Historical background


1.Pre-historic and ancient times.
The name Zakynthos appears in myths and legends going back to prehistoric times. Homer was the first to refer to the island, both in the Iliad and the Odyssey. From Homer's "Iliad", we can conclude that Zakynthos together with Kephallonia, Lefkada and Acarnania- was part of the domain of Odysseus, the legendary king of Ithaca. It is said that it took its name from Zakynthus, son of the king of Phrygia Dardanus. Zakynthus, along with Achaean fighters, set off from the city of Psophis in Arcadia, where his brothers reigned, to colonize the island. He built an acropolis, probably at the location where the Venetian castle is today, which he named Psophida. According to Pausanias and Thucydides this happened around 1500 BC. The new inhabitants worshipped the Olympian gods, mainly Apollo and Diana, as suggested by the ancient coins found in the area. There are no testimonies of participation by Zakynthos in the Persian Wars of 5th century BC and it is quite likely that the island maintained a neutral position. During the Peloponnesian War, the Zakynthians supported the Athenian Alliance and participated in the expedition against Sicily. After the failure of the expedition, the Athenian Alliance was dissolved and Zakynthos was conquered by Sparta. Later on it fell under the influence of the Macedonians, until the final fall into the hands of the Romans.


2.Roman and Byzantine times.
In the 2nd century B.C., Zakynthos was under the Roman Empire. Initially it was administered by a Roman proconsul according to the Roman Law; later the citizens acquired a degree of autonomy with the obligation to pay an annual tax to the Romans and to offer soldiers to man Roman legions. Despite that, the islanders, especially in the beginning, revolted several times against the Roman occupation. On many occasions though, they helped the Romans to defend the island from raids, especially from pirates, who preyed upon the coasts of the Mediterranean. During those years the island developed both materially and culturally. The decline and collapse of the Roman Empire, gave new impetus to several aspiring conquerors. For decades the local population faced successive raids by Goths, Vandals and Arabs, which brought them to the threshold of poverty. There is no historically confirmed information about the time Christianity was introduced to Zakynthos; we conclude that the new religion became dominant in the second half of the 3rd century AD. Local tradition supports that Maria Magdalene, going from Jerusalem to Rome, in 34 AD, stopped at the island and preached the teachings of Jesus. The village where she taught, at the west side of the island, was called Maries to commemorate this event. During the Byzantine period the residents of Zakynthos continued to live in poverty, without any prospect of development, because of island's location at the periphery of the Byzantine Empire and, therefore, an easy target of raids. At the beginning of the 2nd millennium, as the Byzantine Empire marches towards its collapse, a new sort of raid appeared on the scene. Under the pretext of liberating the Holy Lands, crusader troops of adventurers and booty-hunters swarmed to invade the remotest Byzantine Counties.


3.Frankish domination.
At the end of 12th century AD, Frank raiders conquered the Ionian islands and established the first Frank hegemonies in Greece. In 1185 the Palatine County of Cephalonia and Zante was found, which survived for three centuries under the Orsini Family in the beginning and the Tokki later. Throughout the period of Frank rule the island's history was characterized by conspiracy, intrigue and murder. During the Tokki hegemony, though, the living conditions improved and the population of the island grew to 25.000 residents. In 1479 Turks conquered and destroyed Zakynthos and the last Tokkos deserted the island, incapable of doing anything to contain the enemy's advances.


4.Venetian domination.
The Venetians appreciated the strategic position of Zakynthos between the Greek and Italian mainlands and after admirable war and diplomatic efforts they conquered the island in 1485. The Venetian domination offered Zakynthos the stability and the opportunities for development which they were deprived of for centuries. The decimated population only few of the islanders had survived the Turkish domination was reinforced with Venetian citizens and Greeks in search of refuge after their lands had been taken by the Turks. This way Zakynthos beccame a center for the persecuted Greeks and the center of Hellenism. The Greek consciousness and tradition interacted with the intense Western influence and led to a new spirit which found expression through various forms of art. As in all Venetian ruled territories, the residents were divided in three social classes: the nobility (nobili), the citizens (civili) and the common people (popolari). Only the nobility had any civil rights and the members of this class were registered in the Golden Book, the Libro d'Oro. Nobility's inhumane and insatiable rapacity led to the social explosion known as the People's Rebellion (1628-1632). It was the first social revolution in the history of modern Greece and it ended in a blood bath. The message of the French Revolution (1789) was received on Zakynthos with enthusiasm. The Jacobin Association was formed, a political organization whose object was the political equality with the nobility. In 1797 the Venetian authority came to end after three centuries, as the French democrats conquered the island.


5.French and Russo-Turkish periode.
On July 4th 1797 the tricolor democratic flag substituted the flag of Saint Marcus in Zakynthos. A few days later, amid demonstrations of enthusiasm and relief, the Golden Book, the book of the noble's names and privileges, was burnt in the square of St Marcus. The French tenure lasted only 15 months. In October 1799 the French garrison was forced to surrender by Russians and Turks. In 1800 the two powers decided to establish an independent state under the name "The State of the Ionian Islands" under the supervision of Russia and Turkey. To the latter the new established state was forced to pay an annual tax. The State of the Ionian Islands was the first independent Greek state of modern history and lasted seven years. In 1807 the French troops, this time under the Emperor Napoleon, conquered the Ionian islands. Two years later, in 1809, the British navy subjugated Zakynthos.


6.English protection.
The British tenure (1809-1864) was the last tenure period before they united with Greece. During this period many infrastructure works were executed, such as bridges and part of the harbour. During the years which preceded the Greek Revolution against the Turks, the people of Zakynthos made intense secret preparations in order to help their fellow Greeks. This fact brought about many conflicts between the islanders and the British administration. Conflicts become more intense in 1821 after the outbreak of the Greek Revolution. Willing to preserve the neutrality, the British Administration used every means to prevent residents from supporting the Revolt. Despite persecutions, imprisonments and hangings, the Zakynthians actively supported the rebellious Greeks. After the liberation of Greece and the establishment of the Greek State, the Ionian islands claimed their unification with Greece. Despite its strong objection, Britain together with France and Russia signed on June 5 1863, in London, the Treaty according to which Britain gave up its role as the power protecting the Ionian Islands. On May 21st 1864 the unification of the Ionian Islands with Greece became official.


7.Recent years.
Now a part of Greece, Zakynthos and the other Ionian islands shared the course of history with the rest of the country. During Word War II, the island was to be subjected along with the rest of the country, to occupation by the Italians and the Germans. Many islanders participated in the resistance against the occupying army and after much conflict and sacrifice the island was liberated from German Occupation in 1945. A few years later, in 1953, a terrifying earthquake shook the islands of Ionian Sea causing massive destruction to Zakynthos. Nearly all of Zakynthos old mansions and churches were razed to the ground. The flattened capital was rebuilt under strict anti-earthquake regulations, endeavoring to retain the character of the old town.