History of Europe facts for kids
The period known as classical antiquity began with the emergence of the city-states of ancient Greece. Later, the Roman Empire came to dominate the entire Mediterranean basin. The fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476 traditionally marks the start of the Middle Ages. Beginning in the 14th century a Renaissance of knowledge challenged traditional doctrines in science and theology. Simultaneously, the Protestant Reformation set up Protestant churches primarily in Germany, Scandinavia and England.
After 1800, the Industrial Revolution brought prosperity to Britain and Western Europe.
The main powers set up colonies in most of the Americas and Africa, and parts of Asia.
The Cold War dominated European geo-politics from 1947 to 1989.
Unification into a European Union moved forward after 1950, with some setbacks.
Today, most countries west of Russia belong to the NATO military alliance, along with the United States and Canada.
- Minoans and Mycenae 2700–1100 BC
- Classical antiquity
- Middle Ages
- Early modern Europe
- From revolution to imperialism (1789–1914)
- Major powers
- 1914–1945: Two World wars
- Cold War Era
- Related pages
The period known as classical antiquity began with the emergence of the city-states of Ancient Greece. After ultimately checking the Persian advance in Europe through the Greco-Persian Wars in the 5th century BC, Greek influence reached its zenith under the expansive empire of Alexander the Great, spreading throughout Asia, Africa, and other parts of Europe. The Roman Empire came to dominate the entire Mediterranean basin. By 300 AD the Roman Empire was divided into the Western and Eastern empires. During the 4th and 5th centuries, the Germanic peoples of Northern Europe grew in strength, and repeated attacks led to the Fall of the Western Roman Empire. AD 476 traditionally marks the end of the classical period and the start of the Middle Ages.
In Western Europe, Germanic peoples became more powerful in the remnants of the former Western Roman Empire and established kingdoms and empires of their own. Of all of the Germanic peoples, the Franks would rise to a position of hegemony over Western Europe, the Frankish Empire reaching its peak under Charlemagne around 800. This empire was later divided into several parts; West Francia would evolve into the Kingdom of France, while East Francia would evolve into the Holy Roman Empire, a precursor to modern Germany and Italy. The British Isles were the site of several large-scale migrations.
The Viking Age, a period of migrations of Scandinavian peoples, occurred from the late 8th century to the middle 11th century. The Normans, a Viking people who settled in Northern France, had a significant impact on many parts of Europe, from the Norman conquest of England to Southern Italy and Sicily. The Rus' people founded Kievan Rus', which evolved into Russia. After 1000 the Crusades were a series of religiously motivated military expeditions originally intended to bring the Levant back under Christian rule. The Crusaders opened trade routes which enabled the merchant republics of Genoa and Venice to become major economic powers. The Reconquista, a related movement, worked to reconquer Iberia for Christendom.
Eastern Europe in the High Middle Ages was dominated by the rise and fall of the Mongol Empire. Led by Genghis Khan, the Mongols were a group of steppe nomads who established a decentralized empire which, at its height, extended from China in the east to the Black and Baltic Seas in Europe. As Mongol power waned towards the Late Middle Ages, the Grand Duchy of Moscow rose to become the strongest of the numerous Russian principalities and republics and would grow into the Tsardom of Russia in 1547. The Late Middle Ages represented a period of upheaval in Europe. The epidemic known as the Black Death and an associated famine caused demographic catastrophe in Europe as the population plummeted. Dynastic struggles and wars of conquest kept many of the states of Europe at war for much of the period. In Scandinavia, the Kalmar Union dominated the political landscape, while England fought with Scotland in the Wars of Scottish Independence and with France in the Hundred Years' War. In Central Europe, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth became a large territorial empire, while the Holy Roman Empire, which was an elective monarchy, came to be dominated for centuries by the House of Habsburg. Russia continued to expand southward and eastward into former Mongol lands. In the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire overran Byzantine lands, culminating in the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, which historians mark as the end of the Middle Ages.
Beginning in the 14th century in Florence and later spreading through Europe, a Renaissance of knowledge challenged traditional doctrines in science and theology. The rediscovery of classical Greek and Roman knowledge had an enormous liberating effect on intellectuals. Simultaneously, the Protestant Reformation under German Martin Luther questioned Papal authority. Henry VIII seized control of the English Church and its lands. The European religious wars between German and Spanish rulers. The Reconquista ended Muslim rule in Iberia. By the 1490s a series of oceanic explorations marked the Age of Discovery, establishing direct links with Africa, the Americas, and Asia. Religious wars continued to be fought in Europe, until the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. The Spanish crown maintained its hegemony in Europe and was the leading power on the continent until the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees, which ended a conflict between Spain and France that had begun during the Thirty Years' War. An unprecedented series of major wars and political revolutions took place around Europe and the world in the period between 1610 and 1700.
The Industrial Revolution began in Britain, based on coal, steam, and textile mills. Political change in continental Europe was spurred by the French Revolution under the motto liberté, égalité, fraternité. Napoleon Bonaparte took control, made many reforms inside France, and transformed Western Europe. But his rise stimulated both nationalism and reaction and he was defeated in 1814–15 as the old royal conservatives returned to power.
The period between 1815 and 1871 saw revolutionary attempts in much of Europe (apart from Britain). They all failed however. As industrial work forces grew in Western Europe, socialism and trade union activity developed. The last vestiges of serfdom were abolished in Russia in 1861. Greece and the other Balkan nations began a long slow road to independence from the Ottoman Empire, starting in the 1820s. Italy was unified in its Risorgimento in 1860. After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, Otto von Bismarck unified the German states into an empire that was politically and militarily dominant until 1914. Most of Europe scrambled for imperial colonies in Africa and Asia in the Age of Empire. Britain and France built the largest empires, while diplomats ensured there were no major wars in Europe, apart from the Crimean War of the 1850s.
The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 was precipitated by the rise of nationalism in Southeastern Europe as the Great Powers took sides. The 1917 October Revolution led the Russian Empire to become the world's first communist state, the Soviet Union. The Allies, led by Britain and France, defeated the Central Powers, led by the German Empire and Austria-Hungary, in 1918. During the Paris Peace Conference the Big Four imposed their terms in a series of treaties, especially the Treaty of Versailles. The war's human and material devastation was unprecedented.
Germany lost its overseas empire and several provinces, had to pay large reparations, and was humiliated by the victors. They in turn had large debts to the United States. The 1920s were prosperous until 1929 when the Great Depression broke out, which led to the collapse of democracy in many European states. The Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, rearmed Germany, and along with Mussolini's Italy sought to assert themselves on the continent by demands and appeasement, leading eventually to the Second World War. Most of the fighting took place on the Eastern Front, and the war ended with the defeat of the Axis powers, leaving the USSR and the United States dominating Eastern and Western Europe respectively.
