This article gives an account of the history of the continent of Europe.
 Prehistoric Europe
Homo erectus and Neanderthals settled Europe long before the emergence of modern humans, Homo sapiens. The bones of first Europeans are found in Dmanisi, Georgia, dated 2,000,000 BC. The earliest appearance of anatomically modern people in Europe has been dated to 35,000 BC. Evidence of permanent settlement dates from the 7th millennium BC in Bulgaria, Romania and Greece.
The Neolithic reached Central Europe in the 6th millennium BC and parts of Northern Europe in the 5th and 4th millennium BC. There is no prehistoric culture that covers the whole of Europe.
 Bronze Age
The first well-known literate civilization in Europe was that of the Minoans of the island of Crete and later the Myceneans in the adjacent parts of Greece, starting at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC.
 Iron Age
 Greece and Balkans
At the end of the Bronze Age the older Greek kingdoms collapsed, followed by the Greek Dark Ages and Classical Greece. The Iron Age Balkans were inhabited by various "Palaeo-Balkans" peoples, such as Thracians, Illyrians
Around 400 BC, the La Tene culture spread over most of the interior as far as the Iberian Peninsula, mingling with earlier residents of Iberia to produce a unique Celtiberian culture, and later Anatolia. As the Celts did not use a written language, knowledge of them is piecemeal. The Romans encountered them and recorded a great deal about them; these records and the archaeological evidence form our primary understanding of this extremely influential culture. The Celts posed a formidable, but disorganized, competition to the Roman state, that later colonized and conquered much of the southern portion of Europe.
 Northern Europe
 Hellenism and Roman Empire
The Hellenic civilization took the form of a collection of city-states (the most important being Athens, Corinth, Syracuse and Sparta), having vastly differing types of government and cultures, including what are unprecedented developments in various governmental forms, philosophy, science, politics, sports, theatre and music. The Hellenic city-states founded a large number of colonies on the shores of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean sea, Asia Minor, Sicily and Southern Italy in Magna Graecia, but in the 4th century BC their internal wars made them an easy prey for king Philip II of Macedon. The campaigns of his son Alexander the Great spread Greek culture into Persia, Egypt and India, but also favoured contact with the older learnings of those countries, opening up a new period of development, known as Hellenism.
Much of Greek learning was assimilated by the nascent Roman state as it expanded outward from Italy, taking advantage of its enemies' inability to unite: the only real challenge to Roman ascent came from the Phoenician colony of Carthage, but its defeat in the end of the 3rd century BC marked the start of Roman hegemony. First governed by kings, then as a senatorial republic (the Roman Republic), Rome finally became an empire at the end of the 1st century BC, under Augustus and his authoritarian successors. The Roman Empire had its centre in the Mediterranean Sea, controlling all the countries on its shores; the northern border was marked by the Rhine and Danube rivers; under emperor Trajan (2nd century AD) the empire reached its maximum expansion, including Britain, Romania and parts of Mesopotamia. The empire brought peace, civilization and an efficient centralized government to the subject territories, but in the 3rd century a series of civil wars undermined its economic and social strength. In the 4th century, the emperors Diocletian and Constantine were able to slow down the process of decline by splitting the empire into a Western and an Eastern part. Whereas Diocletian severely persecuted Christianity, Constantine declared an official end to state-sponsored persecution of Christians in 313 with the Edict of Milan, thus setting the stage for the empire to later become officially Christian in about 380 (which would cause the Church to become an important institution).
 Middle Ages
 Early Middle Ages
Western Europe emerged as the site of a distinct civilization after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, as Germanic peoples conquered it, while the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire) survived for another millennium. The Roman Empire was already divided into Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking regions for centuries. In the 7th and 8th century the Arab expansion brought Islamic cultures to the southern Mediterranean shores (from Syria to Sicily and Spain), further enlarging the differences between the various Mediterranean civilizations. In the same century, Bulgarians created the first Slavic state in Europe - Bulgaria. Feudalism created a new order in a world without cities and replaced the centralized Roman administration which was based on cities and a highly organized army. The only institution surviving the collapse of the Western Roman Empire was the Roman Catholic Church, which preserved part of the Roman cultural inheritance and remained the primary source of learning in its domain at least until the 13th century; the bishop of Rome, known as the Pope, became the leader of the western church (in the east his supremacy was not accepted in the end).
