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ZACYNTHUS (Ζάκυνθος: Eth. Ζακύνθιος, Adj. Ζακυνθαῖος: Zante), an island in the Sicilian sea, lying off the western coast of Peloponnesus, opposite the promontory Chelonatas in Elis, and to the S. of the island of Cephallenia, from which it was distant 25 miles, according to Pliny, (4.12. s. 19) but according to Strabo, only 60 stadia (x. p. 458). The latter is very nearly correct, the real distance being 8 English miles. Its circumference is stated by Pliny at 36 M. P., by Strabo at 160 stadia; but the island is at least 50 miles round, its greatest length being 23 English miles. The island is said to have been originally called Hyrie (Plin. l.c.), and to have been colonized by Zacynthus, the son of Dardanus, from Psophis in Arcadia, whence the acropolis of the city of Zacynthus was named Psophis. (Paus. 8.24.3; Steph. B. sub voce We have the express statement of Thucydides that the Zacynthians were a colony of Achaeans from Peloponnesus (2.66). In Homer, who gives the island the epithet of “woody” (ὑλήεις and ὑλήεσσα), Zacynthus forms part of the dominions of Ulysses. (Il. 2.634, Od. 1.246, 9.24, 16.123, 250; Strab. x. p.457.) It appears to have attained considerable importance at an early period; for according to a very ancient tradition Saguntum in Spain was founded by the Zacynthians, in conjunction with the Rutuli of Ardea. (Liv. 21.7; Plin. Nat. 16.40. s. 79; Strab. iii. p.159.) Bocchus stated that Saguntum was founded by the Zacynthians 200 years before the Trojan War (ap. Plin. l.c.) In consequence probably of their Achaean origin, the Zacynthians were hostile to the Lacedaemonians, and hence we find that fugitives from Sparta fled for refuge to this island. (Hdt. 6.70, 9.37.) In the Peloponnesian War the Zacynthians sided with Athens (Thuc. 2.7, 9); and in B.C. 430 the Lacedaemonians made an unsuccessful attack upon their city. (Ib. 66.) The Athenians in their expedition against Pylus found Zacynthus a convenient station for their fleet. (Id. 4.8, 13.) The Zacynthians are enumerated among the autonomous allies of Athens in the Sicilian expedition. (Id. 7.57.) After the Peloponnesian War, Zacynthus seems to have passed under the supremacy of Sparta; for in B.C. 374, Timotheus, the Athenian commander, on his return from Corcyra, landed some Zacynthian exiles on the island, and assisted them in establishing a fortified post. These must have belonged to the anti-Spartan party; for the Zacynthian government applied for help to the Spartans, who sent a fleet of 25 sail to Zacynthus. (Xen. Hell. 6.2. 3; Diod. 15.45, seq.; as to the statements of Diodorus, see Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. x. p. 192.) The Zacynthians [p. 2.1335]assisted Dion in his expedition to Syracuse with the view of expelling the tyrant Dionysius, B.C. 357. (Diod. 16.6, seq.; Plut. Dio 22, seq.) At the time of the Roman wars in Greece we find Zacynthus in the possession of Philip of Macedon. (Plb. 5.102.) In B.C. 211 the Roman praetor M. Valerius Laevinus, took the city of Zacynthus, with the exception of the citadel. (Liv. 26.24.) It was afterwards restored to Philip, by whom it was finally surrendered to the Romans in B.C. 191. (Id. 36.32.) In the Mithridatic War it was attacked by Archelaus, the general of Mithridates, but he was repulsed. (Appian, App. Mith. 45.) Zacynthus subsequently shared the fate of the other Ionian islands, and is now subject to Great Britain.

The chief town of the island, also named Zacynthus (Liv. 26.14; Strab. x. p.458; Ptol. 3.14.13), was situated upon the eastern shore. Its site is occupied by the modern capital, Zante, but nothing remains of the ancient city, except a few columns and inscriptions. The situation of the town upon the margin of a semi-circular bay is very picturesque. The citadel probably occupied the site of the modern castle. The beautiful situation of the city and the fertility of the island have been celebrated in all ages (καλά πόλις Ζάκυνθος, Theocr. Id. 4.32; Strab., Plin., ll. cc.). It no longer deserves the epithet of “woody,” given to it by Homer (l.c.) and Virgil ( “nemorosa Zacynthos,” Aen. 3.270); but its beautiful olive-gardens, vineyards, and gardens, justify the Italian proverb, which calls Zante the “flower of the Levant.”

The most remarkable natural phenomenon in Zante is the celebrated pitch-wells, which are accurately described by Herodotus (4.195), and are mentioned by Pliny (35.15. s. 51). They are situated about 12 miles from the city, in a small marshy valley near the shore of the Bay of Chieri, on the SW. coast. A recent observer has given the following account of them: “There are two springs, the principal surrounded by a low wall; here the pitch is seen bubbling up under the clear water, which is about a foot deep over the pitch itself, with which it comes out of the earth. The pitch-bubbles rise with the appearance of an India-rubber bottle until the air within bursts, and the pitch falls back and runs off. It produces about three barrels a day, and can be used when mixed with pine-pitch, though in a pure state it is comparatively of no value. The other spring is in an adjoining vineyard; but the pitch does not bubble up, and is in fact only discernible by the ground having a burnt appearance, and by the feet adhering to the surface as one walks over it. The demand for the pitch of Zante is now very small, vegetable pitch being preferable.” (Bowen, in Murray's Handbook for Greece, p. 93.)

The existence of these pitch-wells, as well as of numerous hot springs, is a proof of the volcanic


agency at work in the island; to which it may be added that earthquakes are frequent.

Pliny mentions Mt. Elatus in Zacynthus ( “Mons Elatus ibi nobilis,” Plin. l.c.), probably Mt. Skopo, which raises its curiously jagged summit to the height of 1300 feet above the eastern extremity of the bay of Zante. (Dodwell, Tour through Greece, vol. i. p. 83, seq.)

hide References (24 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (24):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 15.45
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 16.6
    • Herodotus, Histories, 6.70
    • Herodotus, Histories, 9.37
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.195
    • Homer, Iliad, 2.634
    • Homer, Odyssey, 16.123
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.246
    • Homer, Odyssey, 16.250
    • Homer, Odyssey, 9.24
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.24.3
    • Thucydides, Histories, 2.9
    • Thucydides, Histories, 2.7
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 6.2.3
    • Appian, Mithridatic Wars, 6.45
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.102
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 16.40
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.15
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.12
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 26, 24
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 21, 7
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 26, 14
    • Plutarch, Dion, 22
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.14
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