The Iron Curtain now separated the east under Moscow's control from the capitalist West. The United States launched the Marshall Plan from 1948–51 and NATO from 1949, and rebuilt industrial economies that all were thriving by the 1950s. France and West Germany took the lead in forming the European Economic Community, which eventually became the European Union (EU). Secularization saw the weakening of Protestant and Catholic churches across most of Europe, except where they were symbols of anti-government resistance, as in Poland. The Revolutions of 1989 brought an end to both Soviet hegemony and communism in Eastern Europe. Germany was reunited, Europe's integration deepened, and both NATO and the EU expanded to the east. The EU came under increasing pressure because of the worldwide recession after 2008.
Homo erectus migrated from Africa to Europe before the emergence of modern humans. Lézignan-la-Cèbe in France, Orce in Spain, Monte Poggiolo Italy and Kozarnika in Bulgaria are amongst the oldest Palaeolithic sites in Europe.
The earliest appearance of anatomically modern people in Europe has been dated to 35,000 BC, usually referred to as the Cro-Magnon man. Some locally developed transitional cultures (Uluzzian in Italy and Greece, Altmühlian in Germany, Szeletian in Central Europe and Châtelperronian in the southwest) use clearly Upper Palaeolithic technologies at very early dates.
Nevertheless, the definitive advance of these technologies is made by the Aurignacian culture. The origins of this culture can be located in the Levant (Ahmarian) 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 28,000 BC a new technology/culture appeared in the western region of Europe: the Gravettian. This technology/culture has been theorised to have come with migrations of people from the Balkans.
Around 16,000 BC, Europe witnessed the appearance of a new culture, known as Magdalenian, possibly rooted in the old Gravettian. This culture soon superseded the Solutrean area and the Gravettian of mainly France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Ukraine.
The Hamburg culture prevailed in Northern Europe in the 14th and the 13th millennium BC as the Creswellian (also termed the British Late Magdalenian) did shortly after in the British Islands.
Around 12,500 BC, the Würm glaciation ended. Slowly, through the following millennia, temperatures and sea levels rose, changing the environment of prehistoric people. Nevertheless, Magdalenian culture persisted until c. 10,000 BC, when it quickly evolved into two microlithist cultures: Azilian (Federmesser), in Spain and southern France, and then Sauveterrian, in northern France and Central Europe, while in Northern Europe the Lyngby complex succeeded the Hamburg culture with the influence of the Federmesser group as well. Evidence of permanent settlement dates from the 8th millennium BC in the Balkans. The Neolithic reached Central Europe in the 6th millennium BC and parts of Northern Europe in the 5th and 4th millenniums BC.
Minoans and Mycenae 2700–1100 BC
The first well-known literate civilization in Europe was that of the Minoans. The Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that arose on the island of Crete and flourished from approximately the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC. It was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of the British archaeologist Arthur Evans. Will Durant referred to it as "the first link in the European chain".
The Minoans were replaced by the Mycenaean civilization which flourished during the period roughly between 1600 BC, when Helladic culture in mainland Greece was transformed under influences from Minoan Crete, and 1100 BC. The major Mycenaean cities were Mycenae and Tiryns in Argolis, Pylos in Messenia, Athens in Attica, Thebes and Orchomenus in Boeotia, and Iolkos in Thessaly. In Crete, the Mycenaeans occupied Knossos. Mycenaean settlement sites also appeared in Epirus, Macedonia, on islands in the Aegean Sea, on the coast of Asia Minor, the Levant, Cyprus and Italy. Mycenaean artefacts have been found well outside the limits of the Mycenean world.
Quite unlike the Minoans, whose society benefited from trade, the Mycenaeans advanced through conquest. Mycenaean civilization was dominated by a warrior aristocracy. Around 1400 BC, the Mycenaeans extended their control to Crete, center of the Minoan civilization, and adopted a form of the Minoan script (called Linear A) to write their early form of Greek in Linear B.
The Mycenaean civilization perished with the collapse of Bronze-Age civilization on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. This end, during the last years of the 12th century BC, occurred after a slow decline of the Mycenaean civilization, which lasted many years before dying out. The beginning of the 11th century BC opened a new context, that of the protogeometric, the beginning of the geometric period, the Greek Dark Ages of traditional historiography.
The Greeks and the Romans left a legacy in Europe which is evident in European languages, thought, visual arts and law. 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.
Through his military campaigns, the king of the kingdom of Macedon, Alexander, spread Hellenistic culture and learning to the banks of the River Indus. Meanwhile, the Roman Republic strengthened through victory over Carthage in the Punic Wars. Greek wisdom passed into Roman institutions, as Athens itself was absorbed under the banner of the Senate and People of Rome—SPQR.
The Romans expanded from Arabia to Britannia. In 44 BC as it approached its height, its dictator Julius Caesar was murdered by senators in an attempt to restore the Republic. In the ensuing turmoil, Octavian (ruled as Augustus; and as divi filius, or Son of God, as Julius had adopted him as an heir) usurped the reins of power and fought 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, which lasted for more than four centuries until the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
The Hellenic civilisation was a collection of city-states or poleis with different governments and cultures that achieved notable developments in government, philosophy, science, mathematics, politics, sports, theatre and music.
The most powerful city-states were Athens, Sparta, Thebes, Corinth, and Syracuse. Athens was a powerful Hellenic city-state and governed itself with an early form of direct democracy invented by Cleisthenes; the citizens of Athens voted on legislation and executive bills themselves. Athens was the home of Socrates, Plato, and the Platonic Academy.
The Hellenic city-states established colonies on the shores of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean (Asian Minor, Sicily and Southern Italy in Magna Graecia). By the late 6th century BC, all the Greek city states in Asia Minor had been incorporated into the Persian Empire, while the latter had made territorial gains in the Balkans (such as Macedon, Thrace, Paeonia, etc.) and Eastern Europe proper as well.
In the course of 5th century BC, some of the Greek city states attempted to overthrow Persian rule in the Ionian Revolt, which failed. This sparked the first Persian invasion of mainland Greece. At some point during the ensuing Greco-Persian Wars, namely during the Second Persian invasion of Greece, and precisely after the Battle of Thermopylae and the Battle of Artemisium, almost all of Greece to the north of the Isthmus of Corinth had been overrun by the Persians, but the Greek city states reached a decisive victory at the Battle of Plataea. With the end of the Greco-Persian wars, the Persians were eventually decisively forced to withdraw from their territories in Europe.
The Greco-Persian Wars and the victory of the Greek city states directly influenced the entire further course of European history and would set its further tone. Some Greek city-states formed the Delian League to continue fighting Persia, but Athens' position as leader of this league led Sparta to form the rival Peloponnesian League. The Peloponnesian Wars ensued, and the Peloponnesian League was victorious. Subsequently, discontent with Spartan hegemony led to the Corinthian War and the defeat of Sparta at the Battle of Leuctra.
Hellenic infighting left Greek city states vulnerable, and Philip II of Macedon united the Greek city states under his control. The son of Philip II, known as Alexander the Great, invaded neighboring Persia, toppled and incorporated its domains, as well as invading Egypt and going as far off as India, increasing contact with people and cultures in these regions that marked the beginning of the Hellenistic period.
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 defeats in the three Punic Wars 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 BC, under Augustus and his authoritarian successors.
