Vis was inhabited by the time of the Neolithic period. In the 4th century BC, the Greek tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius the Elder, founded the colony Issa on the island.Later, it became an independent polis, and even minted its own money and founded its own colonies, the most notable of which was Aspálathos (the modern-day city of Split). In the 1st century BC, the island was held by the Liburnians. Its importance in the region ended with the first Illyro-Roman war (29-219 BC). Having sided with Pompeus during the period of civil struggles in Rome, became an "oppidum civium Romanorum" in 47 BC.
Until 1797, the island was under the rule of the Republic of Venice. During this time large settlements developed along the coastline (Comisa (now Komiža) and Lissa (now Vis)). Administratively, the island of Lissa was for centuries bound to the island of Lesina, now named Hvar. The Venetian influence is still recognizable in architecture found on the island, and some vocabulary of the Croatian dialect spoken locally is Venetian in origin.
After the short-lived Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, with Italian as the official language, the island was ruled by the Austrian Empire from 1814. It maintained its Italian name of Lissa. After the end of World War I, it was under Italian rule again in the period from 1918 to 1921, according to the provisions of the 1915 Treaty of London, before it was ceded to Kingdom of Yugoslavia as part of the 1920 Treaty of Rapallo.
The sea to the north of the island was the location of two battles:
- on 13 March 1811, a small Royal Navy squadron under the command of Captain William Hoste, defeated a larger French squadron in the Battle of Lissa (1811)
- on 20 July 1866, the smaller Austrian fleet, under Admiral Tegetthoff, attacked the Italian fleet, under Admiral Persano, defeating the larger Italian force and sinking the Italian ironclad Re d'Italia in the Battle of Lissa (1866).