References to Lebanon first appear in recorded history around 3000 BCE, with the region coming to be known for the independent city-states of the people known as the Phoenicians.
Recognised for their cultural sophistication, entrepreneurial flair, and mastery of the sea, the Phoenicians are generally able to prosper under the watch of the superpower of the day, Egypt.
After the Egyptian Empire weakens, Lebanon comes under the control of a succession of foreign invaders. The Assyrians rule from 875 BCE to 608 BCE. They are followed by the Babylonians (685 BCE to 636 BCE), and then the Persians. In the 4th Century BCE the Greeks led by Alexander the Great take control of the region.
In 64 BCE the Greeks are in turn replaced by the Romans, bringing in an era of prosperity and relative peace that will last about 500 years. The later stages of the Roman rule also see the establishment of Christianity, as practiced by the Orthodox Byzantines of the Eastern Roman Empire.
The rise of Islam in the 7th Century CE sees Lebanon come under the control of Arab invaders. Sunni and Shia Islam is introduced to the country. At the same time, Lebanon also becomes a refuge for a variety of ethnic and religious groups, including the Christian Maronites, the Greek Catholics, and the Druzes (a splinter faction of Shia Islam).
Islam also spurs European Christians to embark on a 200-year 'Crusade' to recapture religious sites in Palestine.
At the end of the 13th Century, following the Crusades, Lebanon comes under the influence of the Egypt-based Mamluk Sultanate. Commerce with Europe flourishes and Beirut becomes a major trading centre.
The political climate changes once more in 1516 when the Ottoman Empire conquers the Mamluks. The Ottomans will rule the region for 400 years, until the First World War.
In the middle of the 19th Century, Lebanon is divided into two administrative districts, a Christian north and a Druze south. However, the partition ends in disaster as tensions rise between the religious sects.
In 1860 about 10,000 Maronites, as well as Greek Catholics and Greek Orthodox, are massacred by the Druzes. As a result, Lebanon is reunited under a non-Lebanese Christian governor appointed by the Ottomans.
Meanwhile, as the Ottoman Empire begins to collapse, the Lebanese start to contemplate their future. While the Maronites favour secession from the empire, the Greek Orthodox advocate association with neighbouring Syria. Sunni Muslims wish to maintain the ties with the empire and the succeeding regime of the 'Young Turks', which are dominated by fellow Sunnis, while Shia Muslims lean towards independence for Lebanon.
Turkish authority over Lebanon is finally removed at the end of the First World War, although the country retains its colonial status when the victorious Allies grant France a mandate over the country.
Under the French, Lebanon is established with its current borders and with Beirut as its capital. A constitution establishing a unicameral parliament (Chamber of Deputies), a president, and a Council of Ministers (cabinet) is promulgated on 23 May 1926.
A custom is also established of appointing senior officers to reflect the religious make-up of the community. Based on proportional representation, the president is to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shia Muslim. The ratio of deputies in the parliament is to be six Christians to five Muslims.
In 1936 the Maronite Christian Pierre Gemayel (also spelt Jumayyil) forms a paramilitary youth organisation called the Phalange, or Phalanxes (Kata'ib in Arabic).
The group is modelled on the fascist organisations Gemayel observed while competing in Berlin during the 1936 Olympic Games. Gemayel is an admirer of the fascist dictators in Germany, Italy and Spain - Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Francisco Franco.
Lebanon's long history of foreign rule finally ends during the Second World War. Independence is declared on 26 November 1941, although the French are not completely removed until 22 November 1943, which comes to be celebrated as Lebanon's true Independence Day.
Lebanon becomes a member of the League of Arab States (Arab League) on 22 March 1945. It joins the United Nations (UN) the same year.
Almost from the outset, independent Lebanon's political environment is characterised by conflict and upheavals. The country's first president is forced to resign in the 'Rosewater Revolution' of 1952. The second president leaves office following a limited civil war in 1958.
The Phalange, which now has a membership of about 40,000, plays a central role in the war, resulting to party leader Pierre Gemayel being granted a position in the four-man cabinet that is subsequently formed.
Succeeding administrations bring some stability, although developments outside of Lebanon but within the Middle East region work to undermine the gains.
Meanwhile, the proclamation of the independent state of Israel in May 1948 and the subsequent 'War of Independence' between Israel and the surrounding Arab nations leaves unresolved tensions that will profoundly influence the history of Lebanon and the Middle East.
Palestinian refugees from Israel soon begin to arrive in Lebanon, with their numbers steadily increasing to between 270,000 and 400,000. Along with the refugees will come Palestinian guerrillas committed to a fight to win back their homeland.
As the number of Palestinian refugees increases, Lebanon's Christian community begins to fear that the country's demographic and religious balance will be overturned. The Phalange wants the refugees to leave Lebanon and is prepared to use violence to achieve this aim.
- Lebanon - A Country Study - Library of Congress Country Studies Series