The World History cannot be completed without the history of Europe as different nations of the European Continent has played a major role in the political, economic and scientific history of world since long ago. From classical period to modern era, you will find one or more European nations on the fore-front of World Politics. You can read below with detail the different prominent nations of Europe in different periods and also the reasons of their rise and decline.
According to an estimate, the Europe was initially inhabited by humans between 45,000 and 25,000 BC. It was a Paleolithic (stone) Period. Around 7000 BC, they adopted agriculture during Neolithic (New stone) Period. This period lasted for about 4000 years in Europe. The period was replaced by Bronze Age. The technical advancements in these periods came through the Mediterranean people in the south and gradually spread to the northwest Europe. Few of the famous civilizations of Bronze Age were Minoan (27th Century-15th Century BC) and Mycenaean (1600-1100 BC), both in modern-day Greece.
The classical period in Europe comprised mainly on the civilizations of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. It is also known as Greco-Roman World. This period starts with the rise of Greek civilization (8th Century BC) and ends with the fall of Western Roman Empire (476 AD). This period is much important for modern period as many important thoughts in Renaissance were taken from that period.
The Ancient Greek civilization started with the formation of City States in Greece around 8th Century BC. These City States were autonomous, self-governed and largely independent which were ruled by their own citizens and having their own currency. All of these States had the same religion and civilization. The city of Athens was a major city state of that age.
The Hellenistic period started after death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and lasted till 30 BC when Roman Empire occupied all these areas of Greece. In the beginning, Philip II (King of Macedonia) occupied all areas of Greece and took them under his direct rule in 338 BC after Battle of Chaeronea. Later, his son Alexander the Great conquered the whole of Persian Empire and other areas including Persia, Levant, Egypt, Mesopotamia and parts of modern day Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia. After his death in 323 BC, all these areas conquered by Alexander came under the strong effect of Greek civilization for next two to three centuries. This process is known as Hellenization.
Prominent personalities of Ancient Greece include Alexander the Great, Plato, Socrates etc.
The civilization of Ancient Rome started around 8th century BC from Italian Peninsula.
The Roman Kingdom was established in 753 BC by Romulus, who was the first king of Rome. After the death of a king, the Senate had to elect the new king. Total seven kings passed through around 250 years of this kingdom. The kingdom was overthrown in 509 BC and replaced by Roman Republic.
The Roman Republic was headed by two consuls. Citizens elected them annually. In this republic form of government, the rulers had less power than monarchs due to separation of power, while checks and balances were ensured between different state organizations through a complex constitution.
Lucius Brutus was the first ruler of this republic. At its farthest extent, the Roman Republic captured modern day Italy, Belgium, France and parts of Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Turkey and North Africa. Julius Caesar was most famous among the rulers of Roman republic. Many areas were conquered during his reign (49 BC-44 BC). In 27 BC, the last ruler of Roman republic, Gaius Octavianus (Augustus) founded the Roman Empire and became its first Emperor.
During the period of Roman Empire, the emperor was the sole powerful ruler who controls the empire according to his will and the role of people in government was minimal. During the rule of Trajan (98-117 AD), the empire reached at its peak with conquering most of southern, western, central Europe, Anatolia, Egypt, North Africa, Levant and few other areas in Asia.
During the 3rd Century (235-284 AD), a crisis emerged due to civil wars, invasions, economic destabilization and plague. The empire weakened drastically due to that crisis but was able to restore stability later. To return to the former glory, the two emperors Constantine and Diocletian decided to split the Roman Empire in to two parts in the 4th Century AD. The Western Roman Empire with its capital Rome, while the other was Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) with its capital Constantinople (now Istanbul). The Eastern Roman Empire later adopted Christianity as its state religion in 380 AD.
The Germanic people of Northern Europe grew in strength in the 4th and 5th centuries and attacked several times in the areas of Western Roman Empire. In 476 AD, they were able to defeat the Western Roman Empire completely by capturing Rome and the last Roman Emperor Romulus Augustus surrendered to Odoacer, the Germanic King. The fall of Western Roman Empire in 476 AD marks the end of Classical Period and starts the Middle Ages.
Middle Ages is the period span roughly from 5th to 16th century AD. To be correct, it starts with the fall of Western Roman Empire in 476 AD and ends with the discovery of the New World in 1492. Middle Ages are divided in 3 parts. Early Middle Ages, High Middle Ages and Late Middle Ages.
