We know that the Maldives provided a stop-off point for many ancient seafarers. The Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Africans and Phoenicians all landed here to replenish supplies and recuperate from lengthy voyages in the immense Indian Ocean.
Although the early history of the Maldives is somewhat unclear, it is believed that the islands were used as a trading junction as far back as 2000BC. There is archaeological evidence that there were permanent settlers by around 1500BC.
Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, writing in the 1980s, uncovered evidence suggesting that Buddhism and Hinduism were practised here as far back as 500 BC.
After the islands conversion to Islam in the twelfth century, there are clear written records describing the exact nature of the trade that took place. Fish, coconuts, coir, cowrie shells (used as money in Southeast Asia), tortoiseshell and ambergris were plentiful and commonly traded with India, China and Arabia. These goods were highly prized and sought after.
It is possible that the people who lived here at that time came from southern India and the western shores of Sri Lanka. These people were expert fisherman. The cultures and traditions of these Dhivehian people are still visible on the islands today, with boat building being one example.
During the sixteenth century the Portuguese briefly captured the islands. There followed 15 years of what is still described as ‘The Dark Era’. Many Maldivians lost their lives in bitter battles as the Christian Portuguese tried to force their beliefs on the islanders.
Portuguese rule was finally overthrown in 1573, led by three brothers from the far northern atoll. Muhammad Thakurufaanu Al-Azam and his brothers, Ali and Hasan, organised a popular revolt, raiding islands at night and setting sail before daybreak. This gaining of independence is still celebrated today in an annual public holiday.
The Dutch had their turn at taking control of the Maldives during the seventeenth century, but handed them over to the British when they ceded Sri Lanka in 1796.
From 1797, the Maldives were a protectorate of the British Government. This relationship with the British continued right up until 1965.
After regaining full sovereignty in 1965, the Maldives joined the United Nations. The sultanate was abolished and, by 1968, a republic was declared. The Maldivian constitution, adopted in 2008, outlines a democratic, presidential system of government, based on the American model.
The current President is Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, who came into power after the disputed resignation of Mohamed Nasheed on 7 February 2012.