To have a deeper understanding of the history of Lebanon, you have to know its location.
Lebanon is one of the member states of the Levant, which is a geographical region in the Middle East that includes several historic areas of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel.
Ancient Lebanon is one of the earliest discovered and studied sites that present prehistoric Upper Paleolithic technologies, including evidence of inhabitants living earlier than 45,000 years ago based on carbon dating records and discovered tools and ornaments.
The famous complete Homo sapiens skeleton of an approximately eight-year-old early modern human called “Egbert” was discovered here. The skeleton is now housed in the National Museum of Beirut.
Aside from Egbert, there are also several other prehistoric discoveries found in the area, such as a Neanderthal maxilla and the fascinating Stephanorhinus, an extinct genus of two-horned rhinoceros believed to have lived during the Pliocene up to the Late Pleistocene.
The history of Lebanon can be described as a long, undulating roadmap, complete with steady progress, rise to power, roadblocks, and, as a country directly affected by both World War I and World War II, bloodstained.
However, historians have explained that these formative milestones and regional developments are integral to the country as it is today – a culture-rich member state of the Levant region.
Lebanese history spans a considerable timeline as early as the 2nd millennium BC, being the earliest documented prehistoric culture. The Qaraoun culture established the ancient civilization during the Canaanite period, during a time when the region was still inhabited by ancient people. The Northern Canaanites are mentioned in the Bible, together with other Semitic records that highlight this specific period.
The oldest known twenty-four-letter alphabet was known to be created by the Canaanites. It is the shortened version of the earlier alphabets, such as the Ugaritic and Proto-Sinaitic, which are both composed of thirty letters. From the Canaanite alphabet, several alphabets developed, including the Phoenician alphabet, which carried sister alphabets for Moabite, Aramaic, and Hebrew. This standardized set of basic written symbols directly influenced the entire Mediterranean region.
The geographical significance of Lebanon being a coastal plain made it the most favorable location for numerous coastal trading cities that the Greeks called Phoenicia, an ancient Semitic-speaking civilization that originated in the Levant region and spanned as far as the Iberian Peninsula.
The Phoenicians achieved considerable success up to 200 BC, but just like any other ancient civilization, a decline was observed due to various inter-regional and territorial conflicts, including the uneasy relationship with the Neo-Babylonian and Neo-Assyrian empires from the 9th to 6th century BC.
The gradual loss of power caused the deterioration of the Phoenician civilization, leading to outright loss of its city-states on the Lebanese coast to Achaemenid Persia under the leadership of Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE.
Despite their dwindling grip on supremacy, numerous independent installations remained resilient several years further. This includes Carthage. Sometime in 350 to 345 BC, the rebellion in Sidon, under the leadership of Tennes, was obliterated by Artaxerxes III.
Alexander the Great attacked what was considered during that time as the most prominent Phoenician city of Tyre, about two centuries into Persian rule. It was Alexander the Great who conquered the land area that is now Lebanon, together with surrounding regions, in 332 BCE. Upon his demise, the region was taken by the Seleucid Empire.
During the 1st century, Christianity was introduced from the neighboring region of Galilee. During this time, the majority of the region spanning towards Anatolia was considered to be the major center of Christianity, lasting until the 4th century when Christianity was incorporated into the Christian Byzantine Empire.
Christianity is one of the major aspects of religious formation in Lebanese history, as the regions of Mount Lebanon and nearby coastal plains were included in the Diocese of the East, which was subsequently divided into Phoenice Paralia and Phoenice Libanensis. These divisions were so expansive that the boundaries spanned an area covering the majority of modern Syria.
A hermit named Maron established a monastic tradition near Mount Lebanon between the 4th and 5th centuries, with his methodology being focused on asceticism and monotheism.
The monks who followed his principle spread his teachings among the native Lebanese Christians, as well as pagans in the coastal and mountainous regions of Lebanon. They eventually became what is known as Maronites, who moved towards the mountains to avoid religious conflict and persecution by the Romans.
At this point in the history of Lebanon, numerous Roman-Persian wars erupted and lasted for several centuries, and the Sassanid Persians took over what is now recognized as the modern Lebanon region from the years 619 to 629. It is from this time that the modern margins started to have a clear-cut definition, leading to the creation of Lebanon.
In the 7th century AD, after the death of Muhammad, the Muslim Arabs successfully conquered Syria and established a new regime. With this momentous event, the Muslim Arabs replaced the Romans. While the Arabic language and Islam are the dominant characteristics of this regime, it still took some time to convert the current Christian population, as well as the established Syriac language at that time.
The Maronite community, because of their well-isolated and established network, maintained a significant degree of autonomy and faith even after the years of ruling succession in Lebanon and Syria.
The Druze faith is a type of faith that emerged from Islam in the 11th century. It gained a considerable number of followers from Southern Lebanon. This is the divisive chapter of Lebanon origin as the Druze and Maronites divided the country until the modern era.
– The Crusaders, Mamluk Era, and the Ottoman Rule
In the 11th century, Lebanon experienced some redemption and retaliation. As Christian Anatolia fell to the Muslim Turks, the Romans in Constantinople sought the support and assistance of the Pope in Rome. This gave birth to the Crusades, which was a series of wars initiated by Latin Christians primarily of French origin.
One of the lasting and widely recognized effects of the Crusades is the communication between the Maronites and the Crusaders. While other Christian communities swore allegiance to Constantinople, the Maronites swore allegiance to the Pope in Rome. This intertwined connection stood the test of time, even after the fall of the Crusader states years later.