The Early Middle Ages is the period roughly from 500 to 1000 AD. Muslim Arab armies started to attack the Arab and North African parts of Roman Empire from 7th century. In 637 AD, Muslims captured Roman-occupied Mesopotamia (Iraq) and later in 638 AD, they also occupied Levant (Al-Sham) from the Romans. In 646 AD, Muslims also conquered Roman Egypt and later also the North African parts of Roman Empire. Muslim navy also captured Crete, Cyprus, Sicily and other important island from Roman Navy during that period. In 711, Muslim General Tariq bin Ziyad captured the Iberian peninsular from Visigothic kingdom. In 756 AD, an Umayyad prince Abdul Rahman I established Emirate of Cordoba there, which later became a Caliphate in 929 AD.
Around 800 AD, the king of Franks Charlemagne was crowned as emperor by the pope for his support to Christianity. The kingdom was based in modern France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and parts of Spain, Hungary, Italy etc. Later, this kingdom divided in two parts. The western part is known as West Francia (later Kingdom of France) while the East Francia became the Holy Roman Empire (modern Germany). During 400s AD, Romans abandoned the British Isles and thus making way for the Germanic people of Scandinavia. The Anglo-Saxons Scandinavia established various small kingdoms in Southern Britain that would evolved in to Kingdom of England in 927 AD.
In 681 AD, Bulgaria became the first Slavic country and empire. It captured whole of Balkan area from Byzantine Empire and both empires were rivals of each other for this area for centuries. In the 9th century AD, two other Slavic states emerged. These were the Great Moravia (today’s Czech Republic and Slovakia) and Kievan Rus (modern day Ukraine, Belarus and European Russia). In the Central Europe, independent states were formed in the 10th century, including Poland, Kingdom of Hungary etc.
A prominent factor of the Early Middle Ages in Europe was serfdom. It was a form of slavery for the farmers who had to work for the feudal only for safety and justice. The surfs had to do extra work for their livelihood.
The High Middle Ages is the period of 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. In 1054 AD, the Church divided in two parts. These were Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople and Roman Catholic Church in Rome. During that period, the Vikings of Scandinavia had settled in France, Britain, Ireland and other adjacent areas while in their Scandinavian homeland, Norse Christian Kingdoms were established.
The most important political events of the high middle ages were the Holy Wars. These wars started on the orders of Roman Catholic Church because most of the European Kingdoms accepted Roman Catholic Christianity and the influence of Pope had flourished a lot during this time. These Holy Wars can mainly be divided in to Crusades in the Levant, Reconquista and the Northern Crusades.
During Crusades in the Levant (1096-1303 AD), total nine battles were fought. The aim of this Crusade was to regain the control of Holy Land (Jerusalem) from Muslims. This area was conquered by Muslims during the reign of Rashidun Caliph Umar (RA). The First Crusade (1096-1099) was successful and the Crusaders formed Kingdom of Jerusalem and other Crusader States in the areas occupied from Great Seljuq Empire and other Muslim dynasties. During the Second Crusade (1145-1149), the Muslim states of Seljuq Sultanate and Zengids defeated the Crusaders and later also conquered Jerusalem (1187 AD). During Third Crusade (1189-1192), Crusaders were able to regain control of many areas but could not conquer Jerusalem. The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) was fought between the Crusaders and the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire was defeated and Latin Empire and other Latin states were formed in the occupied areas including Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire was later reestablished in 1261 AD. The Muslim Ayubid dynasty was victorious in the Fifth Crusade (1213-1221) against the Crusaders. During the Seventh Crusade (1248-1254), Ayyubids and Bahri Mamluks again defeated the Crusaders decisively. The Ninth Crusade (1271-72) was fought between Mamluks and Crusaders. Ten-year truce was signed between the two parties without any major territorial change. The Battle of Shaqhab (1303 AD) was the last encounter of these Crusades. Mamluks completely defeated Mongols and Crusaders and conquered the Holy Land completely.
The Reconquista means to re-conquer Iberian peninsular (Spain & Portugal) from Muslims. The peninsular was conquered by Muslims in 711 AD. The initial efforts started in 1085 AD with the recapture of Toledo. After that, it took more than 400 years for the Christian armies to completely retake the peninsular from Muslims.
The Northern Crusades were held in Baltic region of Estonia, Prussia, Latvia and Lithuania against the pagan people of these areas. The Crusaders were the Christian kingdoms of Sweden, Denmark and their allies. These Crusades were held in the 12th and 13th Centuries. The pagans were defeated in these Crusades.
The rise of Mongols changed the whole situation in Eastern and Central Europe during this period. They conquered almost whole of Russia, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, Moldavia etc. Their rule in Central Asia, Eastern and Central Europe is known as Golden Horde, which lasted from around 1240 to 1502 AD.
The Late Middle Ages roughly span the 14th and 15th centuries. The major events of this period include Hundred Years’ War, Great Famine of 1315-17 and the Black Death.
The Hundred Years’ War was a conflict composed of series of battles fought between the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of France from 1337 AD to 1453 AD. The French remained victorious in this long conflict. England lost all the continental territories except the Pale of Calais (now in France).
The Great Famine of 1315-17 affected Scandinavia, Germany, British Isles, Netherlands, Belgium and other areas of Northern Europe. It occurred due to severe cold weather of 1315 and continued till harvest in summer of 1317 AD. The complete recovery could not be achieved till 1322 AD. Lots of people especially children died due to this famine and the life expectancy decreased to low levels.
The Black Death was a plague endemic that affected Europe from 1348 AD to 1353 AD. Along with Europe, it also span in few areas of Asia and Africa. According to an estimate, this endemic killed around 75 to 100 million people worldwide. It is thought that almost half of the total European population vanished due to Black Death. The Great Famine and Black Death create negative emotions in the people against the Church as they could not do anything to stop these disasters and thus paved the way for Renaissance.
In 1453 AD, the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and cause the fall of Byzantine Empire. The event is usually associated with the end of Middle Ages.
Early Modern Europe
Early Modern Europe is the period roughly from 1500 to 1800 AD or more exactly from the discovery of New World (The Americas) in 1492 to French Revolution in 1789. The major characteristics of this period are the Renaissance, exploration and discovery, reformation, technological progress, rise of nation states and witch-hunts.
Renaissance (rebirth) was a cultural movement that started in Italy and gradually spread in whole of Europe during 14th and 17th centuries AD. There was a tendency of learning about the previous golden ages of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome and these teachings spread due to the invention of printing press. It was also a rebellion against Pope and the religion as they could not do anything to stop the endemic Black Death and the Great Famine, and also as they were against scientific inventions and consider them against religion. The major work done due to Renaissance was in he fields of arts, music, science and humanism. The same movement was also behind the Reformation Movement and Political Absolutism. The influential personalities of this movement were Francesco Petrarch, Leonardo da Vinci, Niccolo Machiavelli (author of The Prince), Michelangelo and others.
The Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453 and thus cut the trading routes to east. This forced the European to find new trading routes for eastern countries. Due to this problem, the age of Exploration and Discovery began. The Portuguese were the first to begin the exploration by discovering many areas on western coast of Africa in the 15th Century. They were later joined by their neighbour Spain after their completion of reconquesta. In 1492, Christopher Columbus was funded by the Spaniards in order to reach the Indies (east and south Asia) through west route, as it was known that the world is round and it is possible. In October 1492, Columbus reached modern day Bahamas and called it West Indies. Later from 1492-1503 AD, Columbus discovered many islands of West Indies, northern South America and Central America during his four voyages. In 1497, John Cabot with the commission of Henry VII of England discovered few areas of North America. It is believed that he reached island of Newfoundland (Canada). In 1498 AD, Portuguese reached Calicut (western India) through southern Africa by Vasco da Gama and later in 1500 AD, a Portuguese nobleman and explorer Pedro Alvares discover Brazil and later advancing the same route through which Vasco da Gama reached India. In 1524, an Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano at the behest of Francis I of France became the first European to reach the area later became Virginia Colony (now in USA). In 1606 AD, a Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon became the first European to reach the western shore of Queensland (Australia). In 1643 AD, another Dutch explorer Abel Tasman became the first European to reach Tasmania (island in southern Australia), New Zealand and Fiji islands. Till 1660 AD, Russians were able to conquer whole of Siberia and reach the Pacific Ocean.
