Legend has it that Djerba was the island of the lotus-eaters where Odysseus was stranded on his voyage through the Mediterranean.
The island, which was called Meninx until the third century AD, includes three principal towns. One of these, whose modern name is Brg, is found near Midoun in the center of the island. Another city, on the southeast coast of the island at Meninx, was a major producer of priceless murex dye, and is cited by Pliny the Elder as second only to Tyre in this regard. A third important town was the ancient Haribus. The island was densely inhabited in the Roman and Byzantine periods, and probably imported much of the grain consumed by its inhabitants. The island appears on the 4th century Peutinger Map.
During the Middle Ages, Djerba was occupied by Ibadi Muslims, who claimed it as their own. The Christians of Sicily and Aragon disputed this claim with the Ibadites. Remains from this period include numerous small mosques dating from as early as the twelfth century, as well as two substantial forts.
The island was controlled twice by the Norman Kingdom of Sicily: in *11351158 and in *12841333. During the second of these periods it was organised as a feudal lordship, with the following Lords of Jerba: 12841305 Roger I, 13051307 and 13071310 Roger II (twice), 1310 Charles, 1310 Francis-Roger III; there were also royal governors, whose times in power partially overlapped with those of the Lords: c. 13051308 Simon de Montolieu, 13081315 Ramon Muntaner.
In 1503, the corsair Oru Reis and his brother Hayreddin Barbarossa took control of the island and turned it into their main base in the western Mediterranean, thus bringing it under Ottoman control. Spain launched a disastrous attempt to capture it in November, 1510. In 1513, after three years in exile in Rome, the Fregosi family returned to Genoa, Ottaviano was elected Doge, and his brother, Archbishop Federigo Fregoso (later cardinal), having become his chief educator, was placed at the head of the army, and defended the republic against internal dangers (revolts of the Adorni and the Fieschi) and external dangers, notably suppression of the Barbary piracy: Cortogoli, a corsair from Tunis, blockaded the coast with a squadron, and within a few days had captured eighteen merchantmen; being given the command of the Genoese fleet, in which Andrea Doria was serving, Federigo surprised Cortogoli before Bizerta. Soon after, he carried out an invasion and occupation of the island and returned to Genoa with great booty.
Spanish forces returned to Djerba in 1520, and this time were successful in capturing the island. It was twice occupied by Spain, from 1521 to 1524 and from 1551 to 1560; again there were governors: 15211524 ..., 1560 Giovanni Andrea Doria.
On May 14, 1560, the Ottoman fleet, under the command of Piali Pasha and Dragut, severely defeated the "Holy League" of Philip II of Spain at the Battle of Djerba. From that time until 1881, Djerba belonged to the Ottoman regency of Tunis.
Subsequently, it came under the French colonial protectorate, which became the modern republic of Tunisia.
An archaeological field survey of Djerba, carried out between 1995 and 2000 under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania, the American Academy in Rome and the Tunisian Institut National du Patrimoine, revealed over 400 archaeological sites, including many Punic and Roman villas.