The island has a long history. It takes its name from Zakynthus the son of the king of Phrygia Dardanus. Zakynthus came from the city of Psophis in Arcadia, where his brothers reigned, to colonize the island. He built an acropolis, probably at the location where the Venetian castle is today, which he named Psophida. According to Pausanias and Thucydides this happened around 1500 BC. It is believed that Zakynthos was part of the Odysseus kingdom of Ithaka. The islanders worshiped Apollo and Artemis. During the Peloponnesian War Zakynthos was a member of the Athenian alliance until it was conquered by the Spartans.
During Roman times Zakynthos had some autonomy and prospered but in the late Roman period it was frequently raided by pirates, Goths, Vandals and Arabs and its fortunes declined. Later it became part of the Byzantine Empire. During the Crusades it was overtaken by the Franks and in 1185 the Palatine County of Cephalonia and Zante was found, which survived for three centuries under the Orsini Family. In 1479 it was occupied by the Ottomans who held it until 1485 when they were replaced by the Venetians.
The Venetians dominated the island until 1797 when the post revolution French took over the island and proclaimed it republic. This state of affairs did not last more than 15 months. In 1800 the two powers decided to establish an independent state under the name "The Septinsular Republic" under the supervision of Russia and Turkey, the first Modern Greek state. In 1807 France reconquered the island to be succeeded two years later by the British who held the island ("The United States of the Ionian Islands") until 1864 then it became part of Modern Greece.
During WW II the island was occupied by the Italians and later by the Germans who held it until 1945. In 1953 a terrible earthquake shook the Ionian Islands and cause massive destructions in Zakynthos. Since then it has been rebuilt but many charming old buildings have perished.
Zakynthos is the birth place of the poet Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857) who wrote the Hymn to Liberty, the Greek national anthem.