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HISTORY of LEBANON


The first written artifacts from the ancient Lebanon tell us about the first known occupants of the land, Phoenicians. As long as 5000 years ago, people known also as Canaanites of the Bible were living here. Ancient Greeks called them Phoenicians. They were living in cities like Byblos, Sidon and Tyre and involving with commercial and maritime activities. These three cities were among the most important port-cities of the ancient times. Tyre was considered to be the most important of the Phoenician city-states. The ancient people of the city built a business empire nearly 3000 years ago. They founded Carthage in the 9th century B.C. and reached the Straits of Gibraltar. They colonized part of Cyprus, Rhodes and the Aegean Islands. They founded Tashish, a great commercial colony, on the coast of Spain. After reaching most remote parts of the Mediterranean region, they sailed around Africa. Starting from the Gulf of Aqaba they returned to Egypt.

Egyptian domination of the Phoenician cities started in about 1500 B.C. and continued for many centuries. Only there was a period during which the Hittites, an Indo-European civilization from Anatolia, dominated the areas covering Syria and Lebanon. After a short period the Egyptians took over the control of Lebanon again.

Roman ruins, Baalbak As the Egyptian domination ceased to exist, Phoenicia enjoyed a period of independence. This was interrupted by the Assryians. This Assryian domination was very brutal. The relative prosperity came back only after the Persian king Cyrus' conquering of Phoenicia in 538 B.C. The Phoenician fleet became a major weapon in the hands of Persian kings to conquer the rest of the Mediterranean region during the following centuries.

The Macedonians under Alexander the Great overthrew Persia in 333 B.C. All Phoenician cities except Tyre welcomed Alexander's rule. It took 7 months for Alexander to take control of the city. This was the beginning of the Greek/Macedonian cultural domination of Phoenician cities during the following many centuries.

The Phoenician traders sold cedarwood, bronze, glass, silk and brocades to the cities in Greece and Asia Minor as early as 4000 years ago. This commercial activity was not a one way process. They sold and bought items from places like ancient Greece. This activity soon started to influence the ways Phoenicians lived, thought and believed. Greek traditions, festivals, baths, theatres and even gods and goddeses became part of Phoenicians' life.

The first alphabet of 22 consonants from which most ancient and also the modern scripts were derived was created by the Phoenicians. They invented the first glass making technique and produced glassware in large quantities.

The cultural influence of Greeks was replaced with the Romans during the following centuries. In 64 B.C. Phoenicia was officially ceased to exist and became part of the vast Roman province of Syria. The important Phoenician cities such as Berytus (Beirut) and Heliopolis (Baalbeck) became model Roman cities soon after this takeover. The law school in Berytus which was founded by the Emperor Septimus Severus (193 - 211 A.D.) was contributed extensively by the Phoenician lecturers and the law studied here were compiled into the Roman Code of Law which is still studied by students now.

Mosque, Byblos After Roman era, there was a short period of Byzantine rule on the land of Phoenicia ending in the 6th century A.D. The Muslim Arabs invaded and ruled the country until the late 11th century, when European Crusaders arrived. The Christian Crusaders ruled Lebanon for only 200 years. Finally, by the late 13th century, the Seljuk Turks and then the Ottomans ruled the land during the following 600 years. During this period the people of Lebanon, mainly both Christians and Muslims co-existed peacefully. This harmony quickly disappeared soon after the decline of the Ottoman rule in the mid-19th century. Troubles surfaced between Muslem Druzes and Christian Maronites. The long disturbing riots and massacres were stopped by a new authority which was setup under French Government control. This authority covered the areas only in Mount Lebanon district. This period under the new authority, brought important political, social and educational and economic reforms. Consequently, the country has became prosperous once again. This continued until the World War I. The new educational system encouraged the use of the Arabic language as a prime cultural resource. The newly emerging Arabic nationalism was fed tremendously by this recent trend of education in Arabic has caused the Arabs to demand independence from the Ottoman rule. After the World War I the Ottoman Empire was totally destroyed and the control of the State of Lebanon was passes into French authorities in the form of a mandate approved by the League of Nations. During the French domination period, an effective health, education and judiciary system was established.

In 1926, Lebanon was declared a republic. The foreign control of Lebanon did not end with this declaration. The independence from French was granted on 22 November 1943. The newly elected Nationalist Government tried to purge the constitution of all references to the French mandate. This has caused the French delegate-general to suspend the constitution and arrest the prime minister and cabinet and even send them into exile.

Riots and strikes against the French forced the French authorities to back down. In 1944 all important government positions were handed back to the Lebanese. After World War II the most important Western influence in the country has been USA.

Lebanon's strategic location and stable west-leaning stand made it a major banking and trade center. Many mulitnational companies had their Middle Eartern head-quarters in Beirut. This stable and prosperous period continued until mid-70s. The power was mainly in the hands of the Christian half of the people of Lebanon. The other half, mainly Muslim citizens of Lebanon were excluded from real government. The escalating tensions in the new Middle East, dislocated Palestinians and Suez crisis caused the national unity to break apart. The first Muslim rebellion in 1958 was put down by the help of USA. After the disastrous Arab-Israeli war in 1967, the problems have been surfaced more seriously. In the mid-70s the all-out civil war began which has torn the country apart. Since then the power struggle between different groups continued with less hope for a true peace. Syria and Israel marched in and marched out without any real success to turn the struggle to their advantage by leaving a worse mess behind them everytime.

Only in 1991 a final cease-fire and then a continuing peace accord has been established between the rival groups. The current political status is stable and very promising.


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