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Europe ( ) is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally divided from Asia to its east by the water divide of the Ural Mountainsmarker, the Ural River, the Caspian Seamarker, the Caucasus Mountainsmarker (or the Kuma-Manych Depression), and the Black Seamarker to the southeast. Europe is bordered by the Arctic Oceanmarker and other bodies of water to the north, the Atlantic Oceanmarker to the west, the Mediterranean Seamarker to the south, and the Black Seamarker and connected waterways to the southeast. Yet the borders for Europe—a concept dating back to classical antiquity—are somewhat arbitrary, as the term continent can refer to a cultural and political distinction or a physiographic one.

Europe is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area, covering about 10,180,000 square kilometres (3,930,000 sq mi) or 2% of the Earth's surface and about 6.8% of its land area. Of Europe's approximately 50 states, Russiamarker is the largest by both area and population, while the Vatican Citymarker is the smallest. Europe is the third most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of 731 million or about 11% of the world's population; however, according to the United Nations (medium estimate), Europe's share may fall to about 7% by 2050. In 1900, Europe's share of the world's population was 25%.

Europe, in particular Ancient Greece, is the birthplace of Western culture. It played a predominant role in global affairs from the 16th century onwards, especially after the beginning of colonialism. Between the 16th and 20th centuries, European nations controlled at various times the Americas, most of Africa, Oceania, and large portions of Asia. Both World Wars were ignited in Central Europe, greatly contributing to a decline in European dominance in world affairs by the mid-20th century as the United Statesmarker and Soviet Unionmarker took prominence. During the Cold War Europe was divided along the Iron Curtain between NATOmarker in the West and the Warsaw Pact in the East. European integration led to the formation of the Council of Europe and the European Union in Western Europe, both of which have been expanding eastward since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.


The use of the term "Europe" has developed gradually throughout history. In antiquity, the Greek historian Herodotus mentioned that the world had been divided by unknown persons into the three continents of Europe, Asia, and Libya (Africa), with the Nile and the river Phasis forming their boundaries — though he also states that some considered the River Don, rather than the Phasis, as the boundary between Europe and Asia. Flavius Josephus and the Book of Jubilees described the continents as the lands given by Noah to his three sons; Europe was defined as between the Pillars of Herculesmarker at Cadizmarker, separating it from Africa, and the Don, separating it from Asia. This division – as much cultural as geographical – was used until the Late Middle Ages, when it was challenged by the Age of Discovery. The problem of redefining Europe was finally resolved in 1730 when, instead of waterways, the Swedishmarker geographer and cartographer von Strahlenberg proposed the Ural Mountainsmarker as the most significant eastern boundary, a suggestion that found favour in Russiamarker and throughout Europe.

Europe is now generally defined by geographers as the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, with its boundaries marked by large bodies of water to the north, west and south; Europe's limits to the far east are usually taken to be the Urals, the Ural River, and the Caspian Seamarker; to the southeast, the Caucasus Mountainsmarker, the Black Seamarker and the waterways connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. Sometimes, the word 'Europe' is used in a geopolitically-limiting way to refer only to the European Union or, even more exclusively, a culturally-defined core. On the other hand, the Council of Europe has 47 member countries, and only 27 member states are in the EU. In addition, people living in insular areas such as Irelandmarker, the United Kingdommarker, the North Atlanticmarker and Mediterraneanmarker islands and also in Scandinavia may routinely refer to "continental" or "mainland" Europe simply as Europe or "the Continent".

Clickable map of Europe, showing one of the most commonly used geographical boundaries (legend:blue = states in both Europe and Asia; green = sometimes included within Europe but geographically outside Europe's boundaries)


In ancient Greek mythology, Europa was a Phoenicianmarker princess whom Zeus abducted after assuming the form of a dazzling white bull. He took her to the island of Cretemarker where she gave birth to Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon. For Homer, Europe (Greek: , ; see also List of traditional Greek place names) was a mythological queen of Crete, not a geographical designation. Later, Europa stood for central-north Greecemarker, and by 500 BC its meaning had been extended to the lands to the north.

The name of Europa is of uncertain etymology. One theory suggests that it is derived from the Greek roots meaning broad (eur-) and eye (op-, opt-), hence , "wide-gazing", "broad of aspect" (compare with glauk'ōpis Athena or boōpis Hera). Broad has been an epithet of Earth itself in the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European religion. Another theory suggests that it is actually based on a Semitic word such as the Akkadian erebu meaning "to go down, set" (cf. Occident), cognate to Phoenician 'ereb "evening; west" and Arabic Maghreb, Hebrew ma'ariv (see also Erebus, PIE *h1regʷos, "darkness"). However, M. L. West states that "phonologically, the match between Europa's name and any form of the Semitic word is very poor".

Most major world languages use words derived from "Europa" to refer to the continent. Chinese, for example, uses the word (歐洲), which is an abbreviation of the transliterated name (歐羅巴洲); however, in some Turkic languages the name Frengistan (land of the Franks) is used casually in referring to much of Europe, besides official names such as Avrupa or Evropa.



Homo georgicus, which lived roughly 1.8 million years ago in Georgiamarker, is the earliest hominid to have been discovered in Europe. Other hominid remains, dating back roughly 1 million years, have been discovered in Atapuercamarker, Spainmarker. Neanderthal man (named for the Neander Valleymarker in Germanymarker) first migrated to Europe 150,000 years ago and disappeared from the fossil record about 30,000 years ago. The Neanderthals were supplanted by modern humans (Cro-Magnons), who appeared around 40,000 years ago.

During the European Neolithic, a period of megalith construction took place, with many megalithic monuments such as Stonehengemarker and the Megalithic Temples being constructed throughout Western and Southern Europe. The Corded ware cultural horizon flourished at the transition from the Neolithic to the Chalcolithic. The European Bronze Age began in the late 3rd millennium BC with the Beaker culture.

