Zakynthos History

Zakynthos has been well known since the times of Omiros, the ancient Greek poet, and the Trojan war, when it was part of the kingdom of Odysseas. One of the predominant factors regarding the islands colonisation is that Dardanos, the son of the King of Troy, was its first settler. The modern historian P. Hiotis, having studied old historical works arrives at the conclusion that the first settlers who came to Zakynthos were Arcadians from the city of Psofida - Dardanos was originally of Arcadian descent but had immigrated to Asia. From Asia, Dardanos arrived in Zakynthos and gave his own name to the new town and the name of Psofida to its castle. In particular, the tendency of the ancient inhabitants of the island towards music and the worship of the Goddess Artemis, typical characteristics of the Arcadians, supports this connection.

After the Trojan war, the Zakynthians became independent from the kingdom of Ithaca and installed Democracy. Following this, the island was then ruled by the Democrats for some 650 years. During this period Zakynthos prospered both developmentally and in population growth. At this time the first Zakynthian colony was established in Spain and named Zakantha.

During the period of the Persian wars the Zakynthians remained neutral, whereas during the Peloponesian was they supported the Athenians.  Following this, the Macedonians and later the Romans, governed Zakynthos granting them a level of independence in the day to day running of the island. It is rumoured that Christianity first became known to the island in 34AD through Mary Magdalen who stopped at the island on her way to Rome, another popular version being that St. Beatrice was responsible.

During the Byzantine period, the island was frequently attacked by pirates, would-be conquerors and barbarians. With the crusades of the west, the Ionian islands were to encounter many new adventures Zakynthos, along with the other Ionian islands, was occupied successively by the Venetians, the Franks, inhabitants of the Andes, the kingdom of Naples and the Tokous (the Florentine princes). When the rest of Greece was seized by the Turks in 1484, Zakynthos and the other Ionian islands fell under the sovereignty of the Venetians.

Under their rule, Zakynthos became both organised and influenced by the Venetians which led to the re-birth of the island. The Venetians established themselves in the capital of the island where they built the castle and created the substructures for the everyday operations of the island. The new town slowly expanded outside the boundaries of the ancient castle of Psofidas, moving down towards the sea where over the years a large, commercial harbour was created.

The lower classes became oppressed by the higher echelons so when the French democrats arrived in 1797, they were met with great enthusiasm.  Neither the social or economic problems were to be solved though as a result of the new ruling so the Zakynthians once again sought new protectors. In 1798 discontentment returned under the rule of the Russo-Turks lasting until 1807 followed by the succession of the French Empire (1807 - 1814) and finally, the British from 1814 until 1864.

The British were responsible simultaneously for an organised form of government and public works. The new ideas of the times and the new-found independence of Greece from the Turks created a radical movement which resulted in the re-union of Zakynthos and the other Ionian islands with Greece on the 2nd May 1824 when the Greek flag was finally raised again on the island.