Pre-historic remains suggest humans lived in central Libya at least 15,000 years ago. The cave paintings of Jebel Acacus and Wadi Methkandoush indicate that people animals flourished and a much lusher vegetation existed in the area from about 8000 to 2000 BC. The Berbers were the local indigenous population until, in about 1000 BC, Phoenician traders established several cities on the north coast of Tripolitanea to promote their trade. The greatest of these was Carthage in present day Tunisia. The Phoenician period came to an end with the Punic wars waged by Rome against Carthage. In 146 BC Carthage was completely destroyed by the Romans.
The Greeks established 5 trading outposts in Cyrenea; the Romans also displaced them. A long and stable period ensued, the so-called "pax Romana". Cities really developed and flourished, in particular under Septimus Severus who was born in Libya and helped to develop cities such as Leptis Magna. The end of this golden age came when Germanic Vandals were introduced to Libya. Then a great earthquake in AD 365 led to further destruction. In AD 642 Arab armies came to convert North Africa and southern Spain to Islam.
The Moslem period saw a decline in the cities of the north and piracy along the "Barbary Coast" was rampant. One of the most well known pirates was known as "Red Beard" or "Barbarossa" in Italian - hence the name of the coast.
The coming of the Ottoman Empire improved nothing and was marked by cruel rule and exploitation. Attempts to control the Fezzan in the southwest always failed. Ottoman control ended in 1911 when the Italians tried to establish a colony in North Africa. Their occupation of Libya was equally cruel and opposition was met with savage reprisals, which resulted in great numbers of Libyans losing their lives. The Italians also encouraged settlers to take over land taken from the locals. A great freedom fighter at this time was Omar al-Mukhtar or the Lion of the Desert who fought the occupation till he was caught and hung by the Italians at the age of 73.
The Second World War saw more violent fighting along the north coast. Erwin Rommel's campaigns and skirmishes with the allies under Montgomery are particularly well documented. The end of the war heralded the creation of a free and independent Libya in 1951, with a democratic government and a King (Idris).
The country devastated by wars and occupation needed rebuilding and reforming, the discovery of oil in 1959 complicated the issue and a succession of weak governments under a weak king failed to adapt rapidly enough to the changes taking place. The stage was ripe for the military coup, which, in 1969, saw the take over of power by an army colonel Muammar Gaddafi. His brutal regime benefitted some of his fanatical supporters many of whom died with him in his attempts to cling to power. Most Libyans now hope that his death on 20th October 2011 heralds a new era of a free and democratic Libya.