During antiquity, the people of Zakynthos worshipped Apollo and Diana. According to the myth, Apollo sang, accompanied by his lyre and his attendants, because he was touched by the island's striking beauty. Diana went hunting in the dense forests. According to Homer, the island took its name from Zakynthos, son of Dardanos, king of Phrygie. Zakynthos was the island's first inhabitant, coming from Psofida, a town in Arcadie. The same fact is corroborated by Pavsanias who claims that the island of Zakynthos was inhabited in 1500 BC.
According to testimonies from Pafsanias and Thucydides, the island of Zakynthos was inhabited for the first time in 1500 BC by Achaians from Psofida, in Arcadia. The island's acropolis was named after these Achaians. The new inhabitants worshipped the Olympian gods, especially Apollo, a fact corroborated by the era's coins which depict Apollo, or his sacred tripod. Later, the island of Zakynthos, along with Lefkada and Kefalonia, was conquered by Laertis, son of Arkissios, king of Kefalonia. The Zakynthians founded the powerful colonies Crete and Panos on the Iberian peninsula. During the Persian War, the island remained neural. Before the Peloponnese War, Zakynthos supported the Lacedaemonians until 456 BC when the Athenians defeated Sparta. In the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, Zakynthos, supporting the Athenian Alliance, fought the Corinthians, particularly in the Battle of Lefkimi (434 BC) and in the expedition against Sicily. The island's defeat led to its conquest by Sparta. In the 3rd century BC, although the Zakynthians fought hard, supporting the Aetolic Confederacy against king Philip V', the island of Zakynthos remained under Macedonian rule until it was conquered by the Romans.
In the late 3rd and early 2nd century BC, Zakynthos is no longer dominated by the Macedonians, but by the Roman Titus Falaminius. During the Roman Rule, the conquerors had granted the Zakynthians with some autonomy regarding legislation. In return, the Zakynthians were obliged to pay taxes to the Romans. Although the island's inhabitants attempted repeatedly to dispense from the Roman domination, yet, whenever necessary, the Zakynthians fought together with the Romans, in order to successfully confront the attack of Archelaos and the pirate raids which were dealt with very successfully by the Roman Admiral Pompeius. Until 329 AD, the island of Zakynthos was part of the Roman Country of Achaia, along with Epirus, Peloponissos and all the islands except Crete. Later, Zakynthos became part of the Country of Iliria. The decline of the Roman Empire urged several conquerors to make the most of the circumstances and people such as the Arabs, the Vandals, the Hans and the Goths attempted to conquer the island of Zakynthos.
During the Byzantine period, Zakynthos was detached from the scheme of Loggovardia and became part of the scheme of Kefalonia, as were the rest of the Ionian Islands. Also during the Byzantine Period, the Zakynthians lived in tremendous poverty, with three social classes: the workers, the merchants and the nobles. The poor quality of life was strained by the constant raids from the Vandals (467-477 AD), the Goths, the Arabs and the Saracenes. Under these circumstances, the island did not have the opportunity to develop, as the inhabitants' only interest was to preserve their land and freedom. At the end of the Byzantine Period, the island was attacked by the Crusaders, the Normands and the Franks. This was when christianity was introduced to the island, and the tradition claims that Maria Magdalene preached here in 34 AD, naming the village of Maries after herself.
In 1185 AD, Zakynthos and Kefalonia were detached from Byzantium, thus forming the "Palatian Country of Kefalonia and Zakynthos" which Goulielmo B' of Sicily granted to Margaritonis (alias Margaritos) from Vrindisio, today known in Italy as Brindisi. During the time of 1185-1357 AD, the country was governed by the family of Orsini, who came from Italy's Pedimonte region and conquered Lefkada and Ithaki. In 1194, the new governor, the pirate Matteos Orsini, constantly raided the surrounding areas. Despite malice and murders, the Orsini family governed the island for two centuries until the death of Ioannis-Nikolaos and his wife, Anna Palaiologou. In the 1357 AD the Country was governed by Leonardo Tokka. During this period, the orthodox faith thrived, new churches and monasteries were built and the island's population increased significantly. Leonardo was very friendly with the people, unlike his successor Carlo A' who caused great misfortune to the poor. Throughout the period of Frank rule, the island's history was dominated by murders, conspiracies and intrigues, therefore prohibiting Zakynthos's development. In 1479, the Turks, making the most of the circumstances, defeated Andonis Tokkos and dominated the island of Zakynthos for five years.
