An Introduction to Europe History

For the better part of two millennia, Europe has forged the course of world history. Its powerful countries have shaped the world’s social, political, and economic structures. Its people have fought, struggled, and died to establish a European identity based on values that continue to shape our own. The continent, whose 2 percent of the planet’s surface is home to an amazing array of cultures and ideas, was one of the first to form a national system of government and develop a literature, art, and philosophy. Its ideas, wars, and revolutions have spread far beyond its borders, touching every corner of the globe.

Its fertile soils have long attracted invaders seeking riches, a fact that helped fuel centuries of conflict. Although a uniquely civilized culture developed on the continent, its lack of large river basins and exceptionally long coastline made it difficult to sustain centralized power. Moreover, the mountains and rivers of Western Europe separate it from the Eurasian steppe, the grasslands that once housed the warlike nomads who created powerful empires in Russia, Asia, and elsewhere.

From the 7th century to the early modern period, the Europeans were divided by a series of small kingdoms that competed with each other for trade, territory, and even religious faith. In the late 700s, a Germanic king, Charlemagne, conquered most of Western Europe. This unified the region for a time, but he did not create a new, common culture.

The Renaissance, the French Revolution, and the subsequent Enlightenment were major sociocultural movements that changed how Europe viewed its past and the world in general. These movements stressed the value of reason over blind faith and superstition.

These ideas led to a more democratic political structure that promoted the rule of law and individual rights. Europeans began to look beyond their immediate surroundings and into the wider world, a development that led to modern globalization.

This period was marred by the First and Second World Wars. Millions of lives were lost, and much of Europe was destroyed. The Cold War divided the continent for many years. It was only in the late 1950s that European politicians began to work toward a closer Europe.

Today, Europe is an international economic and political power. It is also a cultural leader, home to great universities and some of the world’s greatest artists, musicians, writers, scientists, and thinkers. The continent continues to evolve, with the fall of the Iron Curtain allowing reunification of Germany and the end of Communism in Russia and other former Soviet states. The rise of the European Union marks a new era of cooperation and peace in the continent that covers almost half of the world’s land mass. The continent is still home to many of the world’s largest and oldest civilizations, a legacy that extends to the present day.

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