Lebanon is an ancient land with cities over 6,000 years old. In 3000 BC, the eastern Mediterranean coast was Phoenician territory. From their city-states of Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and Byblos, the Phoenicians sailed throughout the Mediterranean trading fruit, perfume, dye and other goods.

The land's beauty and fertility attracted invaders: Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Seleucids and Romans. For many centuries, the region which is now Lebanon was ruled by people who lived far outside its borders: it was part of the Roman Empire beginning in the first century BC, then part of the Byzantium or Eastern Roman Empire five centuries later.

Beginning in 610 AD, the prophet Mohammed and his followers brought Islam to much of the Middle East. Between 640 and 1098, Lebanon underwent a succession of Islamic regimes based in Damascus, Baghdad, Isfahan and Cairo. Between 1098 and 1291, Christian Crusaders controlled much of Lebanon. Eventually, the country became part of the vast Turkish Ottoman Empire.

With different powers ruling Lebanon over the centuries, the region came to have a mixture of cultures. Throughout those turbulent years, Lebanon's steep hills and mountains provided refuge for Druze, Christian and Shi'ite communities. They survived by developing alliances, sometimes with each other, sometimes with factions of the ruling regimes. However, these groups also experienced political and economic tensions, particularly under the Ottoman Empire, at which time many Lebanese began to emigrate.

The Ottoman Empire fought on the losing side in World War I and its power ended. In 1920, the French government established the present boundaries of Lebanon and placed the country under French mandate until 1943, at which time Lebanon became independent. At independence, the country was established as a parliamentary democracy, yet leadership posts were reserved for members of the various religious groups, with Christian groups holding the balance of power. Lebanon prospered economically for decades, though some religious and ethnic tensions remained.

Flamed by foreign countries with an interest in Lebanon's political status, these conflicts eventually escalated into a long civil war, which devastated much of Lebanon from 1975 to 1990. Many countries had an interest in the war's outcome. Israel, France, the United States and Syria sent troops to help fighters on various sides or to try to maintain peace. Lebanon's economy was devastated; that it survived at all was due to the sheer stubbornness of the Lebanese in Lebanon, and to the support of community and family members abroad.

With a ceasefire in October 1990, Lebanon established the Ta'if Accord, which gives Muslims and Christians equal power in the government. Since then, most of the vying militias have been weakened. Although Syria still maintains troops in the country, Israel withdrew its troops in 2000. Lebanon has held several successful elections under its multiparty system. Currently, some groups are demanding the withdrawal of Syria's military presence.

  Did you know?
The ancient city of Byblos, known by Arabs today as Jbeil, is the world's oldest continuously inhabited city. Its name is thought to come from the Greek word for papyrus (bublos). In Phoenician times, Byblos was a stopping point for papyrus shipments from Egypt to Greece. The Greek word biblion ("book") is the origin of the English word Bible.