*** Libyan history

Libyan History

Libyan history
Figure 1.--Italian troops began landing in Libya (October 1911). This is a scene in Derna, western Libyan (May 1912) after Libya seized the city vfrom the Ottoman Empire. It shows Italian soldiers and children outside a Greek store. After an extended fight with poorly armed Ottomans abnnd Libyan (Arab) forces, the Italians gainmed control of the coastal cities. Italian control did not, however, extend much beyond the coast.

The first know human settlements in Libya are Phoenician colonies established along the coast (about 1000 BC). Carthage conquered the Phoenician colonies along the coast of Libya (6th century BC). Carthage itself was founded as a Phoenician colony, but in large measure because of its location became the predominany naval power in the eastern Mediterranean. The Garamantian Empire appears in what is now Fezzan (5th century). Libya was a Roman province and an important source of grain. With the collapse of the Western Empire, the Vandals seize Libya (455 AD). Amr Ibnu l-As conqued northeastern Libya, known as Barka (643). The region became part of the new Muslim Empire. The Arabs conquer Tripolitania (647). Libya was briefly occupied by the Normans (1146). It eventually became an Ottoman vassal state. For several centuries wih the operation of the Barbary Pirates, the economy was based on piracy and slave trading. The Karamanli Dynasty seized control of Tripoli (1711). Libya was colonized by Libya (1911). The Italians were driven out by the British after the World War II battle of El Alemaine in Egypt (1942). After World War II a leader of the resistance to the Italians led the country to independence becoming King Idris. Colonel Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi seized power from pro-western King Idris (1969). Qadhafi established the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya which he runs as a personal dictatorship. Qadafi runs Libya with an often incoherent mixture of Islamic, socialist, and pan-Arab ideas. Qadhafi rejects democracy and political parties and claims to have establish a "third way" superior to both capitalism and communism. His ideas are expressed in his "Green Book."


Ancient Libya was populated by the Berber people.

Phoenicians (7th century BC)

The first know human settlements in Libya are Phoenician colonies established along the coast, primarily in Tripolitania in western Libya (7th century BC).

Carthage (6th century BC)

Carthage conquered the Phoenician colonies along the coast of Libya (6th century BC). Carthage itself was founded as a Phoenician colony, but in large measure because of its location became the predominant naval power in the eastern Mediterranean.

Garamantian Empire

The Garamantian Empire appears in what is now Fezzan (5th century).

Greeks (4th century BC)

Greeks colonise Cyrenaica in the east which they call Libya.

Rome (107-74 BC)

Roman Legions after their victory in the Punic Wars conquered northwestern Libya (107 BC). The region came under the administration of Africa Proconsularis which has its administrative centre near Carthage. The region eventually became a separate province, Tripolitania. Rome conquers eastern Libya or Cyrenaica (74 BC). Romans efforts to expand south are twarted by the Garamantians. Rome renames the region Libya. Northeastern Libya is called Libya Superior. What is now northwestern Egypt was called Libya Inferior. The climate was in Roman times not as arid and Libya was an important source of grain. With the division of the Empire Egypt became part of the Eastern Empire.


With the collapse of the Western Empire, the Vandals seized Libya amd much of the rest of North Africa except Egypt (455 AD). They estblished their capital at the Roman city of Carthage in modern Tunisia.

Byzantine Empire (6th century)

The Emperor Justinian launched a major effort to revive the glories of the Roman Empire. He dispatched his most importnt general, Belsarius, to seize Vandal held North Africa. Belsarius surprised the Vandals and decisivly defeated then in two battles (533). Libya thus became part of the revived Eastern Empire as it was gradually evolving into the Byzantine Empire. Justinian wouls next send Belsarius to attack the Ostergoths in Sicily and Italy (535) They would prove a more determined foe.

Islamic Conquest (643-47)

Amr Ibnu l-As conqued northeastern Libya, known as Barka (643). The region became part of the new Muslim Empire--the Caliphate. The Arabs conquer Tripolitania (647).


The Normans who conquered Sicily seizd Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (1146).

Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire formally took control of Barka (1521). Real control, however, is still held by the native dynasty. The Ottomans took over formal control of Tripolitania (1551). The Ottomans did not, however, establish nominal control over Fezzan until three centuries later (1842).

Barbary Pirates

Tripoli becomes one of the main centrers for the Barbary pirates preying on Christian shipping and raiding Christian coastal settlements (16th century). Piracy and slave trading came to be the primary economic activity of the Tripoli and the other Barbary states. It complicated relations with the European states which occassionally mounted militry expeditins. For the most part, however, the Europans found it more economical to pay tribute. The United states fought the First Barbary War with Tripoli (1801-05). The Pasha was defeated.

Karamanli Dynasty

The Karamanli Dynasty seized control of Tripoli (1711). They controlled the piracy operations from Tripoli. As the Europeans after the Napoleonic Wars acted put an end to Barbary piracy and the slave trade , economic conditions declined. There was no real productive econimic activity to replace it. This lead to the declining popularity of the Karamanli dynasty. The the Ottoman sultan removed his representative removed from power in Tripoli (1835).

Sanusi Movement

Muhammad Ibn Ali s-Sanusi founded an Islamic religious movement, primarily centered in Cyrenaica (1843). It gradually becomes important all over Libya.

Italian-Turkish War (1911-12)

Italy had largely missed out on the 19th cenury European effort to stake out overseas colonies. The establihed colonies in East Africa (Somaia and Eritea), but were defeated by the Ethiopians. Italy was the only European country to be defeated by an African Army (1894). Libya until the early 20th century was nominally an Ottomon province, but the Ottomon's exerted only nominal control. Italy saw Libya located as it was close to home as the ideal colony with a Mediterranean coast--the Fourth Shore. Italy began the final assault on the Ottomon Empire by declaring war in this case to secure a new colony in North Africa--Libya. A strong natioinalist sentiment was at play. The press promoted the war, claimig major mineral respsources. Only after Italy lost Libya in World War was oil discovered. The Socialists objected, includuing a young Benito Musolini. Ironical afterseizing control of Italy after World War I, he would unleasresh a majorv military campauighn, including a brutal pacuficationn campaign on the Libyans. The Italian Turkish War (1911-12) proved nuch more costly than antiicipated and took longer than planned. The Ottomans an Arabs were poorly armed and outnumbered, but put up more of a resistance than the Italians expected. And the Italians had no way offorcing a conclusion as they did not move vbeyond vthe coast. They decided to pursue iooerations in the Agean. While fought outside the Balkans, Italian-Turkish War weakened the Ottomon Army in the years just before World War I. The Italians became the first country to drop ordinance from an airplane in warfare. They tossed grenades from a German-built monoplane. The Ottomons largely ceeded to Italian demands because of the worsening situation in the Balkans, an area of much greater importance to them. The Ottomons were unwilling to make a major military commitment to defending Libya. The Ottomons were, however, then further humiliated in the First and Second Balkan Wars (1912-13). After some fighting, the Ottomans cede Libya to Italy (1912). The Sanusis have to resist Italian encroachments without Ottomon assistance.

World War I (1914-18)

Italy in years before World War I was a member of the Central Powers, but did not go to war with Austria and Germany. Italy joined the Allies in World War I (1915). The British who were then allies attempted to mediate between the Sanusis and Italians. Libyan nationalists were torn during World War I. Some were pro-British, but since the Italians which were turning Italy into a colony joined the Allies, some were now more favorably disposed toward the Ottomons, their former colonial masters, which had ebtered the War on the side oif the Central Powers. Senussi tribesmen supported by the Ottmons staged an uprising against the Italians (November 1915). The uprising was a relatively limited action. It did, however, cause the deployment of a substantial Allied force--some 110,000 British, French and Italian troops. Peace or more accurately truce terms were reached (April 1917).