The Holy Roman Empire emerged around 800, as Charlemagne, king of the Franks, was crowned by the pope as emperor. His empire based in modern France, the Low Countries and Germany expanded into modern Hungary, Italy, Bohemia, Lower Saxony and Spain. He and his father received substantial help from an alliance with the Pope, who wanted help against the Lombards. The pope was officially a vassal of the Byzantine Empire, but the Byzantine emperor did (could do) nothing against the Lombards.
Two empires, Great Moravia and Kievan Rus', emerged among the Western and Eastern Slavs respectively in the 9th century. In the late 9th century and 10th century, northern and western Europe felt the burgeoning power and influence of the Vikings who raided, traded, conquered and settled swiftly and efficiently with their advanced sea-going vessels such as the longships. The Hungarians pillaged mainland Europe and the Arabs the south. In the 10th century independent kingdoms were established in Central Europe, for example, Poland and Kingdom of Hungary. Hungarians had stopped their pillaging campaigns; prominent nation states also included Bulgaria and Serbia, that have rivalled Byzantium in the Balkans.
The subsequent period, ending around 1000, saw the further growth of feudalism, which weakened the Holy Roman Empire.
 High Middle Ages
After the East-West Schism, Western Christianity was adopted by newly created kingdoms of Central Europe: Poland, Hungary and Bohemia.
The Roman Catholic Church developed as a major power, leading to conflicts between the Pope and Emperor.
The area of the Roman Catholic Church expanded enormously due to conversions of pagan kings (Scandinavia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary) and crusades. Most of Europe was Roman Catholic in the 15th century.
 Late Middle Ages
Early signs of the rebirth of civilization in western Europe began to appear in the 11th century as trade started again in Italy, leading to the economic and cultural growth of independent city states such as Venice and Florence; at the same time, nation-states began to take form in places such as France, England, Spain, and Portugal, although the process of their formation (usually marked by rivalry between the monarchy, the aristocratic feudal lords and the church) actually took several centuries. These new nation-states began writing in their own cultural vernaculars, instead of the traditional Latin. Notable figures of this movement would include Christine de Pisan and Dante, the former writing in French, and the latter in Italian.(See Reconquista for the latter two countries.) On the other hand, the Holy Roman Empire, essentially based in Germany and Italy, further fragmented into a myriad of feudal principalities or small city states, whose subjection to the emperor was only formal.
Europe in the 14th century
One of the largest catastrophes to have hit Europe was the Black Death. There were numerous outbreaks, but the most severe was in the mid-1300s and is estimated to have killed a third of Europe's population. Since many Jews worked as money-lenders (usury was not allowed for Christians) the Jews were often disliked by Europeans, so it was popular to blame them for the epidemic. This led to increased persecution of Jews in some areas. Thousands of Jews fled to Poland which, ironically, was spared by the first plague, but black death came back time after time.
Beginning in the 14th century, the Baltic Sea became one of the most important trade routes. The Hanseatic League, an alliance of trading cities, facilitated the absorption of vast areas of Poland, Lithuania and other Baltic countries into the economy of Europe. This fed the growth of powerful states in Eastern Europe including Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, and Muscovy. The conventional end of the Middle Ages is usually associated with the fall of the city Constantinople and of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The Turks made the city the capital of their Ottoman Empire, which lasted until 1919 and also included Egypt, Syria and most of the Balkans.
 Renaissance and Reformation
Petrarch wrote in the 1330s: 'I am alive now, yet I would rather have been born in another time.' He was enthusiastic about the Greek and Roman antiquity with great men who were dead. Matteo Palmieri wrote in the 1430s: 'Now indeed may every thoughtful spirit thank god that it has been permitted to him to be born in a new age.' The renaissance was born: a new age where learning was very important.
