During the era of Homer and the Trojan War, the island of Zakynthos formed part of the kingdom of Odysseus, king of Ithaca. The prevailing view now is that its founder was Zakynthos, son of Dardanos, King of Troy. The modern historian P.Chiotis, having investigated the work of past historians, came to the conclusion that the settlers who went to Zakynthos were Arcadians from the Arcadian town of Psophis and argued that Dardanos was of Arcadian origin but had migrated to Asia Minor. From there, his son went to Zakynthos, gave his name to the new city, and called its citadel Psophis. The special talent of the ancient inhabitants in music and their cult of the goddess Artemis were characteristic features of the Arcadians and testify to this link.
After the Trojan War, the Zakynthians gained independence from the kingdom of Ithaca and established a democratic political system. The island was ruled democratically for about 650 years. During this period, Zakynthos flourished, its population grew and its first colony, named Zakantha, was established in Spain. During the Persian Wars, the Zakynthians maintained a neutral stance, but in the Peloponnesian War, they were on the side of the Athenians. Zakynthos was then subjugated by the Macedonians and later by the Romans who gave them some autonomy.
Christianity was propagated on the island in 34 AD either by Mary Magdalen who landed there on her way to Rome or, according to another tradition, by St Beatrice. During the Byzantine period, the island suffered many raids by pirates, aspiring conquerors, and barbarians. The Ionian Islands likewise endured many hardships during the Crusades. Zakynthos, together with the other islands, was captured successively by the Venetians, the Franks, the Angevins, the kings of Naples, and the Tocco family, who were princes of Florence. When the rest of Greece was conquered by the Turks, Zakynthos and the other Ionian Islands were ruled by the Venetians (1484).
During the period of Venetian rule, Zakynthos (which the Venetians called Zante) came under the influence of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The Venetians settled and organized the island's capital, constructed the citadel (Castro), and built infrastructure works; thus the new town began to spread beyond the walls of the Castro, outside the ancient settlement of Psophis and down to the coast, where in time a large commercial port came into being. But the Venetians brought with them the typical aristocratic oligarchic political system and the population was divided into nobles, citizens and common people (popolari). This was why, when French republicans arrived on Zakynthos in 1797, they were welcomed enthusiastically. But the French could not solve the island's social or economic problems either, so the Zakynthians sought new protectors. In 1798 the oligarchy returned under the Russians and the Turks (1799-1807). They were succeeded by officials of the French Empire (1807-1814) and finally by the British (1814-1864). The English conquerors took care to modernize the administration and public works. The new ideas of the times and Greece's independence from the Turks created a strong radical movement, whose activity contributed to the union of Zakynthos and the other Ionian islands with Greece on 21vMay 1864, at which time the Greek flag was definitively raised over the island.