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African Kingdoms

North Africa



FeatureThe section of the North African coast to the west of Egypt has been known as Libya for several millennia. Much of its population has always lived close to the coastline, as a very large proportion of the area of modern Libya is formed by desert (up to ninety per cent, although the desert is a relatively recent phenomenon, appearing only in the last four thousand years or so). Therefore much of its recorded history has concentrated on the struggle for ownership of this coastline. Berbers have existed here since about 8000 BC, attracted by the Mediterranean climate and the prospects for early farming.

The name Libya is ancient, and comes via Classical Greece and Rome. Berber tribesmen known as the Libu were attested by Egypt in the eighth century BC, and the Meshwesh Libyans provided Egypt's twenty-second and twenty-third dynasties. The Tamahu and Tjehenu were also important tribes. In the classical period Libya was known to the Greeks as a place of fairly barbarous, tough-fighting kings who led a tribal peoples but which appeared not to be a unified kingdom, more a series of territories perhaps ruled by individual kings. In the south, the Garamantes developed their own fully independent pan-Saharan civilisation. No firm borders and very few dynasties are known, but the region was a continual threat to Egypt.

fl c.1210s BC


Leader of the Labu, who were associated with the Sea Peoples.

c.1208 BC

A body of Lukka take part in the Libyan-led attack on Egypt which includes various Sea Peoples. Two hundred casualties are recorded for the Lukka at the Battle of Per Yer, a very small part of the overall number.

Libyan coastline
Libya is a mixture of rocky coastline, verdant fields in the near-coastal strip, and an increasing expanse of desert to the south - but even the desert has played host to civilisation, such as that of the Garamantes


First known in a dynasty of native Libyan Meshwesh rulers.

Neb-Neshi / Nebneshi

Son or successor.

c.1100 BC

In the south of Libya, a native civilisation begins to emerge in the form of the water-mining Garamantes, which spans the Sahara and extends into sub-Saharan Africa. The civilisation flourishes from the fifth century BC.

Pasouti / Paihut(y)

Son or successor.

fl c.1000 BC


Son or successor.

fl c. 970s BC


Son. Founder of the Twenty-Second Egyptian dynasty.

c.943 - 720 BC

A series of Meshwesh Libyans rule Egypt from circa 943 BC until 720 BC, beginning with Nimlot's successor, Shoshenq. They had been settled in Egypt since the Twentieth dynasty.

Although the dynasty seems to have originated at Bubastis, the kings almost certainly rule from Tanis, which is their capital and the city in which their tombs have since been excavated.

836 - 805 BC

At the start of the reign of Shoshenq III of the Twenty-Second Dynasty, a separate group of Libyans in Leontopolis gains power over the Middle and Upper Egypt area. By 805 BC a further group, the Libu, gain the western Delta around Sais. A separate ruling group emerges in eastern Libya.

fl c.810s BC

Iarbos / Hiarbas

Native ruler of eastern Libya.

814 BC

Neighbouring Carthage becomes a colony of Tyre when it is founded by Elissa, sister of the king of Tyre. The men of Utica greet their brother Phoenicians warmly, and the 'king of Libya', Iarbos, gives them free entry into his territory. He allows Elissa (whom the natives call Deido or Dido, the 'wandering one') to select the hill of Byrsa, where the city is built and named Qarthadasht, or 'new city'.

Events in Libya remain unchronicled for about two centuries, until the founding of the Greek colony of Cyrene in the mid seventh century BC. In the south, a native civilisation emerges in the form of the water-mining Garamantes.

Cyrene (Cyrenaica / Libya)
c.630 BC - 75 BC

Cyrene was a Greek city state colony that was founded in the eastern half of modern Libya. Eventually becoming a large and prosperous city, it was located about fifteen kilometres (ten miles) from the coast, on the top of the Cyrenaican Mountains about 609 metres above sea level. Its economy was based on agriculture, although horses were bred and raised there too. A medicinal plant named silphium was a major export until the reserves were almost entirely extinct (which happened during the Roman period, making it impossible to identify). Then cereals and corn took over.

