Traveling broadens our mind and helps us with better understanding of the world around us. Historical places interest of a country attracts most of the tourists.
The legacy of European history is so rich and diverse that most of European tourism centers round its historical aspects which ranges from the ancient period of the Greek and Roman civilization to the 2nd world war and beyond.
Europe is a destination of great intellectual feast for a history buff. However even if you do not have any interest in history of Europe then also the grand historical places and structure is bound to entice you.
If you seek the essence of the Europe’s cultural diversity you cannot get its full effect unless you have a basic idea of its history.
It must be remembered that the cultural heritage of a country develops depending on its historical events.
But it doesn’t mean that you have to go through thick history books on European history as a part of preparation of you tour in Europe.
For your convenience we at Travel to Europe Guide provide the concise history of this continent so that you can prepare yourself within a short time and get the full enjoyment of your trip to the European historical venues.
Table Of Content
- Classical Antiquity
- Germanic Invasions of the Roman Empire
- Rise of Modern States
- Wars of Religion and Conquest
- Shifting Fortunes of Nations
- The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars
- Industrial revolution and Growing Nationalism
- Colonies and Alliance
- World War I
- Aftermath of World War I
- Rise of Mussolini and Hitler
- World War II
- World after World War II
- Recent History
Evidence of people living in Europe is dated back to as long as to the Ice Age.
However civilization flourished in this continent from about 2000 BC when people emigrated from Egypt and Asia which later led to the prospering of the splendorous Greek and Roman culture.
It can be said that the recorded rich history of Europe began with these two cultures.
The Greeks are foremost with reference to the period in which the Greek civilization developed advanced culture and political prominence.
The Greeks came forth into prominence in the 2nd Century BC as a result of settling and intermixing of the migrating Indo-Europeans population with the population of the Mediterranean region.
The culture of Greek civilization had a great influence and acted as the base for the development of Roman civilization and the mighty Roman Empire.
Together they formed the base of the European culture and literature and led to European Renaissance after the Middle Ages.
With the breaking up of the once mighty Roman Empire, the leadership of the Eastern Empire which gradually came to be known as Byzantine Empire, fell in the hands of the Greeks.
The Greeks formed the nucleus of the Byzantine Empire protected Europe against the invaders from Anatolia until the fall of Constantinople – the capital of Byzantine Empire in 1453.
The increase of political dominance of the Roman Civilization and spread of Latin language led to the development of the mighty Roman Empire which at its pinnacle of power in the 2nd Century Ad dominated northern Africa, western Asia, all Mediterranean countries, Spain, Gaul and Southern Britain.
Held together by the military power of one city the building of an enormous empire was Rome’s greatest achievement.
Roman Empire changed the overall religious belief of Europe from pagan to Christianity. Christianity and a church of a Roman character became one of the most important features in western European civilization.
In 395 AD with the death of Theodosius the Great the Roman Empire fell apart dividing in two parts.
The Western Empire with Rome as its capital city and the Eastern Empire which later came to be known as the Byzantine Empire with Constantinople (modern day – Istanbul) as its capital.
With the extinction of once mighty unified Roman Empire the barbaric people of Europe which were not under the Roman rule came into prominence.
These barbaric tribes can be classified under three main groups:
- Remnants of the Celtic peoples in outlying parts of the British Isles.
- Germanic, or Teutonic, folk living along the Rhine and Danube rivers and in the Scandinavian Peninsula.
- The Slavs regarded as the ancestors of Russians, Poles, Czechs and Serbians.
Germanic Invasions of the Roman Empire
The Gothic tribes especially the Visigoths and Ostrogoths capitulated along the shores of river Danube and Black Sea for almost 200 years.
When this region was invaded by Huns in 375 AD, the inhabitants pushed westwards leading to Gothic invasion of Gaul.
At the same time Britain being abandoned by weakened and now divided Roman Empire, was now increasingly being invaded by the Anglo Saxons.
However the influence of Rome – its language, law and government left an impression that has not yet been wholly effaced.
By 800 AD, Charlemagne brought almost all the Germanic tribe within his Domain and created an empire that stretched from Ebro River in Spain to beyond Elbe River, and from North Sea to a little south of Rome.
Christianity spread through most of Europe. Islam came into Spain as early as 711 AD which remained insignificant till the Moors were conquered in 1492.
