Lefkada owes its name to the white (lefkos in Greek) rocks that characterize the southern part of the island, the cape of Lefkata. The name was first given to the ancient city of Lefkada and then to the entire island. According to mythology, the poet Sappho jumped to the sea from these white rocks as she couldn't endure the torture of her love for Phaon.
The Corinthians colonised the island during the 7th century BC and built the new town of Lefkas and started the construction of the canal that separates Lefkada from the mainland in 650 BC, turning Lefkada into an island. During this period, the island was constituted of many autonomous cities which kept on flourishing over the years. Lefkada played an important role in the Persian Wars and participated to the battles of the other Greek cities. The island sent three ships to help during the famous Battle of Salamina, in 480 BC as well as 800 men to fight in the battle of Plataeae.
Lefkada also took part in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) helping its mother-city, Corinth, which was on the Spartans side. In 343 BC, the island became an ally of the Athenians in order to fight the Macedonians, whose king was Philip II, but Athens lost the battle and Lefkada fell under Macedonian rule. The island became independent in 312 BC.
In the 3rd century BC, the island of Lefkada became part of the Acarnanian Federation along with a part of the mainland. In 230 BC, it allied with the Macedonians to repress the Roman attacks but the Romans won and, in 198 BC, the island came under Roman domination and became part of the Roman province of Nikopolis. Lefkada became part of the province of Achaia during the Byzantine Period and suffered from various pirate attacks due to its strategic position. During the 6th century AD, Lefkada was included into the "Scheme of Kefalonia" and became, after a temporary overthrow by the crusaders, part of the Dominion of Epirus.
When the Franks conquered Constantinople, in 1204, Lefkada came under their domination and then under Sicilian rule in 1294, when the bishop Nikiforos Angelos gave the island as a dory to his daughter who married the Sicilian Giovanni Orsini. Until 1331, Lefkada was ruled by the Orsini Family, who built the Castle of Agia Mavra. After that, Lefkada came under the domination of various dynasties until 1479, when it was conquered by the Turks who ruled the island until 1684. Then, the island came under the rule of the Venetians who were under the commands of Morozini. During this period, an important period in the history of Lefkada, the capital was moved to its present location and the economy flourished thanks to the development of trade and navigation.
The Venetian domination ended in 1797 when Napoleon Bonaparte and his troops conquered Venice; with the treaty of Kamboformio, the island of Lefkada became part of the French State. In 1799 the allied fleet of the Turks, the Russian and the English won over the French and conquered Lefkada. The Ionian State was established in Constantinople on March 1800, with the aim to create the Septinsular Republic. The attempt failed in 1807 because the island returned under French rule. This period was a period of prosperity and great agricultural improvements for the island. In the meantime the English started occupying the other Ionian Islands and managed to occupy Lefkada in 1810. This occupation became official with the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1815.
During the English domination, the Greek language became official, new road networks were built and the town's water supply was organized and improved. The official English occupation didn't last for long but the English Protection of the Ionian Islands lasted until 1864. During the English rule and Protection, Lefkada and the other Ionian Islands helped the rest of Greece which was still under Turkish rule.
This period also allowed inspiration for many writers such as Yakumo Koizumi also known as Lafcadio Hearn and Angelos Sikelianos. In the 21st May of 1864, a treaty was signed proclaiming the unification of the Ionian Islands (among which is Lefkada) with the independent and newly born Greek State.