Reviewing the different empires that ruled over the island of Cyprus, this contribution takes issue with Anthony Giddens’ contention that imperial systems were largely self-contained in political and economic terms. In fact, almost all the empires discussed here interacted with other sizeable political units; and Cyprus’s trade links were normally not confined to any of the empires that happened to control it. However, Giddiness’ concept of an imperial system can be maintained if it is, in the vein of Niklas Luhmann, reconceptualized as being operationally closed but, at the same time, open to the environment. This perspective also allows us to distinguish modern imperial systems from pre-modern ones: while the latter were coupled with two structurally different types of society identified by Giddens (tribal and class-divided), in the case of the former it is three types (tribal, class-divided and capitalist). Thus, being more complex than their predecessors, modern empires are also more fragile.
Keywords: Cyprus, Empire, Systems theory, Giddens, Luhmann.