The Roman Empire had its centre in the Mediterranean, 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. Pax Romana, a period of peace, civilisation and an efficient centralised government in the subject territories ended in the 3rd century, when a series of civil wars undermined Rome's 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 part with a capital in Rome and an Eastern part with the capital in Byzantium, or Constantinople (now Istanbul). 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 Church to become the state church of the Roman Empire in about 380.
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.
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 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.
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 Nova Roma- it was later named 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. The empire was split into two halves: the Western Roman Empire centred in Ravenna, and the Eastern Roman Empire (later to be referred to as the Byzantine Empire) centred in Constantinople. The Western Roman Empire was repeatedly attacked by Germanic tribes (see: Migration Period), and in 476 finally fell to the Heruli chieftain Odoacer.
Roman authority in the Western part of the empire had collapsed, and a power vacuum left in the wake of this collapse.
The western provinces soon were to be dominated by three great powers: first, the Franks (Merovingian dynasty) in Francia 481–843 AD, which covered much of present France and Germany; second, the Visigothic kingdom 418–711 AD in the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain); and third, the Ostrogothic kingdom 493–553 AD in Italy and parts of the western Balkans The Ostrogoths were later replaced by the Kingdom of the Lombards 568–774 AD. These new powers of the west built upon the Roman traditions until they evolved into a synthesis of Roman and Germanic cultures.
In Italy, Theodoric the Great began the cultural romanization of the new world he had constructed. He made Ravenna a center of Romano-Greek culture of art and his court fostered a flowering of literature and philosophy in Latin. In Iberia, King Chindasuinth created the Visigothic Code.
In the feudal system, new princes and kings arose, the most powerful of which was arguably the Frankish 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.
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). The Arab invasion from the east was stopped after the intervention of the Bulgarian Empire (see Tervel of Bulgaria).
The Middle Ages are commonly dated from the fall of the Western Roman Empire 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.
Many consider Emperor Constantine I (reigned 306–337) to be the first "Byzantine Emperor". 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 Muslim conquests.
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages span roughly five centuries from 500 to 1000.
From the 7th century Byzantine history was greatly affected by the rise of Islam and the Caliphates. Muslim Arabs first invaded historically Roman territory under Abū Bakr, first Caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate, who entered Roman Syria and Roman Mesopotamia. As the Byzantines and neighboring Sasanids were severely weakened by the time, amongst the most important reason(s) being the protracted, centuries-lasting and frequent Byzantine–Sasanian wars, which included the climactic Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628, under Umar, the second Caliph, the Muslims entirely toppled the Sasanid Persian Empire, and decisively conquered Syria and Mesopotamia, as well as Roman Palestine, Roman Egypt, and parts of Asia Minor and Roman North Africa.
Over the next centuries Muslim forces were able to take further European territory, including Cyprus, Malta, Crete, and Sicily and parts of southern Italy.
The Muslim conquest of Hispania began when the Moors (Berbers and Arabs) invaded the Christian Visigothic kingdom of Hispania in the year 711, under the Berber general Tariq ibn Ziyad. They landed at Gibraltar on 30 April and worked their way northward. This territory, under the Arab name Al-Andalus, became part of the expanding Umayyad empire.
The unsuccessful second siege of Constantinople (717) weakened the Umayyad dynasty and reduced their prestige. In 722 Don Pelayo, a nobleman of Visigothic origin, formed an army of 300 Astur soldiers, to confront Munuza's Muslim troops. In the battle of Covadonga, the Astures defeated the Arab-Moors, who decided to retire.
The Christian victory marked the beginning of the Reconquista and the establishment of the Kingdom of Asturias, whose first sovereign was Don Pelayo. The conquerors intended to continue their expansion in Europe and move northeast across the Pyrenees, but were defeated by the Frankish leader Charles Martel at the Battle of Poitiers in 732. The Umayyads were overthrown in 750 by the 'Abbāsids, and, in 756, the Umayyads established an independent emirate in the Iberian Peninsula.
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.
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 centre of Slavic Europe.
The Empire created the Cyrillic script during the 10th century AD, at the Preslav Literary School. Two states, Great Moravia and Kievan Rus', emerged among the Slavic peoples respectively in the 9th century.
In the late 9th and 10th centuries, 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 seagoing vessels such as the longships. The Hungarians pillaged mainland Europe, the Pechenegs raided Bulgaria, Rus States and the Arab states. In the 10th century independent kingdoms were established in Central Europe including Poland and the newly settled Kingdom of Hungary. The kingdoms of Croatia and Serbia also appeared in the Balkans. The subsequent period, ending around 1000, saw the further growth of feudalism, which weakened the Holy Roman Empire.
In eastern Europe, Volga Bulgaria became an Islamic state in 921, after Almış I converted to Islam under the missionary efforts of Ahmad ibn Fadlan.
Slavery in the early medieval period had mostly died out in western Europe by about the year 1000 AD, replaced by serfdom. It lingered longer in England and in peripheral areas linked to the Muslim world, where slavery continued to flourish. Church rules suppressed slavery of Christians.
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 Britain, Ireland, 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 recognised 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 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 Muslims, and the Normans colonised 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. The most famous are the great cathedrals as expressions of Gothic architecture, which evolved from Romanesque architecture. This age saw the rise of modern nation-states in Western Europe and the ascent of the famous Italian city-states, such as Florence and Venice.
The influential popes of the Catholic Church called volunteer armies from across Europe to a series of Crusades against the Seljuq 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.
A divided church
The Great Schism between the Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) 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. Pope Leo sparked a further dispute by defending the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed which the West had adopted customarily. The Orthodox today state that the XXVIIIth Canon of the Council of Chalcedon 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.
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. 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 the Second World War.
After the East–West Schism, Western Christianity was adopted by the 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. The geographic reach of the Roman Catholic Church expanded enormously due to the conversions of pagan kings (Scandinavia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary), the Christian Reconquista of Al-Andalus, and the 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 languages, instead of the traditional Latin. Elsewhere, 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 centuries, 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. Mongolian records indicate that Batu Khan was planning a complete conquest of European powers. Most historians believe only his death prevented the complete conquest of Europe.
The areas of Eastern Europe and most of Central Asia that were under direct Mongol rule became known as the Golden Horde. Under Uzbeg Khan, Islam became the official religion of the region in the early 14th century. The invading Mongols, together with their mostly Turkic subjects, were known as Tatars. In Russia, the Tatars ruled the various states of the Rus' through vassalage for over 300 years.
In Northern Europe, Konrad of Masovia gave Chelmno to the Teutonic Knights in 1226 as a base for a Crusade against the Old Prussians and Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Livonian Brothers of the Sword were defeated by the Lithuanians, so in 1237 Gregory IX merged the remainder of the order into the Teutonic Order as the Livonian Order.
By the middle of the century, the Teutonic Knights completed their conquest of the Prussians before conquering and converting the Lithuanians in the subsequent decades. The order also came into conflict with the Eastern Orthodox Church of the Pskov and Novgorod Republics. In 1240 the Orthodox Novgorod army defeated the Catholic Swedes in the Battle of the Neva, and, two years later, they defeated the Livonian Order in the Battle on the Ice.
