The territory known today as Belarus was settled by Slavic tribes in the 6th to 8th centuries A.D. The Slavs established principalities, including Polotsk, which encompassed more than half of present-day Belarus. In the mid-9th century, Kievan Rus, a kingdom to the south, seized control of the principalities. But Kievan Rus's power ended when the kingdom was invaded by the Mongols in the 14th century. Belarus became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

 In 1569, the Grand Duchy formed an alliance with Poland against Russia. Over the next two centuries, Belarus was at the centre of constant battles between the Poles and the Russians. By the end of the 18th century, the Russian empire occupied all of present-day Belarus. The Russians outlawed the use of Belarusian and made Russian the official language. Belarusian lands were given to Russians and the Belarusians worked as serfs on the land.

Although serfdom was abolished in 1861, only a small portion of the land was handed over to the peasants. Two years later, Kastus Kalinouski, a Belarusian, led a rebellion against the Russians. He was executed in 1864, but the desire for freedom did not die with him. In 1919, after the First World War and the Russian Revolution, Belarus declared its independence. However, following a war between Russia and Poland, much of western Belarus was awarded to Poland by the treaty of Riga in 1921. The rest of Belarus fell under Russian control. In 1922, it became the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic of the Soviet Union. 
In the 1930s, under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, huge collective farms were established. Those who opposed Stalin's regime were executed or sent to labour camps. One million Belarusians are estimated to have died during the Stalinist era. During the Second World War, the country was occupied by Nazi troops. More than 2.5 million Belarusians, including most of the Jewish population, were killed during the occupation. Three-quarters of all housing and almost all industrial buildings were destroyed.
  Did you know?
The period from the 16th to the 18th century is considered the golden age of Belarusian culture.
When the war was over, rebuilding began. Belarus became one of the more prosperous republics in the Soviet Union. After the Soviet Union dissolved, Belarus declared its independence on July 27, 1991. On August 25, 1991, the Communist Party issued a declaration of full independence. Russia, Belarus and Ukraine formed the Commonwealth of Independent States to coordinate economic activities, defence and foreign relations.

 With the collapse of the Soviet Union's economy, Belarus has faced many difficulties. Many Belarusians want to reunite with Russia. In November 1996, President Alyksandr Lukashenka forced through a referendum abolishing the legitimately elected parliament and effectively establishing one-man rule.