As a name for a part of the known world, it is first used in the 6th century BC by Anaximander and Hecataeus. The convention received by the Middle Ages and surviving into modern usage is that of the Roman era used by Roman era authors such as Posidonius ,  Strabo  and Ptolemy ,  who took the Tanais the modern Don River as the boundary. The term "Europe" is first used for a cultural sphere in the Carolingian Renaissance of the 9th century. From that time, the term designated the sphere of influence of the Western Church , as opposed to both the Eastern Orthodox churches and to the Islamic world.
A cultural definition of Europe as the lands of Latin Christendom coalesced in the 8th century, signifying the new cultural condominium created through the confluence of Germanic traditions and Christian-Latin culture, defined partly in contrast with Byzantium and Islam , and limited to northern Iberia , the British Isles, France, Christianised western Germany, the Alpine regions and northern and central Italy.
The question of defining a precise eastern boundary of Europe arises in the Early Modern period, as the eastern extension of Muscovy began to include Northern Asia. Throughout the Middle Ages and into the 18th century, the traditional division of the landmass of Eurasia into two continents, Europe and Asia, followed Ptolemy, with the boundary following the Turkish Straits , the Black Sea , the Kerch Strait , the Sea of Azov and the Don ancient Tanais. But maps produced during the 16th to 18th centuries tended to differ in how to continue the boundary beyond the Don bend at Kalach-na-Donu where it is closest to the Volga, now joined with it by the Volga—Don Canal , into territory not described in any detail by the ancient geographers.
Philip Johan von Strahlenberg in was the first to depart from the classical Don boundary by proposing that mountain ranges could be included as boundaries between continents whenever there were no suitable waterways.
He drew a new line along the Volga , following the Volga north until the Samara Bend , along Obshchy Syrt the drainage divide between Volga and Ural and then north along Ural Mountains. The mapmakers continued to differ on the boundary between the lower Don and Samara well into the 19th century. The atlas published by the Russian Academy of Sciences has the boundary follow the Don beyond Kalach as far as Serafimovich before cutting north towards Arkhangelsk , while other 18th- to 19th-century mapmakers such as John Cary followed Strahlenberg's prescription.
To the south, the Kuma—Manych Depression was identified circa by a German naturalist, Peter Simon Pallas , as a valley that once connected the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea,   and subsequently was proposed as a natural boundary between continents. By the midth century, there were three main conventions, one following the Don, the Volga—Don Canal and the Volga, the other following the Kuma—Manych Depression to the Caspian and then the Ural River, and the third abandoning the Don altogether, following the Greater Caucasus watershed to the Caspian.
The question was still treated as a "controversy" in geographical literature of the s, with Douglas Freshfield advocating the Caucasus crest boundary as the "best possible", citing support from various "modern geographers". In Russia and the Soviet Union , the boundary along the Kuma—Manych Depression was the most commonly used as early as Homo erectus georgicus , which lived roughly 1. The Neanderthals were supplanted by modern humans Cro-Magnons , who appeared in Europe around 43, to 40, years ago. The European Neolithic period—marked by the cultivation of crops and the raising of livestock, increased numbers of settlements and the widespread use of pottery—began around BC in Greece and the Balkans , probably influenced by earlier farming practices in Anatolia and the Near East.
Between and BC, these central European neolithic cultures developed further to the west and the north, transmitting newly acquired skills in producing copper artifacts.
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In Western Europe the Neolithic period was characterised not by large agricultural settlements but by field monuments, such as causewayed enclosures , burial mounds and megalithic tombs. During this period giant megalithic monuments, such as the Megalithic Temples of Malta and Stonehenge , were constructed throughout Western and Southern Europe.
The European Bronze Age began c. Ancient Greece was the founding culture of Western civilisation. Western democratic and rationalist culture are often attributed to Ancient Greece. Greece also generated many cultural contributions: in philosophy , humanism and rationalism under Aristotle , Socrates and Plato ; in history with Herodotus and Thucydides ; in dramatic and narrative verse, starting with the epic poems of Homer ;  in drama with Sophocles and Euripides , in medicine with Hippocrates and Galen ; and in science with Pythagoras , Euclid and Archimedes.
Greece was followed by Rome , which left its mark on law , politics , language , engineering , architecture , government and many more key aspects in western civilisation. The two centuries that followed are known as the pax romana , a period of unprecedented peace, prosperity, and political stability in most of Europe. The empire continued to expand under emperors such as Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius , who spent time on the Empire's northern border fighting Germanic , Pictish and Scottish tribes. Constantine also permanently moved the capital of the empire from Rome to the city of Byzantium , which was renamed Constantinople in his honour modern-day Istanbul in AD.
Christianity became the sole official religion of the empire in AD, and in — AD, the emperor Theodosius outlawed pagan religions. During the decline of the Roman Empire , Europe entered a long period of change arising from what historians call the " Age of Migrations ". Isolated monastic communities were the only places to safeguard and compile written knowledge accumulated previously; apart from this very few written records survive and much literature, philosophy, mathematics, and other thinking from the classical period disappeared from Western Europe though they were preserved in the east, in the Byzantine Empire.
