A chronology of key events:
12th century - Islam introduced.
1558-1573 - Portuguese occupation, which ends after expulsion by locals.
17th century - Islands become a protectorate first of the Dutch rulers of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and later of the British who take control of Ceylon in 1796.
1887 - Status formalised as internally self-governing British protectorate.
1932 - First democratic constitution proclaimed. The sultanate becomes an elected position.
1953 - Becomes a republic within the Commonwealth as the sultanate is abolished. However, the Sultan is restored within months.
1965 - Full independence as a sultanate outside Commonwealth.
1968 - Sultan deposed after referendum; republic reinstated with Ibrahim Nasir as president.
1978 - Nasir retires, replaced by Maumoon Abd al-Gayoom.
1980s - Development of tourist industry fuels economic growth.
1982 - Rejoins Commonwealth.
1988 - Coup attempt involving Sri Lankan mercenaries foiled with the help of Indian commandos.
1998 - Gayoom re-elected for a fifth term in presidential referendum.
1999 November - Parliamentary elections take place, with more than 120 independent candidates contesting 40 seats.
2000 January - Amnesty International says three candidates in 1999 parliamentary elections were tortured after being detained on suspicion of instigating unrest.
2002 March - Concern over the Maldives' vulnerability to rising sea levels prompts government to announce decision to take legal action against US for refusing to sign Kyoto Protocol.
2002 July - Lengthy prison terms are handed down to four people found guilty of defamation and inciting violence.
2002 September - At World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, President Gayoom warns that low-lying islands are at greater risk than ever before, and calls on international community to take urgent action to prevent global environmental catastrophe.
2003 July - Amnesty International accuses Maldives government of political repression and torture. It says arbitrary detentions, unfair trials and long-term imprisonment of government critics are commonplace. The government rejects allegations as "false and baseless".
2003 September - Unprecedented anti-government riots break out in Male, sparked by deaths of four prison inmates.
Amnesty International blames unrest on political repression and human rights abuses. President Gayoom dismisses police chief, promises independent inquiry into prison deaths.
2003 October - Gayoom re-elected for unprecedented sixth term in presidential referendum, winning more than 90% of the vote.
2004 June - President Gayoom promises constitutional changes to limit presidential term and to allow formation of political parties.
2004 August - State of emergency imposed after a pro-democracy demonstration turns violent. Almost 100 people are jailed.
2004 December - Scores of people are killed and many islands suffer severe damage when a tsunami generated by a powerful undersea earthquake off the Indonesian coast hits the Maldives. The government says the disaster has set development work back by 20 years.
2005 June - Parliament votes unanimously to allow multi-party politics.
2005 August - Opposition party leader Mohamed Nasheed is charged with terrorism and sedition. The government says he criticised President Gayoom and incited violence.
Fishing is a major feature of life on the islands
2006 March - President Gayoom unveils a "roadmap" for democratic reforms, which he says will enhance multi-party politics.
2006 August - President Gayoom pardons senior opposition figure Jennifer Latheef serving a 10-year term on terrorism charges, but she refuses to recognise the pardon and demands a retrial to clear her name.
2007 May - Government says a coastguard vessel has opened fire and sunk a boat carrying suspected Tamil Tiger rebels from Sri Lanka.
2007 August - Voters in a referendum back President Gayoom's proposal for a presidential system of government.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed becomes third cabinet member in a month to resign.
2007 September - Bomb wounds 12 tourists in Male.
2008 January - President Gayoom survives an assassination attempt after 15-year-old boy scout Mohamed Jaisham wrestled a kitchen knife from the would-be killer's hands.
2008 August - President Gayoom ratifies new constitution that paves the way for first multi-party presidential elections.
Change of government
2008 October - Opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed defeats President Gayoom in second round of voting, inaugurated as president in November.
2009 March - President Nasheed says the Maldives will become carbon-neutral within a decade by switching completely to renewable energy sources.
2009 April - President Nasheed says government will deregulate the state-controlled media and ensure media freedom and competition.
2010 June - Cabinet resigns en masse in protest at alleged efforts by the opposition-controlled parliament to block government business.
2010 July - President Nasheed reappoints cabinet that resigned in June, in a bid to avert political deadlock.
2010 October - Government apologises after a foreign couple renewing their wedding vows are subjected to insults by locals during a ceremony captured on video and watched by thousands on YouTube.