The Union of Krewo in 1386, bringing two major changes in the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania: conversion to Catholicism and establishment of a dynastic union between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland marked both the greatest territorial expansion of the Grand Duchy and the defeat of the Teutonic Knights in the Battle of Grunwald in 1410.
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 killed people in a matter of days, reducing the population of some areas by half as many survivors fled.
Depopulation caused labor to become scarcer; the survivors were better paid and peasants could drop some of the burdens of feudalism.
There was also social unrest; France and England experienced serious peasant risings including the Jacquerie and the Peasants' Revolt. At the same time, the unity of the Catholic Church was shattered by the Great Schism. Collectively these events have been called the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages.
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 Livonia into trade with other European countries. This fed the growth of powerful states in this part of Europe including Poland-Lithuania, Hungary, Bohemia, and Muscovy later on.
The conventional end of the Middle Ages is usually associated with the fall of the city of 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 to as the Turkish wars, marked an essential part of the history of the continent as a whole.
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 characterised by the rise to importance of science and increasingly rapid technological progress, secularised 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 colonisation of the Americas and the European witch-hunts.
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 as well as more recent Arabic texts led to what has later been termed the Italian Renaissance.
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, west and middle Europe 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 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. The Humanists saw their repossession of a great past as a Renaissance—a rebirth of civilization itself.
During this period, Spain experienced the greatest epoch of cultural splendor in its history. This epoch is known as the Spanish Golden age and took place between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Exploration and trade
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. Western Europe was forced to discover new trading routes, as happened with Columbus' travel to the Americas in 1492, and Vasco da Gama's circumnavigation of India and Africa in 1498.
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 of a maritime route to India, followed by Spain near the close of the 15th century, dividing their exploration of the world according to the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. They were the first states to set up colonies in America and European 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, the Khanate of Kazan and the Astrakhan Khanate. The Yermak's voyage of 1580 led to the annexation of the Tatar Siberian Khanate into Russia, and the Russians would soon after conquer the rest of Siberia, steadily expanding to the east and south over the next centuries.
Oceanic explorations 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.
With the development of the printing press, new ideas spread throughout Europe and challenged traditional doctrines in science and theology. Simultaneously, the Protestant Reformation under German Martin Luther questioned Papal authority. The most common dating of the Reformation begins in 1517, when Luther published The Ninety-Five Theses, and concludes in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia that ended years of European religious wars.
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; 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 centralised 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. Two important groups in the Catholic Church who emerged from this movement were the Jesuits, who helped keep Spain, Portugal, Poland and other European countries within the Catholic fold, and the Oratorians of Saint Philip Neri, who ministered to the faithful in Rome, restoring their confidence in the Church of Jesus Christ that subsisted substantially in the Church of Rome. 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 many European countries, 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, traditions and customs. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth became divided among Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Jews and a small Muslim population.
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 civilisation was taken over from the ancient Greeks and Romans: Discipline, education and living in the city were required to make people civilised; 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.
In the 15th century, at the end of the Middle Ages, powerful sovereign states were appearing, built by the New Monarchs who were centralising power in France, England, and Spain.
Mercantilism and colonial expansion
The Iberian states (Spain and Portugal) were able to dominate New World (American) colonial activity in the 16th century. The Spanish constituted the first global empire and during the 16th century and the first half of the 17th century, Spain was the most powerful nation in the world, but was increasingly challenged by British, French, and the short-lived Dutch and Swedish colonial efforts of the 17th and 18th centuries. New forms of trade and expanding horizons made new forms of government, law and economics necessary.
Colonial expansion continued in the following centuries (with some setbacks, such as successful wars of independence in the British American colonies and then later Haiti, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and others amid European turmoil of the Napoleonic Wars; Haiti unique in abolishing slavery).
Spain had control of a large part of North America, all of Central America and a great part of 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 the 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 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.
Crisis of the 17th century
The 17th century was an era of crisis.
The Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) focused attention on the massive horrors that wars could bring to entire populations. The 1640s in particular saw more state breakdowns around the world than any previous or subsequent period. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the largest state in Europe, temporarily disappeared. In addition, there were secessions and upheavals in several parts of the Spanish empire, the world's first global empire.
In Britain the entire Stuart monarchy (England, Scotland, Ireland, and its North American colonies) rebelled.
Political insurgency and a spate of popular revolts seldom equaled shook the foundations of most states in Europe and Asia. More wars took place around the world in the mid-17th century than in almost any other period of recorded history. The crises spread far beyond Europe. For example, Ming China, the most populous state in the world, collapsed. Across the Northern Hemisphere, the mid-17th century experienced almost unprecedented death rates.
Age of Absolutism
The "absolute" rule of powerful monarchs such as Louis XIV (ruled France 1643–1715), Peter the Great (ruled Russia 1682–1725), Maria Theresa (ruled Habsburg lands 1740–1780) and Frederick the Great (ruled Prussia 1740–86), produced powerful centralized states, with strong armies and powerful bureaucracies, all under the control of the king.
Throughout the early part of this period, capitalism (through mercantilism) was replacing feudalism as the principal form of economic organisation, 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 animated the Industrial Revolution after 1750.
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.
Thirty Years' War 1618–1648
The Thirty Years' War was fought between 1618 and 1648, across Germany and neighboring areas, and involved most of the major European powers except England and Russia. Beginning as a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Bohemia, it quickly developed into a general war involving Catholics versus Protestants for the most part. 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, and the breakup of family life, 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 disease and starvation, as well as postponed births.
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.
From the Union of Krewo (1385) central and eastern Europe was dominated by Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In the 16th and 17th centuries Central and Eastern Europe was an arena of conflict for domination of the continent between Sweden, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth continued dominance central and eastern Europe until series of wars: Khmelnytsky Uprising, Russo-Polish War and the Deluge.
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 had become new powers, having divided Poland between themselves, with Sweden and Turkey having experienced substantial territorial losses to Russia and Austria respectively as well as pauperisation.
War of the Spanish Succession
The War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1715) was a major war with France opposed by a coalition of England, the Netherlands, the Austrian Empire, and Prussia. Duke of Marlborough commander the English and Dutch victory at the Battle Blenheim in 1704. The main issue was whether France under King Louis XIV would take control of Spain's very extensive possessions and thereby become by far the dominant power, or be forced to share power with other major nations. After initial allied successes, the long war produced a military stalemate and ended with the Treaty of Utrecht, which was based on a balance of power in Europe.
Frederick the Great, king of Prussia 1740–86, modernized the Prussian army, introduced new tactical and strategic concepts, fought mostly successful wars and doubled the size of Prussia. Frederick had a rationale based on Enlightenment thought: he fought total wars for limited objectives. The goal was to convince rival kings that it was better to negotiate and make peace than to fight him.
Russia with its numerous wars and rapid expansion was in a continuous state of financial crisis, which it covered by borrowing from Amsterdam and issuing paper money that caused inflation. Russia boasted a large and powerful army, a very large and complex internal bureaucracy, and a splendid court that rivaled Paris and London. However the government was living far beyond its means and seized Church lands, leaving organized religion in a weak condition. Throughout the 18th century Russia remained "a poor, backward, overwhelmingly agricultural, and illiterate country."
