|Area||4,066,281 square miles|
|Coastline||50,000 square miles|
|Highest Point||Mt. Elbrus, 18,481 feet|
|Lowest Point||Shoreline of Caspian Sea, 92 feet below sea level|
|Longest River||Volga, 2,330 miles|
|Number of Countries||50|
Europe is the western part of the continental landmass of Eurasia, consisting of the general area between the Ural Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. With an area of 3,998,000 square miles it ranks as the second-smallest of the continents, but in terms of population (727,000,000 in 2007) it is the third-largest. Europe is made up of approximately 50 countries.
Long a center of culture, art, philosophy, warfare, invention and government, Europe was the birthplace of classical liberalism; the Renaissance; the springboard of the great age of exploration; and the beginnings of the industrial age. Several major empires inhabited the continent: Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Ottomans, the Austrian, the French, the German, and the British each producing great achievements, as well as fighting huge wars which have shaped the world.
Politically, most countries in the region are part of the European Union, with Switzerland and Norway being notable exceptions, and most are part of the NATO military alliance. The EU is slowly becoming a power in its own right, especially in economic affairs. NATO has been the world's dominant military force, in large part because it is basically controlled by the United States.
In recent years conservative parties have dominated in Europe, as typified by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Vladimir Putin of Russia. Europe’s center-right parties have embraced many ideas associated with the left in the United States: generous welfare benefits, nationalized health care, sharp restrictions on carbon emissions, the ceding of some sovereignty to the European Union. But they have won elections by promising more efficiently than the left-wing parties, while working to lower taxes, improve financial regulation, and grapple with ageing populations. They have supported the United States in Afghanistan, participating heavily in the International Security Assistance Force. In general, labour unions are tied to the left in Europe and have the image of inefficiency and selfishness. "Green" parties, emphasizing environmentalism, have drained off much of the younger leftist. Europe is generally a highly secularized continent containing many of the most atheistic countries in the world.
There is no overall consensus over the eastern boundary of Europe, given that it is not a continent in the same sense as the others, given that it is not a distinct tectonic plate. However, one of the most commonly suggested eastern borders is that of the Ural Mountains, a chain running north-south in present-day Russia. The Caucasus, another mountain chain between the Black and Caspian Seas, forms the southern land boundary. Its remaining boundaries are coastlines; the Arctic Ocean, the North and Norwegian Seas, the Atlantic Ocean, and Mediterranean Sea. The northernmost point on the mainland is Cape Nordkinn, Norway; the southernmost in Spain at Punta de Tarifa.
Cool winters and mild summers are typical of the climate in northern Europe, the result of the warm currents brought by the warm North Atlantic Drift as well as prevailing westerly winds. The climate of southern Europe is Mediterranean, usually hot in summer, with most rainfall taking place in winter. A colder climate begins in central Poland eastward, typified by drier conditions and, especially in Russia, severely-cold winters.
The major rivers in western Europe originate in the mountain ranges of central Europe. The Rhine, Rhone, Elbe, Seine and Vistula flow from the Alps and the Balkans northward, emptying into the English Channel, North and Baltic seas; the Po and Rubicon rivers flow into the Mediterranean Sea, while the Danube flows into the Black Sea. Long a navigable river, the Danube is further connected via locks and canals to the Rhine, ensuring a centuries-long free flow of commerce from both sides of Europe into the interior. In eastern Europe the major rivers flow towards the south, emptying in the Black and Caspian seas; among them are the Dnepr, Donets, and Volga. With the exception of the Mediterranean rivers, all European rivers have an even rate of flow as a result of an even spread of yearly precipitation; the faster-flowing rivers, particularly in the mountain highlands and Scandinavia, also aid in the production of hydroelectric power for home and industry.
Forests covered a large part of Europe as late as the 19th century, but human activities have cleared many areas for farming. Still, a large amount of forested land remains, as well as those acres that have been re-planted or re-grown after human abandonment.