While the Roman empire in the west continued to decline, Roman traditions and the Roman state remained strong in the predominantly Greek-speaking Eastern Roman Empire , also known as the Byzantine Empire. During most of its existence, the Byzantine Empire was the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe. Emperor Justinian I presided over Constantinople's first golden age: he established a legal code that forms the basis of many modern legal systems, funded the construction of the Hagia Sophia , and brought the Christian church under state control.
From the 7th century onwards, as the Byzantines and neighbouring Sasanid Persians were severely weakened due the protracted, centuries-lasting and frequent Byzantine—Sasanian wars , the Muslim Arabs began to make inroads into historically Roman territory, taking the Levant and North Africa and making inroads into Asia Minor. The unsuccessful second siege of Constantinople weakened the Umayyad dynasty and reduced their prestige.
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The Umayyads were then defeated by the Frankish leader Charles Martel at the Battle of Poitiers in , which ended their northward advance. In the remote regions of north-western Iberia and the middle Pyrenees the power of the Muslims in the south was scarcely felt. It was here that the foundations of the Christian kingdoms of Asturias , Leon and Galicia were laid and from where the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula would start. However, no coordinated attempt would be made to drive the Moors out.
The Christian kingdoms were mainly focussed on their own internal power struggles. This led in to the founding of the Holy Roman Empire , which eventually became centred in the German principalities of central Europe.
Europe: c. , years ago - - Oxford Reference
The powerful West Slavic state of Great Moravia spread its territory all the way south to the Balkans, reaching its largest territorial extent under Svatopluk I and causing a series of armed conflicts with East Francia. To the East, the Kievan Rus expanded from its capital in Kiev to become the largest state in Europe by the 10th century. In , Vladimir the Great adopted Orthodox Christianity as the religion of state.
The period between the year and is known as the High Middle Ages , during which the population of Europe experienced significant growth, culminating in the Renaissance of the 12th century. Economic growth, together with the lack of safety on the mainland trading routes, made possible the development of major commercial routes along the coast of the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas.
The growing wealth and independence acquired by some coastal cities gave the Maritime Republics a leading role in the European scene. The Middle Ages on the mainland were dominated by the two upper echelons of the social structure: the nobility and the clergy. Through monasteries and cathedral schools, the Church was responsible for education in much of Europe. The Papacy reached the height of its power during the High Middle Ages. In the Iberian Peninsula , the Reconquista concluded with the fall of Granada in , ending over seven centuries of Islamic rule in the south-western peninsula.
Constantinople was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe from the 9th to the 12th centuries, with a population of approximately , In the 11th and 12th centuries, constant incursions by nomadic Turkic tribes, such as the Pechenegs and the Cuman-Kipchaks , caused a massive migration of Slavic populations to the safer, heavily forested regions of the north and temporarily halted the expansion of the Rus' state to the south and east. They established the state of the Golden Horde with headquarters in Crimea, which later adopted Islam as a religion and ruled over modern-day southern and central Russia for more than three centuries.
Previously, these territories were under the successive control of Pechenegs and Cumans. The state was consolidated under Ivan III the Great and Ivan the Terrible , steadily expanding to the east and south over the next centuries. In the early 13th century, Athens became a duchy ruled by a French knight of the Crusades, whose successor hired Catalan mercenaries to fight against a rival state, only to be deposed by them in Though its core was a light-armed infantry not very superior in equipment to the legions of ancient Rome , the Catalan Company of the Orient met and defeated armies of Turks , Caucasians , Balkan mountain folk, Genoese archers and cavalry, Thracian , Macedonian , and Asiatic Byzantines , and a representative array of French chivalry.
In doing so they captured large amounts of land, dominating and ruling most of Greece throughout much of the 14th century. The population of France was reduced by half. The plague had a devastating effect on Europe's social structure; it induced people to live for the moment as illustrated by Giovanni Boccaccio in The Decameron It was a serious blow to the Roman Catholic Church and led to increased persecution of Jews , beggars , and lepers. The Renaissance was a period of cultural change originating in Florence and later spreading to the rest of Europe.
The rise of a new humanism was accompanied by the recovery of forgotten classical Greek and Arabic knowledge from monastic libraries, often translated from Arabic into Latin. Political intrigue within the Church in the midth century caused the Western Schism. During this forty-year period, two popes—one in Avignon and one in Rome—claimed rulership over the Church.
Although the schism was eventually healed in , the papacy's spiritual authority had suffered greatly. Spain and Portugal, the greatest naval powers of the time, took the lead in exploring the world. Soon after, the Spanish and Portuguese began establishing large global empires in the Americas , Asia , Africa and Oceania.
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Spanish wars of conquest included laying waste much of the Netherlands and an attempt to invade England. This English decisive disaster also allowed the Spanish fleet to retain its capability to wage war for the next decades. The Church's power was further weakened by the Protestant Reformation in when German theologian Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses criticizing the selling of indulgences to the church door.
He was subsequently excommunicated in the papal bull Exsurge Domine in , and his followers were condemned in the Diet of Worms , which divided German princes between Protestant and Roman Catholic faiths. The 17th century in central and eastern Europe was a period of general decline. Between and in the central and eastern Europe ended hegemony of the Polish—Lithuanian Commonwealth. From the 15th to 18th centuries, when the disintegrating khanates of the Golden Horde were conquered by Russia, Tatars from the Crimean Khanate frequently raided Eastern Slavic lands to capture slaves.