The first people to settle Libya's fertile coastal areas and interior oases were the Berbers. Their tribal settlements date back to 2000 B.C. They were primarily nomads who controlled the caravan routes across Africa. Berbers still live in Libya's southern region.

Around 1000 B.C., the Phoenicians, a seafaring people from the eastern Mediterranean, founded the port of Carthage on the North African coast, west of present-day Tripoli. Carthage became an independent power and by the 6th century B.C., Carthaginians ruled much of the coast. The Greeks also established the city of Cyrene near present-day Darnah. In the 1st century B.C.,the Romans conquered Carthage and Cyrene, and North Africa became part of the Roman Empire. The Berbers paid taxes to Rome, but remained independent, calling themselves Imazigham (free men).

As Roman power weakened, tribes from northern Europe attacked North Africa. In the 7th century A.D., Arab armies invaded the area, introducing the Arabic language and the religion of Islam. Over the next eight centuries, Islamic forces from Morocco, Spain and Egypt succeeded each other in controlling North Africa.

In the 15th century, Ottoman Turks seized control of North Africa. Under the Ottomans, the economy of the area was based on piracy. Pirates from North African port cities demanded money from ships' captains to ensure their safe passage across the Mediterranean. In the early 19th century, the United States decided to end this practice, and fought against the pirates.

In 1911, the Italians took control of Libya. The Italians ruled the colony by force, killing and imprisoning many thousands of Libyans. Nationalist forces, led by Omar Mukhtar, opposed the Italians. Mukhtar was killed by the Italians in 1931. During the Second World War, Libya was the site of fierce fighting, but when the war was over, the Italians were defeated and Libya was freed of Italian rule.

In 1951, Libya became an independent country under King Idris, a leader from Cyrenaica. Oil was discovered in 1959 and brought economic prosperity. Although the standard of living rose, most of the country's wealth went to foreign investors. In 1969, a group of army officers, led by Muammar Qaddafi, overthrew the king in a bloodless coup. Qaddafi became the new leader of the country. He ordered the British and Americans to leave the military bases they had occupied in Libya since the Second World War and expelled the descendants of the Italian colonists. He created a socialist state in which Libyans controlled their nation's oil wealth.

   Did you know?
Libya has many important Roman archaeological sites, including Leptis Magna, one of the best-preserved Roman cities in the Mediterranean. More than 200 Roman wells have also been discovered in Libya. These still provide water, as they did two millennia ago.
During the 1980s and the 1990s, Libyans were accused of terrorist activities by the international community. Libya became isolated from other countries. When the country refused to cooperate with an international investigation into terrorism, the United Nations imposed trade sanctions. In 1999, the UN began to lift the sanctions when the Libyan government agreed to cooperate with its investigations.