History of Europe describes the history of humans inhabiting the European continent since it was first populated in prehistoric times to present, with the first human settlement between 45,000 and 25,000 BC.
Greco-Roman civilizations dominated Classical antiquity starting in Ancient Greece, generally considered to be the seminal culture which provided the foundation of Western civilisation and influential on language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, science and the arts, with the writing of the epic Iliad at around 700 BC. Those values were acquired by the Roman Republic established in 509 BC, having expanded from Italy, centred in the Mediterranean Sea, until the Roman Empire reached its greatest extent around the year 150.
After a period of civil wars, emperor Constantine I shifted the capital from Rome to the Greek town Byzantium in 313, then renamed Constantinople (modern Istanbul), having legalised Christianity. In 395 the empire was permanently split in two, with the Western Roman Empire repeatedly attacked during the migration period. Rome was sacked in 410 by the Visigoths, the first of the Germanic peoples migrating into Roman territories. With the last West Roman emperor removed in 476, Southeastern Europe and some parts of the Mediterranean remained under the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) up to the later 6th century.
As Constantinople faltered, Bulgars established First Bulgarian Empire next to the northeastern border of the Byzantine Empire, and Germanic peoples established kingdoms in western territories. The new states shared Latin written language, lingering Roman culture and Christian religion. Much territory was brought under the rule of the Franks by Charlemagne, whom the pope crowned western Emperor in 800, but soon divided while Europe came under attack from Vikings, Muslims from North Africa, and Magyars from Hungary. By the mid-10th century the threat had decreased, although Vikings remained threatening Britain and Ireland.
After the establishment of Constantinople and the creation of a church there, which replaced the pre-existing bishopric of Heracleia nearby, tensions between the new and rapidly growing church and the church of Rome gradually increased, with doctrinal disputes masking the struggle for primacy. One well known instance of such tension (although it did not lead to a formal schism) occurred when in 1054 AD a legate of the pope, Cardinal Humbert, formally excommunicated the patriarch of Constantinople, an excommunication which was repeated against him the following day. However, from 1095 a series of religiously sanctioned military campaigns began to be waged by coalitions of Latin Christian Europeans, in response to a call from the Byzantine Empire, for help against the Muslim expansion. Spain, southern France, First Bulgarian Empire, Lithuania and pagan regions were consolidated during this time, with the Battle of Nicopolis the last large-scale crusade of the Middle Ages fought in 1396. Complex feudal loyalties developed and the aristocracy of new nations become very closely related by intermarriage. The feudal society began to break as Mongol invaded frontier areas and the Black Death pandemic killed from 30% to 60% of Europe's population.
Beginning roughly in the 14th century in Florence, and later spreading through Europe with the development of printing press, a Renaissance of knowledge challenged traditional doctrines in science and theology, with the rediscovery of classical Greek and Roman knowledge. Simultaneously Protestant Reformation under German Martin Luther questioned Papal authority. Henry VIII sundered the English Church, allying in ensuing religious wars between German and Spanish rulers. The Reconquista of Portugal and Spain led to a series of oceanic explorations resulting in the age of discovery that established direct links with Africa, the Americas and Asia, while religious wars continued to be fought in Europe, which ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia.
European overseas expansion led to the rise of colonial empires, producing the Columbian Exchange. The combination of resource inflows from the New World and the Industrial Revolution of Great Britain, allowed a new economy based on manufacturing instead of subsistence agriculture. Starting in 1775, British Empire colonies in America revolted to establish a representative government. Political change in continental Europe was spurred by the French Revolution under the motto libertÃ©, egalitÃ©, fraternitÃ©. The ensuing French leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, conquered and enforced reforms through war up to 1815.
The period between 1815 and 1871 saw a large number of revolutionary attempts and independence wars. In France and the United Kingdom, socialist and trade union activity developed. The last vestiges of serfdom were abolished in Russia in 1861 and Balkan nations began to regain independence from the Ottoman Empire. After the Franco-Prussian War, Germany and Italy unified into nation states, and most European states had become constitutional monarchies by 1871.
Rivalry in a scramble for empires spread. The outbreak of the First World War was precipitated by a series of struggles among the Great Powers. War and poverty triggered the Russian Revolution which led to the formation of the communist Soviet Union. Hard conditions imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression led to the rise of fascism in Germany as well as in Italy, Spain and other countries. The rise of the irredentist totalitarian regime Nazi Germany led to a Second World War.
Following the end of the Second World War, Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain between an American dominated west and a Soviet dominated east. Western countries came under US protection via NATO and formed the European Economic Community amongst themselves. The East was dominated by communist countries under the Soviet Union's economic and military leadership. There were also a number of neutral countries in between.
In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union fell and former Communist Bloc countries gained independence. The west's economic integration deepened and the European Union expanded to include most of the former-communist Eastern Europe in 2004.
Matching European History Colleges
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European History Scholarships
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