Zakynthos, or the Flower of the East as the Venetians used to call it, was inhabited from the Neolithic Times, as archaeological excavations have proved. Homer first mentioned the island in the Iliad and the Odyssey, stating that the first inhabitants were the son of King Dardanos of Troy called Zakynthos and his men and that they first came on the island around 1,500-1,600 BC. The island was then conquered by the King Arkeisios of Kefalonia.
Because of the island’s strategic position and fertile land, its inhabitants became quite wealthy and established various colonies in Crete, Paros, and even Spain. In the 5th century, during the Persian Wars, Zakynthos remained neutral and during the Peloponnesian War, it took part in the Athenian Alliance. When the Alliance was dissolved after the Athenian defeat in the expedition against Sicily, Zakynthos came under the Lacedaemonian rule, which established an oligarchy on the island and ended the democracy. Later on, the inhabitants of Zakynthos organized a revolution and managed to restore their democratic political system.
After the Macedonian Wars, Zakynthos fell under Macedonian rule and later was occupied by the Romans. This last domination marked the history of Zakynthos. At the beginning of the Roman domination, a proconsul organized the administration of the island according to Roman laws. Later Zakynthos gained some autonomy but had to pay an annual tax to the Romans and to send soldiers to the Roman legion. The Islanders had the freedom to establish their own laws and had their own municipality, parliament, and coins. For Zakynthos and its inhabitants, the Roman times were a period of great material and cultural development.
From Venetian times till present
Around 34 AD, Christianity arrived on the island and became dominant in the second half of the 3rd century AD during the rise of the Byzantine Empire, formed by Constantine the Great. Then, the island of Zakynthos, along with the other Ionian Islands fell under Venetian and Frank domination, followed by the rule of the King of Naples and the Prince of Florence.
During the 15th century, when the rest of Greece was under Turkish rule, the Ionian Islands were still under Venetian domination, with established a rude aristocratic oligarchic political system. The Venetians promoted the cultural heritage of Zakynthos with the birth of many important Greek poets and writers, such as the renowned Andreas Kalvos, the National Greek poet Dionysios Solomos, the judge Georgios Tertsetis and the theatrical writer Antonis Matessis. A family that played an important role in local affairs is the Roma family. In 1797, French republicans came on the island promising to change the social, economic and political system but nothing lasted very long.
The oligarchy was re-established when the Russians and the Turks conquered the island. The French managed again to take Zakynthos but the English followed, who stayed on the island from 1814 to 1864. During their domination, the English modernized and developed the administration and public works on the island. Even having escaped the Ottoman rule, Zakynthos helped the rest of Greece in the Revolution for Independence against the Turks. Zakynthos and the other Ionian Islands were integrated into the Greek State on the 21st of May, 1864.