The Renaissance was inspired by the growth in study of Latin and Greek texts and the admiration of the Greco-Roman era as a golden age. This prompted many artists and writers to begin drawing from Roman and Greek examples for their works, but there was also much innovation in this period especially by multi-faceted artists like Leonardo da Vinci. Much of the Greek texts came from Islamic sources who also improved upon them. Important political precedents were also set in this period. Machiavelli's political writing in The Prince influenced later absolutism and real-politik, also important was the fact that many patrons ruled states and used the artistry of the Renaissance as a sign of their power.
During this period corruption in the Catholic Church lead to a sharp backlash in the Protestant Reformation. It gained many followers especially among princes and kings seeking a stronger state by ending the influence of the Catholic Church. Figures other than Martin Luther began to emerge as well like John Calvin whose Calvinism had influence in many countries and King Henry VIII of England who broke away from the Catholic Church in England and set up the Anglican Church. These religious divisions brought on a wave of wars inspired and driven by religion but also by the ambitious monarchs in Western Europe who were becoming more centralized and powerful.
The Protestant Reformation also led to a strong reform movement in the Catholic Church called the Counter-Reformation, which aimed to reduce corruption as well as to improve and strengthen Catholic Dogma. An important group in the Catholic Church who emerged from this movement were the Jesuits who helped keep Eastern Europe within the Catholic fold. Still, the Catholic Church was intensely weakened by the Reformation, large parts of Europe were no longer under its sway and kings in the remaining Catholic countries began to take control of the Church institutions within their kingdoms.
Unlike Western Europe, the countries of Central Europe, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Hungary, were more tolerant. While still enforcing the predominance of Catholicism they continued to allow the large religious minorities to maintain their faiths. Central Europe became divided between Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and Jews.
Another important development in this period was the growth of pan-European sentiments. Eméric Crucé (1623) came up with the idea of the European Council, intended to end wars in Europe; attempts to create lasting peace were no success, although all European countries (except the Russian and Ottoman Empires, regarded as foreign) agreed to make peace in 1518 at the Treaty of London. Many wars broke out again in a few years. The Reformation also made European peace impossible for many centuries.
Another development was the idea of European superiority. The ideal of civilization was taken over from the ancient Greeks and Romans: discipline, education and living in the city were required to make people civilized; Europeans and non-Europeans were judged for their civility, and Europe regarded itself as superior to other continents. There was a movement by some such as Montaigne that regarded the non-Europeans as a better, more natural and primitive people. Post services were founded all over Europe, which allowed a humanistic interconnected network of intellecutals across Europe, despite religious divisions. However, the Roman Catholic church banned many leading scientific works; this led to an intellectual advantage for Protestant countries, where the banning of books was regionally organized. Francis Bacon and other advocates of science tried to create unity in Europe by focusing on the unity in nature. 1
In the 15th century, at the end of the Middle Ages, powerful states were appearing, built by the New Monarchs who were centralizing power in France, England, and Spain. On the other hand the Parliament in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth grew in power, taking legislative rights from the Polish king. The new state power was contested by parliaments in other countries especially England. New kinds of states emerged which were cooperations between territorial rulers, cities, farmer republics and knights.
 Colonial expansion
The numerous wars did not prevent the new states from exploring and conquering wide portions of the world, particularly in Asia (Siberia) and in the newly-discovered America. In the 15th century, Portugal led the way in geographical exploration, followed by Spain in the early 16th century. They were the first states to set up colonies in America and trade stations on the shores of Africa and Asia, but they were soon followed by France, England and the Netherlands. In 1552 Russian tsar Ivan IV the Terrible conquered Kazan and the Yermak's voyage of 1580 led to the annexation of Siberia into Russia.
Colonial expansion proceeded in the following centuries (with some setbacks, such as the American Revolution and the wars of independence in many American colonies). Spain had control of part of North America and a great deal of Central America and South America, the Caribbean and the Philippines; Britain took the whole of Australia and New Zealand, most of India, and large parts of Africa and North America; France held parts of Canada and India (nearly all of which was lost to Britain in 1763), Indochina and large parts of Africa; the Netherlands gained the East Indies (now Indonesia) and islands in the Caribbean; Portugal obtained Brazil and several territories in Africa and Asia; and later, powers such as Germany, Belgium, Italy and Russia acquired further colonies.
