This is meant to be a brief overview to help people fully understand the importance of our current political situation. I am focusing on all of Europe in this overview of history, from the Ural mountains to the ocean. The era before the Minoans is prehistory for Europe because there are no written records.
Early origins of European civilization (3500 BC – 800 BC)
The first civilization in Europe were the Minoans, who started to flourish around 3500 BC. They are probably the ancestors to the Greeks. The Phoenicians grew up in the Levant and colonized significant portions of the Mediterranean. The Mycenaean people appeared in 1600 BC. They are related but their relationship has not been established. The Greeks expanded until about 1100 BC when the Mycenaen empire fell for unknown reasons.
Expansion of Greek civilization (800 BC – 343 BC)
The Etruscans were the second city states to be established in what is now Europe around 900 BC in modern day Italy. Carthage (which was a descendant of Phoenicia) became a major power in the Mediterranean, controlling the south coast of the Mediterranean from modern day Benghazi to the Atlantic Ocean. The Etruscan civilization dominated northern Italy, and the Persians dominated modern day Turkey.
Expansion of Rome (343 BC – 27 BC)
This era is where the expansion of empires in Europe expands significantly. The beginning is the era of Alexander the Great, with his empire which made many innovations which the Romans would use at the end of this time period. Rome expanded across the Italian peninsula, with their first Spanish possessions in 218 BC. The Romans expanded first across the entire southern coast of the European peninsula (because Europe really is just a peninsula of Asia). By 146 BC Rome had conquered Carthage and had significant territory on the North Coast of Africa. The Gauls were conquered in 51 BC. In 32 BC Rome conquered Mauritania (modern day Algeria) and in 30 BC Egypt became conquered by Rome. By 29 BC the Mediterranean Sea was a Roman lake. In 27 BC Augustus established the Roman Empire.
Roman Empire (27 BC – 395 AD)
Rome expanded across Western Europe. In 18 BC they conquered the last Celtic holdout in Hispania, and were one of the three large empires during the period, along with the Parthians, and of course the Han dynasty. In 43 AD the Roman Invasion of Britain began. In 47 AD Rome conquered Thrace and the Mediterranean was a Roman Lake. Politically Rome maintained its size for 348 years until it was divided in 395 AD as a result of corruption, invasions by Germans, and other factors.
Divided Roman Empire (395 AD – 476 AD)
Rome was divided for 81 years, as subjugated peoples fought for independence. Britain was lost in 410, and in 476 the Western Roman Empire fell permanently.
Eastern Roman Empire, Germanic Kingdoms (476 AD – 711)
The Franks grew to become the dominant ethnic group in the West under the Franks. Celtic Kingdoms emerged in Britain. The Visigoths dominated Hispania. The Roman Empire maintained power over parts of the Italian peninsula, but Rome was not as powerful as it used to be.
There were many minor conflicts across the Frankish area during this time in the form of rebellions, and fighting between different Frankish kingdoms.
Islamic Hispania, Frankish North, divided England , Viking raids (711 – 928 AD)
- Reconquista (711-1492)
Islamic Hispania, England united, East Francia (928 AD – 963 AD)
In 928 AD England was united under Egbert. England would of course grow to be a global power. Reconquista continues
Caliphate of Cordoba, Holy Roman Empire formed (963 – 1066)
Hugh Capet became the King of France. His descendants would rule until 1793. Spain became fractured. In 1066 the Viking William of Normandy conquered England which significantly changed European politics.
Poland is formed.
England as a major power (1066-1238)
England had significant holdings in Europe from 1066 until 1837. Spain continued to be a hotbed of Islamic expansion. Catholic Kingdoms helped the Catholic Hispanic kingdoms fight the various Islamic Caliphates which came to power during this time period. England and France were often at war starting in 1213 during this period.
- Reconquista (711-1492)
- Crusades (1095-1291)
- Anglo-French War (1213-1214)
Mongols in the East to the Fall of Rome (1238-1460)
This period is marked by the Golden Horde dominating Eastern Europe. This is frequently called the High Middle Ages, a period of relative geopolitical stability in European history.
The 1200s saw the decline of the Byzantine Empire and the arrival of the Ottomans. The Mongols swept through Eastern Europe
By 1329 all of Europe was finally the possession of a state. The last area to be conquered was part of modern-day Lithuania by the Teutonic Knights and Lithuania.
The Black Death killed between 30% and 60% of Europe’s population from 1346-1353.
The Hundred Years War was the longest period of war during this time from 1337-1453 between the House of Plantagenet and House of Valois. As a consequence, England lost Aquitaine and abandoned their claims to the French throne.
In 1453 Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans and in 1460 Mehmed II invaded Morea marking the end of the Roman Empire.
