Europe is a small continent. It occupies only 2% of the Earth’s surface, however its history is crazy. Do you have ten minutes? We start in prehistory. Europe is inhabited by various peoples: Celtic peoples, Germans, Slavs, Italic peoples, Hellenic peoples, among others, and in the year 1000 BC, the first big player appears: The Greek civilization. It was an incredible empire, and their contributions to humanity are amazing. They create the polis (cities), but they stand out in art, architecture, astronomy, philosophy, medicine, and, of course, they create the Olympic Games. The Greeks move throughout the Mediterranean Basin and the Black Sea and occupy different territories. With Alexander the Great, Greece reaches the height of its power. It is the 4th Century BC. At the same time, another great city appears in the Mediterranean: Rome. Rome is progressively gaining organization and expanding itself, so much so that it became the greatest competitor of Greece and creates a power struggle between both empires. They spend almost a century fighting, but finally, in 146 BC, Rome defeats Greece and extends through this whole zone that before was Greek. But Rome is not content with this and also occupies the interior of Europe, arriving at the Rhine and the Danube. Look, in 46 AD, they entered England and Wales. This is the moment of their greatest extent, and because of this, among other reasons, the empire splits in two: Rome and Constantinople, which centuries later will be Byzantium. On the other side of these rivers the Germanic peoples are pushing. For centuries, Rome was able to restrain their advance, but in the 4th Century, it begins to lose power and the German pressure overpowers them. Now, the peoples of the North begin to move and extend throughout all of Europe, occupying Roman territory. Two stand out: In the South, the Goths: They come from here, sack Rome, and some of them go on to dominate the Iberian Peninsula. In the North, the Franks, who conquer more and more land until they conquer all of Gaul. Both peoples went from being semi-nomadic to living by agriculture and animal husbandry. And in the northern part of Europe [Eastern Europe], what happens? Remember? This area had been populated by Slavic tribes, but it has been repopulated by peoples from Asia. At the end of the 9th Century, some of them create the Kievan Rus’, in modern-day Ukraine. The Rus’ (by the way, that’s where the name of Russia comes from) grow and divide into different principalities that compete amongst themselves for control, until, in the 13th Century, the Mongols arrive and impose vassalage, that is to say, they submit to them. Many of the Rus’ flee from the Mongols and organized themselves in Moscow. Moscow is becoming progressively stronger, and when, in the 14th Century, the Mongol Empire enters into decline, Moscow becomes the leader of the area, with Ivan the Terrible as the first Tsar. They lay the foundations of the future Russian state. I will tell you about this in future chapters. And in this area? Pay attention! Muslim people are expanding through North Africa, and in the year 711, they enter Europe here, and conquer the Iberian Peninsula. They also intend to expand here, into Byzantine territory, and in 1453, they conquer Constantinople, and continue their advance during the following centuries, arriving here. We arrive at the 15th Century. Europe has organized itself into monarchies that govern large areas. In general, the European population live under the dominion of kings and aristrocrats and poor social and working conditions. The Muslims have been expelled from the Iberian Peninsula, but continue to control the Mediterranean, so now Europe looks for new commercial alternatives: The period of European expansion begins. The first to voyage is Portugal, in the 15th Century, and it goes to Africa, establishing itself in various coastal areas. The next are the Spanish, but you see, by now, they know the Earth is round, so they believe they can arrive in India via the Atlantic, but, surprise, they encounter America, and begin its conquest. Spain comes to colonize all this. Then follow the Portuguese, who stay in this area, the French travel to Canada and the Antilles and place their colonies, the English do the same in North America, and the Dutch also take their parcel here. Oof! Everyone in Europe wants to end up with some part of the continent, and as if that’s not enough, look, the Europeans think they don’t have enough in the indigenous population to do the hardest work in their colonies, so, at the beginning of the 16th Century, they go to Africa, kidnap hundres of thousands of its people, and take them to America as slaves. Three centuries of slavery, unimaginable… But, one moment, let’s go back a little bit in history. Europe is going crazy conquering land, but, within the continent, they have a grave problem. There still aren’t definite divisions of lands and this creates a lot of tension. I haven’t told you before, but since the 14th Century, there were successive wars, one