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, reaching the island around 1500-1600 BC.
Because of the island's strategic position and fertile land, its inhabitants became 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 disintegrated after the Athenian defeat in the expedition against Sicily, Zakynthos came under the Lacedaemonians (Spartans), who established an oligarchy on the island and ended the democracy. Later on, the inhabitants of Zakynthos organized a revolution and restored the democratic political system.
After the Macedonian Wars, Zakynthos fell under Macedonian rule for some time, yet was later occupied by the Romans. The latter marked the history of Zakynthos. At the beginning of Roman domination, a proconsul organized the administration according to Roman laws. Later, Zakynthos gained some autonomy but had to pay an annual tax to the Romans and 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 until the present
Around 34 AD, Christianity arrived on the island and predominated in the second half of the 3rd century AD during the rise of the Byzantine Empire, formed by Constantine the Great. Then, the Ionian Islands fell under Venetian and Frank's 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. 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 to 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 to take Zakynthos again but the English followed and 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 yoke, 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 May 21, 1864.