The country of Lebanon is located in the Middle East and has Arabic as its official language. However, French, English and Armenian are also all prevalent throughout the country. Located between Syria to the east and north and Israel to the south, it is roughly the size of four-fifths of the state of Connecticut. Lebanon boasts fairly mountainous terrain, except for the small area of the Beqaa Valley, where the majority of Lebanon’s water resources come from. For this reason, the Beqaa Valley has become a heavily disputed region of the country. The Lebanon Mountains, which occupy most of the rest of the country, run parallel to the western coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon In ancient times, there is evidence that Lebanon was home to vast forests. However, early civilizations depleted this natural resource with the trading systems during the time. Most of the forests were taken down to supply traders with wood that was used in ship building and other crafts. It is from these ancient forests that Lebanon gets the emblem of the cedar tree on the flag.
The history of Lebanon stretches back thousands of years to the time of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic peoples who settled there along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Evidence of these groups may be found in the remains of their shelters, weapons, and pottery. Also during these periods the city of Byblos was founded. It is thought to be one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world. The sea played a major roll in these early people’s lives, as it did in the lives of the Phoenicians, the earliest recorded group in the region. It was through specific shells that the Phoenicians were able to attain purple dye, which they traded with the Greeks. It was also around this time that the region was first referred to as Lebanon and consisted of several small kingdoms.
The people of Lebanon also developed close relations with the people of Egypt. After Egypt conquered Syria around 1500 BCE, Lebanon was assimilated into the Egyptian Empire. Lebanon remained under control of the Egyptians until the twelfth century BCE, when the country was able to regain its independence from the weakened Egyptian government. It was during the prosperous period that followed that the Phoenicians once again had control of their homeland and flourished for the next three hundred years.
In the ninth century BCE, the Assyrians invaded the area of modern Lebanon as well as much of the Middle Eastern region. The rule of this empire brought about a long series of rebellions and retaliation, which lasted for several hundred years, until the fall of the Assyrian Empire in the seventh century BCE at the hands of the Babylonians. However, under the Babylonian rule, the protests and rebellions continued. Tyre, a major Phoenician city was among the most frequent to have uprisings. One of these uprisings lasted for nearly thirteen years and was finally ended when the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar overthrew the king of Tyre and enslaved its citizens. The Babylonians passed their power to the Achaemenids, when Babylon fell to the hands of Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire. For a time, the Phoenicians supported the Persians, especially in their military campaigns against the Greeks. However, following the GrecoPersian War, riots and rebellions soon developed once again.
The conquest of Alexander the Great across the Mediterranean region had a profound impact upon Lebanon. Initially, the people recognized him as their sovereign, but eventually came to resist his leadership. This led to conflict between Alexander’s forces and those of the city of Tyre. Tyre once again fell to foreign powers and its citizens were sold into slavery for the second time. His impact on the region of modern-day Lebanon left a definite impression on the culture of the area, as found in old inscriptions and in some architectural cases. The successor of Alexander in the region was known as Seleucid, and the time period was known as the Seleucid Dynasty. This was a time of struggle in Lebanon, as Seleucid constantly fought Ptolemy, another one of Alexander’s successors and the leader of Syria and Egypt.
The struggles that followed Alexander and his followers’ rule ended when Lebanon, along with Syria, were added to the region of the Roman Empire in 64 BCE. This heralded in a period of peace and prosperity for Lebanon once again. Trade, as well as urban development, was also prevalent throughout the area. It was a period that lasted roughly four hundred and sixty years, until the creation of the Byzantine Empire. After the Roman Empire was divided in two, the Eastern Portion became the Byzantine Empire. Prosperities remained in the region for nearly another century, until economic and corruption issues led to disorganization of the Empire. The Byzantines did not immediately lose power. The final collapse of the Empire occurred with the initiation of the Muslim conquests in the seventh century CE, following the birth of Islam.
The Arab conquests of the region not only affected the leadership of the territory, but also resulted in cultural changes as well. These resounding changes may still be seen in the culture of Lebanon today. It was also with these Arab conquerors that the Arabic language was introduced to the region. After successfully defeating the Byzantines of the area, there was a succession of several Muslim empires, which spanned several centuries.
The first of these empires was the Umayyad Empire, 660 CE to 750 CE, a period defined by clashes with what remained of the Byzantines as well as introduction of Arab culture into the region through the immigration of several Arab tribes. Although the conquering empire was Muslim, there also remained a relatively large amount of Christians in Northern Lebanon. These Christians became known as Melchites.
The following empire was that of the Abbasids, from 750 CE to 1258 CE. Under the Abbasids, the region of Lebanon experienced a time of great learning. There were many Lebanese thinkers who attributed to the scholarship of the time period. Lebanon also benefitted from trade both within the Arab Empire as well as with other surrounding countries. Abbasid control in Lebanon came to an end when the Prince of Tyre attempted to gain independence. Rather than escape the rule of the Abbasids, Tyre was captured by the Fatimid Dynasty of Egypt, another Muslim group. The Fatimid dynasty began around 969 CE and ended with the initiation of the Crusades in the year 1099. One remarkable event during the Fatimid period was the creation of a new religion known as Druze religion, which began in Egypt and was spread into Lebanon.
