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In 150 BC the Roman general Fulvius defeated the Aetolians and recaptured Zakynthos for Rome. At the beginning of our era Zakynthos was attacked several times by pirates. After several centuries of Roman rule, Zakynthos was given a measure of independence subject to the payment of taxes to Rome. During this culturally advanced period Zakynthos was frequently a refuge for Roman scientists and intellectuals.
After the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the whole Ionian region fell prey to pirates again. After this period, the Ionian Islands were attacked and plundered by Vandals, Huns, Goths and Barbarians. Under the Byzantine Emperor Constantine the Great, Zakynthos became part of the province of Illyria. Under the protection of the Byzantine emperor, Zakynthos became less vulnerable to attack and experienced a cultural and economic revival. During this period, Christianity also reached the island. Mary Magdalene is said to have visited Zakynthos in 34 AD on her way from Jerusalem to Rome.
In 466 Zakynthos was attacked again, this time by the African Vandal king Gizarich. He blockaded the island with no less than sixty ships, plundered the island and razed the capital to the ground.
Crusaders and overlords
When the Byzantine Empire gradually lost power, Zakynthos was invaded by crusaders, who were looking for converts on their way to the East. In the period 1147-1479, Zakynthos was ruled by aristocratic overlords who finally handed the island over to the Venetians in 1485. Many architectural remains are from this time.
Under Venetian rule, Zakynthos again enjoyed a period of growth, both in population and economic activities. It was also a period of political stability, self-government under a council of nobles and the rebuilding of the capital. After the Cretan War in 1699, the Republic of Venice fell into decline and one by one lost all its overseas territories, including Zakynthos. The ruling class on the island felt seriously threatened by the liberal ideas of the 18th century and, in a last effort to turn the tide, the Jacobins, the most important political group on the island, were murdered. This was the last convulsion of the Venetians, and in 1797 they surrendered the island to the French. 1797 was also the year that the Ventian Republic was abolished with the Peace of Campo Formio.
French Republic and Russo-Turkish rule
The conquest of the Ionian Islands by the French Republicans was the beginning of a new series of adventures for Zakynthos and its inhabitants. Four European powers, France, England, Russia and Turkey, tried to gain and maintain control over the island. The first occupation of Zakynthos by the French lasted only fifteen months. In October 1798, the Russian flag was raised on the fortress of Zakynthos, and together with the Turks, they controlled the island for almost two years.
Finally, in March 1800, the Russians and the Turks decided to establish an independent island state: the Republic of the Seven Islands. This republic existed from 1800 to 1807 and was the first Greek political entity after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The republic was under Ottoman suzerainty, but was actually just a Russian protectorate. In 1807, the Ionian Islands were re-annexed by the French at the Peace of Tilsit and became part of the Illyrian province after the Treaty of Schönbrunn.
British occupation and then finally under the Greek flag
On 2 October 1809, Britain defeated the French fleet at Zakynthos and again conquered most of the Ionian Islands. In November 1815, with the Treaty of Paris between Russia and Britain, it was decided that the Ionian Islands would be a formally free and independent state, under the protection of the British. In fact, however, the islands were no more than a British protectorate.
The British occupation, which lasted until 1863, was not a good time for the islanders. Although the British completed some public works, the Greeks became increasingly irritated with the occupation of the island, and this feeling was reinforced by the foundation of the Greek state in the period 1828-1832.
During that period, Zakynthos was a refuge for fugitive independence fighters from the mainland, which also aroused nationalistic feelings among the Greeks. On 13 July 1863, Britain, France, Austria and Denmark agreed to cede the Ionian Islands to Greece. On 28 May 1864, the islands were officially transferred to Greece.
The Second World War did not pass Zakynthos unnoticed, in 1941 it was occupied by the Italians. When the Italians capitulated in 1943, they were succeeded by the Germans, whose regime was much more brutal than that of the Italians.
Just when the islanders had recovered from the war and the following Greek civil war, a devastating earthquake struck Zakynthos in 1953. The epicentre of the earthquake was between Zakynthos and Kefalonia, and therefore the north of Zakynthos was particularly badly affected by the natural disaster. Zakynthos Town was completely destroyed not only by the earthquake but also by fires and explosions caused by the quake. Approximately 70% of all buildings on Zakynthos were destroyed.
After yet another disaster, a number of Zakynthos residents left the island for good, for at that time life on Zakynthos was hard and meagre, without any prospect of better times.
This only changed in 1982 when the first organised tourists arrived on Zakynthos. From that year on, more and more tourists came to Zakynthos, and soon the ecological dangers of mass tourism became obvious. The awareness of the dangers was proven by the declaration of the Zakynthos National Marine Park, a governmental organisation, in 1999.
In August 2010, the west of Greece was hit by an earthquake measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale, according to the Geodynamic Institute in Athens. The US Geological Survey previously reported a magnitude of 5.7. The epicentre of the quake was 65 kilometres southwest of Zakynthos at a depth of 33 kilometres. According to the Greek authorities, there was no damage and no casualties. The buildings on Zakynthos were built under strict conditions after the severe earthquake in 1953. Also in February and November 2009, Zakynthos was hit by an earthquake, fortunately both with no casualties.
See also the history page of Greece.
CIA - World Factbook
BBC - Country ProfilesLast updated November 2023
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