The Enlightenment was a powerful, widespread cultural movement of intellectuals beginning in late 17th-century Europe emphasizing the power of reason rather than tradition; it was especially favourable to science (especially Isaac Newton's physics) and hostile to religious orthodoxy (especially of the Catholic Church). It sought to analyze and reform society using reason, to challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and to advance knowledge through the scientific method. It promoted scientific thought, skepticism, and intellectual interchange. The Enlightenment was a revolution in human thought. This new way of thinking was that rational thought begins with clearly stated principles, uses correct logic to arrive at conclusions, tests the conclusions against evidence, and then revises the principles in the light of the evidence.
Enlightenment thinkers opposed superstition. Some Enlightenment thinkers collaborated with Enlightened despots, absolutist rulers who attempted to forcibly impose some of the new ideas about government into practice. The ideas of the Enlightenment exerted significant influence on the culture, politics, and governments of Europe.
Originating in the 17th century, it was sparked by philosophers Francis Bacon (1562–1626), Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677), John Locke (1632–1704), Pierre Bayle (1647–1706), Voltaire (1694–1778), Francis Hutcheson, (1694–1746), David Hume (1711–1776) and physicist Isaac Newton (1643–1727). Ruling princes often endorsed and fostered these figures and even attempted to apply their ideas of government in what was known as enlightened absolutism. The Scientific Revolution is closely tied to the Enlightenment, as its discoveries overturned many traditional concepts and introduced new perspectives on nature and man's place within it. The Enlightenment flourished until about 1790–1800, at which point the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason, gave way to Romanticism, which placed a new emphasis on emotion; a Counter-Enlightenment began to increase in prominence. The Romantics argued that the Enlightenment was reductionistic insofar as it had largely ignored the forces of imagination, mystery, and sentiment.
In France, Enlightenment was based in the salons and culminated in the great Encyclopédie (1751–72) edited by Denis Diderot (1713–1784) and (until 1759) Jean le Rond d'Alembert (1717–1783) with contributions by hundreds of leading intellectuals who were called philosophes, notably Voltaire (1694–1778), Rousseau (1712–1778) and Montesquieu (1689–1755). Some 25,000 copies of the 35 volume encyclopedia were sold, half of them outside France. These new intellectual strains would spread to urban centres across Europe, notably England, Scotland, the German states, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Italy, Austria, and Spain, as well as Britain's American colonies.
The political ideals of the Enlightenment influenced the American Declaration of Independence, the United States Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and the Polish–Lithuanian Constitution of May 3, 1791.
Taking a long-term historical perspective, Freemasonry was a powerful force on behalf of Liberalism and Enlightenment ideas in Europe, from about 1700 to the 20th century. It expanded rapidly during the Age of Enlightenment, reaching practically every country in Europe. It was especially attractive to royalty, powerful aristocrats and politicians as well as intellectuals, artists and political activists. Its great enemy was the Roman Catholic Church, so that in countries with a large Catholic element, such as France, Italy, Austria, Spain (and Mexico), much of the ferocity of the political battles involve the confrontation between the Church and Freemasonry. Twentieth century totalitarian movements, especially the Fascists and Communists, crushed the Freemasons.
From revolution to imperialism (1789–1914)
- See also: 19th century
The "long 19th century", from 1789 to 1914 saw the drastic social, political and economic changes initiated by the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Following the reorganisation of the political map of Europe at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Europe experienced the rise of Nationalism, the rise of the Russian Empire and the peak of the British Empire, which was 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 the First World War in 1914.
The Industrial Revolution was a period in the late 18th century and early 19th century 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.
Technological advancements, most notably the invention of the steam engine by Scottish engineer James Watt, were major catalysts in the industrialisation of Britain and, later, the wider world.
It started in England and Scotland in the mid-18th century with the mechanisation of the textile industries, the development of iron-making techniques and the increased use of refined coal. 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.
Era of the French Revolution
The era of the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic wars was a difficult time for monarchs. Tsar Paul I of Russia was assassinated; King Louis XVI of France was executed, as was his queen Marie Antoinette. Furthermore, kings Charles IV of Spain, Ferdinand VII of Spain and Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden were deposed as were ultimately the Emperor Napoleon and all of the relatives he had installed on various European thrones. King Frederick William III of Prussia and Emperor Francis II of Austria barely clung to their thrones. King George III of England lost the better part of his empire.
The American Revolution (1775–1783) was the first successful revolt of a colony against a European power. It proclaimed, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, that "all men are created equal," a position based on the principles of the Enlightenment. It rejected aristocracy and established a republican form of government under George Washington that attracted worldwide attention.
The French Revolution (1789–1804) was a product of the same democratic forces in the Atlantic World and had an even greater impact.
French intervention in the American Revolutionary War had nearly bankrupted the state. After repeated failed attempts at financial reform, King Louis XVI had to convene the Estates-General, a representative body of the country made up of three estates: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. 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. As anti-royalism increased along with threat of foreign invasion, the king tried to flee and join France's enemies. He was captured and on 12 January 1793, having been convicted of treason, he was guillotined.
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 de 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. Internal tensions at Paris drove the Committee towards increasing assertions of radicalism and increasing suspicions, fueling new terror: A few months into this phase, more and more prominent revolutionaries were being sent to the guillotine by Robespierre and his faction, for example Madame Roland and Georges Danton. 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 one of the world's most famous soldiers and statesmen, leading France to great victories over numerous European enemies. Despite modest origins he became Emperor and restructured much of European diplomacy, politics and law, until he was forced to abdicate in 1814. His 100-day comeback in 1815 failed at the Battle of Waterloo, and he died in exile on a remote island, remembered as a great hero by many Frenchmen and as a great villain by British and other enemies.
Napoleon, despite his youth, 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 on 18 Brumaire (9 November) he overthrew the feeble government, replacing it with the Consulate, which he dominated. He gained popularity in France by restoring the Church, keeping taxes low, centralizing power in Paris, and winning glory on the battlefield. In 1804 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 the French fleet was demolished by the British at the Battle of Trafalgar, ending any plan to invade 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, raised an army, but was finally defeated by a British and Prussian force at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815 and exiled to a small British island in the South Atlantic.
|Country||Population in millions (year)|
|Great Britain||33.7 (1877)|
Colonial empires were the product of the European Age of Discovery from 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 Renaissance. Both the Portuguese Empire and Spanish Empire quickly grew into the first global political and economic systems with territories spread around the world.
Subsequent major European 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 ocean transportation technologies of the time as well as electronic communication through the telegraph, cable, and radio. At its height in 1920, the British Empire covered a quarter of the Earth's land area and comprised a quarter of its population. Other European countries, such as Belgium, Germany, and Italy, pursued colonial empires as well (mostly in Africa), but they were smaller. Ignoring the oceans, Russia built its Russian Empire through conquest by land in Eastern Europe, and Asia.