- Reconquista (711-1492)
- Crusades (1095-1291)
- Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453)
Reconquista ends and end of the Roman Empire to the discovery of the New World (1460-1492)
1492 marked the end of the Reconquista where Muslims were expelled from Hispania and Christopher Columbus landing in the Caribbean. This era is clearly distinct from the eras before and after it because the Roman Empire was over, but Colonization had not begun yet.
Colonization of the Americas (1492-1783)
The Golden Horde were defeated in 1502.
The 16th century saw multiple Italian Wars involving England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire. Aside from Spanish Netherlands coming and going, there were not very many significant changes to the map of Western Europe during this time period. In the Holy Roman Empire several large states increased in importance. Russia expanded across Siberia in this time period. The United Kingdom was formed in 1701 by the Acts of Union. Russia expanded in Eastern Europe.
Eastern Europe was dominated by the Ottomans, the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire. Austria started to become more significant near the end of this period due to their unification with Hungary.
The Thirty Years War lead to an increase in Protestantism in Northern Europe.
The Independence of the United States heralded the beginning of revolutions which would rock Europe over the next 130 years. Austria expanded its power into Hungary and parts of modern Yugoslavia.
There were many wars in this era between great houses vying for dominance over the peninsula.
- First Italian War (1424-1498)
- War of the league of Cambrai (1508-1516)
- Italian War (1521-1526)
- War of the league of Cognac (1528-1529)
- Italian War (1542-1546)
- Italian War (1551-1559)
- Thirty Years’ War
- Second Anglo-Dutch War
- Nine Years’ War
- The War of the Spanish Succession
- War of the Quadruple Alliance
- War of the Spanish Succession
- Seven Years’ War
- American Revolutionary War
End of Monarchy, Age of Nationalism (1783-1919)
The French monarch was the first to fall during the French Revolution. Napoleon ruled from 1799 to 1815. Poland was conquered by Russia. The United Kingdom lost its last continental holdings in Calais in 1837. Italy was unified in 1861. Germany was formed in 1871 as a Constitutional Monarchy. From 1871 to 1919 Eastern Europe was dominated by just 4 empires, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire.
- War of the French Revolution
- Napoleonic Wars
- World War I
Interwar era, rise of Communism, and World War II (1919-1945)
Most monarchies in Europe had been abolished at this time. The Soviet Union expanded in the East. Hitler had a goal of ruling the entire world and committed the Holocaust. World War II was the last war to be fought in Western Europe.
- World War II
Cold War, rise of the European Community, Pax Europa (1945-1991)
This was the beginning of the longest era with no wars being fought between Western Europe in history. The European Community was formed in 1993.
Pax Europa, European Union (1991-Present)
The European Union was formed in 1993. The United Kingdom left the European Union in 2020. There has not been a war in Western Europe since the end of World War II.
This leads us to the current European map showing the interplay of the European Council, European Union, Schengen Treaty, and the Euro.
Red = European Council
Blue = European Council, European Union, Schengen Treaty, Eurozone
Teal = European Council, European Union, Schengen Treaty
Purple = European Council, European Union, Eurozone
Yellow = European Council, European Union
Green = European Council, Schengen Treaty
When looking at this chronology of historical events, a few things stand out to me personally:
- The current period of peace in Western Europe is without precedent. Every inch of territory in Europe is fully claimed by a sovereign state, as has been true for only the last 700 years. What is unique is this is the longest period of peace in European history. The anniversary of 75 years since the end of World War II is a very big deal. Never before has there been peace in Western Europe for as long as this current ongoing period of history. This is the longest period of peace for France since the Roman Empire.
- It is really easy to take a simplistic view of history. Seeing history in three main periods, Ancient, Medieval, and Modern simplifies history to a point which is barely useful. It also globalizes European History in a way which is not accurate for the rest of the world. 2000 BC is more different from 1 AD than today is. I like these categories of history for Western Europe because I believe it provides a deeper understanding of what was actually happening socially and culturally in that part of the world.
- The map of Europe in 500 AD has almost nothing in common with today’s borders.
- It is really easy to understate the importance of the Holy Roman Empire in the way we generally view European history. Same goes for the Byzantine Empire.
Hopefully this overview of European history will help the reader have a greater understanding of the magnitude of the current Pax Romana. The era of European history we live in is incredibly special, so hopefully with this understanding we can preserve the peace and see other parts of the world build the institutions and economic realities which allow people to prosper. Moving forward we can hopefully fight bigotry and hatred, and not go back to the mistakes of our ancestors, but learn from their successes.
I believe that understanding history give us the ability to gain that understanding to learn how to preserve what is special, notice which institutions, economic realities, and cultural norms are creating more prosperity, freedom, and peace. Once we understand where we once were we can then focus on what has and has not worked in the past and hopefully not make the same mistakes of the past.