History of Europe
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The history of Europe describes the human events that have taken place on the continent of Europe. From prehistoric to modern times. Europe has had a turbulent, cultured, and much documented history.
The history of Europe describes the history of humans inhabiting the European continent since it was first populated in prehistoric times to present, with the first human settlement between 45,000 and 25,000 BC.
Greco-Roman civilizations dominated Classical antiquity, starting with the reappearance of writing in Ancient Greece at around 700 BC, generally considered to be the seminal culture which provided the foundation of Western civilization and immensely influential on language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, science and the arts. Those values were inherited by the Roman Republic established in 509 BC, having expanded from Italy, centered in the Mediterranean Sea, until the Roman Empire reached its greatest extent around the year 150.
After a period of civil wars, emperor Constantine I shifted the capital from Rome to the Greek town Byzantium in 313, then renamed Constantinople (modern Istanbul), having legalized Christianity. In 395 the empire was permanently split in two, with the Western Roman Empire repeatedly attacked during the migration period. Rome was sacked in 410 by the Visigoths, the first of the Germanic peoples migrating into Roman territories. With the last West Roman emperor removed in 476, Southeastern Europe and some parts of the Mediterranean remained under the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) up to the later sixth century.
As Constantinople faltered, Germanic peoples established kingdoms in western territories. The new states shared Latin written language, lingering Roman customs and Christian religion. Much territory was brought under the rule of the Franks by Charlemagne, whom the pope crowned western Emperor in 800, but soon divided while Europe came under attack from Vikings, Muslims from north Africa, and Magyars from Hungary. By the mid-tenth century the threat had diminished, although Vikings remained threatening the British Isles.
In 1054 AD a schism divided Christian Church into Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, but from 1095 a series of religiously-sanctioned military campaigns were waged by coalitions of Latin Christian Europeans, in response to a call from the Byzantine Empire, for help against the Muslim expansion. Spain, southern France, Lithuania and pagan regions were consolidated during this time, with the last large-scale crusade of the Middle Ages fought in 1396. Complex feudal loyalties developed and the aristocracy of new nations become very closely related by intermarriage. The feudal society began to break as Mongol invaded frontier areas and Black Death pandemic killed from 30% to 60% of Europe's population.
Beginning roughly in the 14th century in Florence, and later spreading trough Europe with the development of printing press, a Renaissance of knowledge challenged traditional doctrines in science and theology, with the rediscovery of classical Greek and Roman knowledge. Simultaneously Protestant Reformation under German Martin Luther questioned Papal authority. Henry VIII sundered the English Church, allying in ensuing religious wars between German and Spanish rulers. The Reconquista of Portugal and Spain led to a series oceanic explorations resulting in the age of discovery that established direct links with Africa, the Americas and Asia, while religious wars continued to be fought in Europe, which ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia.
European overseas expansion led to the rise of colonial empires, producing the Columbian Exchange. The combination of resource inflows from the New World and the Industrial Revolution of Great Britain, allowed a new economy based on manufacturing instead of subsistence agriculture. Starting in 1775, British Empire colonies in America revolted to establish a representative government. Political change in continental Europe was spurred by the French Revolution under the motto liberté, egalité, fraternité. The ensuing French leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, conquered and enforced reforms through war up to 1815.
The period between 1815 and 1871 saw a large number of revolutionary attempts and independence wars. In France and the UK, socialist and trade union activity developed. The last vestiges of serfdom were abolished in Russia in 1861 and Balkan nations began to regain independence from the Ottoman Empire. After the Franco-Prussian War, Germany and Italy unified into nation states, and most European states had become constitutional monarchies by 1871.
Rivalry in a chase for empires spread until the outbreak of World War I. War and poverty triggered the Russian Revolution, radically altering the politics of Europe, and the world, with the formation of communist Soviet Union. Hard conditions imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression led to extreme nationalism in Germany, as in Italy, Spain and other countries. The rise of Nazi Germany totalitarian regime leading to a Second World War.
With the victory over fascism, Western Europe formed a free trade area, divided by the former Iron Curtain from the Soviet Union, which had formed a complex of communist police states. With the events of Autumn of Nations in 1989, Europe signed a new treaty of union, which, as of 2007, encompasses 27 European countries with a population of over 400 million people, the most unified Europe since first century Roman Empire.
The earliest appearance of anatomically modern people in Europe has been dated to 35,000 BCE. Some locally developed transitional cultures (Szletian in Central Europe and Châtelperronian in the Southwest) use clearly Upper Paleolithic technologies at very early dates and there are doubts about who were their carriers: H. sapiens, Neanderthal or the intermarried population.
Nevertheless, the definitive advance of these technologies is made by the Aurignacian culture. The origins of this culture can be located in what is now Bulgaria (proto-Aurignacian) and Hungary (first full Aurignacian). By 35,000 BC, the Aurignacian culture and its technology had extended through most of Europe. The last Neanderthals seem to have been forced to retreat during this process to the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula.
Around 24,000 BP two new technologies/cultures appeared in the southwestern region of Europe: Solutrean and Gravettian. The Gravettian technology/culture has been theorized to have come with migrations of people from the Middle East, Anatolia, and the Balkans
Around 19,000 BP, Europe witnesses the appearance of a new culture, known as Magdalenian, possibly rooted in the old Aurignacian one. This culture soon supersedes the Solutrean area and the Gravetian of Central Europe. However, in Mediterranean Iberia, Italy and Eastern Europe, epi-Gravettian cultures continue evolving locally.
Around 12,500 BP, the Würm Glacial age ends. Slowly, through the following millennia, temperatures and sea levels rise, changing the environment of prehistoric people. Nevertheless, Magdalenian culture persists until circa 10,000 BP, when it quickly evolves into two microlithist cultures: Azilian, in Spain and southern France, and Sauveterrian, in northern France and Central Europe.
Evidence of permanent settlement dates from the 7th millennium BCE in the Balkans. The Neolithic reached Central Europe in the 6th millennium BCE and parts of Northern Europe in the 5th and 4th millennium BCE. The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture 5508-2750 BCE was the first big civilization in Europe and among the earliest in the world. Starting from Neolithic we have the civilization of the Camunni in Valle Camonica, Italy, that left to us more than 350,000 petroglyphs, the biggest site in Europe.
