The history of Zakynthos (Zante) arrives at the period of Venetian rule (1484 - 1797).
The picture of Zakynthos, after the trials of the preceding years is a real version of the words catastrophe and devastation.
From the swamp in which Zakynthos was found, it began to distance itself by stages, when the Venetians applied a programme of re-construction and development which gave the opportunity for fundamental changes in the administration, the social structure and the economy.
During the three centuries of their power, the Venetians brought political and economic life of Zakynthos to a stage which was characterised by stability and peace as a result of correct administrative organisation, as a result of a quiet coexistence of the Venetians and the Greeks and as a result of the recognition of the Greeks rights to maintain their national identity and their religious independence.
As soon as the Venetians acquired the administration of the island they considered as their first concern the increase of the population. Thus, with the order of the Senate the soldiers which serving as mercenaries in other Venetian territories in Greece were invited to come and establish themselves in Zakynthos with their families.
Another category of population which were installed in Zakynthos - Zante were rich families with noble Byzantine origin, who, after wandering in other countries to avoid the evils of the Turkish occupation, ended up on the island. There they intermingled with the few local noble families, like that of Sigouros, a descendent of whom was the Patron Saint of Zakynthos, Saint Dionysius.
Many Italian families as well, displaced by the civil wars found refuge in Zakynthos, having as a result an impressive increase in population in the island. In the year 1528, the inhabitants of the island totaled 17,255, the following years they were continuously increasing and as the statistics of the time show, in the year 1770 they reached the significant number of 30,000 people.
The legislation foresaw, and allowed the islanders to bring forth various demands concerning land, financial, religious or judicial cases, directly to a Venetian Inspector - Inquisitor, who was controlling public administration with overall power, used to edit decrees for the settlement of problems, impose penalties and render justice, giving justification only in front of the Senate.
The laws on the other hand allowed the organisation and the dispatch of an ambassador directly from the community of Zakynthos to the Duke of Venice, to present the demands of the people. The Duke would study the cases and would give solutions. Besides the direct, as is described above, exercise of power by the Venetian state, there was in the island the permanent seat of the Venetian Leader who was titled the Provider.
In the frame of the aristocratic and oligarchic kind of state which was applied by the Venetians, there was foreseen a first degree local municipality administration "The Council of the Community", which secured self government of Zakynthos in matters concerning its internal function.
The Council of the Community of Zakynthos - Zante was elected from among the rich Nobles who comprised the "Archontologio" (Nobili). They were the upper class of the society of the island and they were registered by name in the Golden Book (Libro d\'Oro) which was a specific book of honorary reference of the names of the families which bore a title of nobility.
The middle class consisted of the "Asti" (Civili), merchants, teachers, lawyers, clergy and the well to do in general, but who lacked titles, and civil rights.
The lowest class consisted of the common people of the municipality (Popolare), who were occupied with agriculture, the profession of mariner, or with other humble professions with little income, and a low cultural level.
Among the social classes of Zakynthos there was a large inequality and an open exploitation of the weakest people by the nobles. These antitheses came to such a climax that they could not be brought to a compromise in the beginnings of the seventeenth century, and they led the oppressed to a revolt which was called "The "Rebellio" of the Populari". This rebellion took place in 1628 - 1632 and was the first social rebellion in the modern Greek area and had an inglorious end. The three class society was maintained in Zakynthos up to the end of the Venetian rule.
From a military point of view during this period of time, some war events had occurred with the participation of Zakynthos, which were very important for the historical evolution and the balance of power in the wider area. When in 1499 the war between the Venetians and the Turks broke out, Zakynthos was the centre of equipping and reconstruction for the French and Venetian allies.
These events were followed by vast outbreaks of plague which occurred in 1617,1646 and 1650 in the island, and cost the lives of many of the citizens. From 1645 to 1669, Zakynthos with the other Ionian islands, had an active participation in the Cretan war and received many refugee Cretan families, when the Turks won and obliged Venice to sign a treaty. One of the eminent Cretan families which found refuge in Zakynthos at the time were the ancestors of the national poet of Greece Dionysius Solomos.
The period which follows, is characterised by elements of flourishing in Zakynthos, as much because it ceased to give taxes to the Sultan, as it was defined by the treaty and because it accepted the influence of the advanced Cretan art which gave a new inspiration and new horizons to the local artistic evolution.
From this time onwards a significant progress is noted especially in iconography and music, with the spreading of Cretan art in these sectors.
The Venetians later obliged the High Porte to sign the peace of Carlovitz in 16991 by which the High Porte gave up the Peloponnese, Zakynthos (Zante) and other places.
In 1715, the new Sultan Ahmad the 3rd, claimed the lost territories and turned against the Peloponnese. The Zakynthians again voluntarily helped the struggle, by the side of the Venetians, and rejected the proposal for bloodless surrender of the island. Many dramatic events stamped that epoch, among them the insult to the body of Saint Dionysius, when the Turks disembarked on the small islands of Strofades, they plundered the monastery there and massacred the monks.
In 1718, the treaty Passarovitz was signed, by which the Venetian east was relieved from disturbance by the Turks.
The Zakynthians, with an intense love for freedom, which always characterised them, participated in the Russo-Turkish war, named after Orloff, despite the strict prohibition from Venice. This revolt which took place in 1769 failed. In 1790, Zakynthos again offered willingly soldiers and ships to the orders of Lambros Katsonis, who had a successful revolutionary action in the Aegean.
In 1792, a Russo-Turkish treaty of peace was signed at Easio, which did not stop the fleet of Lambros Katsonis or his Zakynthian companions, who continued their assaults against the Turkish fleet.
The liberal Zakynthian spirit identified itself automatically with the declarations of the French revolution which brought to the surface the rights of the suppressed rights of people for Freedom, equality and fraternity, for centuries. Associations were organised in the island as the club of the "Jacobins" which aimed at the just re-division of land, and to the abolition of the privileges of the nobles. When in 1797 French democrats came to the island they were received with celebrations which enraged the nobles. But the enthusiasm of the people could not be stopped. The "Golden Book" (Libre d\'Oro) was delivered to the flames together with the emblems of the aristocracy. The Tree of Freedom was planted in the square of St Marks and the French flag of the democrats was raised in the castle. The titles of nobility were abolished and the participation of the bourgeoisie and the. low class people in local self government was established, something which was validated and realised by the division of the island into municipalities.
The local oligarchy with treacherous deeds and bribery managed to remain on the island by undermining the French who were quickly worn out despite their positive contribution in the organisation of the services, of justice, education, administration and the beautification of the island.
So when the Russians, the Turks and the British turned against France, the people of Zakynthos were divide into two currents: The "Guillotine Democrats", and the "The friends of Monarchy and Russians".
The French guard of the island found itself in a difficult situation, gave the island to the allies and left in October of 1798.