A majority of the archaeological surface finds made within the borders of Libya stem from the rainy periods between 500,000 and 35,000 years ago when the region was populated by paleolithic big game hunters. The latter part of this period belongs to the North African Athenian culture (compare the Aterian).
Late Paleolithic in Libya is otherwise dominated by the local Daban culture, named after the settlement of ad-Dabba in Cyrenaika, but best known through settlement (about 40,000-12,000 BC) in the cave Haua Fteah. During and after the most recent ice age (about 15,000-12,000 BC), a number of fishing cultures were developed, including hunted with arrow and bow and used microliter.
In northern Libya, approximately 8000 BC occurred. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Libya. capsien, a culture that was characterized by the use of ornamental ostrich eggs and the utilization of marine nutritional resources. In the mountainous regions of the inland, some local cultures appear to have introduced agriculture and ceramics as early as 8000 BC. These southern catch and agricultural cultures have also left behind a magnificent art in the form of rock carvings and rock paintings. The oldest of these, monumental carvings with animal representations, may have been produced before 9000 BC, while the painting tradition first appeared around 7000 BC. Most of the paintings, with lively scenes with humans and animals, were created during the Neolithic period, circa 5000–2500 BC.
Libyans, Greeks and Romans
The name Libya – ultimately derived from libu, in Egyptian sources termed a people group in the neighborhood of Cyrenaika – was used by ancient writers partly to designate an area roughly equivalent to present-day Libya, and (more often) to the entire African continent west of the Nile Valley. Libyan tribes, probably the forerunners of today’s Berber, were in conflict with Pharaonic Egypt already during the Old Kingdom (c. 2700–2270 BC). From the 1100s BC the Libyans controlled the Nile Delta from time to time, and with Scheschonk I (ruled around 945–924 BC) a Libyan ruler of Egypt ascended.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Provides latest population data about Libya. Lists by Year from 1950 to 2020. Also includes major cities by population.
At least from the 6th century BC the coast of Libya was colonized by Phoenicians and Greeks, the former especially in the west (Tripolitania), the latter in the east (Cyrenaika). Of particular significance was the 631 BC. created Greek colony Kyrene. During the centuries immediately before Kr.f. Libyan mercenaries played a significant role in both Carthaginian and Roman armies. Cyrenaika became Roman province 74 BC, while Tripolitania after 46 BC incorporated with the province of Africa Nova (compare Africa).
The Arab-Islamic conquest of Libya, which, after the division of the Roman Empire, belonged to the Byzantine Empire, was completed in the 660s. Formally, all of Libya was included in the Umayyad Caliphate, but in reality it was mainly the coastal areas controlled by the Arabs. The Berber tribes in the interior sought to assert their independence even after switching to Islam by largely choosing other directions of Islam than the Sunni Muslim, and establishing a range of theocratic tribal kingdoms. During the 800s, the formal influence of the Baghdad Caliphate again increased, since the Sunni Muslim Aghlabad dynasty was established with its seat in Kairouan in present-day Tunisia. The era was marked by economic upswing and a fruitful coexistence between Muslims, Christians and Jews.
The Shiite Fatimid dynasty, which came to power 909, developed Tripoli into a prosperous and powerful city with control over major markets in Africa and the Mediterranean. The Fatimids moved their headquarters to Cairo 969 and handed over control of the Maghreb to their vassals, the Barbican Zirids, under which the economic status of the region was undermined, partly because of changing trade patterns. In order to appease the Arab population, the Ziridian emir in 1049 allowed a return to the Sunni Muslim direction and thus broke with the Fatimids.
The South Italian Normans, who for a short time controlled important cities such as Tripoli and Tunis, were forced by the Moroccan Alamo dynasty about 1160 to give up. The Almohad empire was divided, and under Muhammad ibn Abi Hafs 1207 was founded the sea side dynasty with its seat in Tunis. The epoch of the seaside was a cultural and scientific heyday. Politically, however, there was a gradual dissolution of the power in theocracy, piracy and city states, including Tripoli from 1460.
Cyrenaika and Fezzan during the Middle Ages
Cyrenaika had a formal connection to Egypt, where the fatimid caliphate in 1171 was replaced by the Seljuq sultan Saladin’s regime. The regional control in Cyrenaika was tribal based, and there the position of the Barqa tribe was particularly strong. In Fezzan, the Bani Khattab tribe ruled with shorter interruptions until the 16th century.
In 1551, the Ottomans conquered Tripoli, ruled by an Ottoman pasha with the support of elite soldiers from the Ottoman army. A local officer, Ahmad Qaramanli, took power in 1711 and laid the foundation for a local dynasty, which was formally subordinate to the Sultan of Istanbul.
Trade in parallel with extensive piracy provided good income for Tripoli from the 17th century to the beginning of the 19th century. Comprehensive payments were made, as was the case with the other Barbarian states, for free passage under the bilateral agreements signed with several Western powers (including Sweden). However, retaliatory actions were also taken by the French, Dutch, British and later US fleet towards Tripoli and other pirate ports.