In 1484 Zakynthos came under Venetian Rule because of the treaty signed by the Venetians and the Turks. According to this treaty, the Venetians were to govern the Ionian Islands, paying in return, substantial taxes to the Sultan. This period is characterized by a significant cultural development. The local features, the traditions and the local customs were influenced by the Italian traditions and customs. Thus, the infamous Ionian civilization was created. People obtained a higher quality of life and forgot their former, long period of poverty. Zakynthos's population increased considerably because of refugees from Methoni, Koroni, Nafplion, Nafpaktos and Monemvassia. The head of the government was the Prudent, who was elected and supervised by the Nobles Council. People were divided into three classes: the nobles, the bourgeoisie and the commoners (:Popolari). Although the status quo had improved in comparison with previous periods, the majority of the people, the commoners, had almost no rights. In the contrast, the nobles had many rights and privileges, written in the infamous "Golden Book" ("Libro d'oro"). In 1628 the uprising of the commoners, who wanted political freedom, was suppressed violently. After being introduced to the ideas of the French Revolution, the Zakynthians founded the Battalion of the Jacobins and fought for equal rights for everyone. In 1797 Venetian Rule came to end, as the French conquered the island of Zakynthos.
On July 4th 1797, the French conquered Zakynthos. Napoleon gave hope to the inhabitants by promising to free the Ionian Islands. In the central square of Zakynthos, Agios Markos square, during celebratory festivities, the tree of freedom was planed and the Limbro d'Oro, the book of the nobles' names and privileges, was burnt. French Rule on the Ionian Islands became official with the singing of the treaty of Kamboformio on October 17, 1797. The Ionian Islands became part of France on November 1, 1797. This did not last for long, however, as in October of 1798, Russian-Turkish fleet disembarked on the island. These new conquerors reinstated the nobles' privileges. On March 21, 1800, the "Ionian State", which was under the Sultan's supervision, was founded in Constantinople. The government was made up exclusively of privileged rich nobles, which resulted in constant uprisings throughout the Ionian Islands. Under these circumstances, in 1802, after the treaty of Amien, the Count Georgio Motsenigo was sent to the Ionian Islands in order to carry out elections for new, more democratically elected, representatives. The latter, on December 23, 1803, drafted a new constitution, creating the "Democracy of the Ionian Islands". In 1807, after signing the treaty of Tilsit, Czar. Alexander B' granted the French command of the Ionian Islands, allowing its people to hope for a peaceful life. Their hopes were soon extinguished as the English conquered the island on September 19, 1809.
On September 19, 1809, the English conquered Zakynthos and slowly, in spite of French' objections, subdued all the Ionian Islands and placed them under their rule. The English Occupation became official with the signing of a decree founding the "United States of the Ionian Islands" on November 5, 1815, according to the treaty of Paris. This decree stated that the island's government would be under the supervision of England and the English Lord Commissioner. The English Occupation was characterized by constant political re-arrangements and changes. It is the time when many important work prospects were executed, such as the creation of roads and the building of churches, bridges and part of the harbour.
Although Zakynthos remained under England's control, it played a significant role in the struggle against the Turks during the revolution of 1821. Tradition claims that in the church of Agios Georgios Filikon, the war heroes Constantinos Petmezas, Theodoros Kolokotronis and Nikitaras took their vows. The English unsuccessfully tried to prevent the Zakynthians from participating in the Greek Revolution. The Zakynthians offered money for the cause and men for the battles in the Peloponnese. After the recognition of Greece, the inhabitants of the Ionian Islands rose up and demanded changes in the constitution. Due to the crisis of the English policy in Greece and to popular demand, England resigned from the government of the Ionian Islands, which were united with the rest of Greece on September 23, 1863. On May 21, 1864, Thrassivoulos Zaimis took over the command of the Ionian Islands from Henry Storcks.
During World War II, many Zakynthians participated in the resistance against the Germans. The island of Zakynthos was free from German Occupation in 1945. Eight years later, in 1953 a strong earthquake shook the Ionian Islands causing massive destruction to Zakynthos. Most of the town's houses fell, and the inhabitants have made great efforts to restore their life to its proper state.
Nikolaos Doxaras was born in 1710. He was son of the famous hagiographer and painter Panagiotis Doxaras. His work was influenced by western techniques and he supported novelties introduced by his father. Doxaras's most significant works were the painting of the central part of the arch of Panagia Faneromeni, in Zakynthos, the arch of the temple of Agios Minas, in Lefkada and the icon of Jesus (1756), which is exhibited in the Museum of Loverdos in Athens. Nikolaos Doxaras died in Zakynthos, in 1775.
Andreas Kalvos was born in Zakynthos in 1792. From a young age, Andreas Kalvos, as well as his brother, was deprived of familial tenderness, as his parents were divorced in 1805 and he lived with his father who died during one of his travels in 1812. The lack of serenity in the family affected his personality, causing him to become very sensitive and introverted. After his father's death, Kalvos went to Florence where he met Hugo Foscalo. He followed Foscalo to Zurich and London, where he finally left him. In London, Kalvos married an English girl who soon died. After returning to Italy, Kalvos contacted the Italian patriots called "Garbonari". After being persecuted for his ideas, Kalvos went to Geneva in 1823, where his "Odes", in 1824, were quite successful. He then came to Greece where, disappointed with the course of the Greek Revolution, he retired to Corfu for 27 years without ever attempting to write poetry again. In 1852, Kalvos went back to England where he married for the second time. He died there, in 1869. In 1960, his remains were transferred to his motherland. Kalvos's work was praised by C. Palamas and Odusseus Elytis. His poetry was a hymn to patriotic causes, using linguistic and metric features which made it difficult to understand. This is the reason why Kalvos never became successful in Greece, as he did abroad. Nevertheless his contribution to the Greek poetry is undeniable.
