The Kingdom of Bahrain is actually an archipelago of 33 islands in the Arabian Gulf that has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times. Around 5000 years ago Bahrain was home to the Bronze Age civilization of Dilmun, which lasted some two millenia. Since then Bahrain has been occupied alternately by Babylonians, Sumerians, Greeks, Persians, Portuguese, and Turks, among others.
The Dilmun Empire:
The Dilmuns were powerful and influential people. Situated along popular trade routes between southern Iraq and India and Pakistan, Dilmun was a center of business, a tradition Bahrain still holds dear as a financial hub of the Middle East.
In the fourth century BC, Nearchus, a general in the army of Alexander the Great, explored Bahrain, when it was known by the Greek name Tylos. Greek writer Pliny commented on Tylos’ beautiful pearls in his writing in the first century AD.
The Onset of Christianity and Islam:
In the 3rd or 4th centuries AD many people living in Bahrain adopted the Christian faith. Nestorian Church records show that Bahrain was an established seat of its religion prior to and during the early years of Islam.
When Islam made its first forays into Arabia, Bahrain was one of the first parts to accept the new religion. In 640 AD, the Prophet Mohammed wrote the ruler of Bahrain inviting him to adopt Islam. A peaceful adoption of Islam occurred and for two centuries Christians and Muslims lived together in Bahrain. Bahrain still has a small indigenous Christian community.
In 1487 the Omanis conquered Bahrain and erected a fort whose ruins still exist and Portuguese also entered the scene until 1602 when Bahrainis themselves drove them from their island and then invited Persians in for protection. In 1783, The Al-Khalifa family arrived from Kuwait and drove out the Persians. The Al Khalifas rule the land benevolently to this day.
The Twentieth Century:
In 1932 oil was found in Bahrain, the first discovery of oil on the Arab side of the Gulf. The reserve, however, is relatively small. Accordingly, Bahrain has moved judiciously through the twentieth century, diversifying its economy and nurturing international business relationships.
In 1968, an agreement ended a century as a British protectorate and, by 1971, Bahrain earned total independence. Today, Bahrain is a model of stability. In 2000, as promised, the Amir inaugurated a new era of democracy in Bahrain. October of that year witnessed substantial political reforms. Citizens voted in elections that established a bi-cameral parliament. In 2001, women voted for the first time. Bahrainis today enjoy a greater voice in the laws that govern them—an uncommon freedom in the Gulf.