The Greek settlers who first arrived here from the island of Thera were escaping a seventh century BC famine. They founded several settlements along Libya's coastline. They developed five cities, including the largest, Cyrene, which was founded in 631 BC. Together with four other newly-founded cities - Arsinoe (Teucheira, today better known as Tocra), Balagrae (modern al Bayda), Barce (modern al Marj), and Euesperides or Bernice (not far from modern Benghazi) - this Greek colony became known as the Pentapolis (the 'five cities'), or alternatively as Cyrenaica after the dominant city. According to Greek records the colony took about eight years to establish, following a failed two-year period on the island of Platea and six years at Aziris, south of Platea. The leader of the Greeks who moved to Cyrene about 631 BC was Aristoteles, maternal grandson of King Etearchus of Oaxus and a descendant of Euphemus, helmsman on the Argo under the command of Jason of Iolkos. He took the Libyan title or surname, Battus or Battos (meaning 'king'), and founded the Battaid dynasty as a result.

Once Alexander the Great had conquered Egypt, Cyrene became a possession of the Ptolemies. It was usually held by a junior member of the dynasty, and sometimes directly by the pharaoh himself or herself. Sometimes its Greek ruler attempted to break away from Egypt and sometimes the attempt was successful. The fall of Egypt to Rome meant Roman domination for centuries.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from The Garamantes and Trans-Saharan Enterprise in Classical Times, R C C Law (The Journal of African History, Vol 8, No 2, 1967), from The Garamantes of Central Sahara, Raymond A Dart (African Studies, Vol 11, Issue 1, March 1952), from the Encyclopaedia of the Roman Empire, Matthew Bunson (1994), and from The Cambridge History of Africa, Vol 2, J D Fage (Ed, Cambridge University Press, 2002).)

c.638 - 600 BC

Aristoteles / Battos / Battus I

Leader during the settlement and first king.

c.600 - 583 BC

Arcesilaus / Arkesilas I


c.583 - 560 BC

Battus II / Eudaimon 'the Blessed'

Son. Oversaw a great expansion of Cyrene.

fl c.570 BC


Native king of Libya.

c.570 BC

The Libyans (probably Berber tribes) have become resentful of the flourishing and expanding Greek colony under Battus. He has invited in new settlers from Greece, with large numbers coming from Crete and the Aegean islands, and from the Peloponnese on the mainland. The native Asbystai have especially suffered from losses in territory, and now seek an alliance with Egypt. The Egyptian troops who are sent by Pharaoh Apriês are wiped out by the Cyrenaeans at the Battle of the Well of Thestis almost to a man due, according to Herodotus, to not taking the Greeks seriously as an opponent.

Gladiator mosaics
The period between Greek, Egyptian, and Roman domination left behind a rich heritage of ruins and remains, including this gladiator mosaic now at the museum in Tripoli

c.560 - 550 BC

Arcesilaus / Arkesilas  II 'Chalepos'

Son. Strangled by Learchus.

c.550 BC

Learchus is the ill-mannered advisor (and brother) to Arcesilaus II 'Chalepos' (meaning 'the Harsh') who, when his plotting to replace the king is discovered, flees to the Cyrenaean city of Barce (or founds it, along with the king's other four brothers). He invites other disaffected Cyrenaeans to join him in forming an independent splinter state. When the king attacks him initially he flees, but when he does give battle near a place called Leucon he is victorious. The king subsequently falls ill and is then strangled by Learchus who is able to claim the throne. He is almost immediately overthrown by Cyrenaean nobles led by the late king's wife, Eryxo, and son.

c.550 BC

Learchus / Laarchus

Brother & advisor. Later a usurper. Overthrown by nobles.

c.550 - 530 BC

Battus III 'the Lame'

Son of Arcesilaus.

c.530 - 515 BC

Arcesilaus / Arkesilas  III

Son. Persian vassal c.521 BC. Killed by Cyrenaean exiles.