Also known as the Copper Age, European Chalcolithic is a time of changes and confusion. The most relevant fact is the infiltration and invasion of large parts of the territory by people originating from Central Asia, considered by mainstream scholars to be the original Indo-Europeans, although there are again several theories in dispute. Other phenomena are the expansion of Megalithism and the appearance of the first significant economic stratification and, related to this, the first known monarchies in the Balkan region. The first well-known literate civilization in Europe was that of the Minoans of the island of Crete and later the Mycenaens in the adjacent parts of Greece, starting at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE.
Though the use of iron was known to the Aegean peoples about 1100 BCE, it didn't reach Central Europe until 800 BCE, giving way to the Hallstatt culture, an Iron Age evolution of the culture of the Urn Fields. Probably as by-product of this technological peculiarity of the Indo-Europeans, soon after, they clearly consolidated their positions in Italy and Iberia, penetrating deep inside those peninsulas (Rome founded in 753 BCE).
The Greeks and the Romans left a legacy in Europe which is evident in current language, thought, law and minds. Ancient Greece was a collection of city-states, out of which the original form of democracy developed. Athens was the most powerful and developed city, and a cradle of learning from the time of Pericles. Citizens forums debated and legislated policy of the state, and from here arose some of the most notable classical philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the last of whom taught Alexander the Great.
The king of the Greek kingdom of Macedon, Alexander's military campaigns spread Hellenistic culture and learning to the banks of the River Indus. But the Roman Republic, strengthened through victory over Carthage in the Punic Wars was rising in the region. Greek wisdom passed into Roman institutions, as Athens itself was absorbed under the banner of the Senate and People of Rome (Senatus Populusque Romanus).
The Romans expanded from Arabia to Britannia. In 44 BCE as it approached its height, its leader Julius Caesar was murdered on suspicion of subverting the Republic, to become dictator. In the ensuing turmoil, Octavian usurped the reins of power and bought the Roman Senate. While proclaiming the rebirth of the Republic, he had ushered in the transfer of the Roman state from a republic to an empire, the Roman Empire.
The Hellenic civilization took the form of a collection of city-states, or poleis (the most important being Athens, Sparta, Thebes, Corinth, and Syracuse), having vastly differing types of government and cultures, including what are unprecedented developments in various governmental forms, philosophy, science, mathematics, politics, sports, theatre and music.
Athens, the most powerful city-state, governed itself with an early form of direct democracy founded by Athenian noble Cleisthenes. In Athenian democracy, the citizens of Athens themselves voted on legislation and executive bills in their own right. From here arose Socrates, considered one of the founders of Western philosophy.
Socrates also created the Socratic Method, or elenchus, a type of pedagogy used to this day in philosophical teaching, in which a series of questions are asked not only to draw individual answers, but to encourage fundamental insight into the issue at hand. Due to this philosophy, Socrates was put on trial and sentenced to death for "corrupting the youth" of Athens, as his discussions conflicted with the established religious beliefs of the time. Plato, a pupil of Socrates and founder of the Platonic Academy, recorded this episode in his writings, and went on to develop his own unique philosophy, Platonism.
The Hellenic city-states founded a large number of colonies on the shores of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean sea, Asia Minor, Sicily and Southern Italy in Magna Graecia, but in the 5th century BCE their eastward expansions led to retaliation from the Achaemenid Persian Empire. In the Greco-Persian Wars, the Hellenic city-states formed an alliance and defeated the Persian Empire at the Battle of Plataea, repelling the Persian invasions.
The Greeks formed the Delian League to continue fighting Persia, but Athens' position as leader of this league led to Sparta forming the rival Peloponnesian League. The two leagues began the Peloponnesian War over leadership of Greece, leaving the Peloponnesian League as the victor. Discontent with the Spartan hegemony that followed led to the Corinthian War where an alliance led by Thebes crushed Sparta at the Battle of Leuctra.
Continued Hellenic infighting made Greek city states easy prey for king Philip II of Macedon, who united all the Greek city states. The campaigns of his son Alexander the Great spread Greek culture into Persia, Egypt and India, but also favoured contact with the older learnings of those countries, opening up a new period of development, known as Hellenism. Alexander died in 323 BCE, splitting his empire into many Hellenistic civilizations.
The rise of Rome
Much of Greek learning was assimilated by the nascent Roman state as it expanded outward from Italy, taking advantage of its enemies' inability to unite: the only challenge to Roman ascent came from the Phoenician colony of Carthage, and its defeat in the end of the 3rd century BCE marked the start of Roman hegemony. First governed by kings, then as a senatorial republic (the Roman Republic), Rome finally became an empire at the end of the 1st century BCE, under Augustus and his authoritarian successors.
The Roman Empire had its centre in the Mediterranean Sea, controlling all the countries on its shores; the northern border was marked by the Rhine and Danube rivers. Under emperor Trajan (2nd century AD) the empire reached its maximum expansion, controlling approximately 5,900,000 km² (2,300,000 sq mi) of land surface, including Britain, Romania and parts of Mesopotamia. The empire brought peace, civilization and an efficient centralized government to the subject territories, but in the 3rd century a series of civil wars undermined its economic and social strength.
In the 4th century, the emperors Diocletian and Constantine were able to slow down the process of decline by splitting the empire into a Western and an Eastern part. Whereas Diocletian severely persecuted Christianity, Constantine declared an official end to state-sponsored persecution of Christians in 313 with the Edict of Milan, thus setting the stage for the empire to later become officially Christian in about 380 (which would cause the Church to become an important institution).
Late Antiquity and Migration period
When Emperor Constantine had reconquered Rome under the banner of the cross in 312, he soon afterwards issued the Edict of Milan in 313, declaring the legality of Christianity in the Roman Empire. In addition, Constantine officially shifted the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to the Greek town of Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople ("City of Constantine").
In 395 Theodosius I, who had made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, would be the last emperor to preside over a united Roman Empire, and from thenceforth, the empire would be split into two halves: the Western Roman Empire centered in Ravenna, and the Eastern Roman Empire (later to be referred to as the Byzantine Empire) centered in Constantinople. The Western Roman Empire was repeatedly attacked by marauding Germanic tribes (see: Migration Period), and in 476 finally fell to the Heruli chieftan Odoacer.
Roman authority in the West completely collapsed and the western provinces soon became a patchwork of Germanic kingdoms. However, the city of Rome, under the guidance of the Roman Catholic Church, still remained a centre of learning, and did much to preserve classic Roman thought in Western Europe. In the meantime, the Roman emperor in Constantinople, Justinian I, had succeeded in codifying all Roman law into the Corpus Juris Civilis (529-534).