The Ottomans regained direct control of Tripoli in 1835. In the latter part of the 19th century, an Ottoman reform program, Tanzimat, was introduced, with private land ownership, administrative reforms and modernized economic legislation. At the same time, permanent settlement was sought for the Bedouins, and the slave trade was banned. Tripolitania was thus integrated into the Ottoman-Arab-Muslim community. At the same time, Cyrenaika deepened its special position through the spread of the Muslim Sanusi word in the region. The words pleaded for a return to original Islam, and a series of zawaya, religious centers, was founded in Cyrenaika. The community organized caravan trade, education and health care. The Sanusi Order organization also demonstrated its strength in resisting French military expansion north of Chad and against Italian conquest companies.
After the Berlin Congress in 1878, Italy regarded Tripolitania as part of its area of interest and invaded the region in 1911. The Turks withdrew their troops in 1912 after a peace treaty was signed under which the local people would gain administrative autonomy, which was never realized. It was not until the 1920s that Italy gained control of Tripolitania, and the resistance in Cyrenaika was first crushed in the 1930s. The indigenous population was expelled from their land, which was colonized by the Italians. A modern infrastructure, schools and hospitals were built for the Italian colonizers, while the indigenous population was excluded from the modernization process. During World War II, when Libya was an important scene of war, a Libyan resistance movement emerged in collaboration with, among other things, the United Kingdom, which promised to work for an independent Libya, which became the UN decision in 1949. Under the German government in Libya, labor and internment camps were set up in the country in which Jews were predominantly sitting. Idris I, regent of the new state, proclaimed Libya’s independence on December 24, 1951.
Independent Libya (1951)
Libya signed twenty-year friendship pacts with the United Kingdom and the United States in 1953 and 1954, respectively. Land areas for western military bases would be granted by Libya in exchange for financial assistance. Libya joined the Arab League in 1953 and collaborated with other Western-friendly conservative states within the League, primarily Saudi Arabia.
In 1959, huge oil deposits were discovered in Libya. Gradually, government revenue grew, but as the regime failed to bring about economic development – despite some reform measures – domestic criticism grew. In 1969, a coup was carried out by a group of young officers, with the most prominent, Muammar al-Khadaffi and Abd as-Salam Jallud, becoming Libya’s leaders, with slogans on freedom, unity and social justice and with Nasser in Egypt as the obvious model.
After the 1969 coup, the Revolutionary Leadership Council (RCC) was established. The foreign bases were returned to Libya, foreign banks and companies were nationalized. Political parties and trade unions were banned. During the years 1971-72, a large wave of arrests was made against high bureaucrats, relatives of King Idris and former ministers.
Following the Egyptian model, the Libyan Arab Socialist Union was established as the only permissible political organization. This was later disbanded and replaced by a system of people committees and as the parent body a general people congress in accordance with the leader Khadaffi’s philosophy “the third international theory” presented in his “green” books. However, the People’s Congress never developed into a representative, democratic body. All power was gathered in practice at Khadaffi and a small circle around him and his family.
During Khadaffi’s more than forty years of power, Libya sought a more leading role in the Arab world and Africa. After 2001, Khadaffi sought to take a leading position in the African Union, and he also sought to establish unions with one or more neighboring states, mainly Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Tunisia and Algeria. Most failed, but in 1989 the Maghreb Union was established, which includes Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia.
So far, not much has been done in the Union, which is partly due to the sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council against Libya in 1992–2003. The sanctions were introduced when Libya refused to extradite two citizens suspected of being responsible for the 1988 Lockerbie attack and the country’s possible involvement in a terrorist attack targeting a French DC-10 that toppled in Niger in Sahara the following year. The sanctions included, among other things, a ban on flights, freezing of foreign assets, restrictions on diplomatic representation and a ban on selling weapons and spare parts to the oil and gas industry in Libya.
After a lengthy trial, a compromise was reached, which meant that the two suspects of the Lockerbie assault were extradited to the Netherlands, where they were sentenced under Scottish law in 2001. One was acquitted, while the former agent Abd al-Masit al-Magrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment. Libya had previously started a collaboration with France on the terrorist campaign in Niger. Since six Libyans were sentenced in France in their absence, Libya agreed to pay damages to the victims’ relatives.
The UN sanctions were abolished in April 1999, but the United States retained its. In addition to the Lockerbie attack, the US sanctions were motivated by the program of weapons of mass destruction developed by Khadaffi since he seized power. Negotiations for a settlement of this were initiated in 1999, and in March 2003, just before the US and its allies invaded Iraq, the Libyans announced that they agreed to the complete liquidation of all weapons of mass destruction. These were biological and chemical weapons as well as nuclear weapons, which the Libyans had developed with the help of components acquired in the black market and technical support from a number of countries.
Libya also promised to pay damages to the Lockerbie victim’s survivors. The United States canceled its sanctions, removed Libya from its list of countries that support terrorism, and restored normal diplomatic relations in 2006. Contacts with the EU also improved. Libya was included in the so-called Barcelona Process, based on the 1995 Barcelona Declaration on enhanced cooperation between the EU and Mediterranean countries.