after another, between different kingdoms, with the intent of gaining more land and power. And in this warring and colonizing mess, between the 17th and 19th Centuries, a new cultural-intellectual movement emerges in Europe: The Enlightenment. Fed up with so much religious dogma and abuse of power by absolute monarchies, they defend the freedom of thought and the equality of people. This ideology culminates in the French Revolution. Under the motto of “Liberty, equality, and fraternity/brotherhood” they create a revolution of the people, which ends with the elimination of the kings. They behead them. Fearing that this revolution might expand to more European territories, Austria, Prussia (modern-day northern Germany), and, later, Great Britain, initiate the invasion of France. France reacts with more force. Under the command of the famous Napoleon, they invade all of this. In the end, all together, they defeat Napoleon, in the Battle of Leipzig. Even so, the liberal ideas of equality and against monarchial absolutism have no reverse and take root throughout Europe, and the different monarchies are weakening. But in addition, something else important happened. These invasions unleashed in the assaulted areas a feeling of national identity, so nationalism emerged in different areas. Too much information in so little time, right? Well, forgive me, but there’s more. You know the Rus’? Well in the last few centuries it has evolved, it’s expanded to the east conquering all of Siberia and it’s been under the government of different tsars. Well, as a result of those liberal movements that i just told you about, the Tsar, too, began to lose power. Let’s continue, because now that the monarchies are so weakened and the nacionalist movement has emerged, in America, the colonized areas begin to become independent from Europe. The First: The United States, the 5th of July, 1776 [Actually the 4th of July] Then the rest will follow until 1902, when Cuba will. But Europe doesn’t stop with its conquests; if I lose colonies in America, then I’ll look for them in other parts of the world. The Netherlands colonize Indonesia and England occupies Australia, New Zealand, and India. At the same time, seven European countries have gone invading Africa and take almost all of the continent, and now, let me give you a spoiler: In 1913, these seven countries agreed to an allocation of the continent— They cut it up like a cake, to avoid the tensions that were emerging between them over the African territories. It’s crazy, but true! These other countries will take many years to become independent. The 20th Century. This thirst for power, nevertheless, generates a great internal tension within Europe and, in this context, Prussia invades France. This increases the tension between countries, and in a structure of alliances and political interests, produces the First World War: The Triple Alliance versus the Triple Entente, then more countries will join. Germany loses the war and the result is millions of deaths and a state of desolation all throughout Europe. And wait, because, as if that wasn’t enough, in Russia there was the Russian Revolution. Communism took power and the régime expanded to nearby nations; thus emerged the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the first communist part of the world. After the First World War, rather than achieving a reconciliation between countries, the animosity and tensions of the past continue. In this era dictators emerged in different countries: Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain, Salazar in Portugal, and as you know, Hitler in Germany. These dictators provoked an increase in tensions and the Second World War exploded, the worst military contest in history, in which many nations of the world were implicated. Millions of civilians die, the Holocaust takes place, and, for the first and only time, nuclear weapons are used. The terrible experience of the World Wars makes Europe reflect and the different states decide to better their relationships to avoid more confrontations: First, in 1958, the European Economic Community is created, and later, in 1993, it becomes the European Union. 28 countries are part of the European Union, which will be joined, later, by others. On the 1st of January, 1999, a common currency was introduced for various countries of the European Union, the euro. Meanwhile, the communist régime of the USSR fails and in 1991 it dissolves. That means the different republics that it controlled are freed and new states emerge. Something similar happens in Yugoslavia; after various wars, it fragments into various nations. Now you see, in one century, Europe goes from having 24 countries, to having 50. The 21st century is characterized by a bad economic crisis, by a situation of unrest and terror produced by violent attacks of Islamist terrorism in various European cities, and by massive migration from countries in situations of poverty and war. We have arrived at the present.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *