The island of Sri Lanka appears to have been inhabited since at least 34,000 years before the present. Archaeological evidence suggests that agriculture began as early as 15,000 BCE, perhaps reaching the island along with the ancestors of the Yaksha, Naga, Dewa and Raksha tribes.
Indu Aryans immigrants from northern India likely reached Sri Lanka around the 6th century BCE. They may have established one of the earliest great trade emporiums on earth; Sri Lankan cinnamon appears in Egyptian tombs from 1,500 BCE. By about 250 BCE, Buddhism had reached Sri Lanka, brought by Mahinda, the son of Asoka the Great of the Mauryan Empire.
The Sinhalese remained Buddhist even after most mainland Indians had converted to Hinduism. Classical Sinhalese civilization relied on complicated irrigation systems for intensive agriculture; it grew and prospered from 200 BCE to about 1200 CE.Trade flourished between China, Southeast Asia, and Arabia by the first few centuries of the common era.
Sri Lanka was a key stopping point on the southern, or sea-bound, branch of the Silk Road. Ships stopped there not only to restock on food, water and fuel, but also to buy cinnamon and other spices. The ancient Romans called Sri Lanka “Taprobane,” while Arab sailors knew it as “Serendip.”In 1212, ethnic Tamil invaders from the Chola Kingdom in southern India drove the Sinhalese south. The Tamils brought Hinduism with them.
In 1505, a new kind of invader appeared on Sri Lanka’s shores. Portuguese traders wanted to control the sea-lanes between the spice islands of southern Asia; they also brought missionaries, who converted a small number of Sri Lankan’s to Catholicism.
The Dutch, who expelled the Portuguese in 1658, left an even stronger mark on the island. The legal system of the Netherlands forms the basis for much of modern Sri Lankan law.In 1815, a final European power appeared to take control of Sri Lanka.
The British, already holding the mainland of India under their colonial sway, created the Crown Colony of Ceylon. UK troops defeated the last native Sri Lankan ruler, the King of Kandy, and began to govern Ceylon as an agricultural colony that grew rubber, tea, and coconuts.After more than a century of colonial rule, in 1931, the British granted Ceylon limited autonomy.
During World War II, however, Britain used Sri Lanka as a forward post against the Japanese in Asia, much to the irritation of Sri Lankan nationalists. The island nation became fully independent on February 4, 1948, several months after the Partition of India and the creation of independent India and Pakistan in 1947.In 1971, tensions between the Sinhalese and Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka bubbled over into armed conflict. Despite attempts at a political solution, the country erupted into the Sri Lankan Civil War in July of 1983; the war would continue until 2009, when government troops defeated the last of the Tamil Tiger.