According to the great ancient Greek poet Homer the island was named after Zakynthos, son of Dardanos from Arcadia, king of Troy.
The island is called also Zante or Fioro di levante, meaning flower of the east in Latin.
According to archeological findings the island has been inhabited since the Neolithic Age. In Homer’s writings it is stated that Zakynthos and his men were the first inhabitants of the island.
The island was conquered by King Arkeisios of Kefalonia, grandfather of Ulysses (Odysseus) from Ithaca, who became the next King of the island. On his return from the war of Troy, Ulysses murdered the fiancés of his wife Penelope, 20 of which were Zakynthians. Zakynthos revolted, establishing an independent democracy.
During the First Peloponnesian War, the island allied with the Athenians. Zakynthos was also occupied by the Macedonians and the Romans.
Napolitan and Venetian rule
Zakynthos was part of the Byzantine Empire and, in 1185 A.D., it became part of the County palatine of Kefalonia under the Kingdom of Naples. A short intervention of Turkish rule also took place between 1479 and 1484. From then on Zakynthos remained a colony of the Venetian Republic until 1797.
The Venetian rule protected the island from Ottoman domination but in its place it put a feudal oligarchy, resulting in the rebellion of the “popolari” caste against the “nobili” caste, known as the “popolari rebellion”. The cultural influence of Venice though, was considerable.
French, Ionian State and British rule
With the Treaty of Campo Formio the Ionian Islands were accorded to France (1797-1799). The Russians with the Turks captured the island in 1799, and in 1800 the Treaty of Constantinople established the Septinsular Republic which lasted until 1807, under the sovereignty of the Sultan.
A second period of French domination followed (1807–1809), I until Zakinthos was finally conquered by Great Britain in 1809. In 1815 the United States of the Ionian Islands’ institution was established under the protection of the British until 1864.