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History of Lebanon
 
 
 

Early History

Evidence of the earliest known settlements in Lebanon was found in Byblos, which is considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and date back to earlier than 5000 BC. Archaeologists discovered remnants of prehistoric huts with crushed limestone floors, primitive weapons, and burial jars left by the Neolithic and Chalcolithic fishing communities who lived on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea over 7,000 years ago.

Lebanon was the homeland of the Phoenicians, a seafaring people that spread across the Mediterranean before the rise of Cyrus the Great. After two centuries of Persian rule, Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great attacked and burned Tyre, the most prominent Phoenician city. Throughout the subsequent centuries leading up to recent times, the country became part of numerous succeeding empires, among them Persian, Armenian, Assyrian, Hellenistic, Roman, Eastern Roman, Arab, Seljuk, Mamluk, Crusader and Ottoman.

Medieval Period

In 1516, Sultan Selim I took control of Mt Lebanon and the mountainous regions of Syria and Palestine. The administration of these areas, belonging to Fakhr al-Din I (the Maan family), whose family was concerned, made loyalty to the higher section. As a strategy to evade the payment of tribute to them, Sultan Selim's attempts managed to rattle his Turkish masters. He decided to extend his direct influence across Lebanon, but the landowners and peasants of Mt Lebanon both resisted. In 1544, the sultan, already poisoned, died on the floor of Fakhr al-Din Pasha, in Damascus. His son, Korkmaz, was martyred in 1585 while fighting the Turks.

In 1590, Fakhr-al-Din II became successor to Korkmaz. He was a skilled politician and described as a pupil of Machiavelli. He adjusted to the lifestyles of the Druzes, Christianity and Islam, according to his needs. He paid tribute to the Sultanate of the Ottoman Empire and shared the spoils of war with his masters. Eventually, Fakhr-al-Din II was appointed Sultan of Mt Lebanon, with full authority. He was considered one of the greatest rulers of the region, also across the Middle of Lebanon. But, his enemies and governors angered the Ottoman Sultanate. Hence, a campaign, calling for the arrest of Fakhr-al-Din II, found the deposed leader in Istanbul, where he was executed by hanging. Shortly afterwards, the Emirate of Mt Lebanon that lasted more than five hundred years was replaced, instead of the emirate meteor.

The Shihabs succeeded the Maans in 1697. They originally lived in the Hawran region of southwestern Syria and settled in Wadi at Taim in southern Lebanon. The most prominent among them was Bashir Shihab II, who was much like his predecessor, Fakhr ad Din II. His ability as a statesman was first tested in 1799, when Napoleon besieged Acre, a well-fortified coastal city in Palestine, about 40 km south of Tyre. Both Napoleon and Al Jazzar, the governor of Acre, requested assistance from the Shihab leader; Bashir, however, remained neutral, declining to assist either combatant. Unable to conquer Acre, Napoleon returned to Egypt, and the death of Al Jazzar in 1804 removed Bashir's principal opponent in the area.

19th Century

In 1788 Bashir Shihab II would rise to become the Emir. Born into poverty, he was elected emir upon the abdication of his predecessor, and would rule under Ottoman suzerainty, being appointed wali or governor of Mt Lebanon, the Bekaa valley and Jabal Amil. Together this is about two thirds of modern day Lebanon. He would reform taxes and attempt to break the feudal system, in order to undercut rivals, the most important of which was also named Bashir: Bashir Jumblatt, whose wealth and feudal backers equaled or exceeded Bashir II – and who had increasing support in the Druze community. In 1822 the Ottoman wali of Damascus went to war with Acre, which was allied with Muhammad Ali, the pasha of Egypt. As part of this conflict one of the most remembered massacres of Maronite Christians by Druze forces occurred, forces that were aligned with the wali of Damascus. Jumblatt represented the increasingly disaffected Druze, who were both shut out from official power and angered at the growing ties with the Maronites by Bashir II, who was himself a Maronite Christian.

Bashir II was overthrown as wali when he backed Acre, and fled to Egypt, later to return and organise an army. Jumblatt gathered the Druze factions together, and the war became sectarian in character: the Maronites backing Bashir II, the Druze backing Bashir Jumblatt. Jumblatt declared a rebellion, and between 1821 and 1825 there were massacres and battles, with the Maronites attempting to gain control of the Mt Lebanon district, and the Druze gaining control over the Bekaa valley. In 1825 Bashir II defeated his rival and killed him after the battle of al Simqaniya. Bashir II was not a forgiving man and repressed the Druze, particularly in and around Beirut.


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