1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ionian Islands
IONIAN ISLANDS, the collective name for the Greek islands of Corfu, Cephalonia, Zante, Santa Maura, Ithaca, Cythera (Cerigo) and Paxo, with their minor dependencies. These seven islands (for details of which see their separate headings) are often described also as the Heptanesus (“Seven Islands”), but they have no real geographical unity. The history of the name “Ionian” in this connexion is obscure, but it is probably due to ancient settlements of Ionian colonists on the coasts and islands. The political unity of the seven islands is of comparatively modern date; their independence as a separate state lasted only seven years (1800-1807). To a certain extent they have passed under the same succession of influences; they have been subjected to the same invasions, and have received accessions to their populations from the same currents of migration or conquest. But even what may be considered as common experiences have affected the individual islands in different ways; in the matter of population, for instance, Corfu has undergone much more important modifications than Ithaca.
The Ionian islands consist almost entirely of Cretaceous and Tertiary beds, but in Corfu Jurassic deposits belonging to various horizons have also been found. The oldest beds which have yet been recognized are shales and hornstones with Liassic fossils. These are overlaid conformably by a thick series of platy limestones, known as the Vigläs limestone, which appears to represent the rest of the Jurassic system and also the lower part of the Cretaceous. Then follows a mass of dolomite and unbedded limestones containing Hippurites and evidently of Upper Cretaceous age. The Eocene beds are folded with the Cretaceous, and in many places the two formations have not yet been separately distinguished. Both occasionally assume the form of Flysch. Miocene beds are found in Corfu and Zante, and Pliocene deposits cover much of the low-lying ground.
History.—The beginning of Heptanesian history may be said to date from the 9th century. Leo the Philosopher (about A.D. 890) formed all or most of the islands into a distinct province under the title of the Thema of Cephallenia, and in this condition they belonged to the Eastern empire after Italy had been divided into various states, but this political or administrative unity could not last long in the case of islands exposed by their situation to opposite currents of conquest. Robert Guiscard, having captured Corfu (1081) and Cephalonia, might have become the founder of a Norman dynasty in the islands but for his early death at Cassopo. Amid the struggles between Greek emperors and Western crusaders during the 12th century, Corfu, Cephalonia, Zante, &c., emerge from time to time; but it was not till the Latin empire was established at Constantinople in 1204 that the Venetians, who were destined to give the Ionian Islands their place in history, obtained possession of Corfu. They were afterwards robbed of the island by Leon Vetrano, a famous Genoese corsair; but he was soon defeated and put to death, and the senate, to secure their position, granted fiefs in Corfu to ten noble families in order that they might colonize it (1206). The conquest of Cephalonia and Zante followed, and we find five counts of the family of Tocco holding Cephalonia, and probably Zante as well as Santa Maura, as tributary to the republic. But the footing thus gained by the Venetians was not maintained, and through the closing part of the 13th and most of the 14th century the islands were a prey by turns to corsairs and to Greek and Neapolitan claimants. In 1386, however, the people of Corfu made voluntary submission to the Venetian republic which had now risen to be the first maritime power in the Mediterranean. In 1485 Zante was purchased from the Turks in a very depopulated condition; and in 1499 Cephalonia was captured from the same masters; but Santa Maura, though frequently occupied for a time, was not finally attached to Venice till 1684, and Cerigo was not taken till 1717.
The Venetians, who exacted heavy contributions from the islands, won the adherence of the principal native families by the bestowal of titles and appointments; the Roman Catholic Church was established, and the Venetian and French rule. Italian and Greek races were largely assimilated by intermarriage; Greek ceased to be spoken except by the lower classes, which remained faithful to the Orthodox communion. On the fall of the Venetian republic in 1797 the treaty of Campo Formio, which gave Venice to Austria, annexed the Ionian Islands to France; but a Russo-Turkish force drove out the French at the close of 1798; and in the spring of 1799 Corfu capitulated. By treaty with the Porte in 1800, the emperor Paul erected the “Septinsular Republic,” but anarchy and confusion followed till a secret article in the treaty of Tilsit, in 1807, declared the Islands an integral part of the French empire. They were incorporated with the province of Illyria, and in this condition they remained till the decline of the French power. The British forces, under General Oswald, took Zante, Cephalonia and Cerigo in 1809, and Santa Maura in 1810; Colonel (afterwards Sir Richard) Church (q.v.), reduced Paxo in 1814; and after the abdication of Napoleon, Corfu, which had been well defended by General Donzelot, was, by order of Louis XVIII., surrendered to Sir James Campbell. By the treaty of Paris (9th November 1815) the contracting powers—Great Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia—agreed to place the “United States of the Ionian Islands” under the exclusive protection of Great Britain, and to give Austria the right of equal commercial advantage with the protecting country, a plan strongly approved by Count Capo d’Istria, the famous Corfiot noble who afterwards became president of the new republic of Greece.
