Lebanon Early History

The mountains that have given Lebanon its name – sometimes simply referred to as the Mountain – have also shaped its history. The inaccessibility of the highlands has not only provided refuge for dissident religious groups over the centuries, but has also impeded unity among the different peoples of the region.


Archaeological remains indicate an occupation along the Lebanese coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the Paleolithic period, and by 4000 BC the region had developed both metallurgy and ceramics. Around 2500 BC, the coast was colonized by the Phoenicians, a seafaring people related to the Canaanites. Its city-states – which controlled most of the territory of what is now Lebanon – traded with ancient Egypt and became flourishing cultural centers under Babylonian influence, worshiping the God Baal.

Around 2000 BC Phenicia was invaded by the Amorites, then in 1800 BC by the Egyptians and shortly after by the Hyksos, who united it to their Egyptian dominions. Reconquered by the Egyptians, it remained a dependent province until about 1400 BC, when Hittite raids weakened Egyptian authority, and by 1100 BC it was again an independent territory.

Tire became the leading state of independent Phenicia and pioneered long-distance maritime trade. The marriage of Ahab, king of Israel, and Jezebel, a princess of Tire, shows the strength of the political ties between Phenicia and ancient Israel. Phoenician exploration allowed the establishment of colonies throughout the Mediterranean, from Utica and Carthage in North Africa, to Corsica and the south of the Iberian Peninsula (such as Gades, present-day Cádiz), disseminating the Semitic alphabet, which was later adopted by the Greeks; the Phoenicians circumnavigated Africa and even merchants from Carthage reached the British Isles.

Regardless, in 867 BC Assurnasirpal II, king of Assyria, forced the city-states to pay tribute and they were dominated by Assyrian troops. They rebelled several times and after the end of Assyrian power in 612 BC, they succeeded in succeeding in the Egyptian attempts to reconquer the area. Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon had subjugated all of Phenicia except Tire, resulting in welcoming Persia when he conquered Babylon in 539 BC. Phenicia became one of the most important and richest provinces of the Persian Empire.

Alexander the Great conquered Phenicia along with the rest of Asia Minor ; Tire finally fell after a long siege in 332 BC The maritime boom of the newly founded Alexandria hampered Phoenician trade and after Alexander’s death the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt conquered the Phoenician cities, which in the second century BC passed into the hands of the Seleucids. The Phoenician identity was overwhelmed by Hellenistic influences. As the Seleucid Empire disintegrated, the rising power of Rome became the most important in the region.

Roman and Byzantine rule

In 64 BC, Pompey the Great conquered Phenicia, annexed it to Rome, and administered it as part of the Roman province of Syria. Beirut became an important center during the provincial government of Herod the Great, while Baalbek became a splendid religious center; both cities were officially proclaimed colonies by Gaius Julius Caesar Octavio Augusto.

The Aramaic language – dominant in the Near East – began to replace the Phoenician, marking the integration of the territory with its neighbors. Since the 4th century AD, with the Christianization of the Roman Empire and the subsequent emergence of a strict Christian orthodoxy in the Byzantine Empire, religious tensions have arisen in the whole of Syria. Around the 7th century, the Maronites, a sect adhering to the Monothelian heresy, in which it was affirmed that Christ he had had both human and divine natures but only one divine will, they had sought refuge in the mountainous districts of northern Lebanon a country located in Asia according to EHEALTHFACTS. In 608, the Persian king Chosroes II invaded Lebanon and Syria. The Byzantine Emperor Heraclius I, also a Monotheite, liberated Lebanon in the second decade of the 7th century, but this was a short-lived triumph.

First Muslim rule

By 630, the Arabs incorporated into the new religion of Islam had conquered most of Syria and incorporated it into the caliphate; the mountains of Lebanon were integrated into the Arab military district of Damascus. The conquerors allowed the native, Christian and Jewish populations to maintain their beliefs, on condition of paying discriminatory taxes and regulations. In 759 and 760 the Christian peasants rose up, but the rebellion failed and this served as an argument for many local legends. Throughout the Islamic period, rivalries persisted between different Arab tribal groups, the Qaysis (from the north) and the members of the Kalb or Yemen (from the south) tribe, who had settled in the area after the conquest.

The fall of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates and the rise of the local dynasties gave rise to a new episode in the history of the region, characterized by chaos. At the beginning of the 11th century, a Shiite sect, the Druze, established itself in the southern part of the Mountain, sometimes becoming allies and sometimes rivals of the hitherto dominant Maronites. In the year 1099, the crusades brought Christian leaders to the country, who remained until the 13th century; Lebanon was divided between the crusader kingdoms of Tripoli and the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem (Latin Kingdom of the East).

Until then the Maronites had been carrying out a solitary resistance to the processes of Islamization and Arabization. The Crusaders helped ensure their religious and cultural survival by putting them in contact with the Maronists of Byzantium. Egypt led the Muslim reconquest of Lebanon that began with the capture of Beirut in 1187. After the last Crusaders were driven out, Lebanon was ruled by the Mamluks since 1280.

Dominion of the Ottoman Empire

In 1516 the Ottoman Turks seized the entire eastern Mediterranean coast from the Mamluks. Two successive local dynasties ruled the Mountain under Ottoman rule: the Maans (1516 – 1697) and the Shihabs (1697 – 1842). The most ambitious of these leaders was Fajr ad-Din II. Although he was a member of the Druze family of the Ma’an, he ruled in a tolerant manner, thus attracting Maronite peasants from the southern districts.

With the end of the Ma’an, local notables elected members of the Chihab family to be emirs (princes). Later, members of the Chihab family converted to Christianity. In 1770 a Maronite Chihab became an emir. His successor, Bechir Chihab II (who reigned from 1788 to 1840) subdued the Druze and consolidated himself as the owner of Lebanon with power in the Levant. The Druze ended the Chihab rule in 1842 thanks to the support of the Ottomans, European powers, and the discontent of the Maronite peasants. In 1843 the regime of the caimacamatos was established, autonomous territories led by Maronite Christians in the north and Druze in the south.

The violence of these years ended the Druze-Maronite cooperation on which Lebanon’s autonomy rested. The Ottomans now had a more direct role, but their administrative reforms were impractical. In 1858 political, religious, social and economic tensions between the Druze and Maronites, Muslims and Christians, lords and peasants led to a civil war that ended in 1860 after a great bloodbath and an apparent Druze triumph.

The Ottoman and European powers, however, sent their forces to restore order and punish the Muslims whom they considered guilty of the war. In 1861 they established a new administration for Lebanon that lasted until the First World War. The new regulations stipulated that the country be ruled by a non-Lebanese Ottoman Christian, advised by local notables, but directly responsible to Istanbul. The years of the First World War brought famine and devastation, hence the flow of Christian immigrants to America grew.

Lebanon Early History