The authority of Church was challenged in the 15th Century due to rise of Renaissance and printing press in whole of Europe. In 1517 AD, the Protestant Reformation was started when a German Catholic priest Martin Luther questioned the authority of Pope by writing “The Ninety-Five Thesis”. This started a wave of Religious Wars fought in the western and northern Europe from 1524 to 1648 AD. The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 ended these wars. The corruption in the Church and several religious dogmas were the basic reasons for this reformation movement. The Counter-Reformation movement by the Church was aimed to reduce corruption from Church and strengthen their ideology. This movement made it possible to keep many European countries like Spain, Portugal, Poland etc under Catholic effect.
Due to discovery and scientific inventions, this age also became age of colonial expansion for European nations. The Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, Russians, Dutch and other European nation make their colonies in large areas of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia. They benefited a lot from these expansions through Mercantilism (using sources of their colonies). They also fought each other for control of different colonies.
Another important characteristic of this period was Political Absolutism. Strong central governments were formed under powerful monarchs. All of them had powerful bureaucracies and strong armies. Best examples of these monarchs are Louis XIV (King of France 1643-1715), Peter the Great (Tsar of Russia 1682-1725) and Frederick the Great (King of Prussia 1740-1786).
The Renaissance and Reformation movements bought Enlightenment during that period. It emphasizes the importance of reason (science) instead of tradition (religion). It promoted rationalism, intellectual wisdom and scientific thinking. Many philosophers of that age were epitome of this movement. Famous among them are physicist Isaac Newton (1643-1727), philosophers John Locke (1632-1704) and Francis Bacon (1562-1626).
The “long nineteenth century” (1789-1914) was the period of revolutions. It was dominated by Industrial Revolution and Political Revolution (French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars). These revolutions paved the way for rise of Nationalism. The other major events of this period are the rise of Russian Empire, British Empire, German Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire and the decline of Ottoman Empire. Later all these events led to the First World War (1914-1918).
The Industrial Revolution started from Britain in later part of 18th Century and flourished through the 19th Century. The other European countries and North America also followed this revolution later. The important technological advancements during this revolution were in the textile manufacturing, invention of steam engine, using of coal as fuel due to coal mining, steam engine, development of modern machine tools, invention of gas lighting, cement, paper machine, glass making and new agricultural tools. The transport system was revolutionized by building of canals, new road system and railway system. This revolution produces better standards of life and flourished many industries.
The Political Revolution was dominated by French Revolution in 1789. The French supported the American Revolution (1775-1789) that harmed them to become almost bankrupted. The economic condition of the Empire weakened miserably which especially affected common people very badly. This, along with the social injustice and failure of reforms by French Emperors, led to the anger of common people especially lower class. The revolution started with the Storming of Bastille on 14th July by people, who captured the Bastille (a state prison). This success led to the high morale of revolutionists and they were later managed to overthrow the emperor and the whole system of aristocratic feudal and religious privileges and replaced it with a democratic and secular republic under the revolutionary motto of “Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood”. The revolution paved the way for the era of great French ruler and military commander Napoleon Bonaparte. His reign started in 1799 with the formation of First Consul. He became emperor in 1804 AD. He initially established internal security and prosperity by uniting different sections of France and then formed the First French Empire by establishing rule in modern day Italy, Spain, Germany and large area of western and southern Europe. His period is known as a shining period of revolutionary France. He was finally defeated by the Seventh Coalition in 1815 at Battle of Waterloo.
The French and Industrial revolution sparked the nationalists’ movements in many areas of Europe. These movements were based on racial unity (common language and ethnicity). Many revolutions and battles were fought under these movements in the 19th Century. Few of these were successful including Serbian Revolution (1804-33) and Greek War of Independence (1821-32) against Ottoman Empire, Italian Unification (1815-71) and German Unification (1860s).
The last major impact of this age was the formation and stretch of colonial empires in Europe. These empires were composed of different areas in Europe and other continents. The unification of Italy and Germany led to the formation of Italian colonial Empire and German colonial Empire. The other notable empires of this age were British Empire (largest empire in history so far), French colonial Empire, Russian Empire and Dutch Empire. The formation of these empires was the basic cause of two devastating wars of 20th Century, World War I and World War II.
For more details about these wars and other events of 20th Century, please visit the article with title 20th Century.