Earliest records show that the area known as Belarus today was populated by migrating Slavic peoples in the 6th and 7th Centuries. The Vikings influenced the region as traders during the 9th and 10th Centuries and by the 12th Century there were two main Principalities, the Principality of Polotsk in the North and the Principality of Turaŭ in the South.
In the 13th Century the Mongols invaded the area and the sacking of Kiev in 1240 left a vacuum which was eventually filled by the Lithuanian King Mindangas. By the 15th Century the region was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania where it remained until 1569 when the Lublin Union replaced the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The period also saw the introduction of a common parliament, the Sejm.
The 17th Century was a disastrous period for the region and a series of wars known as the Deluge saw battles between the Commonwealth and Swedish, Russian, Transylvanian and other armies. Although the Commonwealth survived, around a third of the population died and its influence was left severely damaged.
By the late 1700s Poland had been partitioned by its neighbours and Belorussia was absorbed into the Russian Empire.
For one brief moment in 1918 a Belarus National Republic was declared under German occupation but by the end of World War One, as the Germans retreated, the Soviets occupied the land.
On 2nd January 1919 the Soviet Socialist Republic of Byelorussia was declared. Soon after a war with the Polish erupted and in 1921 the Peace of Riga saw the modern Belarus divided between Poland and the Soviets.
The Great Purge of 1937 and 1938 by Joseph Stalin saw the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of Byelorussians and then in September 1939 Eastern Poland was invaded by Russia. That was followed by the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany in June 1941 with Belarus being at the centre of a so called scorched earth policy by the Soviets; around a quarter of the population lost their lives in the Second World War. In 1944 the Soviets re-captured all of the territory and the modern boundaries were established for the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR).
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, the region gained independence on 25th August 1991 and was renamed the Republic of Belarus.
By 1994 a new constitution provided for a 240 member Supreme Council with a President as Head of State and Government.
In June/July 1994 Alyaksandr Lukashenka (Alexander Lukashenko) was elected President in round two of the election with 81.7% of the vote. He moved quickly to amend the constitution to give himself power over the legislature, a move which was approved in a 1996 referendum by 87% of those who voted. In the same year the legislature was reorganised into a bicameral National Assembly with a 64 seat upper house or Council of the Republic and a 110 seat lower house or House of Representatives.
Elections in 2000 to the House of Representatives resulted in no political parties winning seats and all but three of the 110 seats went to Independents supporting the president.
In 2004 a referendum abolished the requirement for a president to stand for a maximum of two terms and in the legislative elections that year just three parties won a total of 12 of the 110 seats.
Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected as president in 2006 with 84.4% of the vote and in 2010 with 79.67%. The legislative elections of 2008 saw political parties gain just seven of the 110 seats in the House of Representatives; the rest are held by Independents loyal to the president.
The President is elected by popular vote for a five-year term.
The bicameral National Assembly has an upper chamber, the Council of the Republic with 64 seats of which 56 members are elected by regional and Minsk city councils and 8 members are appointed by the President to serve four year terms. The lower chamber or House of Representatives has 110 members elected by popular vote to serve four year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Belarus at 79th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 40 (where 100 is least corrupt).