The 13th century led to the reestablishment of Muslim control in the country under the jurisdiction of Mamluk sultans from Egypt. The area was hotly contested among Muslim rulers until an established authority over the expansive Mediterranean region was bestowed to the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
The Ottoman control was unquestioned. However, the Lebanese coast solidified its status as an important trade destination for several maritime republics, including Genoa and Venice, during that time.
While the coastal regions were being overseen by the Ottoman, the mountainous regions became the refuge of minority groups or those persecuted by the current empire. These include the Maronites and the Druze. The mountainous regions were considered autonomous regions of Lebanon during the Ottoman Empire rule.
– Ottoman Rule, Dynasties, and Modernity
The 13th century saw the formation of a massive empire by the Ottoman Turks. The empire encompassed the regions of North Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East. Selim I was the Ottoman sultan who led the empire towards victory against the Persians and the Mamluks.
Throughout this era, nearby entities came to Lebanon to have their share of settlements and colonies. These include the Maans and the Shihabs, as well as the Al-Saghir and El-Assaad rule towards the latter part of the 18th century.
– Towards Modern Lebanon and World War I
After a turbulent exchange of power, territorial feuds, and conflicts between dynasties, Lebanon experienced a rather peaceful turn in the 19th century.
It was during this time that the Maronite, Druze, and Muslim communities focused on cultural and economic development, which led to the establishment of the American University in Beirut, as well as the blooming and booming of political and literary activities based on the attempts to achieve liberation from the Ottoman Empire.
However, this was a fleeting moment of peace and progress, as in the latter part of the 19th century, an uprising facilitated by the Druze occurred. However, compared to previous episodes of violence, this was considered a less violent and short-lived kind of revolt.
Lebanese history rarely had its serene moments, especially when the country experienced The Great Famine of Lebanon, which lasted for three years from 1915 to 1918. As much as half of the Lebanese population that time perished, numbering approximately 200,000 in lost lives. This was due to the conflicts caused by a food supply blockade and the complications of World War I.
– League of Nations Mandate
The League of Nations mandated that the five existing provinces of Lebanon be placed under the direct control of France. However, Lebanese demographics were severely altered due to inter-faith differences.
During this time, Lebanon was predominantly Muslim or Druze, with other portions of the population being Lebanese Christians and Maronites, as well as Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. Many of these groups were significant in size; hence, irreconcilable differences were long in place.
Based on the 1932 census, there was a six-to-five Christian-to-Muslim ratio for the parliament seats. The constitution in place granted presidential veto power to ensure that the 6:5 ratio will not be changed even in the event of population distribution changes in the future. In 1960, Muslims were believed to constitute much of the population, leading to numerous episodes of unrest because of the existing political system of the time.
– Lebanese Independence and the Republic of Lebanon
When the Vichy government assumed power over the French territory in 1940 during the World War II period, the appointed high commissioner of Lebanon was Henri Ferdinand Dentz.
In 1943, elections were held in the country, and a new Lebanese government abolished the mandate on the 8th of November later that year. While the new government was a massive success and gained support from the local people to stand as the Republic of Lebanon, the French imprisoned the officials of the new government.
However, due to international pressure, the government officials were released on the 22nd of November 1943, and Lebanon was granted its independence. During this time, Emile Ibrahim Edde served a fleeting twelve days as the President of Lebanon from 11th November to 22nd November 1943. The Lebanese region remained under the control of the Allies until the end of World War II, and then the last of the French troops in the country left in 1946.
The Republic of Lebanon savored a wind of progress in the 1960s, during which a considerable amount of economic prosperity and peace was attained. Lebanon achieved its status as the bastion of economic prowess among the Persian Gulf Arab states, which made Lebanon recognized as one of the fastest-growing economies of that time.
However, this propulsion was placed on a standstill when the country’s largest bank and the institution that was considered as its financial backbone –Yousef Beidas’ Intra Bank – collapsed in 1966.
– The Lebanese Civil War
From 1975 to 1990, the Lebanese Civil War occurred. This was the most recent formative event in the country, leading to the death of approximately 120,000 people and displaced up to 76,000 Lebanese citizens according to data from 2012. The Lebanese Civil War was a multi-faceted, multi-belligerent clash between sects and political entities, causing a long-lasting conflict among citizens and international entities.
A glimmer of hope for the end of the Civil War emerged through the 1989 Taif Agreement, which paved the way for the Arab League to identify solutions to address the conflicts. In 1991, the parliament passed an amnesty law that acquitted all political crimes before its enactment.
Around May 1991, almost all militias were dissolved except for the Hezbollah, and the Lebanese Armed Forces started the re-establishment process as the only non-sectarian institution in Lebanon. Unfortunately, the religious tension between Shia and Sunni Muslims remained even after the resolution of the civil war.
– Succeeding Wars and Aftermath
Even in modern times, Lebanese history has been rife with conflict. In the 21st century, Lebanon still suffered a series of wars and political conflicts, from the Cedar Revolution and the 2006 Lebanon War to the Syrian War Spillover in 2007 due to its proximity to Syria. The most recent events include the Intifada of Dignity, or the 2011 Lebanese protests, which were heavily influenced by the 2011 Arab Spring.
– Lebanon Today
Lebanon has gone a long way from its ancient Lebanon roots, and as you can see, it seems that the country can’t take a break. Sometimes, being a geographically advantaged country carries a great deal of risk and potential conflict not only among citizens but also with other external parties.
Today, Lebanon is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the Levant region and the Middle East. Tourism is also an important part of the Lebanese economy, which is currently experiencing slow yet steady growth and stability. After sharing with you the rich history of Lebanon, you should now appreciate how its resilience.