We first hear of the Ionian islands through Herodotus. He refers to them as Scheria and
the island of Corfu as Corcyra about 743 BC. The famous warrior and tragic hero
Achilles (he who is without lips) is believed to have come from Paxoi island
very near by. The name Corfu comes from the Italian corruption of the Byzantine
name Korefi meaning peaks from the twin peaks of Corfu town's citadel. Corfu
was also known as the Island of the Phaiakes but no direct archeological proof
remains in Aghios Matthaios testify, Corfu was inhabited as early as 70,000
- 40,000 BC.
History 1100 BC - 700 BC
first by the Eretrians in 775- 750 BC., and then by the Corinthians, in 734
BC as a trading colony. It prospered so quickly that it soon began to outshine
Corinth and entertain its own ideas of independence.
History 700 BC - 478 BC
became upset with Corcyra's new found prosperity and attempted to reassert its
dominance resulting in the first ever recorded sea battle between the ancient
Greeks, circa 664 BC. It seems the outcome favored the Corcyrians but Corinth
wasn't ready to give it up.
History 478 BC - 323 BC
took no part in the Persian Wars which affected the Greek mainland and Aegean
islands and consequently seem to have squandered a period of respite. Left to
themselves, the islands oligarchs and democrats began feuding for control which
resulted in bad blood. The victorious democrats were less than magnanimous and
performed atrociously, resulting in an overall weakening of island manpower.
The Corfiot democrats naturally felt of kindred spirit with democratic Athens
causing them to seek its protection when the next period of Corinthian bronze
sword rattling ensued. Athens was, at the time, polarized against Sparta, with
whom Corinth was allied, for overall leadership of ancient Greece. This complex
pattern of treaties, military alliances, homage, fealty and mutual assistance
pledges made the general political and military situation volatile.
battle off the Sybota islands for Corcyra precipitated the disastrous Peloponnesian
War which Athens eventually lost and Corfu fell into the hands of the Spartans.
It was then captured by Agathokles, tyrant of Syracuse and then by Pyrrhus,
King of Epirus in 281 BC. It was besieged by the Illirains in 229 BC and fell
to the Romans the same year.
229 BC - 395 AD
BC the Illirian Queen Teuta attacked Corfu. The inhabitants requested the protection
of Rome and under the Consul Fluvius successfully defended the island. This
inaugurated the Roman occupation.
Marc Anthony in the 1st century BC, Agrippa destroyed every civic monument as
else can be said of the Romans, they did have the Pax-Romana and offered the
island stability and protection from pirates.
Octavian assembled his fleet here prior to the Battle of Actium. At various
times during the islands Roman occupation, others came as well, including Cato,
Cicero and Tibullus. According to Seutonius, in 67 AD, the Emperor Nero made
offerings to Zeus at the temple in Kassiopia and later sang and danced before
the altar, no mention of his violin is made.
History 395 - 1204
rise of Byzantium, the island gradually came into its sphere of influence.
Its first fortress was built then.
ravaged the island in 550 AD and its surviving populace decided to relocate
to a more easily defended site at Cape Sidaro (iron cape). What is today's Old
Fortress of two peaks.
captured the fortress in 1081 and again in 1148, causing consternation through
out the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Emperor Emmanuel Comnenus finally recaptured
the island after several attempts.
ruled by a series of overlords and beset by difficulties until the fall of Constantinople
in 1204, when the Normans of the Two Sicilies obtained possession of Corfu.
Occupation 1386 - 1797
Venice took the islands, and retained them until the end of the eighteenth century.
the Venetians claimed Corfu as part of its spoils from the 4th Crusade. The
islands inhabitants viewed these claims with vehement disapprobation, resisting
valiantly but unsuccessfully. A generation latter, the King of Naples, and brother
to St. Louis of France, Charles the 1st of Anjou, acquired Corfu and Achia when
his son married The Princess of Villehardouin.
years this particularly vile, despotic and intolerant monarch made things miserable
for the Corfiots. In 1386 a local delegation was sent to Venice to request the
protection of the Venetian Republic as the lesser of two evils.