The Crusades Period lasted until 1291, and was a time of constant sieges made against Lebanese cities. The first city captured by the foreign invaders was Tripoli. It became a stronghold for the crusaders. Tyre was eventually captured as well. Crusader control was officially ended in 1291 when they gained control of Jerusalem. However, the stronghold of Tripoli was captured by Mamluk forces in 1289.
The Mamluks were Turkoman slaves. The rise of these leaders occurred in Egypt and their rule spanned nearly two hundred years in Egypt and Syria. Under the Mamluks, there was much dissention, primarily from the Shia Muslims and the Druzes. This led to the massacre of hundreds of these peoples, causing them to withdraw from the region. However, under the Mamluks, Lebanon once again flourished as an intellectual and trading center in the Mediterranean and the Arab worlds. Particularly important to trade at this time was the lucrative business with the Europeans.
The next major empire to rule in Lebanon was the Ottoman Empire. Begun by the ruling class leaders in modern-day Turkey region, the Ottomans extended their territory to the boarders of the Byzantine Empire. In 1516, the Ottoman Sultan Selim I established and Emir to rule Lebanon, thus initiating the Emir Period in Lebanese history. Under the Emir period there were two dynasties: the Maanid and the Shebab. Under the Shebab dynasty, Lebanon temporarily broke away from the Ottoman Empire, resulting in an invasion by British and Ottoman troops in 1840. Also under this dynasty, tensions between the Maronite Christians in the region and the Druze developed and eventually led to a civil war in 1860. The result of this conflict led to the separation of the two religions into enclaves. The remainder of the nineteenth century was relatively steady, without much more warfare until the initiation of the First World War.
During the war, Jamal Pasha, a man later accused of war crimes, occupied Lebanon. Under his command, the Mediterranean coast was blockaded, a move that crippled the economy of Lebanon and resulted in famine and plague. Eventually, after the conflicts of World War I, the Ottoman Empire was defeated. After nearly four-hundred years as part of the empire, the region of modern-day Lebanon went under French control, and in 1920 was placed under a League of Nations mandate. Six years later, a constitution for the country is written up, creating the Lebanese Republic. Although Lebanon was an official state, it did not gain independence from France until 1943, with all foreign troops withdrawing by 1946.
Following World War II, Lebanon became home to numerous refugees after the creation of the Israeli state. These Palestinian refugees came in another large wave upon the outbreak of the Six Day War in 1967, and fed into the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLO), which used Lebanon as a base to attack Israel. These actions caused Israel to retaliate against Lebanon, claiming that the state is harboring terrorists. The actions during this decade lead into a series of attacks between the two countries. By the mid-1970’s religious tensions were present within Lebanon as well. A civil war broke out with the rising tensions between Muslims and Christians. Syria was called in to help quell the internal disputes of the country. Although the attempt was to stifle hostilities between the two groups, the PLO continued to launch attacks. Israel responded in 1978 after a PLO attack massacred thirty-four on a Jewish bus. After this attack, the UN forced Israel to withdraw from Lebanon. However, rather than cooperate with this order, Israel instead offered aid to the Christian militia within Lebanon and further fueled the civil war within its borders. This civil war would last fifteen years. During the civil war, Israel gained control of southern Lebanon and remained there until 2000. Israel’s withdrawal was mainly due to the belief that it would help to dissolve tensions in the country. However, Hezbollah claimed that the attacks would continue until Israel withdrew from the Shebaa Farms district, an area that is still heavily disputed.
In 2005, a movement known as the Cedar Revolution resulted in the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country. It was sparked by the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was believed to have been killed at the hands of the Syrians. The following year, tensions escalated once again in the region when Hezbollah fired missiles at the Israeli side of the boarder, killing several soldiers. The conflict was ended later that same year after a UN ordered ceasefire.
Recent events within the country have resulted in drastic changes within the government. Traditionally, the government has consisted of what is known as confessionalism under a parliamentary constitution. Confessionalism is a system in which certain government positions are reserved for candidates of specific faiths. Internal strife has had a great impact on the inner workings of the government since 2008 and in 2011 the government collapsed when several prominent figures all resigned from their positions. The country is currently rebuilding the weakened central government.
Although Lebanon is a country that has seen much turmoil in regards to conflicts both between its citizens and also between Lebanon and other countries, the Lebanese people are a people rich in culture. Over the course of several thousand years, the region of Lebanon has been home to hundreds of different peoples, religions, and cultures. The combination of these many groups has allowed the country to claim a very unique sense of cultural heritage. These qualities may be found in the Lebanon’s cuisine, religious celebrations, clothing, art, and literature. It is for this reason that Lebanon is viewed as the gateway between Asia and the Western World.