Inhabited first in neolithic times, Vis Island was settled by the ancient Illyrians, who brought the Iron Age to Vis in the 1st millennium BC. In 390 BC a Greek colony was formed on the island, known then as Issa, from which the Greek ruler Dionysius the Elder controlled other Adriatic possessions. The island eventually became a powerful city-state and established its own colonies on Korčula and at Trogir and Stobreč. Allying itself with Rome during the Illyrian wars, the island nonetheless lost its autonomy and became part of the Roman Empire in 47 BC.

By the 10th century Vis had been settled by Slavic tribes, and it was sold to Venice (who called it Lissa) along with other Dalmatian towns in 1420. Fleeing Dalmatian pirates, the population moved inland from the coast.

With the fall of the Venetian empire in 1797, the island fell under the control of Austria, France, the UK, Austria again, Italy, the first Yugoslavia, and then Italy during WWII, as the great powers fought for control of this strategic Adriatic outpost. During the war Vis was an important military base for Josip Broz Tito’s Partisans. Tito established his supreme headquarters in a cave on Hum mountain, from where he coordinated military and diplomatic actions with Allied forces.