History

Libya is known for its rich culture and contains some of the world’s most well-preserved ruins from ancient civilizations.

Libya is an oil-rich country located in North Africa; it is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north and shares borders with Egypt to the east, Tunisia and Algeria to the west, and Niger, Chad, and Sudan to the south. The country is known for its culture and history and contains some of the world’s most well-preserved ruins from ancient civilizations.

The history of Libya comprises six distinct periods: Ancient Libya, the Roman Era, the Islamic Era, Ottoman Rule, Italian Rule, and the Modern Era.

The Phoenicians were the first to establish trading posts in Libya where Phoenicians from Tyre, Lebanon established commercial relations and treaties with Libya's early inhabitants. In 630 BCE, the ancient Greeks colonized eastern Libya and founded the city of Cyrene. Within 200 years, four more important Greek cities were established, and Cyrene became one of the greatest intellectual and artistic centers of ancient Libya. It was also famous for its medical and philosophical schools and architecture.

The Romans ruled over what is now Libya from 146 BCE to the seventh century CE, starting with the fall of Carthage and lasting until the Muslim Arabs conquered it. Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were part of a cosmopolitan state whereby its citizens shared a common language, legal system, and Roman identity. Roman ruins like Leptis Magna and Sabratha attest to the vitality and greatness of this region.

Islamic rule started as early as 642 CE when armies under the command of Amr ibn al-A'as conquered what was then Cyrenaica. During the Islamic civilization, the predominant religion in Libya became the Islamic faith and the official language became Arabic. The Berber languages are also spoken in various parts of the country. The Muslim empire, with its rich contributions to human civilization in the arts and sciences, added another rich dimension to Libya’s identity.

During the 16th century, Libya became part of the Ottoman Empire until the Italian occupation of the country in 1911. Under Italian rule, the new colonizers were met with significant opposition, namely in the form of the Senussi Order, which was eventually led by Idris as-Senussi. In 1951, Libya declared its independence from the Italians and placed King Idris (r. 1951-1969) on the throne.

With King Idris’ government growing increasingly unpopular towards the end of the 1960s, corruption and entrenched systems of patronage became widespread across the recently centralized oil industry, which is Libya’s economic lifeline. At the same time, Arab nationalism was growing in popularity, and with Idris’ pro-Western tendencies, anti-Western riots broke out in the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. On 1 September 1969, Muammar Qaddafi’s Free Officers took control of the country’s airports, police depots, radio stations, and government officers. Once Qaddafi had removed the monarchical government in this coup d’etat, the Libyan Arab Republic was born, ushering in a new era for Libyan politics.

In 2011, the Libyan people rose up and created the Libyan Revolution. Taking place from 15 February 2011 to 23 October 2011. Also known as the “17 February Revolution,” this revolt sparked a civil war in the country, ultimately leading to the fall of the previous regime on 20 October 2011. The National Transitional Council (NTC), which was established on 16 September 2011 as a replacement, and declared 23 October as the official end of the war. This date is celebrated every year as a national holiday by Libyans across the country. Today, modern Libya is an emerging North African democracy that continues to develop its national consciousness, identity, and institutions.

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