The ancient history of Europe begins in ancient Greece during the Bronze Age until around 1200 BC when the Roman Empire came to dominate the Mediterranean region. By 300 AD the Roman Empire was divided into the Western and Eastern empires. During the 4th and 5th centuries, the Germanic peoples of northern Europe grew in strength and repeated attacks led to the Fall of the Western Roman Empire. 476 AD traditionally marks the end of the classical period and the start of the Middle Ages.
The Middle Ages
In Western Europe, the Germanic Frankish Empire reached its peak around 800 AD. This empire was later divided into France and the Holy Roman Empire, now modern Germany and Italy. The British Isles were the site of several large-scale migrations.
Scandinavian peoples began migrating from the late 8th century to the middle 11th century. The Rus' people founded Kievan Rus', which evolved into Russia. After the first millenia, the Crusaders, opened trade routes which enabled the merchant republics of Genoa and Venice to become major economic powers. The Reconquista, a related movement, worked to reconquer Iberia for Christendom.
Eastern Europe was dominated by the rise and fall of the Mongol Empire. The Empire extended from China in the east to the Black and Baltic seas in Europe. As Mongol power waned, Moscow rose to become the strongest of the numerous Russian principalities and republics and would grow into the Tsardom of Russia in 1547.
The Late Middle Ages saw Europe suffer with the Black Death epidemic and associated famine which caused a massive population fall and many wars. In Scandinavia, the Kalmar Union dominated, while England fought with Scotland in the Wars of Scottish Independence and with France in the Hundred Years' War. In Central Europe, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth became a large territorial empire, while the Holy Roman Empire became dominated for centuries by the House of Habsburg. Russia continued to expand southward and eastward into former Mongol lands. In the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire saw the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, which historians mark as the end of the Middle Ages.
The renaissance period
Intellectual knowledge spread throughout Europe from the fourteenth century. At the same time, the Protestant Reformation under German Martin Luther was questioning Papal authority and Henry VIII seized control of the English Church and its lands, allying in ensuing religious wars between German and Spanish rulers. The Reconquista expelled Muslim rule from Portugal and Spain. Religious wars continued to be fought in Europe, which ended in 1648. A series of major wars, leading to political revolutions took place around Europe in the period between 1610 and 1700.
Nineteenth century revolutions
The nineteenth century saw revolution across Europe. In Britain it was the start of the industrial revolution. There was political change in France. Serfdom was abolished in Russia in 1861. Greece and the other and Balkan nations began their fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s. Italy was unified in 1860. After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the German empire was formed and remained dominant until 1914. Most of Europe scrambled for imperial colonies in Africa and Asia.The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 saw Britain, France, Italy and United States defeat the Central Powers led by the German Empire and Austria-Hungary in 1918. The terms of the peace treaties meant the old political order was destroyed and Germany humiliated. The Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 after the great depression. Germany was rearmed and with Mussolini's Italy sought to gain full control of the continent, leading to the Second World War.
The Iron Curtain of 1945 separated the east under Moscow's control from the capitalist West. The United States helped successfully rebuild industrial economies in Western Europe. France and West Germany took the lead in forming the European Economic Community, which became the European Union (EU) in 1993 to reflect the growing political as well as economic unity. The Communist East fell further and further behind until it collapsed overnight in 1991, with the old Soviet Union divided into fifteen countries. Germany was reunited, Europe's integration deepened, and both NATO and the European Union expanded to the east, frustrating Russia.
The European Union
The EU has had a major impact on modern life in Europe. In its relatively short history, the EU has delivered more than half a century of peace, stability and prosperity, helped raise living standards and launched a single European currency: the euro. The abolition of border controls between EU countries allows European citizens to travel freely throughout most of the continent. The EU came under increasing pressure due to the worldwide recession after 2008. The major issues include financial aid to near-bankrupt countries, increasing intolerance of poorly assimilated immigrants from Europe and the Middle East, distrust of Germany's increasing power, tensions with Russia and the rejection of Turkey's membership. In 2017 Britain voted to leave the EU. Despite these issues the EU is a vast single market that continues to develop towards its full potential.