It is widely believed that Hvar was named after the oldest form of the word pharos, which was the name that the Greeks named their colony in 382 BC. There have been Italian names for the island, such as Lesina (tal. awl, due to the island’s shape).
The island of Pharos used to be an agricultural colony. The plan of field division on the fertile old plain is an exceptional historic document. By the mid-2nd century B.C.E the Romans had begun attacking the Illyrian tribes, among them the Delmatae. For strategic and logistic purposes they used the ports on the island of Hvar, as well as those situated on the islet of Šćedro and Paklinski islands. The former (the Roman tauridi) was used as a docking place for ships.
In the Roman era, there was a network of agricultural and country houses in the vicinity of drinking water, while the largest number of buildings was located in the area of today’s cities of Hvar, Stari Grad and around Jelsa. At that time, Hvar was an island of wine-growers, fishermen and merchants, which is confirmed by numerous archaeological findings: ceramic fragments from cave "Grapčeva spilja" which illustrate a ship with two sails and a spiral bended bow, and inscriptions and landforms. The life of the old Hvar is moreover revealed by archaeological underwater findings related to the shipwrecks of merchant ships.
The island went through a renaissance in the 16th century, as the increased grape vine cultivation brought about enough wine not just to satisfy the needs of the locals, but also enabled the residents to export. Fishing was also an important source of income for the local population, as well as shipyards. In 1416, King Zigmund requested the island of Hvar to provide him with skilled ship-builders so that he can construct galleons, fast vessels with sails and brigantines. One of the fateful events of the European history of the 19th century took place in the channel of Hvar, just off the island of Vis. The Austrian fleet, comprised mostly of Dalmatian people overpowers the Italian fleet. This was the last sea battle that was fought in a traditional way, through a direct confrontation of ships.
In 1147, Venice had occupied Hvar and established a diocese. In 1420, the Venetians arrived again and stayed until 1797. During this period, Hvar was the wealthiest, standalone bishopric of the Venetian Dalmatia. In 1919, Italian army finally succeeded in gaining control over the island, after exhausting battles. Their occupation lasted until the signing of the Treaty of Rapallo in 1921, in accordance with which Hvar, as well as almost entire Croatia, became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later to be named Yugoslavia, which became a Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia after WWII.