The terms of the treaty of Paris were not only of indefinite import but were susceptible of contradictory interpretations. And instead of interpreting the other articles in harmony with the first, which declared the islands one “sole British Protectorate. free and independent state,” the protecting Power availed itself of every ambiguity to extend its authority. The first lord high commissioner, Sir Thomas Maitland, who as governor of Malta had acquired the sobriquet of “King Tom,” was not the man to foster the constitutional liberty of an infant state. The treaty required, with questionable wisdom, that a constitution should be established, and this was accordingly done; but its practical value was trifling. The constitution, voted by a constituent assembly in 1817 and applied in the following year, placed the administration in the hands of a senate of six members and a legislative assembly of forty members; but the real authority was vested in the high commissioner, who was able directly to prevent anything, and indirectly to effect almost anything. Sir Thomas Maitland was not slow to exercise the control thus permitted him, though on the whole he did so for the benefit of the islands. The construction of roads, the abolition of direct taxes and of the system of farming the church lands, the securing of impartial administration of justice, and the establishment of educational institutions are among the services ascribed to his efforts. These, however, made less impression on the Heptanesians than his despotic character and the measures which he took to prevent them giving assistance in the Greek war of independence in 1821. He was succeeded in 1823 by General Sir Frederick Adam, who in the main carried out the same policy. Under his government the new fortifications of Corfu and some of the most important public works which still do honour to the English protectorate were undertaken. Lord Nugent, who became high commissioner in 1832, was followed by Sir Howard Douglas (1835-1841), who ruled with a firm, too often with a high hand; and he was met by continual intrigues, the principal exponent of the opposition being the famous Andreas Mustoxidi (d. 1861). A complete change of policy was inaugurated by Mr Mackenzie (1841-1843), and his successor Lord Seaton (1843-1849) was induced by the European disturbances of 1848 to initiate a number of important reforms. But the party which wished for union with Greece was rapidly growing in vigour and voice. Serious insurrections of the peasantry, especially in Cephalonia, had to be put down by military force, and the parliament passed a resolution in favour of immediate union with Greece. The hopes of the unionists were roused by the appointment of W. E. Gladstone as high commissioner extraordinary to investigate the condition of the islands. From his known sympathy with Greek independence, it was their expectation that he would support their pretensions. But after a tour through the principal islands Gladstone came to the conclusion that the abolition of the protectorate was not the wish of the mass of the people. For a few days in 1859 he held office as lord high commissioner, and in that capacity he proposed for the consideration of the assembly a series of reforms. These reforms were, however, declared inadmissible by the assembly; and Sir Henry Storks, who succeeded Gladstone in February 1859, began his rule by a prorogation. The contest continued between the assembly and the protectorate. The British government was slow to realize the true position of affairs: as late as May 1861 Gladstone spoke of the cession of the islands as “a crime against the safety of Europe,” and Sir Henry Storks continued to report of tranquillity and contentment. The assembly of 1862 accused the high commissioner of violation of the constitution and of the treaty of Paris, and complained that England remained in ignorance of what took place in the islands.
On the abdication of King Otho of Greece in 1862 the Greek people by universal suffrage voted Prince Alfred of England to the throne, and when he declined to accept the crown England was asked to name a successor. The Cession to Greece. candidate proposed was Prince William George of Glücksburg, brother of the princess of Wales; and the British government declared to the provisional government of Greece that his selection would be followed by the long-refused cession of the Ionian Islands. After the prince’s election by the national assembly in 1863 the high commissioner laid before the Ionian parliament the conditions on which the cession would be carried out. The rejection of one of those conditions—the demolition of the fortifications of Corfu—led to a new prorogation; but none the less (on March 29, 1864) the plenipotentiaries of the five great powers signed the treaty by which the protectorate was brought to a close. The neutrality which they attributed to the whole of the islands was (January 1864) confined to Corfu and Paxo. On May 31st of that year Sir Henry Storks left Corfu with the English troops and men-of-war. King George made his entry into Corfu on the 6th of June.
Since their annexation to Greece the history of the Ionian islands has been uneventful; owing to various causes their prosperity has somewhat declined. Corfu (Corcyra) with Paxo; Cephalonia; Santa Maura (Levkas) with Thiaki (Ithaca) and Zante (Zacynthos) each form separate nomarchies or departments; Cerigo (Cýthera) forms part of the nomarchy of Laconia. The islands retain the exemption from direct taxation which they enjoyed under the British protectorate; in lieu of this there is an ad valorem tax of 20½% on exported oil and a tax of 6% on wine exported to Greek ports; these commodities are further liable to an export duty of 1½% which is levied on all agricultural produce and articles of local manufacture for the maintenance and construction of roads. The excellent roads, which date from the British administration, are kept in fair repair.
See Mustoxidi, Delle cose Corciresi (Corfu, 1848). Lunzi, Περὶ τῆς πολιτικῆς καταστάσεως τῆς Ἑπτανησοῦ ἐπὶ Ἑνετῶν (Athens, 1856): Ansted, The I. I. (London, 1863); Viscount Kirkwall, Four Years in the I. I. (London, 1864) vol. i. containing a chronological history of the British protectorate; F Lenormant, La Grèce et les îles ioniennes (Paris, 1865); P. Chiotis, Hist. des îles ioniennes (Zante, 1815-1864); Mardo, Saggio di una descrizione geografico-storica delle Isole (Corfu, 1865) (mainly geographical); De Bosset, Description des monnaies d’Ithaque et de Céphalonie (London, 1815); Postolakas, Κατάλογος τῶν ἀρχαίων νομισμάτων τῶν νήσων Κέρκυρας, Λευκάδος, &c. (Athens, 1868), Wiebel, Die Insel Kephalonia und die Meermühlen von Argostoli (Hamburg, 1873); Tsitselis, Γλωσσαρίον Κεφαλληνίας, (Athens, 1876); Ὀνόματα θέσεων ἐν Κεφαλληνίᾳ in the “Parnassus” i. 9-12 (Athens, 1877); Riemann, “Recherches archéologiques sur les Îles ioniennes” in Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome (Paris, 1879-1880); Gregorovius, Corfu: eine ionische Idylle (Leipzig, 1882); J. Partsch, Die Insel Corfu: eine geographische Monographie (Gotha, 1887); Die Insel Levkas (Gotha, 1889); Kephallenia und Ithaka (Gotha, 1890); Die Insel Zante (Gotha, 1891).
(J. D. B.)