In ancient times the cedars of Lebanon were prized by the Egyptians, who maintained a trading post at Byblos, a port north of present-day Beirut. The region came to be known as Canaan and later as Phoenicia. It was conquered by Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C. and then passed in turn to the Seleucids, the Romans, and the Byzantines.

In the seventh century, Lebanon was conquered by the Arabs and became part of the Muslim world. The Crusaders gained control of most of the country in the early 1100's. From 1250 to 1517, Lebanon was part of the Mameluke empire. The Turks conquered the area in 1517. Although Lebanon then nominally fell under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, actual power was held mainly by local chiefs. World War I ended Turkish control, and in 1920 Lebanon was made a French mandate.

Independence was proclaimed in 1941, but the French continued to wield authority until 1943, when elections were held. Conflict between the Christian-dominated government and Muslim leftists led to a brief period of civil war in 1958.

As one of the Arab nations that fought against Israel in 1948, Lebanon allowed Palestinian guerrilla organizations to establish themselves in the southern part of the country. The 1967 Israeli-Arab war fueled further support for the Palestinian guerrillas.

During the 1970's, relations between the Christians, Muslims, Druses, and Palestinians deteriorated. The Christians, who dominated the economy and government, wanted to maintain power. They also wished to contain the Palestinian guerrillas. The Muslims and Druses desired a greater share of the country's wealth and a larger voice in government. Many also wanted Lebanon to aid the Palestinians in their fight against Israel. Civil war betv/een the Christian and Muslim factions broke out in 1975 and soon involved the Lebanese Army and the Palestinian Liberation Army. A succession of ferocious attacks and massacres led to an invasion by Syrian troops in 1976. Full-scale warfare stopped soon after.

The 1980's were marked by terrorist activity. Private armies, militias, and the occupying Syrian army controlled most of the country. In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon to curtail Palestinian guerrilla activity. Israel withdrew in 1985, leaving troops in a buffer zone along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

Civil warfare resumed in 1983. European and American peacekeeping forces went to Beirut in 1983 at the request of the Lebanese government, but withdrew in 1984 after the bombing of the American embassy. Syrian troops entered Beirut in 1986 from their stronghold in northeast Lebanon, but failed to end the violence.

With the civil war still raging, Lebanon was plunged into a constitutional crisis in 1988 when President Amin Gemayal's term expired without election of a successor. The crisis was resolved one year later, and a new-government was installed in 1990, ending the civil war. In 1992, Lebanon held its first national election in 20 years.

In 1996, Israel began sustained attacks on southern Lebanon to stop Palestinian rocket fire, ultimately leading to the displacement of 400,000 Lebanese. Fighting across the border ended in 2000 with the withdrawal of Israeli troops from their buffer zone in southern Lebanon. Syria continued its presence in Lebanon until 2005, when large demonstrations and international pressure helped lead to a withdrawal of Syrian troops.