A mixed coniferous-deciduous belt dominates a vegetation zone across the central portion of the continent from east to west, characterized by oak, elm and maple mingled with fir and pine. Spruce and pine dominate inland northern Europe as a result of cool, but mild temperatures. Tundra is characteristic of the Arctic land regions, consisting of shrubs, wild flowers, lichens and mosses. To the east is the European Plain, an expanse of prairie grass which gives way to the Ukrainian steppe and its short grasses of a drier climate.
The lakes and rivers support an abundance of fish, including trout and salmon, while the coastal areas and inland seas support tuna, sardines, sturgeon, cod, haddock, halibut, and many others. Birds are widespread as well, including eagles, storks, ravens, and seabirds.
Although there are many mammal species on the continent (deer, lemmings, beaver, etc), they have been hard hit as a result of man's long occupation in Europe. The once common brown bear (Ursus arctos) is now restricted to isolated pockets of the Pyrenees and the far north of Scandinavia. The wisent (Bison bonasus), the largest mammal on the continent, has been over-hunted so extensively that only a few managed herds survive in central Poland, while a relative, the larger aurochs (Bos primigenius) was killed off by 1627.
Coal is found extensively in Britain, Spain, France, the Ruhr of Germany, Belgium, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and the Ukraine. Oil and natural gas deposits lie throughout Europe, with the two most important regions within Russia and the North Sea. Nickel, tin, bauxite, copper, lead, gypsum, manganese, lead, and iron ore have been mined extensively and traded. Marble, such as that from Carrera, Italy, is used in monumental architecture and statuary.
Countries in Europe with the largest percentage of arable land include the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, and the Netherlands, all of which have large areas of plains despite also having a large amount of highlands (in addition, the Netherlands has much land re-claimed from the sea). In addition, nearly half of western Europe has arable land. Norway, Sweden, Finland, and northern Russia have limited amounts of arable land by comparison, due to a restricted growing season at high latitudes as well as extreme cold.
It is conjectured that the first humans migrated into Europe in several waves, either from Asia Minor across the Bosporus and into the Balkan region, or from Asia by way of the steppes. River barriers, mountains, and forested lands help to divide early Europeans into distinct groups, and by about 4000 B.C. humans were well-established.
A large number of diverse ethnic groups live on the continent. Several of the European nations are composed of one predominant ethnic group, i.e. Greeks in Greece, Spanish in Spain. Several of these countries have a distinctive minority, such as the Laplanders of northern Norway and Finland.
The vast majority of the languages spoken on the European continent come from the Indo-European language family. Within this category, the three largest European branches are the Romance (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian); Germanic (German, English, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic); and Slavic (Russian, Bulgarian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Slovenian, Macedonian, Serbo-Croatian). Other Indo-European languages include Celtic (Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Breton), Baltic (Latvian, Lithuanian), Greek and Albanian. Non-Indo-European languages spoken in Europe include languages within the Finno-Ugric group (Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian). Turkish is spoken in the European portion of Turkey.
Several of the European languages were spread world-wide over the past five hundred years as a result of trade, colonization, or political/military power; as a result, French, English, Spanish, and German are second languages for many people.
The dominant religion in Europe is Christianity, with the Roman Catholic Church the largest single denomination, forming a major part of the lives of people in France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and Poland. The Protestants are several churches which originally broke away from the Catholic Church at the beginning of the 16th century, the first being the Lutheran Church. Members of Protestant denominations form the majority in Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom. The third major Christian group is Eastern Orthodoxy, mainly in eastern Europe, of which the Greek and Russian denominations are well known.
Europe is a very secularized and socialized continent, especially in the north and west.
About 15 million Muslims now live in Europe, 3% of the population. They are highly diverse in terms of ethnicity and language; about half practice religion. About half are citizens of the countries in which they live. Economic poverty and limited opportunity is striking for the Muslims of France; where riots have occurred periodically. Islam is the dominant religion in the Balkan countries of Albania and Kosovo as well as the slice of Turkey in Europe.