Rise of Modern States
The establishment of Kingdoms and nations of France and Germany can rightly be dated back to the Treaty of Verdun concluded in 843 AD between Charlemagne’s grandsons leading to the division of Frankish Empire between them.
The empire in the West which now included Germany and Italy revived under Otto I, the King of Germany which remained in prominence till 1806.
The Byzantine Empire remained as a bulwark against Asian and Islamic conquest till it was overrun by Ottoman Turks leading to its downfall in 1453.
The Vikings which notoriously raided the western European coast throughout the 9th century established settlements in Western Europe in 850 AD.
Later they conquered Naples and Sicily. They also provided a new ruling Dynasty for England in 1066
Later on the Capetian kings of France were able to reconstitute the unity of their kingdom and lead it to the path of internal peace and prosperity. Under Louis XI France in the 15th century was a strong monarchial state of modern times.
The states of the Church were set up in Italy as the temporal dominion of the Pope. Poland and Russia became settled Christian lands.
The heathen Prussians were Christianized and Germanized by the Teutonic Knights. Feudalism, Christianity, Monasticism, medieval art and learning spread at rapid speed.
Crusades slow but steady setting up of city life and revival of trade and commerce, helped to prepare the way for the rebirth of human spirit, revival of classical art, literature and learning in Europe which is widely known as Renaissance.
Wars of Religion and Conquest
To assert the claim on Naples and Sicily Charles VIII of France in 1494 ensued a series of wars against Italy which embroiled France and Spain for over half a century resulting in the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire become the ruler of Burgundy, Spain, Germany, Sardinia, Naples, Milan and Netherlands.
The movement of Protestant Reformation initiated by Martin Luther rained momentum during this time.
The 30 years of war (1618-1648) between the Catholic and Protestants greatly weakened the Holy Roman Empire and was practically confined to Germany and Austria, resulting in France becoming European superpower.
Shifting Fortunes of Nations
In the 18th century the once mighty powerful state of Poland which had risen to power in 16th century declined rapidly.
Under Peter the Great and Catherine II, Russia became a formidable Empire in the 18th Century. Soon after the French Revolution of 1789, Prussia rose to power following the conquest of Fredrick the Great.
By this time England had become the head of British Empire. Its people had had originated the inventions which led to Industrial Revolution.
The “Mother of Parliaments” i.e. the British Parliament was a model of Constitutional Government and political liberty during the first half of the 19th century.
The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars
The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars brought about significant changes in Europe. Under Napoleon I, the French Empire spread to vast extents of Europe.
After the fall of Napoleon in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo the annexed portions were taken away from France and she was forced to retreat within her older borders.
Another important event during this period was the organization Germanic states, Austria, Prussia into a loose union, namely the German Confederation.
The industrial revolution and Growing Nationalism
The Grand Alliance formed by Austria, Prussia, Russia and Great Britain (later on joined by France) dominated the concert of Europe, a system where no important change can take place within the political domain of Europe without the consent of these Great Powers.
However no pressure from Great Powers can permanently block a change. The Industrial revolution spread throughout Europe and brought about distinct political and social changes.
For half a century nationalism developed- the political union of people with common racial, territorial or emotional attachments.
Otto Von Bismarck, the Prime Minister of Prussia undertook three wars, removing Austria out of German Confederation and united the rest of Germans in German Empire under the King of Prussia.
The Crimean War (1854-1856) which ensued due to Russian intervention in the establishment of small nations of Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria from the tottering Turkish Empire, led Russia to submit to a settlement by the Grand Alliance.
Bismarck after the Franco-Prussian war (1870–1871) annexed Alsace-Lorraine (which largely had French population).
In 1867 Austria’s defeat in the hands of Prussia led to the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary. In French Emperor Napoleon III was driven out of throne and a republic was set up.
Colonies and Alliance
With Industrialization the Great powers started to produce goods in unprecedented scale – more than they could sell at home.
Moreover they needed raw materials. For these reasons the great powers set up great colonial empires; Britain and France in Asia and Africa, Russia in Northern Asia.
Gradually these great powers come into conflict against one another due to the disputes over the division of colonies between them.
This situation led to armament race and alliance between these nations which resulted into intense political tension.
Germany, Britain, France, Russia formed triple Alliance, creating an atmosphere of tension which resulted in World War I.
