European Territorial Borders

Deliverable #1: Overview Essay

July 26, 2002

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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 famous murder.

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.

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Original Web Upload June 2002
Last Update: August 9, 2002