The island of Mljet has a long and eventful history that goes back as far as the second millennium before Christ, when the Illyrians from the tribe of Ardiaei settled on the island. Material remnants of the Illyrians tell about their way of life, conflicts the they had among themselves, as well as of defensive strategies (construction of gradine). Gradine, as well as Illyrian tombs (gomile) reveal that the Illyrian tribes also populated the area of the National Park Mljet.
Although no remains of buildings from the period of Ancient Greece have been found, it is not impossible that the Greeks populated the island. The first mentioning of the island of Mljet was in the manuscript The Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax from the 4th century BC stating that the Greek ships used to stop on the island for fresh water on their way to Korkyra Melaina, Issa, Pharos, etc. Shipwrecks, amphoras, and other items from ancient times found in the sea off the coast of Mljet are evidence that there was Greek presence on the island.
In the work De rebus Illyricus written in 35 BC, Appian mentioned seizing the Illyrian town of Melitus to stop Illyrian pirate attacks on the Roman fleet that sailed in this area. The island came under the authority of the Romans, who built third largest palace in the Adriatic (only Arena in Pula and Diocletian Palace in Split being larger), as well as the accompanying buildings: basilicas, thermal spas, arsenals, even a shipyard. Numerous remnants from Roman times, dispersed all over the island, indicate that the island was densely populated during the rule of the Romans and reveal that the inhabitants were involved in agriculture and farming.
The Narentines began their raids on the island at the end of the 8th century when they managed to occupy the eastern and central parts. At the end of the 10th century, they had a major conflict with the Romans pushing them from the island completely. The island of Mljet became part of Zachlumia and in 1151, Pope granted the island to the Benedictine Order from the county of Apulia in Italy. The Benedictines built a monastery and the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the islet in the Great Lake as well as established feudal government. Their role in development of literacy on the island was of crucial significance and the library of the Monastery of Saint Mary was one of the richest ones in Benedictine abbeys of Dalmatia.
The Republic of Ragusa
Since feudal fees presented hardship for the local population, rebellions were more and more frequent therefore the Republic of Ragusa intervened. As a result, Statute of the island of Mljet was formed in the 14th century which regulated services and fees owed to the abbey. At the end of the 15th century, a count was installed on the island and a Renaissance palace beneath Babino Polje (Palac) was built for him.
The 19th Century:
Napoleon and Austro-Hungary
In 1806, the French troops occupied the Republic of Ragusa and two years later, the Monastery of Saint Mary was closed. After the fall of Napoleon and to prevent plundering of church property, England took charge, but ceded the monastery to the Austrians after a very short time. The arrival of Austro-Hungary meant great progress for the island in terms of developing infrastructure and improving quality of life. Furthermore, the problem of large numbers of venomous snakes was solved when 12 mongooses were brought from Vienna, completely eliminating this serious danger. During the time of Austro-Hungarian governing, a project of protection of the Mljet lakes, organisms, and forests was established, named Naturschutzpark Meleda.
After the First World War, the island of Mljet was occupied by the Italians, but very soon the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes annexed the island. In the Second World War, the Italians occupied the island for a very short time until their capitulation. I twas followed by a short German occupation, and then the island became part of Yugoslavia, and eventually part of Croatia.
In recent history, more precisely in 1960, a part of the island was proclaimed as national park which also implied status of the protection of natural and cultural heritage, and the monastery complex was converted into a hotel. At the beginning of the Croatian War of Independence in 1990, the hotel was closed down and eight years later, it was returned to the Diocese of Dubrovnik. Currently the entire complex is being renovated and archaeological research has been carried out, especially investigating remnants of the Roman Period.