Animation: How the European Map Has Changed Over 2,400 Years
How the European Map Has Changed Over 2,400 Years
The history of Europe is breathtakingly complex. While there are rare exceptions like Andorra and Portugal, which have had remarkably static borders for hundreds of years, jurisdiction over portions of the continent’s landmass have changed hands innumerable times.
Today’s video comes to us from YouTube channel Cottereau, and it shows the evolution of European map borders starting from 400 BC. Empires rise and fall, invasions sweep across the continent, and modern countries slowly begin to take shape (with the added bonus of an extremely dramatic instrumental).
Below are nine highlights and catalysts that shifted the dividing lines of the European map:
146 BC – A Year of Conquest
146 BC was a year of conquest and expansion for the Roman Republic. The fall of Carthage left the Romans in control of territory in North Africa, and the ransack and destruction of the Greek city-state of Corinth also kickstarted an era of Roman influence in that region. These decisive victories paved the way for the Roman Empire’s eventual domination of the Mediterranean.
117 AD – Peak Roman Empire
The peak of the Roman Empire is one of the more dramatic moments shown on this animated European map. At its height, under Trajan, the Roman Empire was a colossal 1.7 million square miles (quite a feat in an era without motorized vehicles and modern communication tools). This enormous empire remained mostly intact until 395, when it was irreparably split into Eastern and Western regions.
370 AD – The Arrival of the Huns
Spurred on by severe drought conditions in Central Asia, the Huns reached Europe and found a Roman Empire weakened by currency debasement, economic instability, overspending, and increasing incursions from rivals along its borders.
The Huns waged their first attack on the Eastern Roman Empire in 395, but it was not until half a century later—under the leadership of Attila the Hun—that hordes pushed deeper into Europe, sacking and razing cities along the way. The Romans would later get their revenge when they attacked the quarreling Goths and Huns, bouncing the latter out of Central Europe.
1241 – The Mongol Invasion of Europe
In the mid-13th century, the “Golden Horde” led by grandsons of Genghis Khan, roared into Russia and Eastern Europe sacking cities along the way. Facing invasion from formidable Mongol forces, central European princes temporarily placed their regional conflicts aside to defend their territory. Though the Mongols were slowly pushed eastward, they loomed large on the fringes of Europe until almost the 16th century.
1362 – Lithuania
Today, Lithuania is one of Europe’s smallest countries, but at its peak in the middle ages, it was one of the largest states on the continent. A pivotal moment for Lithuania came after a decisive win at the Battle of Blue Waters. This victory stifled the expansion of the Golden Horde, and brought present-day Ukraine into its sphere of influence.
1648 – Kleinstaaterei
The end of the Holy Roman Empire highlights the extreme territorial fragmentation in Germany and neighboring regions, in an era referred to as Kleinstaaterei.
Even as coherent nation states formed around it, the Holy Roman Empire and its remnants wouldn’t coalesce until Germany rose from the wreckage of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. Unification helped position Germany as a major power, and by 1900 the country had the largest economy in Europe.
1919 – The Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire—a fixture in Eastern Europe for hundreds of years—was in its waning years by the beginning of the 20th century. The empire had ceded territory in two costly wars with Italy and Balkan states, and by the time the dust cleared on WWI, the borders of the newly minted nation of Turkey began at the furthest edge of continental Europe.
1942 – Expanding and Contracting Germany
At the furthest extent of Axis territory in World War II, Germany and Italy controlled a vast portion of continental Europe. The map below shows occupied land and areas of influence at the height of Germany’s territorial expansion.
After the war, Germany again became fragmented into occupation zones—this time, overseen by the United States, France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. Germany would not be made whole again until 1990, when a weakening Soviet Union loosened its grip on East Germany.
1991 – Soviet Dissolution
In the decades following WWII, the political boundaries of the European map remained relatively stable—that is, until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Almost overnight, the country’s entire western border splintered into independent nations. When the dust settled, there were 15 breakaway republics, six of which were in Europe.
Bonus: If you liked the video above, be sure to watch this year-by-year account of who ruled territories across Europe.
