Modern archeologists have calculated that as many as 2 million Maya lived in what is now the country of Belize during their heyday. Powerful city states like Caracol, Xunantunich and Lamanai were built at strategic points, feeding their citizens with farms build on the outskirts.
Today, archeologists divide the Maya civilization into three periods: the Pre-Classic (approximately 1000 BC to 300 AD), the Classic period (AD 300-900), and the Post-Classic (AD 1000-1500) when various environmental and societal factors caused the abandonment of the cities and the disbursement of the people.
On his fourth and final voyage to the Western Hemisphere, Christopher Columbus sailed the Caribbean near the coast of Central America, naming the Bay of Honduras which lies at the southern end of the Belize Barrier Reef.
The first European permanent residents in what is now Belize were religious fugitives who established several trading posts on the coast. They were soon joined by a miscellaneous assortment of privateers, buccaneers, and ship-wrecked sailors who used Belize as a base of operations to launch attacks on Spanish treasure ships.
The motley crew of buccaneers and sailors nicknamed themselves “Baymen” because they were based in the Bay of Honduras. After the governments of Britain and Spain settled their differences, the colonists in Belize turned to focusing on logging the valuable stands of hardwood in the country.
The Colonial Period
In the 1840s, Britain formally claimed the territory of Belize, naming it British Honduras after the bay that Columbus had documented during his voyage of 1504. When Britain outlawed slavery in the 1830s, the British in Belize began intermarrying with former slaves, leading to the creation of the Creole people who now constitute the majority of people living in Belize today. Freed slaves from other British possessions in the Caribbean emigrated to Belize, known today as the Garifuna.
A series of wars in Mexico led to large-scale emigration into northern Belize. Their descendants are known as the Mestizo people. In southern Belize, the indigenous Maya people began to coalesce in towns in the Maya Mountains. Small groups of disaffected Confederate soldiers from the American Civil War settled in the town now known as Punta Gorda. Religious refugees from Europe known as the Mennonites began establishing farms in Belize.
The Modern Period
By the dawn of the 20th century, Belize had nearly 40,000 inhabitants. In 1954, Britain granted voting rights to all adults in Belize. In 1961, Britain began the de-colonization process and set Belize on the path towards independence. In 1973, the colony was renamed Belize.
On September 21, 1981, Belize became a fully independent and sovereign country.