Europe has always been a melting pot of
different people and cultures. By means of wars and treaties, this
relatively small land mass has seen an abundance of political
boundaries change in it's fascinating history. It is these borders
that have represented the strength and prosperity of nations and
empires, from the time of Pax Romani and conquest by sword to the
strife-ridden diplomacy of today.
It was under the Romans that Europe was first
truly united. It is believed that the city of Rome was founded around
635BC. By 380BC, the Roman Republic had expanded to contain the
entire Italian peninsula. In 146BC, Rome conquered the republic of
Carthage to the south, and took the defeated republic's territories
throughout north Africa. Roman provinces spread throughout Southern
Europe and the Middle East. In 49BC, after conquering the lands of
the Guals to the north, the then-dictator Julius Caesar marched his
armies back to Rome and officially took the city into his new empire.
He had further campaigns of expansion all the way to Egypt, until his
At it's greatest extent in 116AD, it's grace and power encircled the
entire Mediterranean Sea. It controlled all of southern Europe, the
far north of Africa, as well as a considerable amount of Asia. This
era lasted only a small while, and Rome itself soon became a doomed
empire. The fall of Rome, although it took decades to truly occur,
culminated in the year 410AD, when the Visigoths attacked and
plundered the city of Rome. With the ruining of it's great city, the
empire lost all hope in holding it's previous achievements. The
western portions of the empire, current day France and Spain, were
soon overrun with the barbarians Rome had once held at bay. The
Romans were no longer able to devote the resources to guarding such
an expanse. Control of the west was never regained. However, the
eastern portions of the Roman Empire lasted another thousand years,
until around 1453AD, since they were under less threat of invasion.
The medieval period of time was a tumoltous one
for political borders, since leaders routinely skirmished over pieces
of territory. Two main groups were active in Europe during this
period, the Britons and the Franks. Although many other groups such
as the Celtic tribes and the Holy Roman Empire were active, their
borders were either not as well defined, or had few changes.
The Britons' home was the island known in current times as Great
Britain. At their furthest extent, the British monarchy controlled
not only most of the British Isle, excluding the Celtic lands to the
far north, but almost the entirety of France as well during the
hundred years war circa 1420. They eventually lost this land back to
the Franks, and were driven back to their island home.
The Franks originally called most of the west coast of Europe their
own, with a small portion devoted to a group of Danes that demanded a
place to settle. Their lands stretched from modern-day Germany in the
east to the coast, and even a small portion of current-day Spain and
Portugal. Under the guidance of Charlemagne, the Frankish borders
reached their peak around 800. At that point, all of Eastern Europe
was under their control, from the Atlantic coast as far east as
Bavaria and as far north as the Denmark border. The Franks also
controlled a portion of both current-day Spain and Italy, the latter
of which was liberated from the dominating Lombards by request of the
remnants of the Roman Empire in the Middle East.
With the coronation of a new French emperor in
1804, the face of the European continent was due for another change.
Napoleon warred with other European nations and Great Britain across
the entire continent, and even with the Ottoman Empire in Egypt.
France's armies clashed with Britain for control of the Spanish
peninsula, while more of Napoleon's armies clashed with Austria,
Sweden, Prussia, and Russia. By 1808, all of Napoleon's enemies had
been defeated save Britain, and the map of Europe was redrawn to
accommodate Napoleon's allies. The Holy Roman Empire was dissolved,
and Holland was created. Poland was formed from East Prussian lands.
However, the peace created from Napoleon's empire was not to last, as
Britain raged a war with France both at sea and across the Spanish
peninsula. After a devastating march against Russia left Napoleon's
army reeling, his old enemies were soon back and fighting. This new
coalition took Paris in 1814, and Napoleon abdicated. Napoleon
attempted to form an empire again a year later, but he was once again
defeated and banished, and France was returned to the borders it
still holds today.
The 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles not
only ended the World War 1, but would also shape the borders of
Europe's countries into a shape similar to that of our current times.
Poland was re-formed after the years it spent dismembered by Russia,
Austria, and Prussia. The new Poland was made up of land from the
eastern-most territory of Germany and a piece of far-west Russia. The
Austro-Hungarian Empire was split into Austria and Hungary, and had
most of it's land to the south east divided up to expand other
nations, namely Serbia, Romania, and a piece of the new Poland. The
Russian and German territory north of Poland was split, and formed
into Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and East Prussia. These borders
would hold true until the start of the second World War.
After World War 2, the world entered the
"Cold War" period. Although much activity insued within the
various political systems, actual land borders changed very little.
Once the Soviet Union disbanded, the land it once owned became a hot
spot of activity, with most going to Russia but some being granted
back to the Baltic States that had won their independence after World
War 1. The Another ramification of the Soviet Union's demise was the
spilt of the former Czechoslovakia. Without the might of the
Soviet Union forcing the different societies together, it was
naturally divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Also, after
the death of it's communist leader in 1980, and the general downfall
of communism in the east, Yugoslavia once again fell apart from the
peace it had known after the second world war. It split into the
nations that had formed it after World War 1, although these nations
waged war with each other until 1999.
From ancient Rome to today, political borders
have represented more than just the separation of nations and
governments. They also act as proof of the strength and determination
of those nations in both the expansion and defense of the land that
they claim as their own. It is these struggles of power and will that
make the political borders and general history of Europe so fascinating.