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Corfu at Prehistoric and Ancient Times

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Last updated on January 9th, 2024 at 08:20 pm

Prehistoric era

Corfu has been inhabited since the Stone Age.

At that time it was part of the mainland and the sea that today separates it from the mainland was only a small lake, it became an island after the rising of the sea at the end of the Ice Age in about 10.000-8000BCE,

Evidence of Paleolithic occupation has been found near the village of Agios Mattheos at the southwest and a Neolithic occupation near the village of Sidari.

The Greek name of Kerkyra came from a mythological Nymph called Corcyra, a daughter of the river god Asopos. Corcyra was kidnapped by the god of sea Poseidon who brought her here and gave her name to the island.
Corcyra became Kerkyra later in the Doric dialect.

The first residents in the 12th century BCE were the Phaecians. The first founder was Phaeks and his son was Nafsithoos who was the father of the Homeric king Alkinoos, known from the Odyssey.

King Alkinoos and his daughter Nausikaa helped Odysseus to return to Ithaca.

At this point, mythology gets muddled with history, and we do not know the exact origin of the Phaecians who according to Homer had some relationship with the Mycenaeans. Although archaeological investigations have failed to find a link with any Mycenaean remains.

Later more immigrants came from Illyria, Sicily, Crete, Mycenae, and the Aegean islands.

The Ancient times – the first Greek colonization

Dorians in Corfu
Dorians in Corfu

In about 775BCE, we had the first Greek colonization by Dorians from Eretria of Euboea, soon followed by also Dorian refugees from Corinth in 750BCE, who with their leader Hersikrates created a strong colony.

They dominated the area around Corfu creating their own colonies, one of which was Epidamnus in ancient Illyria (today Dyrachio in Albania)

The ancient city of Corfu was then in the area where Garitsa and Kanoni are today.

Kerkyra(the Greek name for Corfu) was the first of the Greek cities, to build a fleet of triremes in 492BCE.

In the lagoon of Chalikiopoulos, where the airport is today, the harbour was situated, the home base of the strongest fleet of ancient Greece (second only to Athenian navy) with more than 300 triremes and other vessels.

The fast-growing colony quickly gained strength and openly challenged the metropolis of Corinth, and the unhappy Corinthians sent their fleet to occupy the island of Corfu and regain control of this strategic region and especially the colony of Epidamnus.

The first naval battle between Greeks in 680BCE was a failure for the Corinthians.

After the battle both Corfu and Corinth sent ambassadors to Athens trying to gain their support, the Athenians preferred the great naval power of Corfu and chose to conclude a defensive alliance with the Corfiots sending 10 triremes and later another 30.

The alliance continued during the Peloponnesian war and lasted more than a century.

The Corinthians came back in 435BCE with a strong fleet of 150 ships against the Corfiots. The battle raged near to the coast of Lefkimi in the south narrow channel of the island and near Sivota off the mainland coast.

The right wing of the Corfiot fleet started to buckle so the 10 Athenian triremes and shortly another 20 intervened, and the Corinthians decided to retreat.

After that in 375BCE, Corfu became a member of the Athenian Confederation and fought for Athenian interests during the entire Peloponnesian war.

The Corfiot issue, as ancient historical Thucydides writes, was one of the causes of the thirty-year long civil Peloponnesian War that eventually weakened and broke Greece. But the real reason was the growing fear of Sparta about the expansionist imperialist policy of Athens that made the war inevitable.
Roman period

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