525 BC

Egypt is conquered by the Persian empire under Cambyses and is annexed as a great satrapy. During Cambyses' occupation of Egypt the capture of Memphis seems to be enough to allow the whole country to be claimed as a conquered territory. The Persians do not initially venture westwards into the Pentapolis.

c.521 BC

The Persian ruler Darius the Great becomes the first official Twenty-Seventh Dynasty pharaoh of Egypt after the death of Cambyses, who appears to have spent much of the last years of his reign in Egypt. Darius also receives the submission of the Pentapolis and exacts tribute from Nubia. Soon afterwards, an oracle bodes ill for Arcesilaus so he retires to the sister city of Barce, leaving his mother in command of Cyrene.

c.521 - 515 BC


Mother. Regent of Cyrene.

c.515 BC

Both Arcesilaus and Alazeir, ruler of Barce, are murdered in that city. Pheretime applies for help to Satrap Aryandes of Egypt who provides her with an army and strengthens his own hold over the Pentapolis. Barce is besieged and captured, the implicated murders of Arcesilaus are put to death, and a large proportion of the population is carried off into Persian slavery in a new settlement of Barce which is located in distant Bakhtrish.

c.515 - 465 BC

Battus IV 'the Fair'

Son of Arcesilaus. Persian vassal.

c.465 - 440 BC

Arcesilaus / Arkesilas  IV

Son. Persian vassal. Killed by the people.

460/459 BC

Satrap Achaemenes of Egypt is killed at the Battle of Pampremis in 460 or 459 BC. His opponents are Inarus (or Inaros), son of a Psamtik and leader of the Second Rebellion in Egypt, and his Athenian allies. The Greek threat is finally ended in 454 BC when Megabyzus, former satrap of Ebir-nāri, arrives with a fresh army. Inarus is hauled off to Susa where he is reported to be crucified.

Cyrene's ruins
Cyrene flourished under its third king, and it maintained a position of regional dominance right through the subsequent Persian, Hellenic, and Roman periods

440 BC

Battus V

Son. Killed by the people. Never ruled.

440 - c.300 BC

The Cyrenaean people, tired of the increasingly tyrannical rule of Arcesilaus IV, rebel and throw out the kingship, deciding on a republic to replace it, although one that is still under the suzerainty of Persia. In terms of more everyday activities, it is probable that the Cyrenaeans are trading for salt with the Garamantes people to the south.

332 BC

Egypt is handed over to Alexander the Great of Macedonia without a fight. Soon afterwards, the Greek king receives tribute from the cities of the Pentapolis, which effectively acknowledges him as their overlord.

323 - 322 BC

Thibron of Sparta

Briefly commanded under Ptolemy I of Egypt.

313 - 308 BC


Briefly commanded under Ptolemy I of Egypt.

c.300 - 276 BC

The Pentapolis is formally annexed by Ptolomey I Soter of Egypt. Later in his reign he marries Berenice I, who already has a son by a former marriage. The son, Magas, is given the governorship of Libya, and following the death of his stepfather, he makes several attempts to gain independence, finally crowning himself king about 276 BC.

c.276 - 250 BC

Magas of Cyrene

Stepson of Berenice I of Egypt. Greek Macedonian.

274 - 250 BC

Magas attacks Egypt, but has to call off his planned invasion thanks to a revolt of the native Libyan Marmaridae. The remainder of Magas' rule is concerned with maintaining his kingdom's independence, and following his death a relative is invited from Greece to take the throne.

264 - 241 BC

The First Punic War erupts between Rome and Carthage. Following its conclusion, there is a rebellion amongst mercenaries who have not been paid. The leaders of the Libyan mercenaries, Spendius and Matho, lay siege to Utica and nearby Hippocritae. Despite being rescued by generals Hanno and Hamilcar of Carthage, both cities defy Carthaginian governance and have to be brought into line by force.

c.250 - 249 BC

Berenice (II)

Dau. m Demetrius of Macedon, then Ptolemy III of Egypt.

c.250 - 249 BC

Demetrius the Fair

Son of Demetrius I Poliorcetes of Macedon. Killed.

249 - 246 BC

With the death of Demetrius at the hands of Berenice, his wife, Cyrene becomes a republic again in 249 BC. The state's short-lived experiment with renewed kingship and republicanism is ended when it is recaptured by Ptolemy II of Egypt in 246 BC and Berenice is restored and by 244/243 BC she has married Ptolemy III of Egypt to become his co-ruler.

Ptolemy III Euergetes
Ptolemy Euergetes increased Egyptian imperial borders at the expense of Seleucid Syria, something that few of his successors were ever able to manage

246 - 240 BC

Berenice (II)

Wife of Ptolemy III of Egypt.

