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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica


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(anc. Zacynthus), an island of Greece, one of the Ionian group, in the Ionian Sea, in 37° 40' N. lat. and 21° E. long., is 25 m. long, about 12 broad, and 64 m. round, with an area of 277 sq. m., and a population in 1907 of 42,502. Zante lies 8 m. S. of Cephalonia, forming with it, Leucas and Ithaca a crescent-shaped insular group, which represents the crests of a submerged limestone ridge facing the Gulf of Patras. Zante is of somewhat irregular oval shape, with its main axis disposed in the direction from north-west to south-east, and indented by a deep inlet at its southern extremity. The surface is mainly occupied by an extensive and highly productive central plain, skirted on the west side by a range of bare limestone hills from 1000 to 1200 ft. high, which fall gently landwards, but present bold steep cliffs towards the sea, and which culminate northwards in Mount Skopos, the ancient Elatos (1600 ft.), the highest point in the island. On the east side the plain is also limited by a low ridge, which still justifies the epithet of nemorosa, or the " wooded," applied by Virgil to Zacynthus. These hills are densely clothed to their summits with an exuberant growth of olives, figs, myrtles, laurels, oranges, aloes, vines and other sub-tropical plants. The central plain is highly cultivated, forming an almost continuous stretch of gardens and vineyards, varied here and there with a few patches of cornfields and pasture lands. Here is grown a peculiar dwarf vine, whose fruit, the " currant " (from " Corinth ")") of commerce, forms the chief resource and staple export of Zante, as well as of the neighbouring mainland. The vine, which grows to a height of 3 ft., begins to yield in seven years and lasts for over a century. From the grape, which has a pleasant bitter-sweet taste, a wine is also extracted, which is said to excel all others in flavour, fire and strength. Besides this species, there are nearly forty different kinds of vine and ten of the olive, including the karudolia, which yields the best edible olive berry. For size, vigorous growth and productiveness the olive tree of Zante is rivalled only by that of Corfu.

The island enjoys a healthy climate; and, although there are no perennial streams, an abundant supply of good water is obtained from the numerous springs, occurring especially in the eastern and central districts. But earthquakes are frequent and at times disastrous. During recent times the most destructive were those of, 8 r 1, 1820, 1840 and 1893; and, although the prevailing geological formations are sedimentary, chiefly calcareous, there seems no doubt that these disturbances are of igneous origin. Other indications of volcanic agency are the oil springs occurring on the coast, and even in the bed of the sea near Cape Skinari on the north side, and especially the famous pitch or bituminous wells already mentioned by Herodotus (Hist., bk. iv.). These have been productive throughout the historic period and still yield a considerable supply of pitch. They are situated in a swamp near the coast village of Chieri, and comprise two basins, with alternate layers of water and bitumen, the lower sheet of water apparently communicating with the sea.

Zante, capital of the island, is a considerable seaport on the east side, with a population in 1907 of 13,501. It occupies the site of the ancient city of Zacynthus, said to have been founded by Zacynthus, son of a legendary Arcadian chief, Dardanus, to whom was also attributed the neighbouring citadel of Psophis. But of this, as well as of the temple of Artemis that formerly crowned Mount Skopos, no vestiges can now be discovered.

Traditionally the island formed part of the territory of Ulysses, king of Ithaca. It was peopled in ancient times by settlers variously represented as coming from Achaea or Arcadia. It figures occasionally in history as a base for belligerents in. the Ionian Sea. Thus during the Peloponnesian War it served as a naval station for the Athenians, who again in 374 B.C. endeavoured to acquire it for a similar purpose; in 357 it became the headquarters of Dion on his expedition against Syracuse. In 217 it was seized by Philip V. of Macedon. The Romans captured it in 211, but restored it temporarily to Philip; in 191, wishing to keep it out of the hands of ambitious Greek powers, they definitely annexed it. In 86 it was raided by Mithradates' admiral Archelaus during a short foray into Ionian waters. Under the Roman Empire Zante was included in the province of Epirus. In the 11th century it passed to the Norman kings of Sicily; after the Fourth Crusade it belonged at various times to the despots of Epirus, the emperors of Constantinople, and the Orsini, counts of Cephalonia. After remaining from 1357 to 1482 in the hands of the Tocco family it became a Venetian possession. In 1797 it was ceded to France, and after a short occupation by the Russians was brought under British protection; in 1864 it was ceded with the other Ionian islands to the Greek kingdom.

The long Venetian occupation is reflected in the appearance, character, and to some extent even the language and religion of the Zantiots. Nearly all the aristocracy claim Venetian descent; most of the upper classes are bilingual, speaking both Greek and Italian; and a considerable section of the population are Roman Catholics of the Latin rite. Even the bulk of the people, although mainly of Greek stock, form in their social usages a connecting link between the Hellenes, whose language they speak, and the Western nations by whom they were so long ruled.

See B. Schmidt, Die Insel Zakynthos (Freiburg, 1899); B. V. Head, Historia Numorum (Oxford, 188 7), pp. 359 -60.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Zante'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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