The European Iron Age began around 800 BC, with the Hallstatt culture. Iron Age colonisation by the Phoeniciansmarker gave rise to early Mediterranean cities. Early Iron Age Italy and Greece from around the 8th century BC gradually gave rise to historical Classical Antiquity.

Classical antiquity

Ancient Greece had a profound impact on Western civilisation. Western democratic and individualistic culture are often attributed to Ancient Greece. The Greeks invented the polis, or city-state, which played a fundamental role in their concept of identity. These Greek political ideals were rediscovered in the late 18th century by European philosophers and idealists. Greece also generated many cultural contributions: in philosophy, humanism and rationalism under Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato; in history with Herodotus and Thucydides; in dramatic and narrative verse, starting with the epic poems of Homer; and in science with Pythagoras, Euclid, and Archimedes.
Another major influence on Europe came from the Roman Empire which left its mark on law, language, engineering, architecture, and government. During the pax romana, the Roman Empire expanded to encompass the entire Mediterranean Basin and much of Europe. Stoicism influenced emperors such as Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius, who all spent time on the Empire's northern border fighting Germanic, Pictish and Scottish tribes. Christianity was eventually legitimised by Constantine I after three centuries of imperial persecution.

Early Middle Ages

During the decline of the Roman Empire, Europe entered a long period of change arising from what historians call the "Age of Migrations". There were numerous invasions and migrations amongst the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Goths, Vandals, Huns, Franks, Angles, Saxons, and, later still, the Vikings and Normans. Renaissance thinkers such as Petrarch would later refer to this as the "Dark Ages". Isolated monastic communities were the only places to safeguard and compile written knowledge accumulated previously; apart from this very few written records survive and much literature, philosophy, mathematics, and other thinking from the classical period disappeared from Europe.

During the Dark Ages, the Western Roman Empire fell under the control of Celtic, Slavic and Germanic tribes. The Celtic tribes established their kingdoms in Gaul, the predecessor to the Frankish kingdoms that eventually became Francemarker. The Germanic and Slav tribes established their domains over Central and Eastern Europe respectively. Eventually the Frankish tribes were united under Clovis I. Charlemagne, a Frankish king of the Carolingian dynasty who had conquered most of Western Europe, was anointed "Holy Roman Emperor" by the Pope in 800. This led to the founding of the Holy Roman Empire, which eventually became centred in the German principalities of central Europe.

The Eastern Roman Empire became known in the west as the Byzantine Empire. Its capital was Constantinoplemarker. Emperor Justinian I presided over Constantinople's first golden age: he established a legal code, funded the construction of the Hagia Sophiamarker and brought the Christian church under state control. Fatally weakened by the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, the Byzantines fell in 1453 when they were conquered by the Ottoman Empire.

Middle Ages

The Middle Ages were dominated by the two upper echelons of the social structure: the nobility and the clergy. Feudalism developed in Francemarker in the Early Middle Ages and soon spread throughout Europe. The struggle between the nobility and the monarchy in England led to the writing of the Magna Carta and the establishment of a parliament. The primary source of culture in this period came from the Roman Catholic Church. Through monasteries and cathedral schools, the Church was responsible for education in much of Europe.

The Papacy reached the height of its power during the High Middle Ages. The East-West Schism in 1054 split the former Roman Empire religiously, with the Eastern Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire and the Roman Catholic Church in the former Western Roman Empire. In 1095 Pope Urban II called for a crusade against Muslims occupying Jerusalemmarker and the Holy Land. In Europe itself, the Church organised the Inquisition against heretics. In Spainmarker, the Reconquista concluded with the fall of Granadamarker in 1492, ending over seven centuries of Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsulamarker.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, constant incursions by nomadic Turkic tribes, such as the Pechenegs and the Kipchaks, caused a massive migration of Slavic populations to the safer, heavily forested regions of the north. Like many other parts of Eurasia, these territories were overrun by the Mongols. The invaders, later known as Tatars, formed the state of the Golden Horde, which ruled the southern and central expanses of Russiamarker for over three centuries.

The Great Famine of 1315–1317 was the first crisis that would strike Europe in the late Middle Ages. The period between 1348 and 1420 witnessed the heaviest loss. The population of France was reduced by half. Medieval Britain was afflicted by 95 famines, and France suffered the effects of 75 or more in the same period. Europe was devastated in the mid-14th century by the Black Death, one of the most deadly pandemics in human history which killed an estimated 25 million people in Europe alone — a third of the European population at the time. This had a devastating effect on Europe's social structure; it induced people to live for the moment as illustrated by Giovanni Boccaccio in The Decameron (1353). It was a serious blow to the Roman Catholic Church and led to increased persecution of Jews, foreigners, beggars and lepers. The plague is thought to have returned every generation with varying virulence and mortalities until the 1700s. During this period, more than 100 plague epidemics swept across Europe.

Early modern period

The Renaissance was a period of cultural change originating in Italy in the fourteenth century. The rise of a new humanism was accompanied by the recovery of forgotten classical and Arabic knowledge from monastic libraries and the Islamic world. The Renaissance spread across Europe between the 14th and 16th centuries: it saw the flowering of art, philosophy, music, and the sciences, under the joint patronage of royalty, the nobility, the Roman Catholic Church, and an emerging merchant class. Patrons in Italy, including the Medici family of Florentinemarker bankers and the Popes in Romemarker, funded prolific quattrocento and cinquecento artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci.