By the mid-19th century, the Ottoman Empire had declined enough to become a target for other global powers (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 eventually set the stage for the First World War. In the second half of the 19th century, the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Kingdom of Prussia carried out a series of wars that resulted in the creation of Italy and Germany as nation-states, significantly changing the balance of power in Europe. From 1870, Otto von Bismarck engineered a German hegemony of Europe that 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—the Triple Alliance of 1882 (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy) and the Triple Entente of 1907 (Britain, France and Russia)—formed in Europe, improving their military forces and alliances year-by-year.
1914–1945: Two World wars
World War I
After the relative peace of most of the 19th century, the rivalry between European powers, compounded by a rising nationalism among ethnic groups, exploded in August 1914, when the First World War started. Over 65 million European soldiers were mobilised from 1914 to 1918; 20 million soldiers and civilians died, and 21 million were seriously wounded. 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 coalition of France, Britain and Russia, which were joined by Italy in 1915, Romania in 1916 and by the United States in 1917.
The Western Front involved especially brutal combat without any territorial gains by either side. Single battles like Verdun and the Somme killed hundreds of thousands of men while leaving the stalemate unchanged. Heavy artillery and machine guns caused most of the casualties, supplemented by poison gas.
Czarist Russia collapsed in the February Revolution of 1917 and Germany claimed victory on the Eastern Front. After eight months of liberal rule, the October Revolution brought Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks to power, leading to the creation of the Soviet Union in place of the disintegrated Russian Empire.
With American entry into the war in 1917 on the Allied side, and the failure of Germany's spring 1918 offensive, Germany had run out of manpower, while an average of 10,000 American troops were arriving in France every day in the summer of 1918. Germany's allies, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, surrendered and dissolved, followed by Germany on 11 November 1918. The victors forced Germany to assume responsibility for the conflict and pay war reparations.
One factor in determining the outcome of the war was that the Allies had significantly more economic resources they could spend on the war.
Paris Peace Conference
The world war was settled by the victors at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Two dozen nations sent delegations, and there were many nongovernmental groups, but the defeated powers were not invited.
The "Big Four" were President Woodrow Wilson of the United States, Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Great Britain, George Clemenceau of France, and, of least importance, Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando. They met together informally 145 times and made all the major decisions, which in turn were ratified by the others.
The major decisions were the creation of the League of Nations; the six peace treaties with defeated enemies, most notable the Treaty of Versailles with Germany; the awarding of German and Ottoman overseas possessions as "mandates", chiefly to Britain and France; and the drawing of new national boundaries (sometimes with plebiscites) to better reflect the forces of nationalism.
As the conference's decisions were enacted unilaterally, and largely on the whims of the Big Four, for its duration Paris was effectively the center of a world government, which deliberated over and implemented the sweeping changes to the political geography of Europe. Most famously, the Treaty of Versailles itself weakened Germany's military and placed full blame for the war and costly reparations on its shoulders – the humiliation and resentment in Germany is sometimes considered as one of the causes of Nazi success and indirectly a cause of World War II.
At the insistence of President Wilson, the Big Four required Poland to sign a treaty on 28 June 1919 that guaranteed minority rights in the new nation. Poland signed under protest, and made little effort to enforce the specified rights for Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, and other minorities. Similar treaties were signed by Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia, Greece, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and later by Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Finland and Germany were not asked to sign a minority rights treaty.
- See also: Interwar period
In the Treaty of Versailles (1919) the winners imposed relatively hard conditions on Germany and recognised the new states (such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, Yugoslavia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) created in central Europe from the defunct German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, based on national (ethnic) self-determination. It was a peaceful era with a few small wars before 1922 such as the Ukrainian–Soviet War (1917–1921) and the Polish–Soviet War (1919–1921). Prosperity was widespread, and the major cities sponsored a youth culture called the "Roaring Twenties" that was often featured in the cinema, which attracted very large audiences.
The Allied victory in the First World War seem to mark the triumph of liberalism, not just in the Allied countries themselves, but also in Germany and in the new states of Eastern Europe, as well as Japan. Authoritarian militarism as typified by Germany had been defeated and discredited.
Italy adopted an authoritarian system known as Fascism in 1922; it became a model for Hitler in Germany and for right wing elements in other countries.
Authoritarian regimes were established in the 1930s in Germany, Portugal, Austria, Poland, Greece, the Baltic countries and Spain. By 1940, there were only four liberal democracies left on the European continent: France, Finland, Switzerland and Sweden.
Great Depression: 1929–1939
After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, nearly the whole world sank into a Great Depression, as prices fell, profits fell, and unemployment soared. The worst hit sectors included heavy industry, export-oriented agriculture, mining and lumbering, and construction. World trade fell by two thirds.
Liberalism and democracy were discredited. In most of Europe, as well as in Japan and most of Latin America, nation after nation turned to dictators and authoritarian regimes. The most momentous change of government came when Hitler and his Nazis took power in Germany in 1933. A major civil war took place in Spain, with the nationalists winning. The League of Nations was helpless as Italy conquered Ethiopia and Japan seized Manchuria in 1931 and took over most of China starting in 1937.
The Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) was marked by numerous small battles and sieges, and many atrocities, until the rebels (the Nationalists), led by Francisco Franco, won in 1939. There was military intervention as Italy sent land forces, and Germany sent smaller elite air force and armoured units to the Nationalists. The Soviet Union sold armaments to the leftist Republicans on the other side, while the Communist parties in numerous countries sent soldiers to the "International Brigades." The civil war did not escalate into a larger conflict, but did become a worldwide ideological battleground that pitted the left, the communist movement and many liberals against Catholics, conservatives, and fascists. Britain, France and the US remained neutral and refused to sell military supplies to either side. Worldwide there was a decline in pacifism and a growing sense that another world war was imminent, and that it would be worth fighting for.
World War II
In the Munich Agreement of 1938, Britain and France adopted a policy of appeasement as they gave Hitler what he wanted out of Czechoslovakia in the hope that it would bring peace. It did not. In 1939 Germany took over the rest of Czechoslovakia and appeasement policies gave way to hurried rearmament as Hitler next turned his attention to Poland.
After allying with Japan in the Anti-Comintern Pact and then also with Benito Mussolini's Italy in the "Pact of Steel", and finally signing a non-aggression treaty with the Soviet Union in August 1939, Hitler launched the Second World War on 1 September 1939 by attacking Poland. To his surprise Britain and France declared war on Germany, but there was little fighting during the "Phoney War" period. War began in earnest in spring 1940 with the successful Blitzkrieg conquests of Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries, and France. Britain remained alone but refused to negotiate, and defeated Germany's air attacks in the Battle of Britain. Hitler's goal was to control Eastern Europe but because of his failure to defeat Britain and the Italian failures in North Africa and the Balkans, the great attack on the Soviet Union was delayed until June 1941. 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 Britain and the United States 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). The Allied Forces won in North Africa, invaded Italy in 1943, and recaptured 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. As the Red Army conquered the Reichstag in Berlin, Hitler committed suicide and Germany surrendered in early May. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, causing between 50 and 80 million deaths, the majority of whom were civilians (approximately 38 to 55 million).
