The history of Rab is relatively similar to many of its neighbouring islands. Amongst the first groups to be present on the island were the Illyrian tribe of the Liburians, who were then most likely defeated by the Greeks. In turn, the Romans also took control of the island, and there is some evidence (although very little remains) that Rab Town was a reasonably prosperous Roman town called Arba.
It was in the time of the Roman Empire that a stone-cutter from Rab, Marin (or Saint Marinus), fled from the area because of persecution over his Christian beliefs. Fleeing across the Adriatic Sea, he came to found San Marino, the world’s oldest republic.
The island became part of the Byzantine Empire in around the 8th/9th century, although the town of Rab became Croatian in 878. What followed over the next few centuries was a switch between rule by the Byzantine Empire as well as the Croatian Kings.
Part of the Venetian Empire
In 1409, the island became part of the Venetian Empire, under which it initially became important as a military post because of its proximity to the Uskoks of Senj – a large group of Croatian Habsburg soliders – on the mainland, who frequently attacked the Kvarner islands, including Rab.
The Austrian Empire swept in in 1815, although the island’s importance diminished as it was no longer adjacent to a major trade route, as it had been under the Venetian Empire. However, towards the end of the 19th century the island became popular once again as a tourist resort.
Although most of the inhabitants of Rab were Italian-speaking by the early part of the 20th century – thus wishing to become part of Italy after the fall of the Austrian Empire – the island became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1920. After this point, many of the island’s residents left for Istria or Italy.
Rab was occupied during World War II (in particular, from 1941 to 1945) and became part of Yugoslavia after the war. During this period, the island significantly developed its tourism and became a popular destination. Naturist tourism also became popular on Rab.
The island was a part of Croatia that declared independence in 1991.