Suleiman the Magnificent, the most successful and aggressive of the Turkish
Sultans, landed at Igoumenitsa across the straits on Greece's mainland. His
goal: the subjugation of Corfu as a base for attacking Italy and the rest of
Europe. He had already conquered most of Greece itself.
with their Corfiot co-defenders, tore down houses to repair fortress walls and
although suffering great losses in the cross fire managed to inflict huge casualties
on the Turks. The infamous, murdering, plunderer, Barbarossa led the Turkish
assault, capturing thousands of Corfiots abandoned when they hadn't the time
to enter the defensive gates. Most were slaughtered or sold as slaves in Constantinopoli.
learning of bad weather and his heavy losses ordered the lifting of the siege
and the island was granted reprieve. Twenty-one years later, under intense pressure from
the islanders, the Venetians expanded the islands fortifications, this time
to include the town itself. Not all houses were included and when in 1571, another
Turkish army reappeared under Ouloudj Ali, all that remained outside the defensive
walls was destroyed, including villages, homes, vineyards and olive trees. The
Turks massacred all inhabitants they were able to catch. Once again their attack
was finally repulsed.
later in 1573, another Turkish pirate Admiral Sinan Pasha surprise attacked
and only 1/10 of the islands inhabitants were left among the living.
still remained in Venetian hands however and in 1576 they finally began the
sort of fortifications necessary to withstand constant attacks. These fortifications
were designed by the famed military architect Sammicheli and are of a stature
with his Heraklion, Crete ramparts.
also attempted to restore the islands economic vitality for exploitation and
offered islanders 45 tsekinia for every olive tree planted. This resulted in
today's over 4,500,000 Corfiot olive trees, which produce 3% of the world's supply of olive oil.
had by this time become accustomed to Corfu as a more or less permanent protectorate
and in order to increase political and economic ties with the more affluent
islanders allowed them to buy Titles of Nobility instead of killing them. This
created a class society unique to Corfu and in all Greece.
the Turks returned to lay siege to the new fortifications and after a month
were repulsed by a combination of the weather and the brilliant tactics of the
German mercenary soldier in command of the the defense, Field Marshal Schulenberg.
Occupation 1797 - 1798
meanwhile, had risen to power and defeated Venice thus laying French claim to
the island which they immediately occupied.
of Campo Formio in 1797 , at Napoleon's insistence, allocated the islands to France,
which formed them into the three provinces of Ithaca, Corfu, and the Aegean
was very fond of the island and introduced many improvements: a printing house
was founded and newspapers and magazines in Greek and French appeared. The French
also made improvements to the educational system and built the island's first
School, in which the most literate people of the time taught, was founded in
1808. After a period of decline, it was founded again in 1824 by the philhellene
Frederic Guilford, and it contributed to the re-establishment of the Greek language.
Russian - Turkish Occupation 1798 - 1800
later the combined Russio-Turkish fleet temporally wrested control of the island
from the French. In 1799 the Russian fleet seized the Ionian Isles, and they
were constituted a small state tributary to Turkey, but in 1802 the Treaty of
Amiens declared them free under the protectorate of Russia.
Occupation 1807 - 1815
In 1807 the
Peace of Tilsit gave Corfu back to France, and General Berthier was installed
as their governor.
reasserting French control Napoleon personally directed the reinforcement of
the towns defenses. These defenses were deemed so formidable that the British
declined to attack them at the refusal of their French garrison to hand them
over after the battle of Waterloo.
Protectorate 1815 - 1864
with the signing of the Treaty of Vienna the Ionian Islands became a British
John Capodistria, one of Corfu's new nobility asked the British for military
protection–little realizing that the British would send the high-handed first
Lord Commissioner, Sir Thomas Maitland.
behavior did not sit well with the Corfiots. He forced Corfu to remain neutral
during the War of Independence, imprisoning and even executing members of the
secret "Society of Friends." The best that can be said for him were some of
his public works, such as roads, schools and a University funded by phillhellene
Lord Guilford as well as a permanent water supply for the town.
imposed constitution forced the islanders into a near feudal condition.
government was then once more organized; the legislative functions were vested
in a chamber of seventy deputies, eleven nominated by the Government and fifty-nine
elected by the people. The executive power belonged to a Senate consisting of
a president, appointed by the protecting power, and five senators elected for
five years by the deputies from their own body.
lord commissioner controlled foreign relations and the police. England enjoyed
the right of garrisoning the forts and of military administration.
French Revolution of 1848, an insurrection broke out in Cephalonia with the
object of uniting the islands to Greece, but was rigorously repressed by England
in 1849. From that time, however, the first vote of the Chamber, whenever it
assembled, was in favor of the union with Greece, after which vote it was immediately
dissolved. The English Government, after sending Mr. Gladstone to investigate
the feeling of the population, at last decided to surrender the islands to Greece.
Recent History 1864 - 200X
I, upon ascending the throne at Athens, in 1863, consented to succeed Otho I
only upon England's undertaking to cede the Ionian Archipelago to the Hellenic
Kingdom. This cession was effected between 21 May and 2 June, 1864. The Ionian
Isles have since then formed the three nomarchies, or departments, of Corfu,
Cephalonia, and Zante.
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