Political intrigue within the Church in the mid-14th century caused the Great Schism. During this forty-year period, two popes—one in Avignonmarker and one in Romemarker—claimed rulership over the Church. Although the schism was eventually healed in 1417, the papacy's spiritual authority had suffered greatly. The Church's power was further weakened by the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther, a result of the lack of reform within the Church. The Reformation also damaged the Holy Roman Empire's power, as German princes became divided between Protestant and Roman Catholic faiths. This eventually led to the Thirty Years War (1618–1648), which crippled the Holy Roman Empire and devastated much of Germany, killing between 25 and 40% of its population. In the aftermath of the Peace of Westphalia, Francemarker rose to predominance within Europe. The 17th century in southern and eastern Europe was a period of general decline.

The Renaissance and the New Monarchs marked the start of an Age of Discovery, a period of exploration, invention, and scientific development. In the 15th century, Portugalmarker and Spainmarker, two of the greatest naval powers of the time, took the lead in exploring the world. Christopher Columbus reached the New World in 1492, and soon after the Spanish and Portuguese began establishing colonial empires in the Americas. Francemarker, the Netherlandsmarker and Englandmarker soon followed in building large colonial empires with vast holdings in Africa, the Americas, and Asia.

18th and 19th centuries

The Age of Enlightenment was a powerful intellectual movement during the eighteenth century promoting scientific and reason-based thoughts. Discontent with the aristocracy and clergy's monopoly on political power in France resulted in the French Revolution and the establishment of the First Republic as a result of which the monarchy and many of the nobility perished during the initial reign of terror. Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power in the aftermath of the French Revolution and established the First French Empire that, during the Napoleonic Wars, grew to encompass large parts of Europe before collapsing in 1815 with the Battle of Waterloomarker.

Napoleonic rule resulted in the further dissemination of the ideals of the French Revolution, including that of the nation-state, as well as the widespread adoption of the French models of administration, law, and education. The Congress of Vienna, convened after Napoleon's downfall, established a new balance of power in Europe centred on the five "Great Powers": the United Kingdommarker, Francemarker, Prussia, Habsburg Austriamarker, and Russiamarker. This balance would remain in place until the Revolutions of 1848, during which liberal uprisings affected all of Europe except for Russia and Great Britain. These revolutions were eventually put down by conservative elements and few reforms resulted. In 1867, the Austro-Hungarian empire was formed; and 1871 saw the unifications of both Italy and Germany as nation-states from smaller principalities.

The Industrial Revolution started in Great Britainmarker in the last part of the 18th century and spread throughout Europe. The invention and implementation of new technologies resulted in rapid urban growth, mass employment, and the rise of a new working class. Reforms in social and economic spheres followed, including the first laws on child labour, the legalisation of trade unions, and the abolition of slavery. In Britainmarker, the Public Health Act 1875 was passed, which significantly improved living conditions in many British cities. Europe’s population doubled during the 18th century, from roughly 100 million to almost 200 million, and doubled again during the 19th century. In the 19th century, 70 million people left Europe.

20th century to present

Two World Wars and an economic depression dominated the first half of the 20th century. World War I was fought between 1914 and 1918. It started when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by the Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip. Most European nations were drawn into the war, which was fought between the Entente Powers (France, Belgiummarker, Serbiamarker, Portugalmarker, Russiamarker, the United Kingdommarker, and later Italymarker, Greecemarker, Romaniamarker, and the United Statesmarker) and the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germanymarker, Bulgariamarker, and the Ottoman Empire). The War left around 40 million civilians and military dead. Over 60 million European soldiers were mobilised from 1914–1918. Partly as a result of its defeat Russia was plunged into the Russian Revolution, which threw down the Tsarist monarchymarker and replaced it with the communist Soviet Unionmarker. Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire collapsed and broke up into separate nations, and many other nations had their borders redrawn. The Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended World War I in 1919, was harsh towards Germanymarker, upon whom it placed full responsibility for the war and imposed heavy sanctions.

Economic instability, caused in part by debts incurred in the First World War and 'loans' to Germany played havoc in Europe in the late 1920s and 1930s. This and the Wall Street Crash of 1929 brought about the worldwide Great Depression. Helped by the economic crisis, social instability and the threat of communism, fascist movements developed throughout Europe placing Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany, Francisco Franco of Spainmarker and Benito Mussolini of Italymarker in power.

In 1933, Hitler became the leader of Germany and began to work towards his goal of building Greater Germany. Germany re-expanded and took back the Saarlandmarker and Rhineland in 1935 and 1936. In 1938, Austriamarker became a part of Germany too, following the Anschluss. Later that year, Germany annexed the German Sudetenland, which had become a part of Czechoslovakiamarker after the war. This move was highly contested by the other powers, but ultimately permitted in the hopes of avoiding war and appeasing Hitler. Shortly afterwards, Poland and Hungary started to press for the annexation of parts of Czechoslovakia with Polish and Hungarian majorities. Hitler encouraged the Slovaks to do the same and in early 1939, the remainder of Czechoslovakia was split into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, controlled by Germany, and the Slovak Republic, while other smaller regions went to Poland and Hungary. With tensions mounting between Germany and Poland over the future of Danzigmarker, the Germans turned to the Soviets, and signed an important pact. Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, prompting France and the United Kingdom to declare war on Germany on 3 September. The Soviet invasion of Poland started on 17 September and Poland fell soon thereafter.
On 24 September, the Soviet Union attacked the Baltic countries and later, Finland. The British hoped to land at Narvik and send troops to aid Finland, but their primary objective in the landing was to encircle Germany and cut the Germans off from Scandinavian resources. Nevertheless, the Germans knew of Britain's plans and got to Narvik first, repulsing the attack. Around the same time, Germany moved troops into Denmark, which left no room for a front except for where the last war had been fought or by landing at sea. The Phoney War continued.