Nikolaos Kandounis was born in Zakynthos, in 1767. He was a self-taught painter, a representative of the Ionian School. He learned the basics of painting from Nikolaos Koutouzis from whom he was influenced. In 1786, although only 19-years-old he was ordained as a priest at the church of Evagelistria in Zakynthos. Due to his participation in the Hetaeria, the English exiled him, in 1821, in the monastery of Kira on the islet Dia, near Kefalonia. During his stay there, he created his beautiful works "The Sink", "The Last Supper" and "The Pilate's Decision". The first two are exhibited in the monastery of Platitera. Nikolaos Koundounis created a lot of cosmic works, mostly portraits.
Nikolaos Koutouzis was born in Zakynthos in 1741. He studied near Nikolaos Doxaras, who taught him the basic technique of the Ionian School, and he assisted his teacher in the decoration of the temple of Panagia Faneromeni, in Zakynthos. At the age of 25, he crated his first work, the "Litany of Agios Dionissios" for the church of Agios Dionissios. He then attended courses on painting in Italy. After his return to Zakynthos, he was ordained as a priest at the church of Agios Spiridon Falbouriaris. Nikolaos Koutouzis created a series of works, the most prominent being the paintings for the church of Agios Dionissios, the decoration of the icon stand of Agios Ioannis Logotheton the picture of "Jesus on the cross" in Analipsi, the arch of the church of Pangia Xenon in Corfu, etc. Among other things, he painted portraits, book covers and utensils. His remarkable work is considered to have introduced a new period to the Ionian School. Nikolaos Koutouzis died in Zakynthos in 1813.
Greece's national poet, Dionissios Solomos, was born in Zakynthos, in 1798. After his father's death when the poet was only ten years old, the went to Italy where he stayed for ten years, attending Italian schools taking courses in Law, literature and philosophy. In Italy, he was influenced by the great Italian tradition and the great Italian writers, and he wrote many pieces in the Italian language. When he returned to Zakynthos, he took his vows along with the other members of the Hetaeria in the church of Agios Georgios Filikon, and he played a significant role in the insurrections of Zakynthos. In 1823 he wrote the "Hymn to Liberty" which was musically composed by Nikolaos Mantzaros and became Greece's National Anthem. Other works of Solomos are: "To Lord Byron's Death", "The Free Besieged", "Lambros", "The Destruction of Psara" and others. Dionissios Solomos died in Corfu, in 1857.
Georgios Tertsetis was born in Zakynthos in 1800. He studied Law in Milan and Pavia where he was influenced by the work of the representatives of the European Enlightenment. In 1820, he returned to Zakynthos, where he became a member of the Hetaeria and contributed to the Greek Revolution. He was friend with Dionissios Solomos and Spiridon Trikoupis. In 1832, he was appointed teacher to the "Central School of War" in Nafplio and later he became a judge. One of the most critical points in his life was his refusal to sign the death penalty of Kolokotronis, Plapoutas and other Captains, a fact which caused his dismissal from the government. In 1836, he went to Paris, where he studied history, literature, philosophy and law. In 1843, he returned to Greece where he published the magazine Regas. In 1846, he was appointed Commissary of the Library and Archives of the Parliament, and he established the Historical Archives of the Parliament. In 1864, he was elected congressman of Zakynthos, from the political party of Con. Lonvardos. He died in Athens in 1874. Georgios Tersetis was known for his contribution to the Greek Revolution and the spread of the common language, as he was the first congressman ever to use the common language in his speeches. His poetic works were: "Kissing" (1839), "Simple Language" (1834), "Korina and Pindarus" (1853), "The dream of King" (1853), and "The Wedding of Alexander the Great" (1856). He also wrote the "Memoirs of Kolokotronis".
The novelist, playwright, translator, and journalist Gregorios Xenopoulos was born in Constantinople in 1867. He grew up in Zakynthos and attended courses in Physics and Mathematics at the University of Athens, although he was aware of his inclination towards literature and journalism. He established the magazines Diaplasi Pedon and Nea Estia. In 1932, he became a member of the Academy of Athens. He died in Athens, in 1951. His ideas were influenced by the socialistic ideas and the local traditions of Zakynthos. He is considered to be the founder of the neo-hellenic theatre. His most significant works were: "Temptation", "Fioro di Levante", "Stella Violandi", the "Secret of Countess Valerena" and others.