The island of Ithaca has been inhabited since the Neolithic period. Since then it has been occupied by Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Ottomans, Venetians and the French, before being liberated by the United Kingdom 1809. It then became part of the United States of the Ionian Islands before being ceded to Greece under the 1864 Treaty of London as a mark of cordiality with Greece’s new king, the anglophile George I.
During the Mycenaean period, 1500-1100 BC, Ithaca rose to its highest level of prominence. The island became the capital of the Cephalonian states, which included the surrounding lands, one of the most powerful states of that time.
The Ithacans were characterized as great navigators and explorers with daring expeditions reaching further than the Mediterranean Sea.
The epic poems of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, may shed some light on Bronze-Age Ithaca. Homer portrayed Odysseus, king of Ithaca, as a man of outstanding wisdom and shrewdness, eloquence, resourcefulness, courage, and endurance. In the Iliad, Odysseus appears as the man best suited to cope with crises in personal relations among the Greeks, and he plays a leading part in achieving the reconciliation between Agamemnon and Achilles. Odysseus’s bravery and skill in fighting are demonstrated repeatedly, and his wiliness is shown most notably in the night expedition he undertakes with Diomedes against the Trojans.
Odysseus’s wanderings and the recovery of his house and kingdom are the central theme of the Odyssey, an epic in 24 books that also relates how he accomplished the capture of Troy by means of the wooden horse. The Odyssey ends as Odysseus wins a contest to prove his identity, slaughters the suitors, and retakes the throne of Ithaca along with his faithful wife.