Zante

Culture & History

History of Zante

Zakynthos with an extent of 406 sq.km constitutes the southernmost of the big islands of the Ionian Sea. It has a population of 39.015 inhabitants, according to the general population census of the year 2001. Administratively it constitutes a prefecture and its capital is the town of Zakynthos. The annexation of Zakynthos in the colonial trunk of Venice took place in 1485 and lasted until its possession by the Republican French in 1797. The intense demographic problem of the island, as a result of piratical raids, earthquakes and plagues, was faced with collective settlement of soldiers who enjoyed privileged conditions of living and the inhabitation of the island by refugees from the Ottoman possessed regions, mainly Peloponnesus and Crete.

In 1537 the admiral Khair-ed-Din Barbarossa and his fleet disembarked in Zakynthos, ruining the countryside and capturing about a hundred men. In 1571, after the occupation of Cyprus, the Ottoman fleet under the command of Ouloutzali, attacked Zakynthos but was repelled by the Venetians and the population of the island and was shattered in the naval battle of Naupactos. The contribution of the Zakynthians with money and voluntary participation in the Veneto-Turkish war in 1715 and in the revolutionary movement manifested by the Orlofs during the Russo-Turkish war in the years 1768-1774 was vital.

Zakynthos was administered by the supreme authority of the eastern Venetian possessions that resided in Corfu, the General Prudent of the East. The Venetian authority on the island was represented by the prudent (Proveditore), who ruled with the help of two counselors and of a secretary. The political and economic dominion of Venice and of the local aristocracy formed a feudal, oligarchic system of social organization. The society of Zakynthos was divided into three social classes; the nobles (nobili), the bourgeois (civili) and the commoners (popolari). The Great or General Council of the island consisted of the nobles and was appointed by local nobles, western nobles who inhabited the island and families of aristocratic descent, coming from the Eastern regions under Venetian and Ottoman occupation, which had moved to Zakynthos.

The main concern of the Great Council was the election of the hundred fifty- member council, which elected the local authorities; trustees, censors, judges of court of the first instance, commissaries, secretaries et al. The citizen’s right of voting and being elected in the public ranks was a privilege of the nobles, who also registered in the Golden Bible of the island. This deprivation of the wealthy bourgeois’ civil rights – trade people and artisans - was a reason for chroni conflicts between the two ranks. As time went by, the bourgeois’ exclusion from the council led to the reduction of its members’ number, while at the same time the bourgeois claimed their naturalization in the higher rank. In 1683 the decision was made to accept the bourgeois of Zakynthos in the nobles’ local council, so as to replace the nobles who had been reduced in number.

However, the reactions against the nobles had begun much earlier. The common people of the island, on the grounds of their obligatory enlistment, rebelled in 1628 and formed their own local administration which lasted until the suppression of the movement by the Venetians in 1631. This makes it the first social revolution within Greek territory, known as “the commoners’ rebellion”. Zakynthos constituted one of the five economic districts of the Venetian occupied islands, having a separate public fund. Its geographical position, between the Ottoman possessed areas and the Italian peninsula, rendered it as a centre of transit trade. However, the intrusive policy of Venice prevented the development of local shipping. During the 16th century Zakynthos developed into an important area of currant production. Concerning the ecclesiastic policy of Venice in Zakynthos and with an aim of having complete control of the Orthodox Church, the Venetian State imposed the subordination of Zakynthos to the spiritual authority of the Catholic archbishop of Kefalonia. In 1797 Napoleon abolished the Venetian State and successively occupied the Ionian Islands, replacing the Venetian aristocracy with more democratic political formations.

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