Culture and Education
Europe has long and rich cultural history, which produced many outstanding works in painting, sculpture, architecture, dance, music, and literature; among the great masters are Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Raphael, Vincent Van Gogh, Mozart, Brahms, Alexander Dumas, Charles Dickens, and many others. Paris, Vienna, London, Rome, Madrid, Florence, and other European capitals became havens where art flourished and expanded. Institutions of learning also grew, with several, such as Oxford and Cambridge, becoming well-known world-wide.
Migration and differential birth and death rates have resulted in a shifting in population distribution over periods of time. By 400 A.D. the bulk of the population was along the Mediterranean coastline; today the interior and north-central Europe has the majority of population density. The average life expectancy for Europeans is 75 years, despite a population decrease attributed to a low birth rate of 10.2 births per 1,000 people (2005).
Economy and Commerce
The Industrial Revolution began in Europe during the late 18th century, and since then Europe has become a leading exporter of manufactured goods. Textiles and clothing, ships, motor vehicles, aircraft, railroads, are among the items produced, and since World War II high-technology and electronic items were added. Manufacturing is particularly concentrated in central Europe, and in European Russia and Ukraine.
European farmers produce a mixed variety of crops yearly, with wheat producing the largest yield, especially within the Ukraine. Other crops include barley, oats, rye, corn, potatoes, beets, beans, peas, and sugar beets. Southern Europe is noted for the production of grapes for the wine industry, olives, pistachio nuts, and citrus fruits; the first two (grapes and olives) have become important to the identity as well as the economy of the countries which produce them. Animal production includes beef (especially in Spain), pigs, goats, and poultry.
The main sources of wood for construction and other products come from the northern European forests of Scandinavia, Finland, and Russia; southern Europe, with less forested acreage, is known primarily as a producer of cork.
Fishing is very important to northern European countries; access to the cold waters of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans enable a large harvest of cod, char, herring and flatfish yearly. All coastal countries engage in commercial fishing to some degree, and two, Italy and Greece, have fishing traditions which date to ancient times.
The Vikings have traded extensively via the waterways and river systems of northern Europe, while in the south the Danube and Mediterranean were used. Today, large fleets of ships are maintained by several countries which import and export a great deal of goods, and have transformed many coastal cities into major sea ports.
Highways and roads are well-established and maintained; Germany's famous Autobahns providing the example, and in addition to trade via trucks a large number of Europeans own automobiles. Railways carrying passengers and freight criss-cross the continent; France's TGV is among the fastest trains in the world, and the "Orient Express", made famous by an Agatha Christie novel, still makes its fabled run from Paris to Istanbul.
All European countries have a national airline (KLM, Lufthansa, British Airways, etc) that maintain routes world-wide. The Airbus Corporation competes with Boeing in the manufacture of large-bodied passenger aircraft.
International and intercontinental trade on a large scale is conducted by nearly all European countries, with the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom among the largest trading nations in the world.
It was during the late Paleolithic that humans arrived on the continent, and although of a hunter-gatherer stock they left behind examples of their art, most notably the cave paintings in Spain and France with their highly-decorated murals of extinct animals. As these hunters settled down by the Neolithic period, they had learned to farm, and by roughly 6000 B.C. farming had spread across most of the continent. With farming came a more settled life, and towns were created, with the Starčevo and Danubian cultures in the Balkans, and Sesklo and Dimini in Thessaly. Trade in metals (copper, tin) resulted in the creation of bronze by about 4000 B.C.; amber marked its appearence as a precious stone in trade from the Baltic. Elaborate burials were becoming common, especially of aristocrats or royalty; during this time as well humans were organized into societies that resulted in the construction of the megaliths, of which Stonehenge is the best known example.
No clear definition exists for the origin of the Indo-European languages. Some scholars theorize that it came across the plains north of the Black Sea with a kurgan culture around 2500 B.C. According to the theory, the first such kurgan invasion was successful in the Balkans, where it spread to central Europe.