240 BC

Apart from three limited breaks, Egypt retains direct control of Cyrene until 163 BC. In 240 BC a republic is briefly declared under the Megalopolitan philosophers, Ecdelos and Demophanes, mentioned by Plutarch. The details are unknown, but it seems probable that Egypt retakes control almost immediately.

240 BC


Joint head of the Cyrenaean republic.

240 BC


Joint head of the Cyrenaean republic.

c.239 - 221 BC

Berenice (II)

Restored by Ptolemy III of Egypt.

222 - 205 BC

The murder of Berenice in 221 BC makes the titular head of Cyrene somewhat uncertain. However, given the fact that her son is Ptolemy IV of Egypt, the throne of Cyrene probably passes to him, Berenice's killer.

205 - 204 BC


Another attempt at removing Libya from Egypt's control?

163 BC

Upon being deprived of the pharaonic throne following his brief usurpation of it, Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II claims the throne of Cyrene with Roman backing. He retains this throne throughout the rest of his life, even during two further periods of rule in Egypt.

163 - 116 BC

Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II 'Physcon'

Pharaoh of Egypt (171-163 BC, 145-131 BC, & 127-116 BC).

132 - 131 BC

Cleopatra II makes the most of an Alexandrine revolt against her cousin-husband, Ptolemy Euergetes. he and Cleopatra III flee to Cyprus while she is left in sole command in Egypt. Ptolemy Memphitis is the son of both parties, named after the location of his birth. He is proclaimed pharaoh by Cleopatra II. Ptolemy Euergetes still manages to have him killed and cut into quarters, with the remains being sent to Cleopatra. Civil war ensues, along with a general collapse of central government.

128 - 128 BC

Ptolemy Euergetes has seized all of Egypt except Alexandria, which remains loyal to Cleopatra until its fall in 126 BC. In 128 BC, Seleucid ruler Demetrius attempts to intervene in the Egyptian civil war, supporting Cleopatra II, mother of his first wife, Cleopatra Thea, but he is defeated near Pelusium. Cleopatra Thea herself succeeds Demetrius as the Seleucid ruler, serving as regent for her son, Seleucus V.

116 BC

The death of Ptolemy Euergetes ends a highly eventful and unsettled period of Ptolemaic history in Egypt. His nominated successors are Cleopatra III and one of her sons, with the choice of which of them being hers. She prefers the younger of them, Alexander, but the Alexandrines want Philometer Soter, current governor of Cyprus. She reluctantly complies, and Philometer becomes Ptolemy IX, while Alexander takes his place on Cyprus.

Egyptian art
The Ptolemies may have been viewed by some native Egyptians as foreigners, just as the Greeks may have been viewed by the native Berbers, but they certainly went wholeheartedly into the costumes and styles of Egyptian nobility

116 - 110 BC

Ptolemy Apion


110 BC

Nikostratos the Tyrant

Briefly usurped power.

110 - 96 BC

Ptolemy Apion


96 - 34 BC

Cyrene becomes part of the Roman republic in 96 BC, and in 75 BC is made a province of Rome. In 37 BC it is restored to the Ptolemies by Marcus Antonius of Rome (Mark Antony), and his daughter by Cleopatra VII of Egypt is made queen in Cyrene.

34 - 30 BC

Cleopatra Selene II

Dau of Cleopatra VII of Egypt and Marcus Antonius of Rome.

32 - 30 BC

The agreement regulating the Roman Triumvirate has expired, and in the political manoeuvring that follows Octavian gains and reads out Antony's will in public. It shows that his heart belongs to Cleopatra and Egypt, thereby making it clear to most Romans that Antony could never be one of them. The Senate declares war, and Octavian and Antony clash on 2 September 31 BC at the naval Battle of Actium, off the western coast of Greece. Antony is defeated as Cleopatra departs with the surviving fleet and he commits suicide. In 30 BC Cleopatra also commits suicide, handing Egypt to Rome. With Egypt and Cyrene both Roman possessions, the Garamantes to the south remain free of Roman control. Cyrene is retained within the empire, and its subsequent Eastern Roman division.