For the duration of the 6th century, the Eastern Roman Empire was embroiled in a series of deadly conflicts, first with the Persian Sassanid Empire (see Roman-Persian Wars), followed by the onslaught of the arising Islamic Caliphate (Rashidun and Umayyad). By 650, the provinces of Egypt, Palestine and Syria were lost to the Muslim forces, followed by Hispania and southern Italy in the 7th and 8th centuries (see Muslim conquests).
In Western Europe, a political structure was emerging: in the power vacuum left in the wake of Rome's collapse, localised hierarchies were based on the bond of common people to the land on which they worked. Tithes were paid to the lord of the land, and the lord owed duties to the regional prince. The tithes were used to pay for the state and wars.
This was the feudal system, in which new princes and kings arose, the greatest of which was the Frank ruler Charlemagne. In 800, Charlemagne, reinforced by his massive territorial conquests, was crowned Emperor of the Romans (Imperator Romanorum) by Pope Leo III, effectively solidifying his power in western Europe.
Charlemagne's reign marked the beginning of a new Germanic Roman Empire in the west, the Holy Roman Empire. Outside his borders, new forces were gathering. The Kievan Rus' were marking out their territory, a Great Moravia was growing, while the Angles and the Saxons were securing their borders.
Decline of the Roman Empire
The Roman Empire had been repeatedly attacked by invading armies from Northern Europe and in 476, Rome finally fell. Romulus Augustus, the last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire surrendered to the Germanic King Odoacer. British historian Edward Gibbon argued in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776) that the Romans had become decadent, they had lost civic virtue.
Gibbon said that the adoption of Christianity, meant belief in a better life after death, and therefore made people lazy and indifferent to the present. "From the eighteenth century onward", Glen W. Bowersock has remarked, "we have been obsessed with the fall: it has been valued as an archetype for every perceived decline, and, hence, as a symbol for our own fears." It remains one of the greatest historical questions, and has a tradition rich in scholarly interest.
Some other notable dates are the Battle of Adrianople in 378, the death of Theodosius I in 395 (the last time the Roman Empire was politically unified), the crossing of the Rhine in 406 by Germanic tribes after the withdrawal of the legions in order to defend Italy against Alaric I, the death of Stilicho in 408, followed by the disintegration of the western legions, the death of Justinian I, the last Roman Emperor who tried to reconquer the west, in 565, and the coming of Islam after 632. Many scholars maintain that rather than a "fall", the changes can more accurately be described as a complex transformation. Over time many theories have been proposed on why the Empire fell, or whether indeed it fell at all.
The Middle Ages are commonly dated from the fall of the Western Roman Empire (or by some scholars, before that) in the 5th century to the beginning of the Early Modern Period in the 16th century, marked by the rise of nation-states, the division of Western Christianity in the Reformation, the rise of humanism in the Italian Renaissance, and the beginnings of European overseas expansion which allowed for the Columbian Exchange.
The Middle Ages witnessed the first sustained urbanization of northern and western Europe. Many modern European states owe their origins to events unfolding in the Middle Ages; present European political boundaries are, in many regards, the result of the military and dynastic achievements during this tumultuous period.
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages span roughly five centuries from 500 to 1000. During this period, most of Europe was Christianized, and the "Dark Ages" following the fall of Rome took place. The establishment of the Frankish Empire by the 9th century led to the Carolingian Renaissance on the continent. Europe still remained a backwater compared to the rising Muslim world, with its vast network of caravan trade, or India with its Golden Period under the Gupta Empire and the Pratiharas or China, at this time the world's most populous empire under the Song Dynasty. By AD 1000, Constantinople had a population of about 300,000, but Rome had a mere 35,000 and Paris 20,000. Islam had over a dozen major cities stretching from Córdoba, Spain, at this time the world's largest city with 450,000 inhabitants, to central Asia.
A Byzantine light
Many consider Emperor Constantine I (reigned 306–337) to be the first "Byzantine Emperor". It was he who moved the imperial capital in 324 from Nicomedia to Byzantium, refounded as Constantinople, or Nova Roma ("New Rome"). The city of Rome itself had not served as the capital since the reign of Diocletian. Some date the beginnings of the Empire to the reign of Theodosius I (379–395) and Christianity's official supplanting of the pagan Roman religion, or following his death in 395, when the political division between East and West became permanent. Others place it yet later in 476, when Romulus Augustulus, traditionally considered the last western Emperor, was deposed, thus leaving sole imperial authority with the emperor in the Greek East. Others point to the reorganization of the empire in the time of Heraclius (ca. 620) when Latin titles and usages were officially replaced with Greek versions. In any case, the changeover was gradual and by 330, when Constantine inaugurated his new capital, the process of hellenization and increasing Christianization was already under way. The Empire is generally considered to have ended after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The Plague of Justinian was a pandemic that afflicted the Byzantine Empire, including its capital Constantinople, in the years 541–542. It is estimated that the Plague of Justinian killed as many as 100 million people across the world. It caused Europe's population to drop by around 50% between 541 and 700. It also may have contributed to the success of the Arab conquests.
The Holy Roman Empire emerged around 800, as Charlemagne, king of the Franks, was crowned by the pope as emperor. His empire based in modern France, the Low Countries and Germany expanded into modern Hungary, Italy, Bohemia, Lower Saxony and Spain. He and his father received substantial help from an alliance with the Pope, who wanted help against the Lombards. The pope was officially a vassal of the Byzantine Empire, but the Byzantine emperor did (could do) nothing against the Lombards.
To the east, Bulgaria was established in 681 and became the first Slavic country. The powerful Bulgarian Empire was the main rival of Byzantium for control of the Balkans for centuries and from the 9th century became the cultural center of Slavic Europe. Two states, Great Moravia and Kievan Rus', emerged among the Western and Eastern Slavs respectively in the 9th century. In the late 9th century and 10th century, northern and western Europe felt the burgeoning power and influence of the Vikings who raided, traded, conquered and settled swiftly and efficiently with their advanced sea-going vessels such as the longships. The Hungarians pillaged mainland Europe, the Pechenegs raided eastern Europe and the Arabs the south. In the 10th century independent kingdoms were established in Central Europe, for example, Poland and Kingdom of Hungary. Hungarians had stopped their pillaging campaigns; prominent also included Croatia and Serbia in the Balkans. The subsequent period, ending around 1000, saw the further growth of feudalism, which weakened the Holy Roman Empire.
