg-laying sites of locusts by his field research in Turkey in 1931. The process was completed by his own first-hand experience and that of his colleagues in Cyprus after 1948. Rather than inaccessible mountain sites, it was the low, flat or hilly elevations to which Moroccan locusts confined their breeding activities, which made the searching out and destruction of the eggs and young hoppers relatively easy.

The Anti-Locust Research Centre team does not seem to have been aware of the important studies by Gaudry, Unger or Oberhummer, or even Lang, not to mention Krafft or Hasselquists and Linnaeus. Indeed, none seems to have known anything about even Sir George Hill or C. D. Cobham, whose data would have greatly facilitated their work. Nevertheless, the field work they carried out was of high quality.

78 Waterston, , ‘Observations on adult locusts’, Anti-Locust Bulletin, 10, 1951, 30.

79 Waloff, N., ‘Observations on locust hoppers’ (ibid., 18 f.).

80 Waterston, , ‘Observations on adult locusts’ (ibid., 37).

81 Waloff, N., ‘Observations on locust hoppers’ (ibid., 19).

82 Studies in the ecology of the Moroccan locust, 47. See also, 9, 30, 35, 50, 65.

83 Merton, op. cit., 9, 43 f., 111.

84 Merton, op. cit., 26, 111.

85 ibid., 111–13, 114ff.

86 Vol. i, 10. Cf. also p. 174.

87 Rostovzeff, , op. cit., vol. ii, 1168–70, 1256. See also, Hill, vol. i, 7.

88 Roman Asia Minor (Baltimore, 1938), 616.

89 Studies in the ecology of the moroccan locust, 30, 134, 34.

90 Venice: the hinge of Europe, 1081–1798 (Chicago, 1974), 76, 56, 134.

91 The research for this study was conducted in the British Library, London; Kibris Türk Milli Arsivi ve Arastirma Merkezi, Girne (Kyrenia), where all the staff and especially the director, Mustafa Hajim Altan, provided endless help and hospitality, particularly in relation to their collection of British Colonial Records; Milli Kutuphane in Lefkoşa, Nicosia; Magosa Kutuphane, Famagusta; the Newberry Library Chicago, and of course in the University of Illinois Library, Urbana.

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The locust problem in Cyprus

  • Ronald C. Jennings


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