The island of Crete in the Aegean was the first to have a major civilization in Europe. Named after King Minos of Greek mythology, the Minoan Civilization had its capital at Knossos; the ruins excavated in the early 20th century by British archaeologist Arthur Evans indicate a well-developed society, capable of extensive trade by sea, which effectively controlled the Aegean by 1600 B.C. By then the first tellings of the Mycenaean Civilization appeared on mainland Greece. These ancient Greeks may have been Indo-Europeans from the Balkans, and have been in conflict with the Minoans, who simply vanish from the historical record by 1400 B.C. (this may be due to the eruption of Thera, a volcano to the north of Crete, about 1450 B.C., which may have caused a tsunami to strike Crete; physical evidence on Crete indicates a massive, catastrophic explosion). By 1200 B.C. the Mycenaeans themselves were almost destroyed, by warfare and earthquakes. In the years following, the Greeks began to fashion new tools and weapons from iron.
- DeWald, Jonathan, ed. Europe 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World (6 vol. 2003), 3200pp; 1100 articles by experts.
- Merriman, John, and Jay Winter, eds. Europe 1789 to 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of Industry and Empire (5 vol 2006).
- Merriman, John, and Jay Winter, eds. Europe - Since 1914 - Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction (5 vol 2005), 3100 pp. 920 articles by experts
- Europe (Eyewitness Travel Guides) by Dan Colwell (2003)excerpt and text search
- The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget (2008)excerpt and text search
- Frommer's Eastern Europe by Dr. Ryan James et al. (2009) excerpt and text search
- MTV Europe by Lauren Berger et al. (2006) excerpt and text search
- Central Europe by Lisa Dunford et al. (2009) excerpt and text search
- Western Europe by Ryan ver Berkmoes (2009) excerpt and text search
- Rick Steves' Best of Europe 2010 by Rick Steves (2009) excerpt and text search
Surveys and textbooks
- Beazley, Mitchell. From the Dark Ages to the Renaissance: 700 - 1599 AD (2003)
- Bispham, Edward. Roman Europe: 1000 BC - AD 400 (Short Oxford History of Europe) (2009) excerpt and text search
- Buchanan, Tom. Europe's Troubled Peace: 1945 - 2000 (2006) excerpt and text search
- Davies, Norman. Europe - A History (1998). excerpt and text search
- Eichengreen, Barry. The European Economy since 1945: Coordinated Capitalism and Beyond (2008) excerpt and text search, advanced economics
- Hollister, C. Warren, and Judith Bennett. Medieval Europe: A Short History (2005) excerpt and text search
- Judt, Tony. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (2006) - 933 pages excerpt and text search
- Kerr, Gordon. A Short History of Europe: From Charlemagne to the Treaty of Lisbon (2009), 160pp
- Kishlansky, Mark, et al. A Brief History of Western Civilization: The Unfinished Legacy (2 vol. 2006) , widely used textbook; numerous editions
- McEvedy, Colin, and David Woodroffe. The New Penguin Atlas of Recent History: Europe Since 1815 (2003) excertp and text search
- McKay, John P. et al. Western Society: A Brief History: (2 vol 2009), widely used textbook; numerous editions
- Mazower, Mark. Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century (2000) excerpt and text search
- Merriman, John. A History of Modern Europe, From the Renaissance to the Present (2nd ed. 2004) excerpt and text search
- Milward, Alan S., and S. B. Saul. Development of the Economies of Continental Europe 1850-1914 (1977)
- Sherman, Dennis. Western Civilization: Sources, Images, and Interpretations, from the Renaissance to the Present (2006) excerpt and text search
- Spielvogel, Jackson J. Western Civilization (2008); widely used textbook; numerous editions
- Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E. Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789 (2006), stress on social history excerpt and text search
- Wasserstein, Bernard. Barbarism and civilization: a history of Europe in our time (2007) 901 pages excerpt and text search