Italian Colonization (1918-39)

Italy next seized Libya after a brief war with the Ottomans (1912). The Libyans resisted. Fighting broke out, but the British brokered a truce after Italy joined the Allies in World War I (1915). After the War, fighting broke out again leading to a prolonged colonial war. Italy continued efforts to colonize Libya. Mussolini with his dreams of reconstituting the Roman Empire would wage a merciless campaign to end Libyan resistance to Italian rule. The Italians seized control of the coast cities, but have great difficulty maintaining control of the interior. The Italians unified Tripolitania and Cyrenaica as the colony of Libya (1929). Mussolini employing brutal tactics, including poison gas, finally suceeded in crushing Libyan resistance. Mussolini saw Libya as offering the possibility of colonization by Italy's burgoning population. The Sanusis finally surrender to the Italians (1931). One of the goals of Italian colonism was the concern with over population. Italy called Libya "The Fourt Shore" and promoted Italian settlement there. Several projects with Italian colonists were launched.

World War II (1939-45)

Most of the Middle East was dominated by Britain and France thus the rise of European Fascism in Italy and Germany appealed to many Arab nationalists. Libya was an exception because the colonial power was Italy. As Europe moved toward war, Libyan nationalists began to see that Italian defeat in a war would create an opportunity for independence. After Germany invaded Poland and launched World War II (Seprember 1939), Italian nationalists mets in Alexandria, Egypt (October 1939). Sayid Idris emerged as the most prominent leader, but the nationalist movement was badly divided. The early victories of Italian ally NAZI Germany were, however, not incouraging for the Libyan nationalists. Italy entered the War once the German victory over France was assured (June 1940). At first it seemed that the massive Italian army in Libya would easily overwealm the British in Egypt. Nationalist forces were divided on how they should react. Some (the Cyrenaicans and Idris) supported the British. Others (the Tripolitanians) were more hesitant, fearing that the Axis might win the War. Formal meetings in Cairo with Idris and some of the nationalists resulted in a formal afreement by the nationalists would support the British and the British would support a move toward independence after the WAr (August 1940). The Italians invaded Egypt (September 1940), but were defeated by a small British force which invaded Libya. This suprising British victory surprised the Libyan nationalists and first created the realistic prospect that the Italians would be defeated. The Libyan Arab Force commonly referred to as the Sanusi Army was small, but did assist the British during the campaigns in the Western Desert. German intervention in Libya resulted in a sea-saw battle that was not settled until the decisive Battle of El Alemaine (October 1942). The British 8th Army then proceeded to drive the Afrika Korps out of Egypt and Libya and liked up with the Allied Norces landed in Morocco and Algeria as part of Operation Totch. The German and Italian forces finally surremdered in Tunisia (May 1943). Possession of Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) provided airbases from which targets in NAZI-domicated Europe could be attacked from the south. The first attacks on the vital Ploesti oil fields in Romania came from Libyan bases. After the Allied invasion of Italy (September 1943), Libya became a backwater of the War. The British divide Libya with France. The British assume control of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. The French assume rssonsibility for Fezzan.

The Holocaust

Italy occupied Libya in 1911. After World War I, Mussolini oversaw a vicious military action using poison gas to quell an Arab revolt. Jews in Italy had full civil rights and the small Jewish community prospered under Italian colonial rule. This changed as Mussolini aftter the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (1935) moved closer to Hitler and NAZI Germany. . Mussolini�s anti-Jewish regulations imposed in 1938 theoretically applied to Libyan Jews. They were unevenly applied, but gradually severly affected Libyan Jews. Italy after the Germans had essentially defefeated France, declared war on Britain and France (June 1940). A massive Italian Army invaded Egypt from Italy (September 1940). The British smashed the Italians and drove into Libya (December 1940). The Germans arrived in Libya to bolster the Italias (February 1941). Rommel's Afrika Korps waged a sea-saw campaign with the British 8th army until defeat at El Alemaine (October 1942). Eventually about 5,000 Jews in Libya were interned. Conditions in these camps was very harsh. [Arbitol] Some Libyan Jews were deported to the death camps. [Ward] Defeat of the Axis and British occupation saved the bulk of the Libyan Jewish community.

