From about 1000 BC, Libyans had contacts with Africans
south of the Sahara. A people called Garamantes,
who probably were the ancestors of the present-day
Tuareg, captured the important oases along routes
leading south to the Niger River. They controlled
the gold and slave trade between sub-Saharan
Africa and the Mediterranean. During the 7th
century BC, Greek colonists settled in Cyrenaica
and founded the city of Cyrene, which flourished
as a center of Greek art and science. In the
6th century BC, Tripolitania was absorbed as
the eastern province of the Phoenician city-state
Later, Libya became an important part of the
Roman Empire. It was influential because of
its location across the Mediterranean from Italy.
Libya's prosperity during this period is reflected
by the Roman ruins in the cities of Leptis Magna,
Sabrata, and Oea.
In AD 395 the Roman Empire split, and Libya
fell under the control of the Eastern Empire,
which was governed from Constantinople. The
empire's rule in Libya ended in 439, when Gothic
Vandals from Spain conquered Tripolitania and
Cyrenaica. A century later Constantinople drove
out the Vandals.
In 642 Arab armies moved into Tripolitania
and Cyrenaica. They arrived in Fezzan the next
year. The simple, direct beliefs of Islam appealed
to Libyans. Berber peoples formed their own
version of Islam and resisted the political
control of Arab dynasties based in Damascus
In the mid-11th century groups of migrants
called the Beni Salim and Beni Hilal settled
in the area of present-day Libya and started
to dominate the local Berbers. Under their influence,
the Arabic language and culture spread from
the cities to the country.
Since its conversion to Islam, Libya has had
many invaders. The Spaniards came in 1510 and
the Ottoman Turks in 1551. In 1804 Libya fought
a brief war with the United States over control
of the sea-lanes in the southern Mediterranean.
Italy took control of Libya in 1911 after invading
the country and defeating the Turks. After World
War I Italy's leader, Benito Mussolini, declared
his intention of forming a second Roman Empire.
Italy, which had quickly occupied the main cities
and coastal areas, began a policy of bringing
Italians to settle in the best agricultural
zones. They constructed roads to improve communications
for their military forces and built a large
naval base at Tobruk.
The Libyan people never accepted Italian rule.
Between 1911 and 1932, Libyans in Tripolitania,
Fezzan, and Cyrenaica fought the Italian colonial
government. The Italians, who had superior military
power, finally subdued northern Tripolitania
in 1923. Resisting groups of Arabs, Berbers,
and Sanusi, however, continued to fight in Cyrenaica
under the religious leader Omar Mukhtar, a modern
Libyan folk hero. Under him the people of southern
Cyrenaica held off the Italians until 1931,
when he was captured and hanged. Italy made
Libya a colony in 1939.
During World War II Libya was a major battleground
for the combined forces of Germany and Italy
fighting the Allied powers. A British military
government ruled Libya after the Italians and
Germans were defeated. Later a French military
government took control of Fezzan and ruled
After the war Libya became the first country
to gain independence through the United Nations.
The independent kingdom of Libya was created
in December 1951. Libya joined the Arab League
in 1953 and the United Nations in 1955. In 1963
the three zones of the country were merged into
one national unit, and Libya became a founding
member of the Organization of African Unity