Ionians - History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological evidence indicates habitation of Corfu as early as 70,000 B.C. Historical mention of the islands begins with Homer; Mycenean colonization of the region took place in the thirteenth century B.C. In the late eighth century B.C. , the Corinthians colonized Corfu. The Romans made Corfu a Roman protectorate in 229 B.C. , the first Roman possession in Greece. Within forty years, the other major islands in the Ionian group fell to Rome. In A.D. 330, when the Roman Capital was shifted to Constantinople (Istanbul), Byzantine rule began. Like other parts of the disintegrating Roman Empire, the Ionian Islands were the site of major political and social upheavals for the next 900 years; wars and invasions were common. Urbanization was spurred by developing industry and commerce and by foreign invasions as people sought protection within city walls. Venetian expansionism and desire for control of Oriental trade led to the fall of Constantinople in 1204, as Venice persuaded the Crusaders to call first at Constantinople before proceeding to the Holy Land. The Ionian Islands became Venetian possessions; at this time the history of the islands became quite distinct from the rest of Greece, which eventually fell under Turkish rule. Feudalism developed and crystallized during the Venetian period as land and power were concentrated in the hands of Italian and Greek-Italian nobles. Commercialization of agriculture also took place during this period. Particularly affected were Cephalonia and Zakinthos, where the introduction of the profitable currant crop brought sudden wealth to the islands' large landholders. Vigorous export trade spurred the development of a middle class of merchants and skilled artisans. The peasantry, however, remained in poverty and suffered greatly when the market for currants declined periodically. At the end of Venetian rule, the islands passed through the hands of the Russians and the French before British rule began in 1815. Important roads and bridges opening up the rural hinterlands were built during this time. As the British penchant for social order and equality took over, the feudal structure began to disintegrate. By the middle of the nineteenth Century, a disillusioned nobility was emigrating, and Longstanding clamors for union with the recently formed modern nation of Greece increased. In 1864, Great Britain ceded the islands to Greece. The modern period has been characterized by heavy emigration and expanding tourism. When the Greek economy collapsed with the fall in currant prices at the turn of the twentieth century, opportunities in industrializing America expanded at roughly the same time, and many Ionians were affected. By the second half of this century, Ionians were scattered around the globe, with sizable communities in Australia, Germany, Canada, Zambia, England, and the United States. In the 1960s and 1970s, European and American tourism to the Ionian Islands escalated, bringing needed jobs and cash to the local economies. Corfu has been a center for elite Greek tourism for some time, but as the number of foreign tourists has increased, many Greek tourists have begun to travel to the southern islands as well. The local communities swell in size with the influx of tourists and the seasonal return of migrants.

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