Roman & Islamic Libya
30 BC - AD 1951
Incorporating Crete & Cyrenaica (67 BC-AD 297)

Octavian invaded Egypt in 30 BC and Cleopatra VII, fearing captivity and humiliation in Rome, committed suicide. Egypt and its provinces in Libya became Roman provinces, although the Garamantes to the south remained free of Roman control. During that period, Cyrenaica in the east gained a sizable Jewish population which amounted to about a quarter of the total population. Libya was retained within the empire and its subsequent Eastern Roman division until AD 643, despite a period of Vandali incursion. Cyrenaica remained unconquered by the Vandali, although by the seventh century AD the city's days of glory were a long-faded memory.

In the tumultuous events of the seventh century, Libya was conquered by the Islamic Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, leader of the expanding Islamic empire for just ten years. A successive dynasty, the Umayyad caliphs, was destroyed in 749-750 and the resultant shake-up in the empire's governance meant that Libya was passed to the governor of Abbasid Egypt. It remained under Egyptian control until 1517, when the entire region was taken by the Ottoman empire under Selim I Yavuz. Thereafter it remained an Ottoman province until the modern age, when Italy became involved in its affairs.

The name 'Libya' did not come into use for this region of North Africa until 1911. Before then it had generally been applied to Africa as a whole (or at least as far as the ancients understood Africa, great swathes of which were not explored until the Victorian age). Until then, specific reference was made to Libya's regions near the Mediterranean, Pentapolis and Tripolitania (in the west, traditionally territory that was controlled from Tripoli itself), both of which were part of the province of Africa Proconsularis. The eastern part of Libya was Cyrenaica (gained by Rome in 96 BC), which was combined with Crete into the province of Creta et Cyrenaica.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), and from External Links: Saharan and trans-Saharan contacts and trade in the Roman era, Dr Caitlin R Green, and BBC Country Profiles, and A Latin Dictionary, Charlton T Lewis & Charles Short (Perseus).)

19 BC

The Garamantes who had served in Juba's army of 49 BC may have been nomads, but Roman attention is now focussed on them. Pliny the Elder records in his work, Natural History, that General Lucius Cornelius Balbus marches against the Phazanians and Garamantes, probably causing a good deal of upheaval. It seems to be about this time that the older capital at Zinchecra is abandoned and the royal residence is moved to Garama. Various skirmishes occur over subsequent years, probably between Rome and Garamantes nomads.

AD 24

Writing at the end of the first century AD, the historian, Tacitus, mentions the Garamantes assisting the Numidian rebel, Tacfarinas, raiding Roman coastal settlements.

Around the same time, archaeology has shown a significant degree of interaction taking place from at least this century through until the seventh century AD. This interaction is thought to have been primarily driven by a trans-Saharan trade in slaves that is largely organised and controlled by the Garamantes of the Libyan Sahara.


The Garamantes appear to outgrow their ability to exploit the environment around them. They have extracted an estimated thirty billion gallons of water through the foggara system of subterranean tunnels during the six centuries of their peak. In about the fourth century the water starts to run out, and to dig deeper and further in search of it requires more slaves than the Garamantes' military power can successfully deliver. From this moment their civilisation is doomed to decline.

A relative decline in trading across the Late Antiquity period is thought to mirror the failure of the Garamantes' underground irrigation systems. The process of Garamantes decline may well be complete by the time of the first Arab incursions into the region in the mid-seventh century and may also contribute to the recorded political instability in the northern Sahara and along the Roman frontiers during the same period, most notably heralded by the arrival of the Vandali.

Excavation at Germa
Archaeological remains discovered at the Garamantes' capital city near modern Germa revealed an impressive building (lower left) with stone footings and columns, and a broad set of steps leading up to the entrance (External Link: Creative Commons Licence 2.0 Generic) (click or tap on image to view full sized)

429 - 439

The Vandali and Alani migrate from Iberia into Roman North Africa. Once there, they carve out a kingdom over the course of a decade, taking the cities of Carthage and Utica in 439. The subsequent loss of Roman trade probably harms the Garamantes and possibly even sounds their final death knell as a civilisation. Some scholars contend that the use of the water mines continues to around AD 700, but by then the civilisation has long since passed its peak.


The collateral line assumes the Fatamid throne in Tunisia and is no longer considered to be Shiite Imams. The Almohads occupy Tunis, stretching the empire farther east than the Almoravids had done before them. They also encroach into modern Libya, maintaining dominion over territory that is closer to the coast.

