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, Russia is the largest by both area and population, while the Vatican City 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 Europe greatly contributing to a decline in Western European dominance in world affairs by the mid-20th century as the United States and Soviet Union took prominence. During the Cold War Europe was divided along the Iron Curtain between NATO 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 Hercules at Cadiz, 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 Swedish geographer and cartographer von Strahlenberg proposed the Ural Mountains as the most significant eastern boundary, a suggestion that found favour in Russia 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 Sea; to the southeast, the Caucasus Mountains, the Black Sea 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 Ireland, the United Kingdom, the North Atlantic and Mediterranean islands and also in Scandinavia may routinely refer to "continental" or "mainland" Europe simply as Europe or "the Continent"
The history of Europe describes the history of humans inhabiting the European continent since it was first populated in prehistoric times to present, with the first human settlement between 45,000 and 25,000 BC.
Greco-Roman civilizations dominated Classical antiquity, starting with the reappearance of writing in Ancient Greece at around 700 BC, generally considered to be the seminal culture which provided the foundation of Western civilization and immensely influential on language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, science and the arts. Those values were inherited by the Roman Republic established in 509 BC, having expanded from Italy, centered in the Mediterranean Sea, until the Roman Empire reached its greatest extent around the year 150.
After a period of civil wars, emperor Constantine I shifted the capital from Rome to the Greek town Byzantium in 313, then renamed Constantinople (modern Istanbul), having legalized Christianity. In 395 the empire was permanently split in two, with the Western Roman Empire repeatedly attacked during the migration period. Rome was sacked in 410 by the Visigoths, the first of the Germanic peoples migrating into Roman territories. With the last West Roman emperor removed in 476, Southeastern Europe and some parts of the Mediterranean remained under the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) up to the later sixth century.
As Constantinople faltered, Germanic peoples established kingdoms in western territories. The new states shared Latin written language, lingering Roman customs and Christian religion. Much territory was brought under the rule of the Franks by Charlemagne, whom the pope crowned western Emperor in 800, but soon divided while Europe came under attack from Vikings, Muslims from north Africa, and Magyars from Hungary. By the mid-tenth century the threat had diminished, although Vikings remained threatening the British Isles.
In 1054 A.D. a schism divided Christian Church into Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, but from 1095 a series of religiously-sanctioned military campaigns were waged by coalitions of Latin Christian Europeans, in response to a call from the Byzantine Empire, for help against the Muslim expansion. Spain, southern France, Lithuania and pagan regions were consolidated during this time, with the last large-scale crusade of the Middle Ages fought in 1396. Complex feudal loyalties developed and the aristocracy of new nations become very closely related by intermarriage. The feudal society began to break as Mongol invaded frontier areas and Black Death pandemic killed from 30% to 60% of Europe's population.
Beginning roughly in the 14th century in Florence, and later spreading trough Europe with the development of printing press, a Renaissance of knowledge challenged traditional doctrines in science and theology, with the rediscovery of classical Greek and Roman knowledge. Simultaneously Protestant Reformation under German Martin Luther questioned Papal authority. Henry VIII sundered the English Church, allying in ensuing religious wars between German and Spanish rulers. The Reconquista of Portugal and Spain led to a series oceanic explorations resulting in the age of discovery that established direct links with Africa, the Americas and Asia, while religious wars continued to be fought in Europe, which ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia.
European overseas expansion led to the rise of colonial empires, producing the Columbian Exchange. The combination of resource inflows from the New World and the Industrial Revolution of Great Britain, allowed a new economy based on manufacturing instead of subsistence agriculture. Starting in 1775, British Empire colonies in America revolted to establish a representative government. Political change in continental Europe was spurred by the French Revolution under the motto liberté, egalité, fraternité. The ensuing French leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, conquered and enforced reforms through war up to 1815.
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 Mountains in Russia.The first century AD geographer Strabo, took the River Don "Tanais" to be the boundary to the Black Sea, as did early Judaic sources.
The southeast boundary with Asia is not universally defined, with the Ural River, or alternatively, the Emba River most commonly serving as possible boundaries. The boundary continues to the Caspian Sea, the crest of the Caucasus Mountains or, alternatively, the Kura River in the Caucasus, and on to the Black Sea; the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, the Dardanelles, and the Aegean Sea conclude the Asian boundary. The Mediterranean Sea to the south separates Europe from Africa. The western boundary is the Atlantic Ocean; Iceland, though nearer to Greenland (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, Cyprus is approximate to Anatolia (or Asia Minor), 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 geographyEditLand 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, Pyrenees and Carpathians, 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 Britain and Ireland, and then continues along the mountainous, fjord-cut, spine of Norway.
This description is simplified. Sub-regions such as the Iberian Peninsula 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 Iceland, 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.
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.
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 Isles in the west to the Ural Mountains in the east. These two halves are separated by the mountain chains of the Pyrenees and Alps/Carpathians. The northern plains are delimited in the west by the Scandinavian Mountains and the mountainous parts of the British Isles. Major shallow water bodies submerging parts of the northern plains are the Celtic Sea, the North Sea, the Baltic Sea complex and Barents Sea.
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. Documentation}}===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 Ocean. 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 Greenland, 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.
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