History Files


Middle East Kingdoms

Arabic States





Perhaps the first role of Bahrain in recorded history was as the Sumerian trading partner of Dilmun. Although the exact location of the ancient centre is unknown despite some online sources claiming the contrary, Bahrain is very much a strong candidate for the role. Nothing more certain than that can be stated as the ancient sources are too indistinct to provide a definitive conclusion to the question.

More concrete is Bahrain's identification as Awal of the various incarnations of the Persian empire between the sixth century BC to the seventh century AD. Conquered by Islam in AD 629, the island archipelago fell under various Arabic rulers until it was captured by the Portuguese in 1521-1602. Then Iran controlled it for almost two hundred years, followed by periods of independent rule and reliance again on Iran. Then Britain gradually increased its dominance in the region in the mid-1800s and Bahrain was placed under British protection.

From 1783, under Iranian overlordship, the hakims (lords, or governors) of Bahrain controlled the island locally, in the form of the Khalifa family from the regionally-dominant Bani Utbah federation of clans. They are thought to have migrated from Najd in the centre of modern Saudi Arabia to the Persian Gulf in the sixteenth century (the rulers of Kuwait also trace their lineage back to the Bani Utbah). With strong trading links with the island and a presence on it for up to a century before their invasion, the invasion largely seems to have been seen as a positive move, even though it took Bahrain out of direct Iranian control. The Khalifa family remained in place under British domination and a period as a colony, and emerged into full independence in 1971. As hakims, they also bore the honorary title of 'sheikh'.

(Additional information from Travels Through Arabia and Other Countries in the East, Carsten Niebuhr, 1792, from The Politics of Protection in the Persian Gulf: The Arab Rulers and the British Resident in the Nineteenth Century, James Onley, 2004, from First Light, Al Khalifa, and from External Link: BBC Country Profiles.)


Nadir Shah is assassinated. In the east, his former general, Ahmad Shah Abdali, is appointed king by loya Jirga and establishes the Durrani empire in Afghanistan. Iran also appears to lose direct control of Bahrain from this point, with Nasr Al-Madhkur, governor of Bushire (Bushehr) and Bahrain exercising semi-independent control of the island.

1747 - 1783

Nasr Al-Madhkur

(Possibly semi-independent) Persian governor of Bahrain.

1748 - 1750

The increasing instability in the Persian lands allows several groups of tribal Arabs attempt the occupation of Bushire (Bushehr) in the south, although they fail. To strengthen their hand they later side with Dutch-German trading companies and attack the city again. It takes a year for a two-thousand-man mounted army to get rid of all of the invaders.

Bahrain Fort
The Bahrain Fort is based on a mound which has been inhabited since 2300 BC, possibly by Sumerians or their trading partners, although this cannot be proven with real certainty


When the news of the attack on the Persian city of Bushire reaches the governing Al-Madhkur clan, they and their allies leave the city for good and migrate to the island of Bahrain where they set up an all-but-independent governorship. Successive invasions of the island have left it vulnerable and chaotic. The German geographer, Carsten Niebuhr, states that the Sunni Persians of Bushire under the Al-Madhkurs are one of southern Persia's three major governing forces in the 1760s, so clearly not all of them migrate.

Niebuhr's statements are sometimes used to assert that the governorship of Bushire and Bahrain is really an independent sovereign state, but this seems unlikely as the claim is not repeated elsewhere. Instead, as is usual at times of instability, the governors probably exercise a good deal of independent authority without actually being independent in name.

1782 - 1783

War breaks out between the Bani Utbah federation on Zubarah and the Al-Madhkurs. The battle of Zubarah in 1782 between the Bani Utbah and the army of Nasr Al-Madhkur must result in the defeat of the latter, as Governor Nasr Al-Madhkur loses the islands of Bahrain to the Bani Utbah tribe the following year. Sheikh Ahmed ibn Muhammad of the Khalifa takes control of the island and rules independently in all but name. The related al-Sabah family has already taken control of Kuwait.

1783 - 1796

Ahmed ibn Muhammad ibn Khalifa

First al-Khalifa hakim of Bahrain, and grandson of Khalifa.

1796 - 1843

Abdullah ibn Ahmed al Khalifa


1796 - 1825

Sulman ibn Ahmed al Khalifa

Brother. Co-ruler.

1800 - 1802?

The Omanis briefly occupy Bahrain. They are believed to make use of Arad Fort as it lies close to the strategic waterways between the island and Muharraq Island. In 1802 the Omani ruler, Sayyid Sultan, installs his two year-old son, Salim, as governor, using the fort as a base. Expulsion by the al-Khalifa would seem to follow soon after this.


The General Maritime Treaty is signed in January between the rulers of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain on the one hand and Britain on the other. The island state of Bahrain, lying close to these other Arabic states, accedes to the treaty in the following February. This also serves to legitimise the rule of the al-Khalifa clan. The treaty prohibits piracy in the Persian Gulf, bans slavery, and requires all usable ships to be registered with British forces. It is designed to secure the lines of communication between Britain and India.