This expansion helped the economy of the countries owning them. Trade flourished, because of the minor stability of the empires. The European countries fought wars that were largely paid for by the money coming in from the colonies.
 Early Modern period: 16th, 17th and 18th centuries
The Reformation had profound effects on the unity of Europe. Not only were nations divided one from another by their religious orientation, but some states were torn apart internally by religious strife, avidly fostered by their external enemies. France suffered this fate in the 16th century in the series of conflicts known as the French Wars of Religion, which ended in the triumph of the Bourbon Dynasty. England avoided this fate for a while and settled down under Elizabeth to a moderate Anglicanism. Much of modern day Germany was divided into numerous small states under the theoretical framework of the Holy Roman Empire, was also divided along internally drawn sectarian lines, until the Thirty Years' War seemed to see religion replaced by nationalism as the motor of European conflict. The single exception to this was the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, an entity created by the agreement between the nobility of those two countries, highly valuing the religious tolerance.
Throughout the early part of this period, capitalism was replacing feudalism as the principal form of economic organization, at least in the western half of Europe. The expanding colonial frontiers resulted in a Commercial Revolution. The period is noted for the rise of modern science and the application of its findings to technological improvements, which culminated in the Industrial Revolution. Iberian exploits of the New World, which started with Christopher Columbus's venture westward in search of a quicker trade route to the East Indies in 1492, was soon challenged by English and French exploits in North America. New forms of trade and expanding horizons made new developments in international law necessary.
After the Treaty of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years' War, Absolutism became the norm of the continent, while parts of Europe experimented with constitutions foreshadowed by the English Civil War and particularly the Glorious Revolution. European military conflict did not cease, but had less disruptive effects on the lives of Europeans. In the advanced north-west, the Enlightenment gave a philosophical underpinning to the new outlook, and the continued spread of literacy, made possible by the printing press, created new secular forces in thought. Again, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth would be an exception to this rule, with its unique quasi-democratic Golden Freedom.
Eastern Europe was an arena of conflict for domination between Sweden, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire. This period saw a gradual decline of these three powers which were eventually replaced by new enlightened absolutist monarchies, Russia, Prussia and Austria. By the turn of the 19th century they became new powers, having divided Poland between them, with Sweden and Turkey having experienced substantial territorial losses to Russia and Austria respectively. Numerous Polish Jews emigrated to Western Europe, founding Jewish communities in places where they had been expelled from during the Middle Ages.
 The French Revolution
Main article: French Revolution
The storming of the Bastille
By the late 18th century France's finances were in disarray. Lavish royal expenditure and costly wars, such as the French intervention in the American war of Independence, had bankrupted the state. After repeated failed attempts at financial reform, Louis XVI was persuaded to convene the Estates-General, a representative body of the country made up of three estates: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. The members of the Estates-General assembled in the Palace of Versailles in May 1789, but the debate as to which voting system should be used soon became an impasse. Come June, the third estate, joined by members of the other two, declared itself to be a National Assembly and swore an oath not to dissolve until France had a constitution and created, in July, the National Constituent Assembly. At the same time the people of Paris revolted, famously storming the Bastille prison on 14 July.
At the time the assembly wanted to create a constitutional monarchy, and over the following two years passed various laws including the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the abolition of feudalism, and a fundamental change in the relationship between France and Rome. At first the king went along with these changes and enjoyed reasonable popularity with the people, but as anti-royalism increased along with threat of foreign invasion, the king, stripped of his power, decided to flee along with his family. He was recognized and brought back to Paris. On 12 January 1793, having been convicted of treason, he was executed.
On 20 September 1792 the National Convention abolished the monarchy and declared France a republic. Due to the emergency of war the National Convention created the Committee of Public Safety, controlled by the Jacobin Robespierre, to act as the country's executive. Under Robespierre the committee initiated the Reign of Terror, during which up to 40,000 people were executed in Paris, mainly nobles, and those convicted by the Revolutionary Tribunal, often on the flimsiest of evidence. Elsewhere in the country, counter-revolutionary insurrections were brutally suppressed. The regime was overthrown in the coup of 9 Thermidor (27 July 1794) and Robespierre was executed. The regime which followed ended the Terror and relaxed Robespierre's more extreme policies.
 Napoleonic Wars
Napoleon Bonaparte was France's most successful general in the Revolutionary wars, having conquered large parts of Italy and forced the Austrians to sue for peace. In 1799 he returned from Egypt and on 18 Brumaire (9 November) overthrew the government, replacing it with the Consulate, in which he was First Consul. On 2 December 1804, after a failed assassination plot he crowned himself Emperor.
In 1805 Napoleon planned to invade Britain, but a renewed British alliance with Russia and Austria (Third Coalition), forced him to turn his attention towards the continent, while at the same time failure to lure the superior British fleet away from the English Channel, ending in a decisive French defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October put an end to hopes of an invasion of Britain. On 2 December Napoleon defeated a numerically superior Austro-Russian army at Austerlitz, forcing Austria’s withdrawal from the coalition and dissolving the Holy Roman Empire.
In 1806 a Fourth Coalition was set up, on 14 October Napoleon defeated the Prussians at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, marched through Germany and defeated the Russians on 14 June 1807 at Freidland, the Treaties of Tilsit divided Europe between France and Russia and created the Duchy of Warsaw.On 12 June 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia with a Grande Armée of nearly 700,000 troops. After the measured victories at Smolensk and Borodino Napoleon occupied Moscow, only to find it burned by the retreating Russian Army, he was forced to withdraw, on the march back his army was harassed by Cossacks, and suffered disease and starvation. Only 20,000 of his men survived the campaign.
By 1813 the tide had began to turn from Napoleon, having been defeated by a seven nation army at Battle of Leipzig in October 1813. He was forced to abdicate after the Six Days Campaign and the occupation of Paris, under the Treaty of Fontainebleau he was exiled to the Island of Elba. He returned to France on 1 March 1815 (see Hundred Days), raised an army, but was comprehensively defeated by a British and Prussian force at Waterloo on 18 June.
 Congress of Vienna
The Congress of Vienna was a conference between ambassadors from the major powers in Europe. It was held in Vienna from 1 October 1814, to 9 June 1815. The discussions continued despite Napoleon's return and the Congress's Final Act was signed nine days before his final defeat at Waterloo. The Congress was concerned with determining the entire shape of Europe after the Napoleonic wars, with the exception of the terms of peace with France, which had already been decided by the Treaty of Paris in May 1814.
The Congress's principal results, apart from its confirmation of France's loss of the territories annexed in 1795 - 1810, were the enlargement of Russia, (which gained most of the Duchy of Warsaw) and Prussia, which acquired Westphalia and the northern Rhineland. Germany was consolidated from the ~300 states of the Holy Roman Empire (dissolved in 1806) into 39 states. These states were formed into a loose German Confederation under the leadership of Prussia and Austria.
Poland was again divided by Russia, Prussia and Austria. The Polish Kingdom became part of Russia, while western Poland became Prussian and southern Poland was made Austrian. Only the Republic of Cracow stayed independent until 1846.
Representatives at the Congress agreed to numerous other territorial changes. Norway was transferred from Denmark to Sweden. Austria gained Lombardy-Venetia in Northern Italy, while much of the rest of North-Central Italy went to Habsburg dynasts (The Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Modena, and the Duchy of Parma). The Pope was restored to the Papal States. The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia was restored to its mainland possessions, and also gained control of the Republic of Genoa. In Southern Italy the Bourbon Ferdinand IV was restored to the throne. A large United Kingdom of the Netherlands was created for the Prince of Orange, including both the old United Provinces and the formerly Austrian-ruled territories in the Southern Netherlands.
There were other, less important territorial adjustments, including significant territorial gains for the German Kingdoms of Hanover and Bavaria, and the Portuguese rights to the Territory of Olivenza were recognized.
The countries involved with the Congress also agreed to meet at intervals and this led to the establishment of the "Congress system". This system was frequently criticized by 19th century historians for ignoring national and liberal impulses associated with the French Revolution. However, in the twentieth century many historians began to admire the work of the statesmen at the Congress of Vienna, whose work appeared to have prevented another large-scale European war for nearly one hundred years (1818-1914).
 The 19th century
After the defeat of revolutionary France, the other great powers tried to restore the situation which existed before 1789. However, their efforts were unable to stop the spread of revolutionary movements: the middle classes had been deeply influenced by the ideals of democracy of the French revolution, the Industrial Revolution brought important economical and social changes, the lower classes started to be influenced by Socialist, Communist and Anarchistic ideas (especially those summarized by Karl Marx in the Manifesto of the Communist Party), and the preference of the new capitalists became Liberalism (a term which then, politically, meant something different from the modern usage). Further instability came from the formation of several nationalist movements (in Germany, Italy, Poland etc.), seeking national unification and/or liberation from foreign rule. As a result, the period between 1815 and 1871 saw a large number of revolutionary attempts and independence wars. Even though the revolutionaries were often defeated, most European states had become constitutional (rather than absolute) monarchies by 1871, and Germany and Italy had developed into nation states. The 19th century also saw the British Empire emerge as the world's first global power due in a large part to the Industrial Revolution and victory in the Napoleonic Wars.
The first revolution to occur in Europe after the French Revolution was the Serbian Uprising of 1804, and the Second Serbian Uprising of 1815, which resulted in the proclamation of autonomous Serbia by the Ottoman Empire. The political dynamics of Europe changed three times over the 19th century - first after the Congress of Vienna, and again after the Crimean War. In 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, the major powers of Europe managed to produce a peaceful balance of power among the empires after the Napoleonic wars (despite the occurrence of internal revolutionary movements). But the peace would only last until the Ottoman Empire had declined enough to become a target for the others. (See History of the Balkans.) This instigated the Crimean War in 1854 and began a tenser period of minor clashes among the globe-spanning empires of Europe that set the stage for the first World War. It changed a third time with the end of the various wars that turned the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Kingdom of Prussia into the Italian and German nation-states, significantly changing the balance of power in Europe.
From 1870, the Bismarkian hegemony on Europe put France in a critical situation, and it slowly rebuilt its relationships, seeking alliances with Russia and Britain, to control the growing power of Germany. By this way, two sides grew in Europe, improving year by year their military forces and alliances.
 Early 20th century: The World Wars
Europe during World War I (1914 - 1918)
After the relative peace of most of the 19th century, the rivalry between European powers exploded in 1914, when World War I started. On one side were Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey (the Central Powers/Triple Alliance), while on the other side stood Serbia and the Triple Entente - the loose coalition of France, the United Kingdom and Russia, which were joined by Italy in 1915 and by the United States in 1917. Despite the defeat of Russia in 1917 (the war was one of the major causes of the Russian Revolution, leading to the formation of the communist Soviet Union), the Entente finally prevailed in the autumn of 1918.
In the Treaty of Versailles (1919) the winners imposed relatively hard conditions on Germany and recognized the new states (such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, Yugoslavia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) created in central Europe out of the defunct German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, supposedly on the basis of national self-determination. Most of those countries engaged in local wars, the largest of them being the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921). In the following decades, fear of Communism and the economic Depression of 1929-1933 led to the rise of extreme nationalist governments - sometimes loosely grouped under the category of 'Fascism' - in Italy (1922), Germany (1933), Spain (after a civil war ending in 1939) and other countries such as Hungary.
After allying with Mussolini's Italy in the "Pact of Steel" and signing a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, the German dictator Adolf Hitler and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin started World War II on 1st and 17 September 1939 attacking Poland and following a military build-up throughout the late 1930s. After initial successes (mainly the conquest of western Poland, much of Scandinavia, France and the Balkans before 1941) the Axis powers began to over-extend themselves in 1941. Hitler's ideological foes were the Communists in Russia but because of the German failure to defeat the United Kingdom and the Italian failures in North Africa and the Mediterranean the Axis forces were split between garrisoning western Europe and Scandinavia and also attacking Africa. Thus, the attack on the Soviet Union (which together with Germany had partitioned central Europe in 1939-1940) was not pressed with sufficient strength. Despite initial successes, the German army was stopped close to Moscow in December 1941. During this period, Germany began the systematic genocide of over 11 million people, including the majority of the Jews of Europe, in the Holocaust. Even as German persecution grew, over the next year the tide was turned and the Germans started to suffer a series of defeats, for example in the siege of Stalingrad and at Kursk. Meanwhile, Japan (allied to Germany and Italy since September 1940) attacked the British in south-east Asia and the United States in Hawaii on December 7, 1941; Germany then completed its over-extension by declaring war on the United States. War raged between the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allied Forces (British Empire, Soviet Union, and the United States). Allied Forces won in North Africa, invaded Italy in 1943, and invaded occupied France in 1944. In the spring of 1945 Germany itself was invaded from the east by Russia and from the west by the other Allies respectively; Hitler committed suicide and Germany surrendered in early May ending the war in Europe.
 Late 20th century: the Cold War
World War I and especially World War II ended the pre-eminent position of western Europe. The map of Europe was redrawn at the Yalta Conference and divided as it became the principal zone of contention in the Cold War between the two power blocs, the Western countries and the Eastern bloc. The United States and Western Europe (the United Kingdom, France, Italy, West Germany, etc.) established the NATO alliance as a protection against a possible Soviet invasion. Later, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, East Germany) established the Warsaw Pact as a protection against a possible U.S. invasion.
Meanwhile, Western Europe slowly began a process of political and economic integration, desiring to unite Europe and prevent another war. This process resulted eventually in the development of organizations such as the European Union and the Council of Europe.
The Solidarność movement in the 1980s in weakened the Communist government in Poland. The Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev initiated perestroika and glasnost, which weakened Soviet influence in Eastern Europe. Soviet-supported governments collapsed, and West Germany absorbed East Germany by 1990. In 1991 the Soviet Union itself collapsed, splitting into fifteen states, with Russia taking the Soviet Union's seat on the United Nations Security Council.
The most violent breakup happened in Yugoslavia, in the Balkans. Four (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republic of Macedonia) out of six Yugoslav republics declared independence and for most of them a violent war ensued, in some parts lasting until 1995. The remaining two republics formed a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, under the direction of Slobodan Milošević. Milošević presided over the Kosovo War, and was overthrown after his government was weakened by NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia.
In the post-Cold War era, NATO and the EU have been gradually admitting most of the former members of the Warsaw Pact.
 Early 21st century: the European Union
By the turn of the century, the states within the European Union had created much more than a mere free trade zone. They had successfully ceded a great deal of their sovereignty - in legislative, judicial, and executive matters - to a supranational authority. They operated under unified external trade policy and had eliminated most travel barriers across their internal borders. A new common currency for many European nations, the euro, was established electronically in 1999, officially tying all of the currencies of each participating nation to each other. The new currency was put into circulation in 2002 and most of the old currencies were phased out. (Not all EU member states have decided to join the euro project, including the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden). In 2004 the Union undertook a major expansion, admitting 10 new member states; two more joined in 2007, establishing a union of 27 nations.
In 2005, the member states of the European Union began attempting to ratify a new constitution. However, the creation of the constitution has been controversial. There has been disagreement as member states wrangle over how much voting power each will have in the EU, taxes, and the standards to which new member states must be held before they are admitted. Moreover, the constitution is seen by many eurosceptics as an undesirable step towards a single EU state; others fear a perceived neoliberal economic agenda; and still more criticize it for its sheer size and complexity. In the Spring of 2005 both France and the Netherlands rejected the constitution in national referenda. Its implementation being contingent on unanimous ratification, the future of the European Constitution is currently unclear.
The Balkans remained in the spotlight due to the activities of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and the border changes with the introduction of Serbia and Montenegro as a move to placate the frictions between the two federal units, and the eventual split between the two states, into Serbia and Montenegro. The Kosovo question remained unsolved (as of 2007).
 See also
- James B. Collins and Karen L. Taylor (Ed.): Early modern Europe. Issues and interpretations, Malden, MA : Blackwell, 2006, ISBN 0-631-22892-6
- Samuel Barone, The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance (London 1993)
 Recommended reading
 External links