Roman Libya's ruins
The Roman city of Leptis Magna had been greatly expanded at the end of the second century AD by its favourite son, Emperor Septimus Severus, but was abandoned following the Islamic invasion of North Africa


The Almohad ruler, Muhammad ibn Yaqub, suffers a devastating defeat in Spain at Los Navos de Tolosa. Humiliated, the Almohads are forced to give way, and their army never fully recovers from the disaster. In the east, the weakened empire fades as local tribes begin to rebel against Almohad rule. Libya soon falls out of Almohad control.

1801 - 1805

Having recommissioned its navy in 1794, the USA is becoming increasingly reluctant to pay tribute to ensure the safe passage of its merchant ships in the Mediterranean. The pasha of Tripoli demands fresh tribute of the new government of Thomas Jefferson which is refused, so Tripoli declares war on the USA. Morocco and Algiers do not join Tripoli in the conflict. The small but highly modern American navy defeats Tripoli's vessels in a number of naval skirmishes during the First Barbary War, until Tripoli agrees peace terms and the US buys back its captured seamen.

1815 - 1816

The Second Barbary War is fought by the USA in response to renewed pirate raids while it has been preoccupied with the War of 1812. A squadron of US ships captures several Algerian vessels and, after negotiations, the dey of Algiers agrees to return American captives and vessels in return for a large one-off final payment. Although this concludes the war, it does not conclude the piracy threat, so the following year, Britain sends a 'diplomatic mission' that is eventually forced to bombard Algiers for nine hours on 27 August 1816. The dey loses many of his corsairs and shore defences, and the threat of organised Barbary piracy is ended once and for all.

1911 - 1934

Ottoman Libya is invaded by Italy. An Italian protectorate is declared in 1912. Sheikh Sidi Idriss is recognised as leader of the Senussi and is granted the rank of emir, until the decision is reversed in 1929.

1920 - 1929

Sheikh Sidi Idriss

Recognised leader of the Senussi. Later king of Libya.

1934 - 1942

The Libyan provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica are united by Italy as the colony of Libya.

1942 - 1951

Libya is captured by Great Britain during the Desert War, a phase of the Second World War which is fought between Britain and Germany. Britain retains the colony and controls its administration until it is granted independence in 1951 in the form of the kingdom of Libya.

Around thirty-eight thousand members of the Jewish Diaspora live in Libya in 1948. However, temporary Nazi occupation during the war has resulted in a generally lower tolerance of these communities of Mizrahi Jews after the war's end.

Pogroms continue through 1948, while Zionist agents have for a decade or so been drumming up interest in emigrating to a new Israeli homeland. Outwards migration begins in 1949, with around thirty thousand leaving Libya for Israel, approximately eighty percent of the entire Jewish population.

Modern Libya
AD 1951 - Present Day

Modern Libya is officially known as the 'State of Libya'. It is located on the North African coast, in the Maghreb region, and can traditionally be divided into three regions, Cyrenaica (in the east, a former Greek colony and kingdom), Fezzan (Phazania, former home to the Garamantian empire in the south, with Cyrenaica on its eastern border and the Sahara Desert occupying much of its territory), and Tripolitania (in the west, traditionally territory that has been controlled from Tripoli itself, but which has shrunk over time). It is neighboured by Egypt to the east, Sudan to the far south-east, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west. The capital city is Tripoli.

The region was first properly colonised in the east as the Greek kingdom of Cyrene and in the west by the Phoenician city of Oea (now Tripoli), before being subjugated by Rome, the Vandals, the Byzantines, Egypt and Italy. Freed by Great Britain during the Second World War, the country gained full independence in 1951 when the former emir, Sheikh Sidi Idriss, was pronounced king of Libya. The new kingdom was initially made up of the provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica, but these were later subdivided into several smaller divisions known as shabiyat.

Since gaining independence, Libya has endured a troubled and somewhat colourful existence. The king was deposed in 1969 by Colonel Gaddafi. He pursued a pan-Arab agenda by attempting to form mergers with several Arab countries, and introduced state socialism by nationalising most economic activity, including the oil industry. Today, Libya boasts Africa's largest proven oil reserves and has a small population of only six million, figures not aided by Gaddafi's declaration of a 'cultural revolution' in 1973 and a 'people's revolution' in 1977. Then he led the country into a prolonged confrontation with the USA and played political games which earned him few external friends. In the end it was his own people who ended his regime, during the 'Arab Spring' of 2011. Libya continues to recover from the subsequent civil war and regional divisions.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from External Links: Libya: Restoring the Monarchy? and BBC Country Profiles, and Undisciplined Libyan rebels no match for Gaddafi's forces (The Guardian), and 1969: Bloodless coup in Libya (BBC), and Battle for Tripoli escalates (The Guardian), and Libyan PM makes alliance (The Guardian).)

