The original city was founded by the Greeks in the 6th century BC under the name of Epidaurus (or Epidauros, Greek: Επίδαυρος). The surrounding area was inhabited by the Illyrians, who called the city Zaptal.
The town changed its name to Epidaurum when it came under Roman rule in 228 BC. Justinian I the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire sent his fleet to Cavtat during the Gothic War (535–554) and occupied the town.
The city was sacked and destroyed by the Avars and Slavs in the 7th century. Refugees from Epidaurum fled to the nearby island, Laus (Ragusa) which over time evolved into the city of Dubrovnik.
The town was re-established in the Middle Ages (Italian: Ragusa Vecchia). After a short while it came under the control of its powerful neighbor, the Republic of Ragusa.
The modern Croatian name for the city reveals its ancient origins and its link with Dubrovnik. Cavtat is derived from Civitas Vetus, that means old city in Latin Language.
Today, Cavtat is a popular tourist destination with many hotels and private households that rent rooms and apartments. The seafront is filled with shops and restaurants. A ferry boat connects the town to neighbouring Mlini and Dubrovnik. There are often many private luxury ships and yachts along the strand.
The town cemetery contains a mausoleum belonging to the Račić family and decorated by the sculptor Ivan Meštrović.
The Epidaurus Festival of Music has been held annually in Cavtat since 2007.