World War I
The assassination of Francis Ferdinand, Austria’s crown prince in Sarajevo on June 28 1914 was a result of the propaganda spread by Serbia for annexing Bosnia and Herzegovina and parts of Austria-Hungary inhabited by Serbs.
This resulted into war engulfing the whole of Europe.
The war had far reaching effect into effect on Europe. The Czar of Russia was ousted due to Russian Revolution initiated by Bolshevik party under the leadership of Lenin.
German and Austrian emperors were dethroned and replaced by republics. The Sultan of Turkey was replaced by Ataturk-an army supported dictator.
The aftermath of World War I
Paris Peace conference attempted the task of reconstruction by concluding separate peace treatise with the defeated countries. League of Nations – a common platform to resolve all problems between nations was formulated.
However the Treaty of Versailles, that was concluded with defeated Germany resulting into hatred, which sowed the seeds for World War II, which was conducted and caused destruction in much larger scale unprecedented in history.
This treaty forced Germany to return Alsace-Lorraine to France, disarm Germany, and reduce its army, navy and air force power to a great extent.
Germany was stripped off all its colonies and was forced to pay huge amount of reparation payments for war damages.
Rise of Mussolini and Hitler
However within a few years of World War II, economic crises that rocked the nations after the war led to the rise of dictators in various countries.
Among them Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany rose to prominence. In 1922 Mussolini rose to power and in 1933 Hitler became the Fuhrer – “The Leader” of Germany.
Parliamentary government was also abolished in Poland, Austria, Spain, and some of the Balkans.
In most of these countries with the dictators Socialistic government came into control, free speech was supplanted by propaganda.
Mussolini and Hitler fully mobilized their national resources to build up huge war machinery, developing Military power by completely disregarding international law and especially the Treaty of Versailles.
By regarding Germany as a wronged country Hitler announced Germany’s withdrawal from the League of Nations and in 1936 reoccupied Rhineland and started rebuilding its army, air force, navy.
Mussolini too despite the sanctions against it by the League sent its forces to Ethiopia and neared victory.
In 1936 Italy and Germany announced an agreement known as Rome-Berlin Axis which was later expanded by the inclusion of Japan under the “anti-Comintern” pact.
France was dithered by internal discord, England being unprepared to defend itself at home, in the Mediterranean, and in the Far East at the same time, agreed to satisfy the grievances of Germany and Italy.
World War II
Hitler then occupied Austria and annexed it to Germany. He then by threatening France and England brought them into an agreement (the Munich Pact 1938) and seized most of Czechoslovakia, the rest being divided among Hungary which is now within anti-Comintern pact, and Poland.
In 1939 Spain under its Dictator Francisco Franco joined the anti-Comintern pact.
Hitler invaded Poland in August 1939, and as pledged by France and England they declared war on Germany. Thus the World War II began.
Hitler then by Blitzkrieg –“Lightening War” occupied France and then most of Europe along with its allies the most prominent was Mussolini’s Italy. He then attacked England.
Soviet Union entered the war against the axis powers after Hitler invaded it on 22nd May 1941. USA entered the war after the Pearl Harbor attack by Japan on 7th Dec 1941.
The other European axis powers having surrendered earlier on May 8th 1945 with Germany’s surrender the European chapter of the World War II ended.
All of Europe was in dire need of help. Most of its cities lay in ruins, villages, railways, highways, ports, and canals had been destroyed. Farmers needed seed, draft animals, and machinery.
The World after World War II
After the Fall of Axis powers especially Hitler a new struggle of power began within the allied countries.
With the communist country of Soviet Union and its occupied Eastern European countries on one hand and the whole of Western Europe under the leadership of USA on other hand, a new state of tension ensued affecting the whole world known as Cold War.
Also the European power being by the war has to free most of its colonies in Asia and Africa.
The Cold War ended only with the Fall of Berlin Wall leading to the reunification of divided Germany in 1989 and the fall of Soviet Union in 1991.
With the Treaty of European Union signed by the members of European Union in 1992 led to the transformation of the ‘European project’ into European Community for deeper cooperation and peace among the countries of Europe.
In 1999 Euro a common currency for most European Union was electronically established and was officially tied to the currencies of each participating nations.
In 2002 the Euro was put to circulation and the old currencies were phased out.
A united Europe along these lines, with common rules and democratic institutions, has become a model for united world.