This period was also marked by systematic genocide. In 1942–45, separately from the war-related deaths, the Nazis killed an additional number of over 11 million civilians identified through IBM-enabled censuses, including the majority of the Jews and Gypsies of Europe, millions of Polish and Soviet Slavs, and also homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, misfits, disabled, and political enemies. Meanwhile, in the 1930s the Soviet system of forced labour, expulsions and allegedly engineered famine had a similar death toll. During and after the war millions of civilians were affected by forced population transfers.
Cold War Era
The world wars ended the pre-eminent position of Britain, France and Germany in the Europe and the world. At the Yalta Conference, Europe was divided into spheres of influence between the victors of World War II, and soon became the principal zone of contention in the Cold War between the two power blocs, the Western countries and the Communist bloc. The United States and the majority of European liberal democracies at the time (United Kingdom, France, Italy, Netherlands, West Germany etc.) established the NATO military alliance. Later, the Soviet Union and its satellites (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania) in 1955 established the Warsaw Pact as a counterpoint to NATO. The Warsaw Pact had a much larger ground force, but the American-French-British nuclear umbrellas protected NATO.
Communist states were imposed by the Red Army in the East, while parliamentary democracy became the dominant form of government in the West. Most historians point to its success as the product of exhaustion with war and dictatorship, and the promise of continued economic prosperity. Martin Conway also adds that an important impetus came from the anti-Nazi wartime political coalitions.
- 700 BC: Homer composes The Iliad, an epic poem that represents the first piece of European literature.
- 440 BC: Herodotus defends Athenian political freedom in the Histories.
- 323 BC: Alexander the Great dies and his Macedonian Empire fragments.
- 44 BC: Julius Caesar is murdered. The Roman Republic enters its terminal crisis.
- 27 BC: Establishment of the Roman Empire under Octavian.
- 45–55 (ca): First Christian congregations in mainland Greece and in Rome.
- 293: Diocletian reorganizes the Empire by creating the Tetrarchy.
- 330: Constantine makes Constantinople into his capital, a new Rome.
- 395: Following the death of Theodosius I, the Empire is permanently split into the Eastern Roman Empire (later Byzantium) and the Western Roman Empire.
- 476: Odoacer captures Ravenna and deposes the last Roman emperor in the west: traditionally seen as the end date of the Western Roman Empire.
- 527: Justinian I is crowned emperor of Byzantium. Orders the editing of Corpus Juris Civilis, Digest (Roman law).
- 597: Beginning of Roman Catholic Christianization of Anglo-Saxon England (missions and churches had been in existence well before this date, but their contacts with Rome had been loose or nonexistent)
- 600: Saint Columbanus uses the term "Europe" in a letter.
- 655: Jus patronatus.
- 681: Khan Asparukh leads the Bulgars and invades the Byzantine empire in the Battle of Ongal, and creates Bulgaria.
- 718: Tervel of Bulgaria helps the Byzantine Empire stop the Arabic invasion of Europe, and breaks the siege of Constantinople.
- 722: Battle of Covadonga in the Iberian Peninsula. Pelayo, a noble Visigoth, defeats a Muslim army that tried to conquer the Cantabrian coast. This helps establish the Christian Kingdom of Asturias, and marks the beginning of the Reconquista.
- 732: At the Battle of Tours, the Franks stop the advance of the Arabs into Europe.
- 800: Coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor.
- 813: Third Council of Tours: Priests are ordered to preach in the native language of the population.
- 843: Treaty of Verdun.
- 863: Saints Cyril and Methodius arrive in Great Moravia, initiating Christian mission among the Slav peoples.
- 864: Boris I of Bulgaria baptises the whole nation, converting the population from tengri, to Eastern Orthodox Christianity
- 872: Unification of Norway.
- 886: Cyril and Methodius students – Sava, Kliment, Naum, Gorazd, Angelariy – arrive in Bulgaria. The Cyrillic alphabet becomes the official Bulgarian alphabet.
- 895: Hungarian people led by Árpád start to settle in the Carpathian Basin.
- 917: In the Battle of Achelous (917) Bulgaria defeats the Byzantine empire, and Simeon I of Bulgaria is proclaimed as emperor, thus Bulgaria becomes an empire.
- 962: Otto I of East Francia is crowned as "Emperor" by the Pope, beginning the Holy Roman Empire.
- 988 Kievan Rus adopts Christianity, often seen as the origin of the Russian Orthodox Church-
- 1054: Start of the East–West Schism, which divides the Christian church for centuries.
- 1066: Successful Norman Invasion of England by William the Conqueror.
- 1095: Pope Urban II calls for the First Crusade.
- 12th century: The 12th century in literature saw an increase in the number of texts. The Renaissance of the 12th century occurs.
- 1128: Battle of São Mamede, formation of Portuguese sovereignty.
- 1250: Death of emperor Frederick II; end of effective ability of German emperors to exercise control in Italy.
- 1303: The period of the Crusades is over.
- 1309–1378: The Avignon Papacy
- 1315–1317: The Great Famine of 1315–1317 in Northern Europe
- 1341: Petrarch, the "Father of Humanism", becomes the first poet laureate since antiquity.
- 1337–1453: The Hundred Years' War between England and France.
- 1348–1351: Black Death kills about one-third of Europe's population.
- 1439: Johannes Gutenberg invents first movable type and the first printing press for books, starting the Printing Revolution.
- 1453: Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks.
- 1492: The Reconquista ends in the Iberian Peninsula. A Spanish expeditionary group, commanded by Christopher Columbus, lands in the New World.
- 1497: Vasco da Gama departs to India starting direct trade with Asia.
- 1498: Leonardo da Vinci paints The Last Supper in Milan as the Renaissance flourishes.
- 1508: Maximilian I the last ruling "King of the Romans" and the first "elected Emperor of the Romans".
- 1517: Martin Luther nails his 95 theses on indulgences to the door of the church in Wittenberg, triggering discussions which would soon lead to the Reformation
- 1519: Ferdinand Magellan and Juan Sebastián Elcano begin first global circumnavigation. Their expedition returns in 1522.
- 1519: Hernán Cortés begins conquest of Mexico for Spain.
- 1532: Francisco Pizarro begins the conquest of Peru (the Inca Empire) for Spain.
- 1543: Nicolaus Copernicus publishes De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres).
- 1547: The Grand Duchy of Moscow becomes the Tsardom of Russia.
- 1582: The introduction of the Gregorian calendar; Russia refuses to adopt it until 1918.
- 1610: Galileo Galilei uses his telescope to discover the moons of Jupiter.
- 1618: The Thirty Years' War brings massive devastation to central Europe.
- 1648: The Peace of Westphalia ends the Thirty Years' War, and introduces the principle of the integrity of the nation state.
- 1687: Isaac Newton publishes Principia Mathematica, having a profound impact on The Enlightenment.
- 1699: Treaty of Karlowitz concludes the Austro-Ottoman War. This marks the end of Ottoman control of Central Europe and the beginning of Ottoman stagnation, establishing the Habsburg Monarchy as the dominant power in Central and Southeastern Europe.
