Lebanon Table of Contents
Figure 3. Physical Features
Palestinian refugees on a pathway in Ar Rashidiyah
Courtesy UNRWA/Photo by George Nehmeh
Lebanon's mountainous terrain, proximity to the sea, and strategic location at a crossroads of the world were decisive factors in shaping its history. The political, economic, and religious movements that either originated in the region or crossed through to leave an imprint upon Lebanese society give form to that history.
The country's role in the region, as indeed in the world at large, was shaped by trade. The area, formerly part of the region known as Greater Syria, served as a link between the Mediterranean world and India and East Asia. The merchants of the region exported oil, grain, textiles, metal work, and pottery through the port cities to Western markets. The linkage role of Lebanon was further enhanced by the nomads of the Syrian and Arabian deserts who visited the cities of Syria to trade. The caravans developed limited routes that often led to the coastal cities of Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon, or Tyre. This created a merchant class and brought wealth to the inhabitants of the region. The trade between East and West led to the development of a cosmopolitan culture in Lebanon's port cities, whose inhabitants became known for their multilingualism, flexibility, moderation, and commercial acumen.
Lebanon was also affected by regional political conflicts and social movements. The wealth of the region attracted powerful rulers who coveted its resources. The strategic location was also attractive; it was used either as a defensive position against enemies approaching the Arab hinterland or as a stepping-stone toward Lebanon's neighbors. Over the centuries, members of the nomadic tribes of the Arabian Peninsula sought a more prosperous life in Lebanon. To this day, many Lebanese families take pride in tracing their descent to ancient tribes of Arabia. Moreover, refugees belonging to minority sects have settled in its virtually inaccessible mountain valleys. Hence, the region became a melting pot of cultural and social interaction among diverse groups. In a social culture where blood lineage assumed primacy as a source of identification and affiliation, the contrast between the new Arab immigrant tribes and the settled inhabitants of the land frequently produced conflicts.
Data as of December 1987