A chronology of key events:
1494 - Christopher Columbus sights Jamaica.
1509 - Jamaica occupied by the Spaniards under a licence from Columbus's son; much of the indigenous Arawak community dies off from exposure to European diseases; African slaves brought in to work on the sugar plantations.
1655 - Jamaica is captured by the British.
1670 - Jamaica formally ceded to the British in accordance with the Treaty of Madrid.
1692 - Port Royal, once the busiest trading centre of the British West Indies and infamous for general debauchery, is devastated by an earthquake.
1838 - Slavery abolished.
1865 - The British ruthlessly put down the Morant Bay rebellion, staged by freed slaves in response to acute hardship, and force the local legislature to surrender its powers; Jamaica becomes a crown colony.
1870 - Banana plantations set up as the sugar cane industry declines in the face of competition from European beet sugar.
1884 - New constitution marks the initial revival of local autonomy.
1938 - Serious riots caused by unemployment and resentment against British racial policies; People's National Party (PNP) founded by Norman Manley.
1944 - Universal adult suffrage introduced; new constitution providing for a popularly-elected House of Representatives promulgated.
1958 - Jamaica becomes a member of the British-sponsored Federation of the West Indies.
1961 - Jamaica withdraws from the Federation of the West Indies.
1962 - Jamaica becomes independent within the British Commonwealth with Alexander Bustamante of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) as prime minister.
1972 - Michael Manley becomes prime minister following an impressive victory by the PNP in the general elections and pursues a policy of economic self-reliance.
1976 - The PNP wins another term following elections marked by violence and proceeds to nationalise businesses and build closer ties with Cuba.
1980 - Edward Seaga becomes prime minister after his JLP wins general elections. He proceeds to privatise state enterprises and to distance Jamaica from Cuba. US grants Seaga government substantial aid.
1988 - Jamaica badly hit by Hurricane Gilbert.
1989 - PNP ousts JLP in elections, returning Michael Manley as prime minister. Manley, however, chooses to continue Seaga's policy course.
Patterson takes over
1992 - Manley retires on health grounds and is succeeded by Percival J Patterson.
1993 - PNP returned to office with an increased majority.
1998 - PNP wins a third term; increase in violent crime reported as the economy deteriorates.
1999 April - Violent protests take place against a 30% increase in fuel prices.
1999 July - Government orders the army to patrol the streets of Kingston following a massive increase in crime.
2001 July - Troops and armoured vehicles move in to restore order in the capital, Kingston, after three days of unrest leave at least 27 people dead.
2002 March - Britain's Privy Council - final court of appeal for Jamaica and other former colonies - decides to halt executions in some Caribbean countries, where capital punishment is supported as a deterrent to violent crime. Prime Minister PJ Patterson criticises the move.
Patterson's third term
2002 October - Prime Minister PJ Patterson's People's National Party wins general elections, ushering in fourth successive term in office for party and third term for incumbent premier.
2003 January - UK introduces visa requirement for Jamaicans entering UK; London says move is intended to tackle illegal immigration.
2004 March - Ousted former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide takes up temporary asylum, prompting an angry response from the new Haitian government.
2004 September - Hurricane Ivan - described as the biggest in living memory - pounds the island, destroying thousands of homes.
2005 September - Prime Minister PJ Patterson says he will step down by April 2006.
Opposition leads a day of protest over price increases for utilities and public transport.
2006 February - Local government minister Portia Simpson Miller is elected as head of the ruling People's National Party. She succeeds PJ Patterson to become Jamaica's first female PM in March.
2006 October - Government survives a confidence vote in parliament over the ruling party's acceptance of a campaign donation from a Netherlands-based oil company.
Labour takes over
2007 September - Jamaica Labour Party wins general elections, Bruce Golding becomes PM.
2008 November - Parliament votes to keep the death penalty, as Jamaica struggles to contain one of the world's highest murder rates.
2010 May-June - Dozens killed in operation to arrest alleged drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke. He is extradited to the US.
2011 October - Andrew Holness takes over as premier, after Golding quits, citing the ''Dudus'' Coke affair.
2011 December - Portia Simpson-Miller from the People's National Party wins a snap general election.
2012 January - On taking up office, Mrs Simpson-Miller says that 50 years after Jamaica gained its independence from Britain, it is time for the country to break with the British monarchy and become a republic.