- 1700: Outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession and the Great Northern War. The first would check the aspirations of Louis XIV, king of France to dominate European affairs; the second would lead to Russia's emergence as a great power and a recognizably European state.
- 18th century: Age of Enlightenment spurs an intellectual renaissance across Europe.
- 1707: The Kingdom of Great Britain is formed by the union of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland.
- 1712: Thomas Newcomen invents first practical steam engine which begins Industrial Revolution in Britain.
- 1721: Foundation of the Russian Empire.
- 1775: James Watt invents a new efficient steam engine accelerating the Industrial Revolution in Britain.
- 1784: Immanuel Kant publishes Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment?.
- 1789: Beginning of the French Revolution and end of the absolute monarchy in France.
- 1792–1802: French Revolutionary Wars.
- 1799: Napoleon comes to power as dictator of France.
- 1803–1815: Napoleonic Wars end in defeat of Napoleon.
- 1806: Napoleon abolishes the Holy Roman Empire.
- 1814–15: Congress of Vienna; Treaty of Vienna; France is reduced to 1789 boundaries; Reactionary forces dominate across Europe.
- 1825: George Stephenson opens the Stockton and Darlington Railway the first steam train railway for passenger traffic in the world.
- 1836: Louis Daguerre invents first practical photographic method, in effect the first camera.
- 1838: SS Great Western, the first steamship built for regularly scheduled transatlantic crossings enters service.
- 1848: Revolutions of 1848 and publication of The Communist Manifesto.
- 1852: Start of the Crimean War, which ends in 1855 in a defeat for Russia.
- 1859: Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species.
- 1861: Unification of Italy after victories by Giuseppe Garibaldi.
- 1866: First commercially successful transatlantic telegraph cable is completed.
- 1860s: Russia emancipates its serfs and Karl Marx completes the first volume of Das Kapital.
- 1870: Franco-Prussian War and the fall of the Second French Empire.
- 1871: Unification of Germany under the direction of Otto von Bismarck.
- 1873: Panic of 1873 occurs. The Long Depression begins.
- 1885: Karl Benz invents Benz Patent-Motorwagen, the world's first automobile.
- 1885: First permanent citywide electrical tram system in Europe (in Sarajevo).
- 1895: Auguste and Louis Lumière begin exhibitions of projected films before the paying public with their cinematograph, a portable camera, printer, and projector.
- 1902: Guglielmo Marconi sends first transatlantic radio transmission.
- 1914: Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is assassinated; World War I begins.
- 1917: Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks seize power in the Russian Revolution. The ensuing Russian Civil War lasts until 1922.
- 1918: World War I ends with the defeat of Germany and the Central Powers. Ten million soldiers killed; collapse of Russian, German, Austrian, and Ottoman empires.
- 1918: Collapse of the German Empire and monarchic system; founding of Weimar Republic.
- 1918: Worldwide Spanish flu epidemic kills millions in Europe.
- 1918: Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolves.
- 1919: Versailles Treaty strips Germany of its colonies, several provinces and its navy and air force; limits army; Allies occupy western areas; reparations ordered.
- 1920: League of Nations begins operations; largely ineffective; defunct by 1939.
- 1921–22: Ireland divided; Irish Free State becomes independent and civil war erupts.
- 1922: Benito Mussolini and the Fascists take power in Italy.
- 1929: Worldwide Great Depression begins with stock market crash in New York City.
- 1933: Adolf Hitler and the Nazis take power in Germany.
- 1935: Italy conquers Ethiopia; League sanctions are ineffective.
- 1936: Start of the Spanish Civil War; ends in 1939 with victory of Nationalists who are aided by Germany and Italy.
- 1938: Germany escalates the persecution of Jews with Kristallnacht.
- 1938: Appeasement of Germany by Britain and France; Munich agreement splits Czechoslovakia; Germany seized the remainder in 1939.
- 1939: Britain and France hurriedly rearm; failed to arrange treaty with USSR.
- 1939: Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin agree partition of Eastern Europe in Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.
- 1939: Germany invades Poland, starting the Second World War.
- 1940: Great Britain under Winston Churchill becomes the last nation to hold out against the Nazis after winning the Battle of Britain.
- 1941: U.S. begins large-scale lend-lease aid to Britain, Free France, the USSR and other Allies; Canada also provides financial aid.
- 1941: Germany invades the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa; fails to capture Moscow or Leningrad.
- 1942: Nazi Germany commences the Holocaust — a Final Solution, with the murder of 6 million Jews.
- 1943: After Stalingrad and Kursk, Soviet forces begin recapturing Nazi-occupied territory in the East.
- 1944: U.S., British and Canadian armed forces invade Nazi-occupied France at Normandy.
- 1945: Hitler commits suicide, Mussolini is murdered. World War II ends with Europe in ruins and Germany defeated.
- 1945: United Nations formed.
- 1947: The British Empire begins a process of voluntarily dismantling with the granting of independence to India and Pakistan.
- 1947: Cold War begins as Europe is polarized East versus West.
- 1948–51: U.S. provides large sums to rebuild Western Europe through the Marshall Plan; stimulates large-scale modernization of European industries and reduction of trade restrictions.
- 1949: The NATO alliance is established.
- 1955: USSR creates a rival military coalition, the Warsaw Pact.
- 1950: The Schuman Declaration begins the process of European integration.
- 1954: The French Empire begins to be dismantled; Withdraws from Vietnam.
- 1956: Suez Crisis signals the end of the effective power of the British Empire.
- 1956: Hungarian Uprising defeated by Soviet military forces.
- 1957: Treaties of Rome establish the European Economic Community from 1958.
- 1968: The May 1968 events in France lead France to the brink of revolution.
- 1968: The Prague Spring is defeated by Warsaw Pact military forces. The Club of Rome is founded.
- 1980: The Solidarność movement under Lech Wałęsa begins open, overground opposition to the Communist rule in Poland.
- 1985: Mikhail Gorbachev becomes leader of the Soviet Union and begins reforms which inadvertently leads to the fall of Communism and the Soviet Union.
- 1986: Chernobyl disaster occurs, the worst nuclear disaster in history.
- 1989: Communism overthrown in all the Warsaw Pact countries except the Soviet Union. Fall of the Berlin Wall (opening of unrestrained border crossings between east and west, which effectively deprived the wall of any relevance).
- 1990: Reunification of Germany.
- 1991: Breakup of Yugoslavia and the beginning of the Yugoslav Wars.
- 1991: Dissolution of the Soviet Union and the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
- 1993: Maastricht Treaty establishes the European Union.
- 2002: End of European colonial empires with the independence of East Timor, formerly Portuguese Timor.
- 2004: Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Cyprus and Malta join the European Union.
- 2007: Romania and Bulgaria join the European Union.
- 2008: The Great Recession begins. Unemployment rises in some parts of Europe.
- 2013: Croatia joins the European Union.
- 2014: Revolution in Ukraine and serious tensions between Russia, Ukraine and the European Union.
- 2015: European migrant crisis starts.
- 2016: United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union.
History of Europe Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.