Myanmar has been inhabited since at least 2500 B.C. The indigenous people are the Karen. In the 6th century A.D., the Mon, a Buddhist people, settled in the coastal areas. In the 9th century, the Burmans (or Bamars) moved into the Irrawaddy River valley. The Mon and the Burmans came into conflict as they struggled to control the entire area. 

In 1044, Anawrahta, a Burman ruler, established the first Myanmar empire, with its capital at Bagan on the Irrawaddy. He converted to Buddhism and demanded that the Mon in the coastal city of Thaton give him their copies of the Buddhist scriptures. When the Mon refused, he conquered Thaton. During his reign, Bagan became known as the "city of four million pagodas." 

In the 13th century, the Mongols, led by Kublai Khan, invaded Myanmar and ransacked Bagan. The Shan people from the east also attacked. Although there was a fairly stable Mon culture in the south around Bago and Yangon, the central part of the country was torn by conflict. In the 15th century a Mon king, Dhammazadi, presided over a revival of Buddhist culture in the south. The Shan dominated the north from a capital called Ava (near present-day Mandalay) and a people called the Rakhine established a culture on the coast to the west. A group of Burmans who had fled from the Shan created a new centre of Burman culture at Taungoo, north of Bago.
  Did you know?
Aung San Suu Kyi, who was placed under house arrest in 1989, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
In the 16th century, the country was united by the Taungoo dynasty. The capital moved to Ava. During the 18th century, the Dutch, French and British struggled for power in southeast Asia. The Taungoo dynasty ended in 1752 after a Mon rebellion, which was supported by the French. In the late 18th century, Alaungpaya, a Burman from Shwebo near Ava, defeated the Mon, deported the French, burned down the British trading posts and established a new Burmese empire.

 The 19th century saw constant conflict between the Burmese and the British, who already ruled in India. In 1852, the British declared war and annexed the coastal areas. In 1885, they conquered the central regions around Mandalay. The country became part of British India. Many Indians moved into the area. However, the British allowed the Karen, Shan, Kachin, Chin and Kayah peoples in the remote highland areas to remain autonomous.

In 1942, during the Second World War, the Japanese invaded the country. The Burmese National Army was created, led by Bogyoke Aung San. At first, the army fought against the British. By the end of the war, however, because of harsh treatment by the Japanese, the army fought with the British to expel the Japanese. On January 4, 1948, the country achieved full independence. The next few years were chaotic because of power struggles within the government, resistance from the hill tribes, communist rebellions, and attempts by Chinese groups to annex parts of the north. In 1962, a military government under Ne Win came to power and enforced a socialist regime.
  Did you know?
U Thant was Secretary General of the United Nations from 1961 to 1971. He was widely respected for his integrity and for his ability as a mediator.
In 1988, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) declared martial law. The opposition formed the National League for Democracy (NLD), a party committed to non-violent change. The NLD spokesperson was Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Bogyoke Aung San. The NLD party won the May 1989 elections, but the military refused to give up power. NLD members, including Aung San Suu Kyi, were arrested. Martial law remains in force.