Elafonissos appears in the ancient times when the worshipping of Artemis and the other Olympian gods was in all its glory, and the island hosted a great temple of Artemis. Artemis was the goddess of haunting and this was a popular activity those times. In fact, Elafonissos counted on a vast population of red deer. This is how the island took its name, as Elafonissos means the island of the deer in Greek. Many of these facts were described in the 2nd century AD by the famous Greek geographer Pausanias and were also confirmed by the 15th century Venetian maps.
In Medieval times, the history of Elafonissos is poor as it was mostly used as a base of operations for pirates. The Channel of Elafonissos was then used for the passage of vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean. Today, it is still in use with hundreds of ships crossing it every day. Regarding the inhabitation of Elafonissos, there are findings dating from the First-Hellenic period, uncovered on Lefki, Pavlopetri, Foudianika, Vigla, Kournospila and Kato Nisi, to testify that the island was inhabited 5000 years ago.
However, no such further evidence has been found for the centuries that followed. Elafonissos spent most of its time with no inhabitants. After the 1830s, there was an effort to settle the island. People from Vatika village, Mani, on the opposite coast of Laconia, started moving to Elafonissos after a decree of the Greek government. This fact was the reason for a diplomatic conflict from between the Greek Government and Great Britain, who until then had the Ionian State under their control (1814-1864).
Over the years, the new residents managed to do well on Elafonissos. The suppression of piracy by the Hellenic Navy made things easier. The residents would occupy mostly with agriculture and fishing. In fact, even today Elafonissos has the biggest fishing fleet in Greece. Unfortunately, the economy of the island gradually declined and in the 1950s-1960s, many of the permanent inhabitants migrated to Athens or abroad. Today the island of Elafonissos has only about 800 permanent inhabitants.