“The history and governments of western Europe have been shaped by early civilizations, revolutionary politics, and world wars.”
Western Europe was once populated mainly by Celts and other ancient groups. Germanic groups contributed greatly to the downfall of the empire. The Basque people were another important early ethnic group. The Basque people lived in the Pyrenees way before the Celts, who arrived over 3,000 years ago. The seafaring Frisians were another early ethnic group. They lived in the northern part of the Netherlands around 400 B.C.
The Rise of Western Europe
The fall of the Roman Empire in the A.D. 400s caused big changes in western Europe. The Middle Ages (A.D. 500-1500) began shortly after the fall of the Roman Empire. At this time, the Franks, a Germanic people, established a widespread empire. This group worshipped Roman Catholicism, which was the Roman form of Christianity. The Franks’ leader, Charlemagne, ruled from A.D. 768 to A.D. 814. He greatly expanded the Christian kingdom, creating the basis of feudalism with this system of land distribution. He died in A.D. 814, and his kingdom did not survive long afterwards.
The Holy Roman Empire, the association of lands in western and central Europe, lasted from A.D. 962 to 1806. There were many struggles for power between emperors, nobles, and popes.
In A.D. 1000s, European armies fought to win Palestine from Muslim rule. These religious battles for Palestine, the birthplace of Christianity, were called the Crusades. Europeans lost, but they did extend trade routes to the eastern Mediterranean.
In the late 1400s, renaissance ideas became very popular, being spread by merchants and other visitors to Italy. This led to the Reformation, which was very popular with people and monarchies that resented the power of the Church. New Protestant religions arose in countries, leading to the middle 1500s, in which Protestant churches were dominant.
Winds of Change
The Thirty Years’ War from 1618-1648 was caused by territorial and religious rivalries. France emerged as a major power.
The French Revolution (late 1700s) overthrew the French monarchy, powered by the ideas of the Enlightenment encouraging democracy and social change. France restored its monarchy in 1815, but they would never again have a king with absolute power.
Prussia, a German kingdom, rose in the mid-1800s. After a series of wars, Germany was unified, causing its industries to prosper and its military to strengthen.
World War I (1914-1918) caused western Europe to suffer enormous casualties. The peace Treaty, which was signed in France, declared Germany guilty for the start of the war, and demanded it make reparations, or payment for damages. This decision caused Germany to become aggresive, therefore beginning World War II, in which Adolf Hitler carried out the Holocaust, the mass murder of more than 6 million Jews.
A New Era
After World War II, Germany divided into Communist East Germany and democratic West Germany, which remained until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. By the 1990s, the European Union was formed betwen Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany.
Boehm, Richard G. World Geography and Cultures. Columbus, Ohio: Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 2012. Print.
“17-158s03.jpg.” Photograph. Mit Open Course Ware. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003. Web. 19 January 2012.