High Middle Ages
The High Middle Ages of the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries show a rapidly increasing population of Europe, which caused great social and political change from the preceding era. By 1250, the robust population increase greatly benefited the economy, reaching levels it would not see again in some areas until the 19th century. From about the year 1000 onwards, Western Europe saw the last of the barbarian invasions and became more politically organized. The Vikings had settled in the British Isles, France and elsewhere, whilst Norse Christian kingdoms were developing in their Scandinavian homelands. The Magyars had ceased their expansion in the 10th century, and by the year 1000, the Roman Catholic Apostolic Kingdom of Hungary was recognized in central Europe. With the brief exception of the Mongol invasions, major barbarian incursions ceased.
In the 11th century, populations north of the Alps began to settle new lands, some of which had reverted to wilderness after the end of the Roman Empire. In what is known as the "great clearances," vast forests and marshes of Europe were cleared and cultivated. At the same time settlements moved beyond the traditional boundaries of the Frankish Empire to new frontiers in eastern Europe, beyond the Elbe River, tripling the size of Germany in the process. Crusaders founded European colonies in the Levant, the majority of the Iberian Peninsula was conquered from the Moors, and the Normans colonized southern Italy, all part of the major population increase and resettlement pattern.
The High Middle Ages produced many different forms of intellectual, spiritual and artistic works. This age saw the rise of modern nation-states in Western Europe and the ascent of the great Italian city-states. The still-powerful Roman Church called armies from across Europe to a series of Crusades against the Seljuk Turks, who occupied the Holy Land. The rediscovery of the works of Aristotle led Thomas Aquinas and other thinkers to develop the philosophy of Scholasticism. In architecture, many of the most notable Gothic cathedrals were built or completed during this era.
A divided church
The Great Schism between the Western and Eastern Christian Churches was sparked in 1054 by Pope Leo IX asserting authority over three of the seats in the Pentarchy, in Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria. Since the mid eighth century, the Byzantine Empire's borders had been shrinking in the face of Islamic expansion. Antioch had been wrested back into Byzantine control by 1045, but the resurgent power of the Roman successors in the West claimed a right and a duty for the lost seats in Asia and Africa. Pope Leo sparked a further dispute by defending the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed which the West had adopted customarily. Eastern Orthodox today state that the 28th Canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council explicitly proclaimed the equality of the Bishops of Rome and Constantinople. The Orthodox also state that the Bishop of Rome has authority only over his own diocese and does not have any authority outside his diocese. There were other less significant catalysts for the Schism however, including variance over liturgical. The Schism of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox followed centuries of estrangement between Latin and Greek worlds.
Further changes were set afoot with a redivision of power in Europe. William the Conqueror, a Duke of Normandy invaded England in 1066. The Norman Conquest was a pivotal event in English history for several reasons. This linked England more closely with continental Europe through the introduction of a Norman aristocracy, thereby lessening Scandinavian influence. It created one of the most powerful monarchies in Europe and engendered a sophisticated governmental system. Being based on an island, moreover, England was to develop a powerful navy and trade relationships that would come to constitute a vast part of the world including India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many key naval strategic points like Bermuda, Suez, Hong Kong and especially Gibraltar. These strategic advantages grew and were to prove decisive until after World War II.
After the East-West Schism, Western Christianity was adopted by newly created kingdoms of Central Europe: Poland, Hungary and Bohemia. The Roman Catholic Church developed as a major power, leading to conflicts between the Pope and Emperor. In 1129 AD the Roman Catholic Church established the Inquisition to make Western Europeans Roman Catholic by force. The Inquisition punished those who practised heresy (heretics) to make them repent. If they could not do so, the penalty was death. During this time many Lords and Nobles ruled the church. The Monks of Cluny worked hard to establish a church where there were no Lords or Nobles ruling it. They succeeded. Pope Gregory VII continued the work of the monks with 2 main goals, to rid the church of control by kings and nobles and to increase the power of the pope. The area of the Roman Catholic Church expanded enormously due to conversions of pagan kings (Scandinavia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary), Christian reconquista of Al-Andalus, and crusades. Most of Europe was Roman Catholic in the 15th century.
Early signs of the rebirth of civilization in western Europe began to appear in the 11th century as trade started again in Italy, leading to the economic and cultural growth of independent city states such as Venice and Florence; at the same time, nation-states began to take form in places such as France, England, Spain, and Portugal, although the process of their formation (usually marked by rivalry between the monarchy, the aristocratic feudal lords and the church) actually took several centuries. These new nation-states began writing in their own cultural vernaculars, instead of the traditional Latin. Notable figures of this movement would include Dante Alighieri and Christine de Pisan (born Christina da Pizzano), the former writing in Italian, and the latter although an Italian (Venice) relocated to France and wrote in French.(See Reconquista for the latter two countries.) On the other hand, the Holy Roman Empire, essentially based in Germany and Italy, further fragmented into a myriad of feudal principalities or small city states, whose subjection to the emperor was only formal.
The 13th and 14th century, when the Mongol Empire came to power, is often called the Age of the Mongols. Mongol armies expanded westward under the command of Batu Khan. Their western conquests included almost all of Russia (save Novgorod, which became a vassal), Kipchak lands, Hungary, and Poland (Which had remained sovereign state). Mongolian records indicate that Batu Khan was planning a complete conquest of the remaining European powers, beginning with a winter attack on Austria, Italy and Germany, when he was recalled to Mongolia upon the death of Great Khan Ögedei. Most historians believe only his death prevented the complete conquest of EuropeTemplate:Citation needed. In Russia, the Mongols of the Golden Horde ruled for almost 250 years.
Late Middle Ages
The Late Middle Ages span the 14th and 15th centuries. Around 1300, centuries of European prosperity and growth came to a halt. A series of famines and plagues, such as the Great Famine of 1315–1317 and the Black Death, reduced the population by as much as half according to some estimates. Along with depopulation came social unrest and endemic warfare. France and England experienced serious peasant risings: the Jacquerie, the Peasants' Revolt, and the Hundred Years' War. To add to the many problems of the period, the unity of the Catholic Church was shattered by the Great Schism. Collectively these events are sometimes called the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages. Despite these crises, the 14th century was also a time of great progress within the arts and sciences. A renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman texts led to what has later been termed the Italian Renaissance. Toward the end of the period, an era of discovery began. The growth of the Ottoman Empire, culminating in the fall of Constantinople in 1453, cut off trading possibilities with the east. Europeans were forced to discover new trading routes, as happened with Columbus’s travel to the Americas in 1492, and Vasco da Gama’s circumnavigation of India and Africa in 1498.
One of the largest catastrophes to have hit Europe was the Black Death. There were numerous outbreaks, but the most severe was in the mid-1300s and is estimated to have killed a third of Europe's population.