In May 1940, Germany attacked France through the Low Countries. France capitulated in June 1940. However, the British refused to negotiate peace terms with the Germans and the war continued. By August, Germany began a bombing offensive on Britain, but failed to convince the Britons to give up. In 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in the ultimately unsuccessful Operation Barbarossa. On 7 December 1941 Japan'smarker attack on Pearl Harbormarker drew the United States into the conflict as allies of the British Empire and other allied forces. After the staggering Battle of Stalingradmarker in 1943, the German offensive in the Soviet Union turned into a continual fallback. In 1944, British and American forces invaded France in the D-Day landings, opening a new front against Germany. Berlinmarker finally fell in 1945, ending World War II in Europe. The war was the largest and most destructive in human history, with 60 million dead across the world, including between 9 and 11 million people who perished during the Holocaust. The Soviet Unionmarker lost around 27 million people during the war, about half of all World War II casualties. By the end of World War II, Europe had more than 40 million refugees. Several post-war expulsions in Central and Eastern Europe displaced a total of about 20 million people.
World War I and especially World War II diminished the eminence of Western Europe in world affairs. After World War II the map of Europe was redrawn at the Yalta Conferencemarker and divided into two blocs, the Western countries and the communist Eastern bloc, separated by what was later called by Winston Churchill an "iron curtain". The United States and Western Europeestablished the NATOmarker alliance and later the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe established the Warsaw Pact. The two new superpowers, the United Statesmarker and the Soviet Unionmarker, became locked in a fifty-year long Cold War, centred on nuclear proliferation. At the same time decolonisation, which had already started after World War I, gradually resulted in the independence of most of the European colonies in Asia and Africa.In the 1980s the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev and the Solidarity movement in Poland accelerated the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the end of the Cold War. Germany was reunited, after the symbolic fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the maps of Eastern Europe were redrawn once more.
European integration also grew in the post-World War II years. The Treaty of Rome in 1957 established the European Economic Community between six Western European states with the goal of a unified economic policy and common market. In 1967 the EEC, European Coal and Steel Community and Euratom formed the European Community, which in 1993 became the European Union. The EU established a parliamentmarker, court and central bankmarker and introduced the euro as a unified currency. Beginning in the 1990s after the end of the Cold War, Eastern European countries began joining, expanding the EU to its current size of 27 European nations, and once more making Europe a major economical and political centre of power.

Geography and extent

Physiographically, Europe is the northwestern constituent of the larger landmass known as Eurasia, or Afro-Eurasia: Asia occupies the eastern bulk of this continuous landmass and all share a common continental shelf. Europe's eastern frontier is now commonly delineated by the Ural Mountainsmarker in Russiamarker. The first century AD geographer Strabo, took the River Don "Tanais" to be the boundary to the Black Seamarker, as did early Judaicmarker sources. The southeast boundary with Asia is not universally defined. Most commonly the Ural or, alternatively, the Emba River serve as possible boundaries. The boundary continues to the Caspian Seamarker, the crest of the Caucasus Mountainsmarker or, alternatively, the Kura River in the Caucasus, and on to the Black Seamarker; the Bosporusmarker, the Sea of Marmaramarker, the Dardanellesmarker, and the Aegean Seamarker conclude the Asian boundary. The Mediterranean Seamarker to the south separates Europe from Africa. The western boundary is the Atlantic Oceanmarker; Icelandmarker, though nearer to Greenlandmarker (North America) than mainland Europe, is generally included in Europe.

Because of sociopolitical and cultural differences, there are various descriptions of Europe's boundary; in some sources, some territories are not included in Europe, while other sources include them. For instance, geographers from Russia and other post-Soviet states generally include the Urals in Europe while including Caucasia in Asia. Similarly, numerous geographers consider Azerbaijanmarker's and Armeniamarker's southern borders with Iranmarker and Turkeymarker's southern and eastern borders with Syriamarker, Iraqmarker and Iran as the boundary between Asia and Europe because of political and cultural reasons. Similarly, Cyprusmarker is approximate to Anatolia marker, but is often considered part of Europe and currently is a member state of the EU. In addition, Malta was considered an island of Africa for centuries.

Physical geography

Relief map of Europe and surrounding regions
Land relief in Europe shows great variation within relatively small areas. The southern regions, however, are more mountainous, while moving north the terrain descends from the high Alps, Pyreneesmarker and Carpathiansmarker, through hilly uplands, into broad, low northern plains, which are vast in the east. This extended lowland is known as the Great European Plain, and at its heart lies the North German Plain. An arc of uplands also exists along the north-western seaboard, which begins in the western parts of the islands of Britainmarker and Irelandmarker, and then continues along the mountainous, fjord-cut, spine of Norwaymarker.

This description is simplified. Sub-regions such as the Iberian Peninsulamarker and the Italian Peninsula contain their own complex features, as does mainland Central Europe itself, where the relief contains many plateaus, river valleys and basins that complicate the general trend. Sub-regions like Icelandmarker, Britain and Ireland are special cases. The former is a land unto itself in the northern ocean which is counted as part of Europe, while the latter are upland areas that were once joined to the mainland until rising sea levels cut them off.


[[File:Vegetation Europe.png|frame|Biomes of Europe and surrounding regions:



Europe lies mainly in the temperate climate zones, being subjected to prevailing westerlies.

The climate is milder in comparison to other areas of the same latitude around the globe due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is nicknamed "Europe's central heating", because it makes Europe's climate warmer and wetter than it would otherwise be. The Gulf Stream not only carries warm water to Europe's coast but also warms up the prevailing westerly winds that blow across the continent from the Atlantic Ocean.

Therefore the average temperature throughout the year of Naples is 16 °C (60.8 °F), while it is only 12 °C (53.6 °F) in New York City which is almost on the same latitude. Berlin, Germany; Calgary, Canada; and Irkutsk, in the Asian part of Russia, lie on around the same latitude; January temperatures in Berlin average around 8 °C (15 °F) higher than those in Calgary, and they are almost 22 °C (40 °F) higher than average temperatures in Irkutsk.


The Geology of Europe is hugely varied and complex, and gives rise to the wide variety of landscapes found across the continent, from the Scottish Highlands to the rolling plains of Hungarymarker.

Europe's most significant feature is the dichotomy between highland and mountainous Southern Europe and a vast, partially underwater, northern plain ranging from the British Islesmarker in the west to the Ural Mountainsmarker in the east. These two halves are separated by the mountain chains of the Pyreneesmarker and Alps/Carpathiansmarker. The northern plains are delimited in the west by the Scandinavian Mountainsmarker and the mountainous parts of the British Islesmarker. Major shallow water bodies submerging parts of the northern plains are the Celtic Seamarker, the North Seamarker, the Baltic Seamarker complex and Barents Seamarker.

The northern plain contains the old geological continent of Baltica, and so may be regarded geologically as the "main continent", while peripheral highlands and mountainous regions in the south and west constitute fragments from various other geological continents. Most of the older geology of Western Europe existed as part of the ancient microcontinent Avalonia.

Geological history

The geological history of Europe traces back to the formation of the Baltic Shield (Fennoscandia) and the Sarmatian craton, both around 2.25 billion years ago, followed by the Volgo-Uralia shield, the three together leading to the East European craton (≈ Baltica) which became a part of the supercontinent Columbia. Around 1.1 billion years ago, Baltica and Arctica (as part of the Laurentia block) became joined to Rodinia, later resplitting around 550 million years ago to reform as Baltica. Around 440 million years ago Euramerica was formed from Baltica and Laurentia; a further joining with Gondwana then leading to the formation of Pangea. Around 190 million years ago, Gondwana and Laurasia split apart due to the widening of the Atlantic Oceanmarker. Finally, and very soon afterwards, Laurasia itself split up again, into Laurentia (North America) and the Eurasian continent. The land connection between the two persisted for a considerable time, via Greenlandmarker, leading to interchange of animal species. From around 50 million years ago, rising and falling sea levels have determined the actual shape of Europe, and its connections with continents such as Asia. Europe's present shape dates to the late Tertiary period about five million years ago.


Floristic regions of Europe and neighboring areas, according to Wolfgang Frey and Rainer Lösch

Having lived side-by-side with agricultural peoples for millennia, Europe's animals and plants have been profoundly affected by the presence and activities of man. With the exception of Fennoscandia and northern Russiamarker, few areas of untouched wilderness are currently found in Europe, except for various national parks.

The main natural vegetation cover in Europe is mixed forest. The conditions for growth are very favourable. In the north, the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift warm the continent. Southern Europe could be described as having a warm, but mild climate. There are frequent summer droughts in this region. Mountain ridges also affect the conditions. Some of these (Alps, Pyreneesmarker) are oriented east-west and allow the wind to carry large masses of water from the ocean in the interior. Others are oriented south-north (Scandinavian Mountainsmarker, Dinarides, Carpathiansmarker, Apenninesmarker) and because the rain falls primarily on the side of mountains that is oriented towards sea, forests grow well on this side, while on the other side, the conditions are much less favourable. Few corners of mainland Europe have not been grazed by livestock at some point in time, and the cutting down of the pre-agricultural forest habitat caused disruption to the original plant and animal ecosystems.

Probably eighty to ninety per cent of Europe was once covered by forest. It stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Arctic Oceanmarker. Though over half of Europe's original forests disappeared through the centuries of deforestation, Europe still has over one quarter of its land area as forest, such as the taiga of Scandinavia and Russia, mixed rainforests of the Caucasus and the Cork oak forests in the western Mediterranean. During recent times, deforestation has been slowed and many trees have been planted. However, in many cases monoculture plantations of conifers have replaced the original mixed natural forest, because these grow quicker. The plantations now cover vast areas of land, but offer poorer habitats for many European forest dwelling species which require a mixture of tree species and diverse forest structure. The amount of natural forest in Western Europe is just 2–3% or less, in European Russia 5–10%. The country with the smallest percentage of forested area (excluding the micronations) is Icelandmarker (1%), while the most forested country is Finlandmarker (77%).

In temperate Europe, mixed forest with both broadleaf and coniferous trees dominate. The most important species in central and western Europe are beech and oak. In the north, the taiga is a mixed sprucepinebirch forest; further north within Russiamarker and extreme northern Scandinavia, the taiga gives way to tundra as the Arctic is approached. In the Mediterranean, many olive trees have been planted, which are very well adapted to its arid climate; Mediterranean Cypress is also widely planted in southern Europe. The semi-arid Mediterranean region hosts much scrub forest. A narrow east-west tongue of Eurasian grassland (the steppe) extends eastwards from Ukrainemarker and southern Russiamarker and ends in Hungarymarker and traverses into taiga to the north.

Glaciation during the most recent ice age and the presence of man affected the distribution of European fauna. As for the animals, in many parts of Europe most large animals and top predator species have been hunted to extinction. The woolly mammoth was extinct before the end of the Neolithic period. Today wolves (carnivores) and bears (omnivores) are endangered. Once they were found in most parts of Europe. However, deforestation and hunting caused these animals to withdraw further and further. By the Middle Ages the bears' habitats were limited to more or less inaccessible mountains with sufficient forest cover. Today, the brown bear lives primarily in the Balkan peninsula, Scandinavia, and Russiamarker; a small number also persist in other countries across Europe (Austria, Pyrenees etc.), but in these areas brown bear populations are fragmented and marginalised because of the destruction of their habitat. In addition, polar bears may be found on Svalbardmarker, a Norwegianmarker archipelago far north of Scandinavia. The wolf, the second largest predator in Europe after the brown bear, can be found primarily in Eastern Europe and in the Balkans, with a handful of packs in pockets of Western Europe (Scandinavia, Spainmarker, etc.).

Other important European carnivores are Eurasian lynx, European wild cat, foxes (especially the red fox), jackal and different species of martens, hedgehogs, different species of reptiles (like snakes such as vipers and grass snakes) and amphibians, different birds (owls, hawks and other birds of prey).

Important European herbivores are snails, larvae, fish, different birds, and mammals, like rodents, deer and roe deer, boars, and living in the mountains, marmots, steinbocks, chamois among others.

The extinction of the dwarf hippos and dwarf elephants has been linked to the earliest arrival of humans on the islands of the Mediterraneanmarker.

Sea creatures are also an important part of European flora and fauna. The sea flora is mainly phytoplankton. Important animals that live in European seas are zooplankton, molluscs, echinoderms, different crustaceans, squids and octopuses, fish, dolphins, and whales.

Biodiversity is protected in Europe through the Council of Europe's Bern Convention, which has also been signed by the European Community as well as non-European states.


Since the Renaissance, Europe has had a major influence in culture, economics and social movements in the world. The most significant inventions had their origins inthe Western world, primarily Europe and the United States. Some current and past issues in European demographics have included religious emigration, race relations, economic immigration, a declining birth rate and an aging population. In some countries, such as Irelandmarker and Polandmarker, access to abortion is currently limited; in the past, such restrictions and also restrictions on artificial birth control were commonplace throughout Europe. Abortion remains illegal on the island of Maltamarker where Catholicism is the state religion. Furthermore, three European countries (The Netherlandsmarker, Belgiummarker and Switzerlandmarker) and the Autonomous Community of Andalusiamarker (Spain) have allowed a limited form of voluntary euthanasia for some terminally ill people.

In 2005 the population of Europe was estimated to be 731 million according to the United Nations, which is slightly more than one-ninth of the world's population. A century ago, Europe had nearly a quarter of the world's population. The population of Europe has grown in the past century, but in other areas of the world (in particular Africa and Asia) the population has grown far more quickly. According to UN population projection, Europe's population may fall to about 7% of world population by 2050, or 653 million people (medium variant, 556 to 777 million in low and high variants, respectively). Within this context, significant disparities exist between regions in relation to fertility rates. The average number of children per female of child bearing age is 1.52. According to some sources, this rate is higher among Muslims. The UN predicts the steady population decline of vast areas of Eastern Europe. The Russia's population is declining by at least 700,000 people each year. The country now has 13,000 uninhabited villages.
Simplified map of the languages of Europe

Europe is home to the highest number of migrants of all global regions at 70.6 million people, the IOM's report said. In 2005 the EU had an overall net gain from immigration of 1.8 million people, despite having one of the highest population densities in the world. This accounted for almost 85% of Europe's total population growth. Beyond Europe, Englandmarker ranks third in population density for major countries after Bangladesh and South Korea. In 2006, an estimated 591,000 migrants arrived to live in the UKmarker for at least a year, while 400,000 people emigrated from the UK for a year or more. The European Union plans to open the job centres for legal migrant workers from Africa.

Emigration from Europe began with Spanish settlers in the 16th century, and French and English settlers in the 17th century. But numbers remained relatively small until waves of mass emigration in the 19th century, when millions of poor families left Europe. Today, large populations of European descent are found on every continent. European ancestry predominates in North America, and to a lesser degree in South America (particularly in Argentiniamarker, Chilemarker, Uruguaymarker and southern Brazilmarker). Also, Australia and New Zealandmarker have large European derived populations. Africa has no countries with European-derived majorities, but there are significant minorities, such as the White South Africans. In Asia, European-derived populations (specifically Russians) predominate in Northern Asia.

Political geography

Europe according to a widely accepted definition is shown in green (countries sometimes associated with European culture in dark blue, Asian parts of European states in light blue).
Map showing European membership of the EU and NATO

According to different definitions, the territories may be subject to various categorisations.The 27 European Union member states are highly integrated economically and politically; the European Union itself forms part of the political geography of Europe. The table below shows the scheme for geographic subregions used by the United Nations, alongside the regional grouping published in the CIA factbook. The socio-geographical data included are per sources in cross-referenced articles.

Name of country, with flag Area


(1 July 2002 est.)
Population density

(per km²)
Albaniamarker 28,748 3,600,523 125.2 Tiranamarker
Andorramarker 468 68,403 146.2 Andorra la Vellamarker
Armeniamarker 29,800 3,229,900 101 Yerevanmarker
Austriamarker 83,858 8,169,929 97.4 Viennamarker
Azerbaijanmarker 86,600 8,621,000 97 Bakumarker
Belarusmarker 207,600 10,335,382 49.8 Minskmarker
Belgiummarker 30,510 10,274,595 336.8 Brusselsmarker
Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker 51,129 4,448,500 77.5 Sarajevomarker
Bulgariamarker 110,910 7,621,337 68.7 Sofiamarker
Croatiamarker 56,542 4,437,460 77.7 Zagrebmarker
Cyprusmarker 9,251 788,457 85 Nicosiamarker
Czech Republicmarker 78,866 10,256,760 130.1 Praguemarker
Denmarkmarker 43,094 5,368,854 124.6 Copenhagenmarker
Estoniamarker 45,226 1,415,681 31.3 Tallinnmarker
Finlandmarker 336,593 5,157,537 15.3 Helsinkimarker
Francemarker 547,030 59,765,983 109.3 Parismarker
Georgiamarker 69,700 4,661,473 64 Tbilisimarker
Germanymarker 357,021 83,251,851 233.2 Berlinmarker
Greecemarker 131,940 10,645,343 80.7 Athensmarker
Hungarymarker 93,030 10,075,034 108.3 Budapestmarker
Icelandmarker 103,000 307,261 2.7 Reykjavíkmarker
Irelandmarker 70,280 4,234,925 60.3 Dublinmarker
Italymarker 301,230 58,751,711 191.6 Romemarker
Kazakhstanmarker 2,724,900 15,217,711 5.6 Astanamarker
Latviamarker 64,589 2,366,515 36.6 Rigamarker
Liechtensteinmarker 160 32,842 205.3 Vaduzmarker
Lithuaniamarker 65,200 3,601,138 55.2 Vilniusmarker
Luxembourgmarker 2,586 448,569 173.5 Luxembourgmarker
Macedoniamarker 25,713 2,054,800 81.1 Skopjemarker
Maltamarker 316 397,499 1,257.9 Vallettamarker
Moldovamarker 33,843 4,434,547 131.0 Chişinăumarker
Monacomarker 1.95 31,987 16,403.6 Monacomarker
Montenegromarker 13,812 616,258 44.6 Podgoricamarker
Netherlandsmarker 41,526 16,318,199 393.0 Amsterdammarker
Norwaymarker 324,220 4,525,116 14.0 Oslomarker
Polandmarker 312,685 38,625,478 123.5 Warsawmarker
Portugalmarker 91,568 10,409,995 110.1 Lisbonmarker
Romaniamarker 238,391 21,698,181 91.0 Bucharestmarker
Russiamarker 17,075,400 142,200,000 26.8 Moscowmarker
San Marinomarker 61 27,730 454.6 San Marinomarker
Serbiamarker 88,361 7,495,742 89.4 Belgrademarker
Slovakiamarker 48,845 5,422,366 111.0 Bratislavamarker
Sloveniamarker 20,273 1,932,917 95.3 Ljubljanamarker
Spainmarker 504,851 45,061,274 89.3 Madridmarker
Swedenmarker 449,964 9,090,113 19.7 Stockholmmarker
Switzerlandmarker 41,290 7,507,000 176.8 Bernmarker
Turkeymarker 783,562 71,517,100 93 Ankaramarker
Ukrainemarker 603,700 48,396,470 80.2 Kievmarker
United Kingdommarker 244,820 61,100,835 244.2 Londonmarker
Vatican Citymarker 0.44 900 2,045.5 Vatican Citymarker
Total 10,180,000 731,000,000 70

Within the above-mentioned states are several regions, enjoying broad autonomy, as well as several de facto independent countries with limited international recognition or unrecognised. None of them are UN members:

Name of territory, with flag Area


(1 July 2002 est.)
Population density

(per km²)
Abkhaziamarker 8,432 216,000 29 Sukhumimarker
Åland Islandsmarker (Finlandmarker) 1,552 26,008 16.8 Mariehamnmarker
Faroe Islandsmarker (Denmarkmarker) 1,399 46,011 32.9 Tórshavnmarker
Gibraltarmarker (UKmarker) 5.9 27,714 4,697.3 Gibraltarmarker
Guernseymarker (UK) 78 64,587 828.0 St. Peter Portmarker
Isle of Manmarker (UK) 572 73,873 129.1 Douglasmarker
Jerseymarker (UK) 116 89,775 773.9 Saint Heliermarker
Kosovomarker 10,887 2,126,708 220 Pristinamarker
Nagorno-Karabakh 11,458 138,800 12 Stepanakertmarker
Northern Cyprusmarker 3,355 265,100 78 Nicosiamarker
South Ossetiamarker 3,900 70,000 18 Tskhinvalimarker
Svalbard and Jan

Mayen Islands
62,049 2,868 0.046 Longyearbyenmarker
Transnistriamarker 4,163 537,000 133 Tiraspolmarker


GDP real growth rate in 2007

As a continent, the economy of Europe is currently the largest on Earth and it is the richest region as measured by assets under management with over $32.7 trillion compared to North America's $27.1 trillion. As with other continents, Europe has a large variation of wealth among its countries. The richer states tend to be in the West, some of the Eastern economies are still emerging from the collapse of the Soviet Unionmarker and Yugoslavia. The European Union, an intergovernmental body composed of 27 European states, comprises the largest single economic area in the world. Currently, 15 EU countries share the euro as a common currency.Five European countries rank in the top ten of the worlds largest national economies in GDP . This includes (ranks according to the CIA): Germany (5), the UK (6), Russia (7), France (8), and Italy (10).

Pre–1945: Industrial growth

Capitalism has been dominant in the Western world since the end of feudalism. From Britain, it gradually spread throughout Europe. The Industrial Revolution started in Europe, specifically the United Kingdommarker in the late 18th century, and the 19th century saw Western Europe industrialise. Economies were disrupted by World War I but by the beginning of World War II they had recovered and were having to compete with the growing economic strength of the United Statesmarker. World War II, again, damaged much of Europe's industries.

1945–1990: The Cold War

After World War II the economy of the UK was in a state of ruin, and continued to suffer relative economic decline in the following decades. Italymarker was also in a poor economic condition but regained a high level of growth by the 1950s. West Germanymarker recovered quickly and had doubled production from pre-war levels by the 1950s. Francemarker also staged a remarkable comeback enjoying rapid growth and modernisation; later on Spainmarker, under the leadership of Franco, also recovered, and the nation recorded huge unprecedented economic growth beginning in the 1960s in what is called the Spanish miracle. The majority of Eastern European states came under the control of the USSRmarker and thus were members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON)."Germany (East)", Library of Congress Country Study, Appendix B: The Council for Mutual Economic AssistanceThe states which retained a free-market system were given a large amount of aid by the United Statesmarker under the Marshall Plan. The western states moved to link their economies together, providing the basis for the EU and increasing cross border trade. This helped them to enjoy rapidly improving economies, while those states in COMECON were struggling in a large part due to the cost of the Cold War. Until 1990, the European Community was expanded from 6 founding members to 12. The emphasis placed on resurrecting the West German economy led to it overtaking the UKmarker as Europe's largest economy.

1991–2007: The rise of the EU

With the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1991 the Eastern states had to adapt to a free market system. There were varying degrees of success with Central European countries such as Polandmarker, Hungarymarker, and Sloveniamarker adapting reasonably quickly, while eastern states like Ukrainemarker and Russiamarker taking far longer. Western Europe helped Eastern Europe by forming economic ties with it. After Eastmarker and West Germanymarker were reunited in 1990, the economy of West Germany struggled as it had to support and largely rebuild the infrastructure of East Germany. Yugoslavia lagged farthest behind as it was ravaged by war and in 2003 there were still many EU and NATOmarker peacekeeping troops in Kosovomarker, the Republic of Macedoniamarker, and Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker, with only Sloveniamarker making any real progress.By the millennium change, the EU dominated the economy of Europe comprising the five largest European economies of the time namely Germanymarker, the United Kingdommarker, Francemarker, Italymarker, and Spainmarker. In 1999 12 of the 15 members of the EU joined the Eurozone replacing their former national currencies by the common euro. The three who chose to remain outside the Eurozone were: the United Kingdommarker, Denmarkmarker, and Swedenmarker.

2008–2009: Recession

The eurozone entered its first official recession in the third quarter of 2008, official figures confirmed in January 2009. While beginning in the United States the late-2000s recession spread to Europe rapidly and has affected much of the region. The official unemployment rate in the 16 countries that use the euro rose to 9.5% in May 2009. Europe's young workers have been especially hard hit. In the first quarter of 2009, the unemployment rate in the EU27 for those aged 15–24 was 18.3%.


Simplified linguistic map within the Council of Europe nations

European languages mostly fall within three Indo-European language groups: the Romance languages, derived from the Latin language of the Roman Empire; the Germanic languages, whose ancestor language came from southern Scandinavia; and the Slavic languages. While having much of its vocabulary descended from Romance languages, the English language is a Germanic language.

Romance languages are spoken primarily in south-western Europe as well as in Romaniamarker and Moldovamarker. Germanic languages are spoken in north-western Europe and some parts of Central Europe. Slavic languages are spoken in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe.

Many other languages outside the three main groups exist in Europe. Other Indo-European languages include the Baltic group (i.e., Latvian and Lithuanian), the Celtic group (i.e., Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton), Greek, Albanian, and Armenian . A distinct group of Uralic languages are Estonian, Finnish, and Hungarian, spoken in the respective countries as well as in parts of Romania, Russia, Serbia, and Slovakia. Other Non-Indo-European languages are Maltese (the only Semitic language official to the EU), Basque, Georgian, Azerbaijani, and languages of minority nations in Russia.

Multilingualism and the protection of regional and minority languages are recognised political goals in Europe today. The Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the Council of Europe's European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages set up a legal framework for language rights in Europe.


[[File:Europe religion map en.png|thumb|250px|Predominant religions in Europe and neighboring regions:


Historically, religion in Europe has been a major influence on European art, culture, philosophy and law. The majority religion in Europe is Christianity as practiced by Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Churches. Following these is Islam concentrated mainly in the south east (Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker, Albaniamarker, Kosovomarker, Kazakhstanmarker, North Cyprusmarker, Turkeymarker and Azerbaijanmarker), and Tibetan Buddhism, found in Kalmykiamarker. Other religions including Judaism and Hinduism are minority religions. Europe is a relatively secular continent and has the largest number and proportion of irreligious, agnostic and atheistic people in the Western world, with a particularly high number of self-described non-religious people in the Czech Republicmarker, Estoniamarker, Swedenmarker, Germanymarker (East), and Francemarker.


The culture of Europe can be described as a series of overlapping cultures; cultural mixes exist across the continent. There are cultural innovations and movements, sometimes at odds with each other. Thus the question of "common culture" or "common values" is complex.

See also





  1. "Europe" (pp. 68-9); "Asia" (pp. 90-1): "A commonly accepted division between Asia and Europe ... is formed by the Ural Mountains, Ural River, Caspian Sea, Caucasus Mountains, and the Black Sea with its outlets, the Bosporus and Dardanelles."
  2. World Population Growth, 1950–2050. Population Reference Bureau.
  3. Herodotus, 4:45
  4. Europe: A History, by Nirman Davies, p. 8
  5. See, e.g., Merje Kuus, 'Europe's eastern expansion and the reinscription of otherness in East-Central Europe' Progress in Human Geography, Vol. 28, No. 4, 472–489 (2004), József Böröcz, 'Goodness Is Elsewhere: The Rule of European Difference', Comparative Studies in Society and History, 110–36, 2006, or Attila Melegh, On the East-West Slope: Globalization, nationalism, racism and discourses on Central and Eastern Europe, Budapest: Central European University Press, 2006.
  6. The map shows one of the most commonly accepted delineations of the geographical boundaries of Europe, as used by National Geographic and Encyclopedia Britannica. Whether countries are considered in Europe or Asia can vary in sources, for example in the classification of the CIA World Factbook or that of the BBC.
  7. Minor theories, such as the (probably folk-etymological) one deriving Europa from ευρως "mould" aren't discussed in the section
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  83. No country for old men. The Guardian. February 11, 2008.
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  87. " Emigration soars as Britons desert the UK". Telegraph. November 15, 2007.
  88. " EU job centres to target Africans". BBC News, February 8, 2007.
  89. " 50 million invited to Europe". Daily Express, January 3, 2009.
  90. " Indirect passage from Europe". Journal for Maritime Research.
  91. 2002 Census
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  99. Thanks to the Bank it's a crisis; in the eurozone it's a total catastrophe. Telegraph. March 8, 2009.
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  • National Geographicmarker (2005). National Geographic Visual History of the World. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society. ISBN 0-7922-3695-5.

Further reading

  • Williams, Glyndwr (1968) "The Expansion of Europe in the Eighteenth Century". London, Blandford Press, SRN 7-137-32723-5.

External links

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