After being governed by the Romans, Rab underwent periods of Byzantine and Croatian rule before being sold to Venice, along with Dalmatia, in 1409. Farming, fishing, vineyards and salt production were the economic mainstays, but most income ended up in Venice. Two plague epidemics in the 15th century nearly wiped out the population and brought the economy to a standstill.
When Venice fell in 1797, there was a short period of Austrian rule until the French arrived in 1805. After the fall of Napoleon in 1813, power returned to the Austrians, who favoured the Italianised elite, and it was not until 1897 that Croatian was made an official language. The tourism industry began at the turn of the 20th century.
After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, Rab eventually became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Occupied by Italian and then German troops in the early 1940s, it was liberated in 1945. During Tito’s rule Goli Otok (Barren Island), off the Lopar Peninsula, served as a notorious prison camp for fascists, Stalinists and other political opponents.
These days tourism is Rab’s bread and butter. Even during the 1990s war, Rab managed to hold on to its German and Austrian visitors.