The History of Europe from 400 BC to the Present, Animated in 12 Minutes

What does the future of Europe look like? Geopo­lit­i­cal times such as these do make one pon­der such ques­tions as, say, “In what shape (if any) will the Euro­pean Union make it through this cen­tu­ry?” But as any his­to­ri­an of Europe knows, that con­ti­nent has sel­dom had an easy time of it: Euro­pean his­to­ry is a his­to­ry of con­quests, rebel­lions, alliances made and bro­ken, and of course, wars aplen­ty — a major piece of the ratio­nale behind the cre­ation of orga­ni­za­tions like the Euro­pean Union in the first place. As a result, the divi­sion of Europe by the many groups and indi­vid­u­als who have laid claim to pieces of it has, over the past 2500 years, sel­dom held steady for long, as you can see on the ani­mat­ed map above.

The Roman Empire did man­age to paint the map red, lit­er­al­ly, in the sec­ond and third cen­turies, but dur­ing all eras before and after it looks as mul­ti­col­ored as it was polit­i­cal­ly dis­unit­ed. In ear­li­er times, Europe was home to peo­ples with names like the Gauls, Iberi­ans, Celts, and Scythi­ans, as well as empires like the Achaemenid and Seleu­cid Empire.

After the First World War, though — and the dis­so­lu­tion of such enti­ties as the Ottoman Empire, Aus­tria-Hun­gary, and the Pol­ish-Lithuan­ian Com­mon­wealth — the labels start to look more famil­iar. Most of us remem­ber the event marked by the last big change to this map, the end of the Union of Sovi­et Social­ist Republics. (Many of us even spent years there­after in class­rooms whose world maps still depict­ed the USSR as one mighty bloc.)

The map’s ani­ma­tion begins in 400 BC and ends in 2017 with Europe as a col­lec­tion of nation-states, each of which we now regard as not just polit­i­cal­ly but cul­tur­al­ly dis­tinct. But watch­ing the full two-and-a-half-mil­len­nia time-lapse reminds us that every coun­try in Europe has bro­ken off from, joined with, or oth­er­wise descend­ed from anoth­er place, indeed many oth­er places, most of which have long since ceased to exist. In the 21st cen­tu­ry, one often hears Europe described as essen­tial­ly unchang­ing, stuck in its ways, ossi­fied, and an after­noon spent watch­ing the pro­ceed­ings of Euro­pean Union bureau­cra­cy would hard­ly dis­abuse any­one of that notion. But then, would­n’t observers of Europe have felt the same way back in the hey­day of Rome?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The His­to­ry of Europe: 5,000 Years Ani­mat­ed in a Time­lapse Map

Watch World War I Unfold in a 6 Minute Time-Lapse Film: Every Day From 1914 to 1918

Watch World War II Rage Across Europe in a 7 Minute Time-Lapse Film: Every Day From 1939 to 1945

The Entire His­to­ry of Japan in 9 Quirky Min­utes

Watch the His­to­ry of the World Unfold on an Ani­mat­ed Map: From 200,000 BCE to Today

A His­to­ry of the Entire World in Less Than 20 Min­utes

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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