1825 - 1834

Khalifah ibn Sulman al Khalifa

Son. Successor to Sulman as co-ruler.

1834 - 1842

Muhammad ibn Khalifah al Khalifa

Son. Successor to Khalifah as co-ruler.


A loose coalition is formed between Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Sharjah, and Ras al Khaimah. Their vessels begin to harass and plunder vessels belonging to Oman. Abu Dhabi takes things too far and plunders two British-flagged ships. The Royal Navy and the Bombay Marine are deployed, and many of Abu Dhabi's vessels are destroyed on 16 April 1835.

As a result, the Maritime Truce of 1835 is agreed between various Persian Gulf states including Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Oman, Sharjah, and the Trucial States. It is supervised by the Royal Navy. The General Maritime Treaty of 1820 is further enforced by deploying Bombay Marine squadrons to a base at Qeshm Island in the gulf. Initially the truce is agreed for six months, and is willingly renewed for another eight months now that the states involved have seen their levels of prosperity and security begin to improve.

1843 - 1868

Muhammad ibn Khalifah al Khalifa

Former co-ruler (1834-1842). Fled.


The truce of 1835 has been renewed annually, to the benefit of all involved. Now Britain proposes a ten year truce, to which the sheikhs also agree. Their states are enjoying an economic boom, so a reliable peace suits everyone.

1867 - 1868

Relations between Qatar and Bahrain have gradually deteriorated during the course of the decade. A series of minor disputes escalates when Bahrain arrests a Qatari Bedouin on the Qatari mainland. The Qataris waste no time in expelling the Bahraini forces from the mainland, and in response Abu Dhabi and Bahrain join in attacking Qatar. The Qatari-Bahraini War is a brief affair but it leaves about a thousand dead and many of Bahrain's deployed vessels destroyed. Britain responds by appointing Hakim Muhammad's brother, Ali, to replace him as ruler of Bahrain. The Qatari Al Thani are recognised for the first time as being semi-independent. The Treaty of 1868 forces Bahrain to renounce its claims on Qatar.

1868 - 1869

Ali ibn Khalifah al Khalifa

Brother. First British dependent, free of Iranian control.


Muhammad ibn Khalifah al Khalifa

Restored. Former hakim (1843-1868).


Muhammad ibn Abdullah al Khalifa

Son of Abdullah. Sept-Dec 1869 only.

1869 - 1923

Essa / Isa ben Ali al Khalifa

Son of Ali. Born 1848. Suffered enforced abdication. Died 1932.


To strengthen the agreement of 1868 in which Britain promises to protect Bahrain from all aggression in return for the right to be the only recipient of any territory that the hakim cares to dispose of, a further agreement is now signed.

1892 - 1895

A further agreement of protection establishes Bahrain as a virtual British colony in 1892. This tightening of control leads to a revolt breaking out against the hakim in 1895. This is quickly put down by British forces.


Britain and the Ottoman government sign a treaty recognising the independence of Bahrain. The country remains under British protection and is rapidly developing itself into a thoroughly modern state. It is quickly becoming a business centre for the gulf and India. Iran claims sovereignty over Bahrain through its previous links to the Islamic empire.

Bahrain Fort
By the early part of the twentieth century, Bahrain was one of the region's fastest-developing states, although it still managed to maintain a good deal of its historical heritage


During British administrative reforms, Sheikh Isa is forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Ali. In general, Bahrainis ignore this act and consider Isa as being the rightful hakim until his death in 1932. Hamad is viewed as a vice-ruler only until then.

1923 - 1942

Hamad ibn Isa al Khalifa

Son. Born 1872. Viewed as being the true hakim from 1932.


The Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco), a subsidiary of the Standard Oil Company of California (Socal), discovers oil at Jabal al-Dukhan and production begins the following year.

1939 - 1940

Britain decides that the Hawar Islands, which lie in the Gulf of Bahrain between Bahrain and Qatar, belong to Bahrain and not Qatar. The islands remain a source of political conflict between Qatar and Bahrain for the course of the century.

In the same year, on 10 September 1939, Bahrain joins the Second World War as an ally of Great Britain. This makes it a potential target for Axis attacks. Ultimately only one serious attack takes place, on 19 October 1940, when four Italian bombers attack Saudi Arabian oilfields and include Bahrain in their bombing run. Minimal damage is caused but Britain has to increase the island's defences at a time at which it is already stretched to the limit.

1942 - 1961

Salman ibn Hamad al Khalifa

Son. Born 1894.

1961 - 1971

Isa bin Salman al Khalifa

Son. Born 1933. Raised Bahrain to an emirate.

1967 - 1968

Britain moves its main regional naval base from Aden to Bahrain in 1967. Soon afterwards, on 16 January 1968, it announces that it will close its bases east of Suez within three years, part of an ongoing process of withdrawal from imperial territories which had started at the close of the Second World War.


