The island occurred very early on the nautical charts, first under the Roman name Sansacus or Sansegus, which probably derives from "sampsychon" (Greek for marjoram), which resulted in the Croatian name of Susak. First mention of the island in written sources dates back to the mid-9th century, when the Saracen and Venetian armies clashed in its waters.
The largest population of Susak was recorded after World War II. In the sixties of the last century, mass emigration to the USA depleted the population. It is estimated that there are 2500 Susakers in America today, mainly in the state of New Jersey. From 1985 onwards, “Emmigrants’ Day“ has been celebrated on Susak on the last day of July. The first settlement, whose beginnings date back to Roman times, was built on the fertile plateau and is called Gornje selo (“the upper village”), while Donje selo (“the lower village”) is located in the harbour and was built at a later date, during the largest boom of grape growing in the late 19th century. Because of its isolation, Susak has preserved its archaic speech (protected as a part of the cultural heritage) and the specific customs and colourful traditional costumes.
On the Island of Susak, traditional female clothing practices are very well preserved, with several different variants associated with specific age and certain occasions. The older variant of the Susak traditional costume, the so-called “by Susak“ style (po susacku), is characterized by a white linen shirt (kosula) closed around the neck, waistcoat (bust) which tightens and accentuates the waist, and bravaruol (bib) that descends down the chest to the waist. From the waist down, the body is covered by kamizot crni (black) or lasćavi (shiny), a short skirt richly frilled and composed of as many as 7 woven halves (pola) of the fabric sewn along the edges, and then puckered into wider or narrower folds made of finished cotton material.
The lower kamizot is made of the same cut as the upper one, only white in colour. The bottom skirt is called sukna skarlata and it is of a much narrower cut, red in colour and richly adorned with lace and colourful ribbons. During the dance, the two topmost kamizots are elevated and sukna skarlata comes to the fore. The underpants (mudande) are decorated with lace. The feet are covered by knitted woollen kalcete (sometimes red) and colouful socks or slippers (carape, papuce or pute) made of cloth. The style of combing is also unique. The hair is parted in the middle while two frontal curly locks (rici) are left hanging down the sides of the face. The rest of the hair is braided into a cake-like bun, so called kokum, while a square-patterned scarf (facuol), usually red or darker in colour, is wrapped around the head. Slightly modified and denuded variant of the costume po susacku, can still be seen on a few elderly ladies on the island.
Another, newer variant is called “by Lošinj“style (po losinsku), and as the name itself suggests, it was influenced by the Lošinj fashion from the late 18th century. This style was worn by young girls on festive occasions and in its most luxurious form it has been preserved in a wedding equipment of a bride. It consists of a pink silk blouse (zabajka), richly decorated with colourful ribbons, lace, metallic threads and glass balls on the chest, upper back and sleeves. Kamizot na faldice is also pink, with apron (tarvijerslica) made of pink silk with wide borders decorated in the same way as the bust/sleeves of zabajka worn over it. Underneath, three underskirts, very starched (inkolane) and reinforced with a wide frill in the lower part, are worn. Sukna rakamana appears here as well, and it is also of narrower cut and more richly decorated than in the po susacku style. Mudande with lace are present again as the undermost layer of clothing. Feet are covered by pink kalcete and leather shoes (postoli). Brides wear a wedding crown, jirlanda and vijel, on their heads. The last wedding in the traditional zabajka on Susak was recorded in the 1980s! Although Susak costumes are well known for exceptionally short skirts – miniskirts, the fact is that the costumes shortened during the 20s of the 20th century under the influence of bourgeois fashion. Until then, the female kamizot came down to the middle of the calf.
By the mid 18th century Susak was characterised by a mixed economy: crop growing (wheat, barley, beans, etc.) was the most important industry, then came wine growing accompanied by sheep-breeding and fishing. During this time, the economic development of Susak was faster than the development of Veli and Mali Lošinj, so in the 1650 the amount of the church tithe paid by Susak was 400 Venetian liras (as much as Unije), while Lošinj had to pay only 320 liras. The size of a common threshing floor for threshing wheat (flail threshing), which was located at the site of today's large tank in Gornje selo, bears witness to the former intensive crop growing. Later, in the late 18th and in the 19th centuries, parallel with the economic success of Lošinj, Susak specialized in wine growing and fishing, while crop growing and sheep-breeding disappeared. Olive trees have never been cultivated due to unsuitable soil conditions.
The agriculture of Susak is specific for several reasons: there is no cattle (oxen, donkeys) on the island, there are no carts and ploughs, all chores are carried out manually and by hand tools, all transportation of goods on the island is done by people themselves (the men on their backs, the women on their heads). Basic tool is a square, short-handled hoe used for soil and grape hoeing, and for the maintenance of grape terraces, roads and gorges (narrow passages cut into sand). During the late 18th century all activities focused on the production of wine and fishing, while everything else needed for living had to be imported.
Each resident of Susak was a fully independent businessman, each of them was a wine-grower, fisherman, sailor, wholesale and retail salesman and buyer. Produced grapes, wine and salted fish were independently transported by rowing boats with oars (the first motor boat appeared on Susak in 1929) to Cres, Lošinj, and Istria as the nearest mainland, where they were sold or exchanged (baratati) for other goods. So, the quintal of grapes (100 kg) was worth 6 kg of sheep cheese, 10 litres of olive oil, 4 quintals of wood or 5 kg of wool.
Feudalism lasted on the Island of Susak until the mid 19th century because Susak was, like the neighbouring islands of Unije and Ilovik, feud of Osor and later Krk Diocese. The residents of Susak were thus obliged to pay to the Osor Diocese one third (fourth in the 19th century) of all yield, such as grape must, wheat, beans, etc.; they had to pay harvest tithes (intrada) for the needs of a local church, head tax (the tax that is paid by the heads of families) and fish twentieth paid by all owners of trawl-nets. All this was a considerable burden for an otherwise poor island (every third or fourth day the residents of Susak worked for the bishop!), so it is no surprise that the church tax gatherers were extremely hated by the people. Particularly hated was one church officer, the bishop's brother, blind in one eye, even mentioned in the prayers of the residents of Susak:
''From the Black Death, famine and war and bishop’s blind brother free us, oh Lord!“
The island is connected by a regular daily boat line with Mali Lošinj and by catamaran with Rijeka.