Beginning in the 14th century, the Baltic Sea became one of the most important trade routes. The Hanseatic League, an alliance of trading cities, facilitated the absorption of vast areas of Poland, Lithuania and other Baltic countries into the economy of Europe. This fed the growth of powerful states in Eastern Europe including Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, and Muscovy. The conventional end of the Middle Ages is usually associated with the fall of the city Constantinople and of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The Turks made the city the capital of their Ottoman Empire, which lasted until 1922 and included Egypt, Syria and most of the Balkans. The Ottoman wars in Europe, also sometimes referred as the Turkish wars, marked an essential part of the history of southeastern Europe.
- Hanseatic League, Marco Polo, Lex Mercatoria, History of trade
- Western Schism (1378-1417)
- Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc
Early Modern Europe
The Early Modern period spans the centuries between the Middle Ages and the Industrial Revolution, roughly from 1500 to 1800, or from the discovery of the New World in 1492 to the French Revolution in 1789. The period is characterized by the rise to importance of science and increasingly rapid technological progress, secularized civic politics and the nation state. Capitalist economies began their rise, beginning in northern Italian republics such as Genoa. The early modern period also saw the rise and dominance of the economic theory of mercantilism. As such, the early modern period represents the decline and eventual disappearance, in much of the European sphere, of feudalism, serfdom and the power of the Catholic Church. The period includes the Protestant Reformation, the disastrous Thirty Years' War, the European colonization of the Americas and the European witch-hunts.
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that profoundly affected European intellectual life in the early modern period. Beginning in Italy, and spreading to the north and west during a cultural lag of some two and a half centuries, its influence affected literature, philosophy, art, politics, science, history, religion, and other aspects of intellectual enquiry.
The Italian Petrarch (Francesco di Petracco), deemed the first full-blooded Humanist, wrote in the 1330s: "I am alive now, yet I would rather have been born in another time." He was enthusiastic about Greek and Roman antiquity. In the 15th and 16th centuries the continuing enthusiasm for the ancients was reinforced by the feeling that the inherited culture was dissolving and here was a storehouse of ideas and attitudes with which to rebuild. Matteo Palmieri wrote in the 1430s: "Now indeed may every thoughtful spirit thank god that it has been permitted to him to be born in a new age." The renaissance was born: a new age where learning was very important.
The Renaissance was inspired by the growth in study of Latin and Greek texts and the admiration of the Greco-Roman era as a golden age. This prompted many artists and writers to begin drawing from Roman and Greek examples for their works, but there was also much innovation in this period, especially by multi-faceted artists such as Leonardo da Vinci. Many Roman and Greek texts were already in existence in the European Middle Ages. The monks had copied and recopied the old texts and housed them for a millennium, but they had regarded them in another light. Many more flowed in with the migration of Greek scholars and texts to Italy following the Fall of Constantinople while other Greek and Roman texts came from Islamic sources, who had inherited the ancient Greek and Roman texts and knowledge through conquest, even attempting to improve upon some of them.Template:Citation needed With the usual pride of advanced thinkers, the Humanists saw their repossession of a great past as a Renaissance—a rebirth of civilization itself.
Important political precedents were also set in this period. Niccolò Machiavelli's political writing in The Prince influenced later absolutism and real-politik. Also important were the many patrons who ruled states and used the artistry of the Renaissance as a sign of their power.
In all, the Renaissance could be viewed as an attempt by intellectuals to study and improve the secular and worldly, both through the revival of ideas from antiquity, and through novel approaches to thought—the immediate past being too "Gothic" in language, thought and sensibility.
During this period corruption in the Catholic Church led to a sharp backlash in the Protestant Reformation. It gained many followers especially among princes and kings seeking a stronger state by ending the influence of the Catholic Church. Figures other than Martin Luther began to emerge as well like John Calvin whose Calvinism had influence in many countries and King Henry VIII of England who broke away from the Catholic Church in England and set up the Anglican Church (contrary to popular belief, this is only half true; his daughter Queen Elizabeth finished the organization of the church). These religious divisions brought on a wave of wars inspired and driven by religion but also by the ambitious monarchs in Western Europe who were becoming more centralized and powerful.
The Protestant Reformation also led to a strong reform movement in the Catholic Church called the Counter-Reformation, which aimed to reduce corruption as well as to improve and strengthen Catholic Dogma. An important group in the Catholic Church who emerged from this movement were the Jesuits who helped keep Eastern Europe within the Catholic fold. Still, the Catholic Church was somewhat weakened by the Reformation, portions of Europe were no longer under its sway and kings in the remaining Catholic countries began to take control of the Church institutions within their kingdoms.
Unlike Western Europe, the countries of Central Europe, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Hungary, were more tolerant. While still enforcing the predominance of Catholicism they continued to allow the large religious minorities to maintain their faiths. Central Europe became divided between Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and Jews. Another important development in this period was the growth of pan-European sentiments. Eméric Crucé (1623) came up with the idea of the European Council, intended to end wars in Europe; attempts to create lasting peace were no success, although all European countries (except the Russian and Ottoman Empires, regarded as foreign) agreed to make peace in 1518 at the Treaty of London. Many wars broke out again in a few years. The Reformation also made European peace impossible for many centuries.
Another development was the idea of European superiority. The ideal of civilization was taken over from the ancient Greeks and Romans: discipline, education and living in the city were required to make people civilized; Europeans and non-Europeans were judged for their civility, and Europe regarded itself as superior to other continents. There was a movement by some such as Montaigne that regarded the non-Europeans as a better, more natural and primitive people. Post services were founded all over Europe, which allowed a humanistic interconnected network of intellectuals across Europe, despite religious divisions. However, the Roman Catholic Church banned many leading scientific works; this led to an intellectual advantage for Protestant countries, where the banning of books was regionally organized. Francis Bacon and other advocates of science tried to create unity in Europe by focusing on the unity in nature.1 In the 15th century, at the end of the Middle Ages, powerful sovereign states were appearing, built by the New Monarchs who were centralizing power in France, England, and Spain. On the other hand the Parliament in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth grew in power, taking legislative rights from the Polish king. The new state power was contested by parliaments in other countries especially England. New kinds of states emerged which were cooperations between territorial rulers, cities, farmer republics and knights.