Mapped: The World’s Legal Government Systems
The political regimes of the world’s countries have changed over centuries. This map charts the nine government systems that rule the world today.
Mapping The World’s Legal Government Systems
With over 200 countries existing across the world with unique cultures and traditions, one might assume that there are hundreds of types of government systems. But both historically and in modern times, that’s not the case.
Even while political regimes across these countries have changed over time, they’ve largely followed a few different types of governance. Today, every country can ultimately be classified into just nine broad forms of government systems.
This map by Truman Du uses information from Wikipedia to map the government systems that rule the world today.
Countries By Type of Government
It’s important to note that this map charts government systems according to each country’s legal framework.
Many countries have constitutions stating their de jure or legally recognized system of government, but their de facto or realized form of governance may be quite different.
Here is a list of the stated government system of UN member states and observers as of January 2023:
|Country||Constitutional form||Head of state|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Bahamas, The||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Republic||Ceremonial|
|Central African Republic||Republic||Executive|
|China, People's Republic of||Republic||Ceremonial|
|Congo, Democratic Republic of the||Republic||Executive|
|Congo, Republic of the||Republic||Executive|
|New Zealand||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Papua New Guinea||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Saint Lucia||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||Republic||Executive|
|Saudi Arabia||Absolute monarchy||Executive|
|Solomon Islands||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Republic||Ceremonial|
|United Arab Emirates||Constitutional monarchy||Executive|
|United Kingdom||Constitutional monarchy||Ceremonial|
|Vatican City||Absolute monarchy||Executive|
Let’s take a closer look at some of these systems.
Brought back into the spotlight after the death of Queen Elizabeth II of England in September 2022, this form of government has a single ruler. They carry titles from king and queen to sultan or emperor, and their government systems can be further divided into three modern types: constitutional, semi-constitutional, and absolute.
A constitutional monarchy sees the monarch act as head of state within the parameters of a constitution, giving them little to no real power. For example, King Charles III is the head of 15 Commonwealth nations including Canada and Australia. However, each has their own head of government.
On the other hand, a semi-constitutional monarchy lets the monarch or ruling royal family retain substantial political powers, as is the case in Jordan and Morocco. However, their monarchs still rule the country according to a democratic constitution and in concert with other institutions.
Finally, an absolute monarchy is most like the monarchies of old, where the ruler has full power over governance, with modern examples including Saudi Arabia and Vatican City.
Unlike monarchies, the people hold the power in a republic government system, directly electing representatives to form government. Again, there are multiple types of modern republic governments: presidential, semi-presidential, and parliamentary.
The presidential republic could be considered a direct progression from monarchies. This system has a strong and independent chief executive with extensive powers when it comes to domestic affairs and foreign policy. An example of this is the United States, where the President is both the head of state and the head of government.
In a semi-presidential republic, the president is the head of state and has some executive powers that are independent of the legislature. However, the prime minister (or chancellor or equivalent title) is the head of government, responsible to the legislature along with the cabinet. Russia is a classic example of this type of government.
The last type of republic system is parliamentary. In this system, the president is a figurehead, while the head of government holds real power and is validated by and accountable to the parliament. This type of system can be seen in Germany, Italy, and India and is akin to constitutional monarchies.
It’s also important to point out that some parliamentary republic systems operate slightly differently. For example in South Africa, the president is both the head of state and government, but is elected directly by the legislature. This leaves them (and their ministries) potentially subject to parliamentary confidence.
Many of the systems above involve multiple political parties vying to rule and govern their respective countries.
In a one-party state, also called a single-party state or single-party system, only one political party has the right to form government. All other political parties are either outlawed or only allowed limited participation in elections.
In this system, a country’s head of state and head of government can be executive or ceremonial but political power is constitutionally linked to a single political movement. China is the most well-known example of this government system, with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China ruling as the de facto leader since 1989.
The final form of government is a provisional government formed as an interim or transitional government.
In this system, an emergency governmental body is created to manage political transitions after the collapse of a government, or when a new state is formed. Often these evolve into fully constitutionalized systems, but sometimes they hold power for longer than expected.
Some examples of countries that are considered provisional include Libya, Burkina Faso, and Chad.
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