What is Europe ?
Unlike the majority of other continents, which are clearly defined by their landmasses, separated from other continents by major bodies of water, Europe’s boundaries are not clearly delineated or demarcated. As the westernmost part of the Eurasian landmass, Europe’s territory is somewhat ambiguous, shaped by cultural and political definitions as much as geographic. There are varying designations for which countries are included in the continent. Political organizations such as the European Union and the Council of Europe have begun to establish an overarching sense of cohesion, though they follow political (and economic) rationale and can be somewhat exclusionary in nature. Many countries are clearly within the geographic region of Europe that are not included in these organizations, while some countries that are included are only marginally located within the designated boundaries. There are only 28 member states in the European Union, while the Council of Europe includes 47.
History of Europe
Europe has a very long history, as modern humans have inhabited parts of Europe since about 40,000 years ago. Some of the earliest civilizations in Europe were the ancient Greeks, who established cities with the polis structure that heavily influenced modern systems. The Greeks also had trade relations with ancient Egypt and parts of Asia, which contributed to the advancement of the society. The Ancient Roman civilization began around the 8th century BC, expanding over its 12 centuries to encompass most of Europe, as one of the largest civilizations in the world at the time, including up to 20% of the world population. Beginning as the Roman Kingdom, the government became a the Roman Republic, and later the Roman Empire in 27 BC. The Roman Empire reached its peak around the first or second century AD, after periods of rule by powerful leaders like Julius Caesar and Augustus who helped expand the territory. However, the Roman Empire grew too large, and split into the Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire) around 405. Meanwhile, major migrations began happening across Europe, with the movement of the Goths and Vandals, Angles and Saxons, Lombards, Franks, Huns, Slavs, Bulgars, and Normans for the next few centuries. The Western Roman empire fell in 476 because of all the foreign invasions, and small kingdoms arose in its place. In 711, the Arab conquest arrived in Iberia, while the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne of the Franks, ruled much of the rest of Western Europe. Slavic countries, the Bulgarian Empire, Serbian Principality, and Dutchy of Croatia emerged in the 8th century. The Byzantine Empire had been centered in Constantinople, but after the Crusades hit the city in 1204, the empire faced heavy destruction, and the Ottomans were able to conquer it in 1453.
The Italian Renaissance began around 1400, causing a major cultural shift with emphasis on art and science, and important artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci emerged. The Age of Exploration and Discovery had begun, and explorers were sent from many countries, especially by the Spanish, Portuguese, French, and British. The Protestant Reformation began around 1517 with Martin Luther publishing the Ninety-five Theses, beginning a period of church reform that would last until 1648. The Thirty Years War lasted from 1618 to 1648, sparked by the religious division of Germany and ending with the Peace of Westphalia. There was also a scientific revolution beginning around the 16th century with major advancements in science made by Copernicus, Galileo, and Isaac Newton. This was followed by the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, which truly transformed the continent. France had emerged as a powerful nation, and the French Revolution in 1789 set off a new model of government, with other nations following suit with the European Revolutions in 1848. Many changes subsequently occurred, including the formation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867, and the unification of Germany and of Italy in 1871.
In 1914, World War I began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the war was fought primarily in Europe. The war ended with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, but caused major devastation and major changes in Europe. The Russian Revolution, formation of the USSR, the dissolution of Austria-Hungary, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the Turkish War of Independence all happened within a short time. With the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression, the scene was set for World War II. The Nazi party, led by Hitler, rose to power around 1933, while the Great Purge began in the Soviet Union, led by Stalin began in 1937. World War II began in 1939 and continued until 1945, leaving incredible destruction and causing many deaths. One result of WWII was the formation of the United Nations in 1945. Shortly after WWII ended, the Cold War began between the USSR and the US. The Space Race was a competition between the two nations, resulting in the USSR launching Sputnik in 1957 and the US landing the first man on the moon in 1969. The Berlin Wall that had been constructed to restrain movement in the German capital in the wake of WWII was finally brought down in 1989, and the USSR collapsed in 1991, leading to major reorganization. The European Union was established in 1993 by the Treaty of Maastricht, and the continent began further unification with the Euro currency beginning in 2002.