Exploration and Conquest
The numerous wars did not prevent European states from exploring and conquering wide portions of the world, from Africa to Asia and the newly discovered Americas. In the 15th century, Portugal led the way in geographical exploration along the coast of Africa in search for a maritime route to India, followed by Spain in the early 16th century, dividing their exploration of world according to the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494. They were the first states to set up colonies in America and trading posts (factories) along the shores of Africa and Asia, establishing the first direct European diplomatic contacts with Southeast Asian states in 1511, China in 1513 and Japan in 1542. In 1552, Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible conquered two major Tatar khanates, Kazan and Astrakhan, and the Yermak's voyage of 1580 led to the annexation of Siberia into Russia. Oceanic explorations were soon followed by France, England and the Netherlands, who explored the Portuguese and Spanish trade routes into the Pacific Ocean, reaching Australia in 1606 and New Zealand in 1642.
Colonial expansion continued in the following centuries (with some setbacks, such as successful wars of independence in the British American colonies and then later Mexico, Brazil, and others surrounding the Napoleonic Wars). Spain had control of part of North America and a great deal of Central America and South America, the Caribbean and the Philippines; Britain took the whole of Australia and New Zealand, most of India, and large parts of Africa and North America; France held parts of Canada and India (nearly all of which was lost to Britain in 1763), Indochina, large parts of Africa and Caribbean islands; the Netherlands gained the East Indies (now Indonesia) and islands in the Caribbean; Portugal obtained Brazil and several territories in Africa and Asia; and later, powers such as Germany, Belgium, Italy and Russia acquired further colonies.
This expansion helped the economy of the countries owning them. Trade flourished, because of the minor stability of the empires. By the late 16th century American silver accounted for one-fifth of the Spain's total budget. The European countries fought wars that were largely paid for by the money coming in from the colonies. Nevertheless, the profits of the slave trade and of plantations of the West Indies, then the most profitable of all the British colonies, amounted to less than 5% of the British Empire's economy (but was generally more profitable) at the time of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century.
Throughout the early part of this period, capitalism (through Mercantilism) was replacing feudalism as the principal form of economic organization, at least in the western half of Europe. The expanding colonial frontiers resulted in a Commercial Revolution. The period is noted for the rise of modern science and the application of its findings to technological improvements, which culminated in the Industrial Revolution. Iberian (Spain and Portugal) exploits of the New World, which started with Christopher Columbus's venture westward in search of a quicker trade route to the East Indies in 1492, was soon challenged by English and French exploits in North America. New forms of trade and expanding horizons made new forms of government, law and economics necessary.
The Reformation had profound effects on the unity of Europe. Not only were nations divided one from another by their religious orientation, but some states were torn apart internally by religious strife, avidly fostered by their external enemies. France suffered this fate in the 16th century in the series of conflicts known as the French Wars of Religion, which ended in the triumph of the Bourbon Dynasty. England avoided this fate for a while and settled down under Elizabeth to a moderate Anglicanism. Much of modern day Germany was made up of numerous small sovereign states under the theoretical framework of the Holy Roman Empire, which was further divided along internally drawn sectarian lines. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is notable in this time for its religious indifference and a general immunity to the horrors of European religious strife.
The Thirty Years' War was fought between 1618 and 1648, principally on the territory of today's Germany, and involved most of the major European powers. Beginning as a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Bohemia, it gradually developed into a general war involving much of Europe, for reasons not necessarily related to religion. The major impact of the war, in which mercenary armies were extensively used, was the devastation of entire regions scavenged bare by the foraging armies. Episodes of widespread famine and disease devastated the population of the German states and, to a lesser extent, the Low Countries, Bohemia and Italy, while bankrupting many of the regional powers involved. Between one-fourth and one-third of the German population perished from direct military causes or from illness and starvation related to the war. The war lasted for thirty years, but the conflicts that triggered it continued unresolved for a much longer time.
After the Peace of Westphalia which ended the war in favour of nations deciding their own religious allegiance, Absolutism became the norm of the continent, while parts of Europe experimented with constitutions foreshadowed by the English Civil War and particularly the Glorious Revolution. European military conflict did not cease, but had less disruptive effects on the lives of Europeans. In the advanced northwest, the Enlightenment gave a philosophical underpinning to the new outlook, and the continued spread of literacy, made possible by the printing press, created new secular forces in thought. Again, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth would be an exception to this rule, with its unique quasi-democratic Golden Freedom.
Eastern Europe was an arena of conflict for domination between Sweden, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire. This period saw a gradual decline of these three powers which were eventually replaced by new enlightened absolutist monarchies, Russia, Prussia and Austria. By the turn of the 19th century they became new powers, having divided Poland between them, with Sweden and Turkey having experienced substantial territorial losses to Russia and Austria respectively. Numerous Polish Jews emigrated to Western Europe, founding Jewish communities in places where they had been expelled from during the Middle Ages.
From revolution to imperialism
The "long nineteenth century", from 1789 to 1914 sees the drastic social, political and economic changes initiated by the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, and following the re-organization of the political map of Europe at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the rise of Nationalism, the rise of the Russian Empire and the peak of the British Empire, paralleled by the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Finally, the rise of the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire initiated the course of events that culminated in the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
The Industrial Revolution was a period in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, and transport affected socioeconomic and cultural conditions in Britain and subsequently spread throughout Europe and North America and eventually the world, a process that continues as industrialisation. In the later part of the 1700s the manual labour based economy of the Kingdom of Great Britain began to be replaced by one dominated by industry and the manufacture of machinery. It started with the mechanisation of the textile industries, the development of iron-making techniques and the increased use of refined coal. Once started it spread. Trade expansion was enabled by the introduction of canals, improved roads and railways. The introduction of steam power (fuelled primarily by coal) and powered machinery (mainly in textile manufacturing) underpinned the dramatic increases in production capacity. The development of all-metal machine tools in the first two decades of the 19th century facilitated the manufacture of more production machines for manufacturing in other industries. The effects spread throughout Western Europe and North America during the 19th century, eventually affecting most of the world. The impact of this change on society was enormous.
French intervention in the American Revolutionary War had bankrupted the state. After repeated failed attempts at financial reform, Louis XVI was persuaded to convene the Estates-General, a representative body of the country made up of three estates: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. The members of the Estates-General assembled in the Palace of Versailles in May 1789, but the debate as to which voting system should be used soon became an impasse. Come June, the third estate, joined by members of the other two, declared itself to be a National Assembly and swore an oath not to dissolve until France had a constitution and created, in July, the National Constituent Assembly. At the same time the people of Paris revolted, famously storming the Bastille prison on 14 July 1789.
At the time the assembly wanted to create a constitutional monarchy, and over the following two years passed various laws including the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the abolition of feudalism, and a fundamental change in the relationship between France and Rome. At first the king agreed with these changes and enjoyed reasonable popularity with the people, but as anti-royalism increased along with threat of foreign invasion, the king, stripped of his power, decided to flee along with his family. He was recognized and brought back to Paris. On 12 January 1793, having been convicted of treason, he was executed.
On 20 September 1792 the National Convention abolished the monarchy and declared France a republic. Due to the emergency of war the National Convention created the Committee of Public Safety, controlled by Maximilien Robespierre of the Jacobin Club, to act as the country's executive. Under Robespierre the committee initiated the Reign of Terror, during which up to 40,000 people were executed in Paris, mainly nobles, and those convicted by the Revolutionary Tribunal, often on the flimsiest of evidence. Elsewhere in the country, counter-revolutionary insurrections were brutally suppressed. The regime was overthrown in the coup of 9 Thermidor (27 July 1794) and Robespierre was executed. The regime which followed ended the Terror and relaxed Robespierre's more extreme policies.
Napoleon Bonaparte was France's most successful general in the Revolutionary wars, having conquered large parts of Italy and forced the Austrians to sue for peace. In 1799 he returned from Egypt and on 18 Brumaire (9 November) overthrew the government, replacing it with the Consulate, in which he was First Consul. On 2 December 1804, after a failed assassination plot, he crowned himself Emperor. In 1805, Napoleon planned to invade Britain, but a renewed British alliance with Russia and Austria (Third Coalition), forced him to turn his attention towards the continent, while at the same time failure to lure the superior British fleet away from the English Channel, ending in a decisive French defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October put an end to hopes of an invasion of Britain. On 2 December 1805, Napoleon defeated a numerically superior Austro-Russian army at Austerlitz, forcing Austria's withdrawal from the coalition (see Treaty of Pressburg) and dissolving the Holy Roman Empire. In 1806, a Fourth Coalition was set up, on 14 October Napoleon defeated the Prussians at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, marched through Germany and defeated the Russians on 14 June 1807 at Friedland, the Treaties of Tilsit divided Europe between France and Russia and created the Duchy of Warsaw.
On 12 June 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia with a Grande Armée of nearly 700,000 troops. After the measured victories at Smolensk and Borodino Napoleon occupied Moscow, only to find it burned by the retreating Russian Army, he was forced to withdraw, on the march back his army was harassed by Cossacks, and suffered disease and starvation. Only 20,000 of his men survived the campaign. By 1813 the tide had begun to turn from Napoleon, having been defeated by a seven nation army at the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813. He was forced to abdicate after the Six Days Campaign and the occupation of Paris, under the Treaty of Fontainebleau he was exiled to the Island of Elba. He returned to France on 1 March 1815 (see Hundred Days), raised an army, but was comprehensively defeated by a British and Prussian force at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815.
After the defeat of revolutionary France, the other great powers tried to restore the situation which existed before 1789. In 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, the major powers of Europe managed to produce a peaceful balance of power among the empires after the Napoleonic wars (despite the occurrence of internal revolutionary movements) under the Metternich system. However, their efforts were unable to stop the spread of revolutionary movements: the middle classes had been deeply influenced by the ideals of democracy of the French revolution, the Industrial Revolution brought important economical and social changes, the lower classes started to be influenced by socialist, communist and anarchistic ideas (especially those summarized by Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto), and the preference of the new capitalists became Liberalism. Further instability came from the formation of several nationalist movements (in Germany, Italy, Poland, Hungary etc.), seeking national unification and/or liberation from foreign rule. As a result, the period between 1815 and 1871 saw a large number of revolutionary attempts and independence wars. Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon I, returned from exile in the United Kingdom in 1848 to be elected to the French parliament, and then as "Prince President" in a coup d'état elected himself Emperor, a move approved later by a large majority of the French electorate. He helped in the unification of Italy by fighting the Austrian Empire and fought the Crimean War with the United Kingdom and the Ottoman Empire against Russia. His empire collapsed after an embarrassing defeat for France at the hands of Prussia in which he was captured. France then became a weak republic which refused to negotiate and was finished by Prussia in a few months. In Versailles, King Wilhelm I of Prussia was proclaimed Emperor of Germany, and modern Germany was born. Even though the revolutionaries were often defeated, most European states had become constitutional (rather than absolute) monarchies by 1871, and Germany and Italy had developed into nation states. The 19th century also saw the British Empire emerge as the world's first global power due in a large part to the Industrial Revolution and victory in the Napoleonic Wars.
Colonial empires were the product of the European Age of Exploration in the 15th century. The initial impulse behind these dispersed maritime empires and those that followed was trade, driven by the new ideas and the capitalism that grew out of the European Renaissance. Agreements were also done to divide the world. Portugal began establishing the first global trade network and empire from Brazil, in South America, to several colonies in Africa (namely Portuguese Guinea, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Angola and Mozambique), in Portuguese India (Bombay and Goa), in China (Macau), and Oceania (East Timor), amongst many other smaller or short-lived possessions. During its Siglo de Oro, the Spanish Empire had possession of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Italy, parts of Germany, parts of France, and many colonies in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. With the conquest of inland Mexico, Peru, and the Philippines in the 16th century, Spain established overseas dominions on a scale and world distribution that had never been approached by its predecessors (the Mongol Empire had been larger but was restricted to Eurasia). Possessions in Europe, Africa, the Atlantic Ocean, the Americas, the Pacific Ocean, and the Far East qualified the Spanish Empire. From 1580 to 1640 the Portuguese Empire and the Spanish Empire were conjoined in a personal union of its Habsburg monarchs, during the period of the Iberian Union, though the empires continued to be administered separately. Subsequent colonial empires included the French, Dutch, and British empires. The latter, consolidated during the period of British maritime hegemony in the 19th century, became the largest empire in history because of the improved transportation technologies of the time. At its height, the British Empire covered a quarter of the Earth's land area and comprised a quarter of its population. By the 1860s, the Russian Empire — continued as the Soviet Union — became the largest contiguous state in the world, and the latter's main successor, Russia, continues to be so to this day. Despite having "lost" its Soviet periphery, Russia has 12 time zones, stretching slightly over half the world's longitude.
The peace would only last until the Ottoman Empire had declined enough to become a target for the others. (See History of the Balkans.) This instigated the Crimean War in 1854 and began a tenser period of minor clashes among the globe-spanning empires of Europe that set the stage for the First World War. It changed a third time with the end of the various wars that turned the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Kingdom of Prussia into the Italian and German nation-states, significantly changing the balance of power in Europe. From 1870, the Bismarckian hegemony on Europe put France in a critical situation. It slowly rebuilt its relationships, seeking alliances with Russia and Britain, to control the growing power of Germany. In this way, two opposing sides formed in Europe, improving their military forces and alliances year-by-year.