Independent Kingdom (1949)

The British occupied Libya During World War II after defeating Rommel' Afrik Lorps aat the Battle of El Alaamein (October 1942). The British after the war granted independence to Cyrenaica as an emirate (1949). Emir Sayyid Idris Sanusi becomes the leader. Later in the year the United Nations took up the issue of Libya's future. The United Nations declared that the new country was to be united within 2 years. A Libyan National Assembly convened in Tripoli (1950). The Assembly recognizes Emir Idris as king of a united Libya. The new constitution was promulgated and King Idris declared the independence of the United Kingdom of Libya (1951). The first parlimentary elections were held (1952). Libya joined the Arab League (1953). The British negotiated an agreement granting the right to military bases for 20 years (1953). Libya granted the United States the right to military bases for the same period (1954). Libya joined the United Nations. Libya grants oil concessions to two American oil companies (1956). Additional concessions followed. Foreign companies built a 167-km pipeline from oil fields to a coastal shipping point allowing exports to begin (1961). Libya demands and gets an increased share of oil profits, increasing from 50 to 70 percent. Parliament amended the cnstitution. Libya becomes a unified state and women were given the right to vote (1963). Libya began negotiations with America and Britan over the cesation of military activities and the closing of bases.

Italian Settlers in Libya

Italy began the occupation war of Libya with a war against the Ottomon Empire (October 1911. The Ottomans signed signed the Treaty of Lausanne recognizing the independence of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania (October 1912). A guerilla war ensued, but was largely supressed by a brutal Italanian military campaign ordered by Mussolini. Libya as an Italian colony was a location where Italian colonists could emigrate. Finding land for Italian settlers was a primary reason for Italy's seizure of Italy. And while not to many Itlians were interested in emigraring to Somalia and Ethiopia, there were a number willing to cross the Mediterranean to nearr by Libya. The numbers of settlers were fairly small at first, but increased as the Fascist forced estblished control over the colony. Italian immigration decrease only when Italy entered World War II (1940). Passages to Libya became very dangerous as the Royal Navy attempted to cut off supplies to first the Italuan army in Libya and than Rommel's Afrika Korps. Finally Libya was occupied by the British 8th Army, permanently ending Italiam emigration (1943). Some of the Italian settlers returned to Italy, but many remained in Libya after the War. The Italians were a big community with their schools and organizations, especially in Tripoli. There were about about 35,000 Italians living in Libya as late s 1962. This chnged after Ghaddafi revolution (1969). He forced the 20,000 Italians remaining in Italy to leave.

Military Coup (1969)

Young officers influenced by President Nasser in Egypt and led by Col. Mu'ammaru Gadhafi launched a coup against King Idris and attack the Royal Palace (Septembr 1, 1969). Qadafi established a Revolutionjary Council to govern the Libyan Arab Republic. He proceeded to run Libya with an often incoherent mixture of Islamic, socialist, and pan-Arab ideas. Qadhafi rejected democracy and political parties and claimed be estanlishing a 'third way' superior to both capitalism and communism. His ideas are expressed in his Green Book.

Libyan Arab Republic (1969-2011)