Despite Libya’s return to the international community, the country’s relations with the outside world were not trouble-free. The death sentences in 2004 against five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, accused of having infected over 400 children with HIV at a hospital in Benghazi, caused outrage.
At the orders of the Supreme Court, the trial was reasserted but the penalty remained the same. All were released and deported in 2007, after Libya made EU promises on comprehensive humanitarian aid. Police arrest in Switzerland in 2008 by Hannibal al-Khadaffi, one of the leader’s sons accused of abuse by hotel staff, triggered a diplomatic and economic conflict with Switzerland that had repercussions on Libya’s relations with the EU.
Civil war and political chaos
In February 2011, shortly after popular revolts overthrew the dictatorial regimes in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, protests erupted against Khadaffi in Benghazi in eastern Libya. The shootings of protesters led to an armed revolt and the opposition in Benghazi, along with defectors from the regime, formed a national transitional council, the National Transitional Council (NTC), which shortly thereafter declared itself the Libyan people’s only legal representative. The revolt spread west along the coastal area, before the government troops went on counter-offensive in early March.
Fearing that the government soldiers would massacre civilians in Benghazi, the United Nations Security Council on March 17 adopted a resolution banning aviation in Libya’s airspace. At the same time, the member states were given the right “by all means” to ensure that the flight ban was complied with. The days following, French, British and American planes began to bomb Libyan military installations.
Since the United States was unwilling to formally lead the military operation, NATO took command of the international operations in which 18 nations participated, including four Muslim-dominated countries. Sweden contributed, among other things, five fighter jets of the type JAS 39 Gripen which performed reconnaissance missions.
In a new resolution, the UN Security Council adopted an arms embargo on Libya on March 26 and introduced a travel ban for 16 named persons from the Libyan leadership. Libyan economic assets abroad were frozen. In addition, the Security Council called on the prosecutors of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate possible war crimes in Libya since February 15. The next day, the NTC formed an “Executive Council”, in effect an alternative government, led by the former Minister Mahmoud Jibril (1952-2020).
Chairman of the NTC was Mustafa Abdul Jalil, who was Minister of Justice of Khadaffi’s government until February 21. A large number of countries soon recognized the NTC as Libya’s legal government. At the end of June, the ICC in The Hague issued an international arrest warrant for Muammar al-Khadaffi, his son Saif al-Islam al-Khadaffi and his brother-in-law and close associate Abdullah al-Senussi.
During the early summer, a new front against the regime was opened by rebels in the western parts of the country. For a number of weeks, however, there was a relatively deadlock in the war, with front lines constantly shifting. Following intensified NATO efforts, the rebels’ forces approached Tripoli from two directions and, with extensive air support, were able to enter the capital on 20 August.
Three days later, NTC’s troops were largely in control of Tripoli and the regime was basically dissolved. Parts of Khadaffi’s family, including his wife, daughter and two sons, fled to Algeria. Saif al-Islam al-Khadaffi was arrested in November 2011, but has not been extradited to the ICC.
While the NTC continued to consolidate its control over the country, the United Nations formed on September 16 a new organization, the United Nation Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), with the aim of supporting the country’s reconstruction. The Security Council also partially suspended the freezing of Libyan economic assets abroad. Intelligence personnel from the United States, France and the United Kingdom were reported to be in Libya to assist NTC troops.
After a time of fighting, on October 20, the NTC entered the coastal city of Surt, the last stronghold of the old regime, killing Muammar al-Khadaffi in unclear circumstances in an attempt to flee the city. Three days later, NTC declared Libya liberated and said the war was over. NATO decided to discontinue its flight operations.
In July 2012 elections were held for a provisional parliament. The largest party became the Liberal National Forces Alliance, then led by Mahmoud Jibril, former Prime Minister of the NTC. Two in the election became the Justice and Construction Party, the political branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
However, most of the 200 seats in the National Congress went to independent candidates. In August of that year, the NTC formally handed over power to the National Congress, the General National Congress (GNC). On the other hand, before the election, the NTC decided that, as previously stated, the National Congress would not draft a new constitution. This task would instead go to another elected assembly which was first voted in February 2014.
Just a month after GNC was established, September 11, 2012, Ansar al-Sharia, an al Qaeda affiliated group, carried out an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. Four Americans, including the US ambassador to Tripoli, Christopher Stevens (1960–2012), were killed.
In the spring of 2014, GNC had split into different factions and in May Khalifa Haftar (born 1943), a former general who then led an independent force under the name Libyan National Army (LNA), conducted an offensive against Islamist groups, including GNC.
The parliament that was elected in the 2014 elections and the government that subsequently formed received international recognition. But a group of militiamen took control of Tripoli with armed force, formed their own parliament and government, and forced the internationally recognized rivals to flee to the city of Tobruk.
In April 2016, a UN-supported unitary government set up a naval base in Tripoli. This presidency, led by Fayez al-Sarraj, was internationally recognized as Libya’s legal government, but the previously established governments in Tobruk and Tripoli remain and continue to claim power in the country.
Even in the fall of 2019, the political process had hardly brought the country closer to a functioning democracy, but rather led to increasing disintegration and lawlessness.