1951 - 1969


One and only king of modern Libya. Died aged 94 in 1971.

1951 - 1959

King Idris establishes a constitutional monarchy with his son as his heir. The discovery of vast oil reserves in 1959 catapults Libya from amongst the world's poorer nations to one of the wealthiest. However, much of that wealth is concentrated in the king's hands, and growing resentment turns into plotting a coup.

1969 - 1992

Hasan as-Senussi

Son and heir. Never ruled. Died 1992.


The ailing Idris is in Turkey to receive medical treatment when he is ousted in a bloodless coup which is led by Colonel Gaddafi. His intention to abdicate in favour of his son, dated to just before the coup, is never enacted. The royal family is exiled and stripped of all its possessions within Libya. They eventually seek refuge in the United Kingdom.

1969 - 2011

Muammar al-Gaddafi

Military colonel and dictator. Captured and killed.


Gaddafi elects to run the country along the 'Third Way' between communism and capitalism via 'People's Committees' supposedly untainted by partisan politics. In later years, it is Gaddafi's son, Saif, who is often regarded as the driving force behind Libya's gradual escape from the international diplomatic isolation that envelops it until the dawn of the twenty-first century.

Colonel Gaddafi
Colonel Gaddafi seized power in the 1969 coup, and held onto it through the imposition of tough controls and a sometimes bizarre streak of showmanship until his death at the hands of his own people in 2011


Signs of liberalisation appear in neighbouring Chad, with President Tombalbaye admitting that he has made mistakes in his presidency and rule of the country. Reform is initiated, and France withdraws the last of its troops from the country. Later in the same year a coup attempt is uncovered, with links to Libya's Muammar al-Gaddafi. The reforms come to a shuddering halt, the border with Libya is closed, and Tombalbaye allows anti-Gaddafi rebels to operate from northern Chad.

1975 - 1987

Libya becomes more deeply involved in the long-running war in Chad, hoping to take control now that France has lost any influence. In 1980, Libyan forces invade and occupy the Aozou Strip. This is followed later in the same year with the occupation of much of northern Chad, but the Chadians under Hissène Habré force them out in 1981. In 1983 they return to take northern Chad above Koro Toro, and this time it takes until 1987 before the last Libyans are finally ejected.

1992 - Present

Muhammad as-Senussi

Son of Hasan. Born 1962.


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 Near East, and similar protests are triggered in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Yemen.

Unlike some security forces in Tunisia and Egypt, their Libyan counterparts are less hesitant to react violently to the protests in a country where dissent is not tolerated and political parties are banned. The protests quickly turn into a fully-fledged uprising against Gaddafi, with key areas in western Libya and most of eastern Libya being removed from his control by an enthusiastic mixture of civilians and military.

As Gaddafi's forces strike back with superior firepower, the United Nations and Nato become involved, enforcing a no-fly zone over the country which provides the poorly-organised uprising with its own air cover. Gaddafi's territory begins to shrink and his regime falls apart when Tripoli is taken by the uprising. On Thursday 20 October 2011, Gaddafi is discovered and killed at the heart of his final stronghold in Sirte, his birthplace. News of his death is announced by the National Transitional Council, paving the way for the establishment of a new government.

Post-Gaddafi Libya
Post-Gaddafi Libya quickly became embroiled in a painful civil war as the various rebel factions fought for control before some level of uneasy peace could be restored


The fall of Gaddafi has not delivered the stability and unity that had been hoped for. The government in Tripoli directly controls its own region but has little authority in the east or south. In fact the three regions seem slowly to be heading towards permanent separation.

A solution in the restoration of the monarchy is considered, as many tribal sheikhs who had lived under the monarchy prefer this form of government. The hereditary king, though, sees the reality of Libya's situation and declines the idea. Popular though his return may be, he would not be able to provide the magic wand solution which Libya now needs.

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