The Revolutionary Council proclaimed the Libyan Arab Republic (September3, 1969). Gadhafi became head of a Revolutionary Council (September 14). Thus began the story of the most mnercurial and incoherent Arab leaders, but manage tio control Libya for four decades. The Council seized control of the country's banks, gaining control of 51 percent of the stock. The Council implemented a temporary new constitution (December 11). The Council proclaimed a confederation with Egypt and Sudan (December 26). The Council pressureed Britain amd America to leave and the last foreign troops departed (March 31 and June 30, 1970). Libya nationalized the oil industry and all Italian assets (July 7, 1970). Libya declareed a merger with Egypt (August 2, 1972). Libya announces a merger with Tunisia (January 12, 1974), but neither took place. Gadhafi lkiked the idea of ione uified Arab natiin, bit was not about to relinguish ansolute authority in Libya. Officers attempted a coup, but fail to depose Gadhafi (August 1975). Gadhafi declares Libya jamahiriya, state of the masses, but in fact the country became his own personal fiefdom. Students demonstrated, but were brutally supressed by the security forces (April 5, 1977). Border clashes occured with Egypt (July 1977). Libya changed it flag to an all green banner (Noveber 1977). Gadhafi moved to create a socialist economy, meaning government control of economic activity (1978). Like many in the Arab world at th time, socialism was seen as the wave of the future. The socialist ideology was not based on any real economic studies, only Gadhafi's beleft that socialism was the future. He rejected the authority of the hadith in the Islamic tradition (February 29, 1979). Hadith are the oral traditions concerning the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad. Hadith collections are widely regarded in the Muslim world as important tools for determining Sunnah, or the Muslim way of life, by all major traditional schools of jurisprudence. The Government moved to find and eliminate foreign opposition to the Libyan government (1980). Attacks on Americans in Europe were conducted. The United States in response embargoed Libya (March 6, 1982). Libya invaded northern Chad (June 1983). An assassination attempt was made on Gadhafi (May 8, 1984). The Government expeled 100,000 immigrant workers, many of whom were Egyptian and Tunisian (September 1985). Borders with both countries were closed. President Reagan in resoponse to the attacks on Americans ordered an attack on mostly military targets in Tripoli and Benghazi. American aircraft in Britain are used (April 17, 1986). NATO allies refuse overfights. One of those targets were apparently Gadhafi himself. Libya's Soviet air defenes proved ineffective. Gadhafi was reportedly personally shaken by the effectiveness of the American attacks and restricted, but did not end terror operatons. Libya's socialist economy proved an abject failure. As a result, the Governent introduced liberal reconomic reforms (March 27, 1987). Libya lost the territory it occupied in northern Chad (September 1987). The Government made some gesture to the political opposition and released some political prisoners (April 1988). The borders with Tunisia and Egypt were reopened (April 1988). Libyan operatives bomb Pan Am Flight 103 (December 21, 1988). It would not have been cobducted without Gaddafi's approval. It is difficult to understand just what he planned to achieve. The plane fell on the small town of Lockerbie, Scotland. The security services moved against Islamic Jihad and arrest about 1,500 people (January-March 1989). The Government announces the Maghreb Union (with Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) (February 17, 1989). Libya set up a body to promote world Muslim revolution (September 1989). Gadhafi attempteds to improve relations with Egypt (1991). The United Nations imposed sanctions on Libya, in retaliation for the country's refusal to extradite two Libyan citizens charged with the Pan Am bombing (April 1992). Libya violated the U.N. ban on international flights in and out of Libya, with a flight taking pilgrims to Mecca for the hajj (April 1995). Gadhafi called on all Arab countries to expell Palestinian refugees and immigrant workers to protest the peace process between Israel and Palestine. Libya ordered the expulsion of its Palestinians (September 1, 1995). Violent clashes occur between Libyan police and militant Islamists occur in Benghazi (September 6-7, 1995). Security forces arrest Islamists and Sudanese expatriates. Libya stoped the expulsion of Palestinians (October 25, 1995). The United States implemented trade sanctions involving actions against foreign companies trading with Libya (August 1996). Several European countries including NATO llies complain. Libya finally agreed to extradite the two Libyans accused of involvement in the 1988 Pan Am bombing (February 13, 1999). The sanctions against Libya are suspended when the two suspects are surrendered for trials in an international tribunal in the Netherlands (April 5, 1999). Libya made some progress in improving relations with neighboring countries. Air flights are resumed with Morocco and Egypt (July 2000). The United Nations lifted the 11- year long sanctions on Libya after the country payed indemnites to victims and their relatives of Libyan-sponsored terror attacks (September 12, 2003). The United States after Libya agrees to end it nuclear weapons program lifts all remaining sanctions on Libya (September 20, 2004).


Ward, Seth. "The Holocaust in North Africa," May 10, 1999.


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Created: 8:02 PM 10/13/2007
Last updated: 12:17 AM 8/26/2018