Humans have inhabited the area that is now France for 1,800,000 years. The cave paintings in Lascaux and numerous megalithic sites are evidence of early human presence.
Around 600 BC the Greeks arrived and established a colony on the Mediterranean. The concept of nationhood in the region emerged with the idea of Gaul, a prosperous country with borders approximately the same as present-day France. Gaul was powerful enough to defeat the Romans in 390 BC, perhaps preserving Gallic identity. Gaul was conquered by Rome in 52 BC and it was divided into Roman provinces, but by that time a unique Gallic culture had already been formed.
Gaul suffered barbarian invasions in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, as Rome weakened and eventually succumbed to the Germanic tribes. During this tumultuous period, Gaul was occupied by numerous tribes. The pagan Franks eventually became dominant. The Frank king Clovis I converted to Catholicism and the Franks embraced Gallo-Roman culture. Clovis established a capital in Paris, but France broke into competing factions when he died. Charlemagne reunited the country in the 9th century, but France again broke into various kingdoms, leaving it vulnerable to Viking raids.
France became more stable under a succession of monarchs from 987 AD to 1791. The unified country was stronger, so it launched on a series of crusades to establish Christian control over the Holy Land. The next centuries saw the Black Death and the French Renaissance. With the discovery of the New World in 1492, a seemingly endless series of wars with England and Spain was about naval and colonial domination. France actively supported the US in the American Revolution and led the Enlightenment.
Then the familiar stories of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Empire and the remarkable blossoming of French Impressionism followed.