On 19 January, the Administrative Council becomes a twelve-member Council of State, headed by a president, the ruler's brother, Sheikh Khalifah Bin-Salman Al Khalifah. In May the same year, Iran renounces its claim to sovereignty over Bahrain after a United Nations report shows that Bahrainis want to remain independent.


Bahrain declares independence on 15 August and signs a new treaty of friendship with Britain. Sheikh Isa becomes the island's first emir and the Council of State becomes a cabinet. On 16 December, Bahrain gains formal independence from Britain.

Emirate of Bahrain / Kingdom of Bahrain
AD 1971 - Present Day

Modern Bahrain is a borderless island state lying in the Persian Gulf. Its name that means 'two seas', from the plural for of the Arabic word, 'bahr', meaning 'sea'. It is also the smallest Arab nation. Saudi Arabia lies to the west and is connected to Bahrain by the King Fahd Causeway (officially opened on 25 November 1986), while Qatar is to the south across the Persian Gulf. Iran lies to the distant north (200 kilometres away).

The island's capital is at Manama, a major port city and commercial centre which lies on the north-eastern tip of the island. It was declared a free port in 1958. As soon as it had gained formal independence from Britain, on 16 December 1971, Bahrain became the first Gulf state to sign a free trade pact with the USA. Later in the same month, on 23 December, Bahrain and the US also signed an agreement which permits the US to rent naval and military facilities in Bahrain.

Bahrain was one of the earliest states in the Persian Gulf to discover oil and start to refine it. Output levels were never as good as elsewhere, so the island learned to diversify its economy. The country changed its name from the 'State of Bahrain' to the 'Kingdom of Bahrain' in 2002, and since then it has been governed as a constitutional monarchy.

(Additional information from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and The Independent.)

1971 - 1999

Isa bin Salman al Khalifa

First emir of an independent Bahrain (hakim since 1961).


On 26 August, following claims by Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifah Bin-Salman Al Khalifah that the National Assembly is impeding the work of the government, the emir dissolves the assembly and rules by decree.

The port city of Manama became a major banking centre for the region following the start of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, which forced previously dominant banking activities there to find a new home

In the same year, the Lebanese Civil War breaks out, pitching Christian, Moslem, and Palestinian groups against each other as they vie for control, with involvement from Syria and Israel further confusing an often violent situation with continually shifting loyalties. Lebanon's banking sector, which provides the region's financial hub, is driven out of the country by the war, finding a new home in Bahrain.


In December, seventy-three people who are said to be members of the Tehran-based Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, headed by Iranian cleric, Hojjat ol-Eslam Hadi al-Mudarrisi, are arrested and accused of conspiring to overthrow the government on 16 December, Bahrain's National Day.


In April, Qatari troops occupy Fasht al-Dibal Island. They remain in place until June when they withdraw following mediation by Saudi Arabia. In November the King Fahd causeway is opened, providing a land-link from Bahrain to the mainland of Saudi Arabia.

1990 - 1991

The First Gulf War is triggered when Kuwait is occupied by Iraq. A United Nations coalition army under the control of the USA is assembled in Saudi Arabia. Bahrain is one of the nations to take part in the coalition, and the Iraqis are forced out of Kuwait in early 1991 with heavy losses. In July of the same year, Qatar takes its territorial claim to the Hawar Islands, Fasht al-Dibal and Qitat Jaradah before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague but Bahrain rejects the claims. In December, Bahrain signs a defence cooperation agreement with the US that provides port facilities and sets up the prospect of joint military exercises.

1999 - Present

Hamad ibn Isa al Khalifa

Eldest son. Born 1950. King from 2002.


Following a vote the year before, on 14 February 2002 Bahrain turns itself into a constitutional monarchy, becoming a kingdom instead of 'the state of Bahrain', and allows women to stand for office. This is part of a package of reforms and an ongoing process that has been gathering pace for some years.

Durrat Al Bahrain
Following the creation of a series of artificial islands in Dubai, Bahrain created its own set, known as Durrat Al Bahrain, which was opened in 2009


A wave of popular protests against a deeply unpopular and dictatorial government in Tunisia forces the president to flee the country, paving the way for fresh elections and a new start. The protests strike a chord in Arabs across North Africa and the Middle East, and similar protests are triggered in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Yemen. Initially, force is used in Bahrain against the protestors, before calmer heads prevail and talks begin to find a way of resolving matters.


Britain announces the establishment of a naval base at Mina Salman Port in order to ensure the stability of the region. The decision also serves to confirm the tradition of cooperation between Britain and Bahrain and is Britain's first permanent military base in the region for forty-three years. Four Royal Navy vessels are already based at the port, but further vessels will now be moored there. The main driving force behind the move is the threat to the region's stability that is posed by Isis.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad

Son and heir. Born 1969.