In ancient times, the city of Carthage was located in Tunisia. Carthage became a major rival to the Roman Republic for the domination of the western Mediterranean in the 4th century B.C Carthage was eventually destroyed, and Tunisia was made part of the Roman Empire. In the 5th century A.D., Tunisia was captured by the Vandals and became the capital of their short-lived kingdom.
In the Middle Ages, Tunisia became part of the Ottoman Empire. In the 19th century, the country became mostly autonomous, although officially still an Ottoman province. In 1861, Tunisia enacted the first constitution in the Arab world, but a move toward a republic was hampered by the poor economy and political unrest. In 1869, Tunisia declared itself bankrupt, and an international financial commission with representatives from France, United Kingdom, and Italy took control over the economy.
In the spring of 1881, France invaded Tunisia, claiming that Tunisian troops had crossed the border to Algeria, France's main colony in Northern Africa. Italy, also interested in Tunisia, protested, but did not risk a war with France. On May 12 of that year, Tunisia was officially made a French protectorate.
During World War II, Tunisia supported the Vichy government which ruled France after its capitulation to Germany in 1940. After losing a string of battles to Bernard Montgomery in 1942, and then hearing of the landings during Operation Torch, Erwin Rommel retreated to Tunisia and set up strong defensive positions in the mountains to the south. Overwhelming British superiority eventually broke these lines, although he did have some success against the "green" American troops advancing from the west. The fighting ended in early 1943, and Tunisia became a base for operations for the invasion of Sicily later that year.
Violent resistance to French rule boiled up in 1954. Independence from France was achieved on March 20, 1956, as a constitutional monarchy with the Bey of Tunis, Mohammed al-Amin Bey (Lamine), as the king of Tunisia. Prime Minister Habib Bourguiba abolished the monarchy in 1957 and established a strict one-party state. He dominated the country for 31 years, repressing Islamic fundamentalism and establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation. President Bourguiba was overthrown and replaced by Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on November 7, 1987.
In recent years, Tunisia has taken a moderate, non-aligned stance in its foreign relations.
See also : Tunisia