Evidence of habitation in this region dates to at least 5000 BCE, and modern Lebanon is considered part of the original territory of the Phoenician People. The geographic area comprising modern Lebanon fell under the control Arab culture following the Muslim conquest of the Levant (634-638 CE), although it had previously become a major center of Christianity in the 4th and 5th centuries CE, in particular being the birthplace of the Maronite sect. Officially dominated by Islam and Arabic-speaking governments for the next several centuries, the country nevertheless became a cosmopolitan land where people of many ethnic groups and religious faiths co-existed, although not always peacefully. The region was drawn into open warfare during the Crusades (11th - 13th centuries CE), a period which also brought the local populace into contact with European (primarily Frankish) culture - a development that would have a lasting effect on Lebanon itself.
During the 16th century, Lebanon became a part of the Ottoman Empire and remained such until the end of the First World War. In 1920, the Empire was officially dissolved by a League of Nations Mandate, with both Lebanon and Syria falling under the control of France. Although briefly claimed as a part of the Arab Kingdom of Syria, in the latter half of that year the region of Greater Lebanon was established, effectively making Lebanon a French territory. The creation of a Lebanese Republic (under French administration) soon followed in 192, but it was not until the Second World War that the country would achieve full independence, while France was still occupied by Nazi Germany. Elections held in 1943 abolished a mandate designed to maintain authority over Lebanon by the Free French government, and in effect establishing a fully independent state. A key feature of this development was the unwritten National Pact of 1943, in which it was agreed that key government positions would be held by individuals from a particular religious or ethnic group (President - Maronite, Prime Minister - Sunni, President of National Assembly - Sh'ia, Deputy Prime Minister - Greek Orthodox, and Chief of General Staff - Druze). The pact also established a slight favor of Christians over Muslims within Parliament. This agreement would have a long standing effect on Lebanese culture, politics and stability well into the present era.
During the Arab-Israeli War (1948), Lebanon supported Arab forces with logistics, artillery and armored personnel carriers, but did not officially invade Israeli territory. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of this conflict, more than 100,000 Palestinian refugees that had fled across the border were forced to remain in southern Lebanon when Israel refused them permission to return. Huge numbers of Palestinians have continued to inhabit parts of Lebanon ever since, many in refugee camps. In 1969, the Lebanese government was pressured into granting virtual autonomy to the PLO in these camps, as well as along the border with Israel, as a result of the Cairo and Melkart Accords. In 1970, the Palestinian population in Lebanon was further bolstered (by approximately 150,000 – including several thousand guerilla fighters) after King Hussein’s Army physically ejected the entire PLO infrastructure from Jordan. This significant impact on the population would result in the country being involved in warfare for years to come, both from internal struggles between rival political factions, and from the fact that Lebanese territory was the only remaining land-base from which the Palestinian struggle could continue to wage war against Israel.