History of Lebanon

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The coastal plain of Lebanon is the historic home of a string of coastal trading cities of Semitic culture, which the Greeks termed Phoenicia, whose maritime culture flourished there for more than 2,000 years. Ancient ruins in Byblos, Berytus (Beirut), Sidon, Sarepta (Sarafand), and Tyre show a civilized nation, with urban centres and sophisticated arts. Present-day Lebanon was a cosmopolitan centre for many nations and cultures. Its people roamed the Mediterranean seas, skilled in trade and in art, and founded trading colonies. They were also the creators of the oldest known 24-letter alphabet, a shortening of earlier 30-letter alphabets such as Proto-Sinaitic and Ugaritic.

The ancient Lebanese set for sail and colonized overseas. Their most famous colonies were Cadiz in today’s Spain and Carthage in today’s Tunisia.

Phoenicia maintained an uneasy tributary relationship with the neo-Assyrian and neo-Babylonian empires; it was conquered outright by the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia, which organized it as a satrapy. It was added to the empire of Alexander the Great, who notably conquered Tyre (332 BC) by extending a still-extant causeway from the mainland in a seven-month effort. It fell to the Seleucid Empire after Alexander's death. The area was conquered by the Roman Empire in the first century and remained Roman until the advent of the Caliphate. Christianity was introduced to Phoenicia from neighboring Galilee soon after the time of Jesus of Nazareth; the Arab advances brought Islam soon after the death of Muhammad. Muslim influence increased greatly in the seventh century when the Umayyad capital was established at nearby Damascus.

Arab rule and the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, Lebanon was heavily involved in the Crusades. Lebanon was in the main path of the First Crusade's advance on Jerusalem. Later, Frankish nobles occupied present-day Lebanon as part of the southeastern Crusader States. The southern half of present-day Lebanon formed the northern march of the Kingdom of Jerusalem; the northern half was the heartland of the County of Tripoli. Although Saladin eliminated Christian control of the Holy Land around 1190, the Crusader states in Lebanon and Syria were better defended. Muslim control of Lebanon was reestablished in the late 13th century under the Mamluk sultans of Egypt. Lebanon was later contested between Muslim rulers until the Ottoman Empire solidified authority over the eastern Mediterranean. Ottoman control was uncontested during the early modern period, but the Lebanese coast became important for its contacts and trades with Venice and other Italian city-states.

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