World Wars and Cold War
The "short twentieth century", from 1914 to 1991, sees World War I, World War II and the Cold War, including the rise and fall of Nazi Germany and of the Soviet Union. These disastrous events spell the end of the European Colonial empires and initiated widespread decolonization. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 to 1991 leaves the United States as the world's single superpower and triggers the fall of the Iron Curtain, the reunification of Germany and an accelerated process of a European integration that is ongoing.
After the relative peace of most of the 19th century, the rivalry between European powers exploded in 1914, when World War I started. Over 60 million European soldiers were mobilized from 1914 – 1918. On one side were Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria (the Central Powers/Triple Alliance), while on the other side stood Serbia and the Triple Entente - the loose coalition of France, the United Kingdom and Russia, which were joined by Italy in 1915 and by the United States in 1917. Despite the defeat of Russia in 1917 and the collapse of the Eastern Front (the war was one of the major causes of the Russian Revolution, leading to the formation of the communist Soviet Union), the Entente finally prevailed in the autumn of 1918.
In the Treaty of Versailles (1919) the winners imposed relatively hard conditions on Germany and recognized the new states (such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, Yugoslavia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) created in central Europe out of the defunct German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, supposedly out of national self-determination. Most of those countries engaged in local wars, the largest of them being the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921). In the following decades, fear of communism and the Great Depression of 1929-1933 led to the rise of extreme nationalist governmentsTemplate:Ndash sometimes loosely grouped under the category of fascismTemplate:Ndash in Italy (1922), Germany (1933), Spain (after a civil war ending in 1939) and other countries such as Hungary (1944).
After allying with Mussolini's Italy in the "Pact of Steel" and signing a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, the German dictator Adolf Hitler started World War II on 1 September 1939 attacking Poland and following a military build-up throughout the late 1930s. After initial successes (mainly the conquest of western Poland, much of Scandinavia, France and the Balkans before 1941) the Axis powers began to over-extend themselves in 1941. Hitler's ideological foes were the Communists in Russia but because of the German failure to defeat the United Kingdom and the Italian failures in North Africa and the Mediterranean the Axis forces were split between garrisoning western Europe and Scandinavia and attacking Africa. Thus, the attack on the Soviet Union (which together with Germany had partitioned central Europe in 1939-1940) was not pressed with sufficient strength. Despite initial successes, the German army was stopped close to Moscow in December 1941.
Over the next year the tide was turned and the Germans started to suffer a series of defeats, for example in the siege of Stalingrad and at Kursk. Meanwhile, Japan (allied to Germany and Italy since September 1940) attacked the British in Southeast Asia and the United States in Hawaii on 7 December 1941; Germany then completed its over-extension by declaring war on the United States. War raged between the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allied Forces (British Empire, Soviet Union, and the United States). Allied Forces won in North Africa, invaded Italy in 1943, and invaded occupied France in 1944. In the spring of 1945 Germany itself was invaded from the east by the Soviet Union and from the west by the other Allies respectively; Hitler committed suicide and Germany surrendered in early May ending the war in Europe.
This period was marked also by industrialized and planned genocide. The Nazis began the systematic genocide of over 11 million people, including the majority of the Jews of Europe and Gypsies as well as millions of Polish and Soviet Slavs. The Soviet system of forced labour, expulsions and great hunger in Ukraine had a similar death toll. During and after the war millions of civilians were affected by forced population transfers.
World War I and especially World War II ended the pre-eminent position of western Europe. The map of Europe was redrawn at the Yalta Conference and divided as it became the principal zone of contention in the Cold War between the two power blocs, the Western countries and the Eastern bloc. The United States and Western Europe (the United Kingdom, France, Italy, The Netherlands, West Germany, etc.) established the NATO alliance as a protection against a possible Soviet invasion. Later, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the GDR, Hungary, Poland, and Romania) established the Warsaw Pact as a protection against a possible U.S. invasion.
Meanwhile, Western Europe slowly began a process of political and economic integration, desiring to unite Europe and prevent another war. This process resulted eventually in the development of organizations such as the European Union and the Council of Europe. The Solidarność movement in the 1980s in weakened the Communist government in Poland. The Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev initiated perestroika and glasnost, which weakened Soviet influence in Eastern Europe. Soviet-supported governments collapsed, and by 1990 the Federal Republic of Germany had absorbed the GDR. In 1991 the Soviet Union itself collapsed, splitting into fifteen states, with Russia taking the Soviet Union's seat on the United Nations Security Council. The most violent breakup happened in Yugoslavia, in the Balkans. Four (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia) out of six Yugoslav republics declared independence and for most of them a violent war ensued, in some parts lasting until 1995. In 2006 Montenegro seceded and became an independent state, followed by Kosovo, formerly an autonomous province of Serbia, in 2008 (though unrecognised by most countries of the world). In the post-Cold War era, NATO and the EU have been gradually admitting most of the former members of the Warsaw Pact.
In 1992, the Treaty on European Union was signed by members of the European Union (EU). This transformed the 'European Project' from being the Economic Community with certain political aspects, into the Union of deeper cooperation.
A common currency for most EU member states, the euro, was established electronically in 1999, officially tying all the currencies of each participating nation to each other. The new currency was put into circulation in 2002 and the old currencies were phased out. Only three countries of the then 15 member states decided not to join the euro (The United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden). In 2004 the EU undertook a major eastward enlargement, admitting 10 new member states (eight of which were former communist states). Two more, Bulgaria and Romania, joined in 2007, establishing a union of 27 nations.
A treaty establishing a constitution for the EU was signed in Rome in 2004, intended to replace all previous treaties with a new single document. However, it never completed ratification after rejection by French and Dutch voters in referenda. In 2007, it was agreed to replace that proposal with a new Reform Treaty, that would amend rather than replace the existing treaties. This treaty was signed on 13 December 2007, and will come in effect in January 2009 if ratified by that date. This will give the European union the first permanent President and foreign ministers.
The Balkans are the part of Europe most likely to join the EU next, with Croatia notably hoping to join in 2011.
The considerable economies of the member states, the large cultural and political influence the EU has on NATO, Commonwealth and Western countries as well as the large military forces and technology under various member states possession, has led many to make calls to suggest that the EU is a potential superpower of the 21st Century. Some regard the EU as a superpower already.
- English and French monarchs overlap chart
- Historic list of cities of Europe
- History of Western civilization