The mountain ranges of Europe and Asia

When the Great land masses of Africa and India collide with Europe and asia, about 100 million years ago, they cause the crust of the earth to crumple upwards in a long almost continuous ridge of high ground - from the Alps, through Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan to the Himalayas. This barrier will have a profound influence on human history.

To the south and east of the mountain range are various fertile regions, watered by great rivers flowing from the mountains. By contrast, north of the mountain range is a continuous strip of less fertile grasslands - the steppes, on which a horseman can ride almost without interruption from Mongolia to Moscow.

This unbroken stretch of land north of the mountains, reaching from the Pacific in the east to the Atlantic in the west, means that the boundary between Asia and Europe is a somewhat vague concept. Indeed Europe is really the western peninsula of the much larger mass of Asia.

In the south there is a natural barrier, long accepted as a dividing line - formed by the waters of the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. North from here the boundary is notional. In recent times it has been accepted as passing east from the Black Sea to the Caspian and then stretching north from the Caspian along the eastern slopes of the Ural mountains.

The first Europeans: 500000 – 10000 years ago

Early man - of the species homo erectus - penetrates to the western extremity of Europe by about 500,000 years ago. Fossil remains from this time are known as far west as England.

From about 230,000 years ago the human inhabitants of Europe, descendants of homo erectus, are sufficiently different in brain size and physique to be classed as an early form of Homo sapiens. Known as Neanderthal man, this species prospers for many thousands of years. But the Neanderthalers leave little trace of themselves other than their stone tools, their bones and the bones of their animal prey (though a recently discovered Neanderthal flute suggests some cultural life). They are extinct by about 35,000 years ago.

Modern man - anatomically similar to humans today - arrives relatively late in Europe. But the continent does provide the most extensive evidence of the early culture of our own species of Homo sapiens.

The Venus of willendorf (about 25,000 years ago) and the cave paintings of Altamira and lascaux (some 15,000 years ago) are merely the most famous examples of a vigorous palaeolithic art found in many parts of Europe. Similarly the exposed plains of eastern Europe contain traces of the earliest known free-standing dwellings - circular huts, semi-sunken, with stones or tusks supporting some form of superstructure.

From villages to towns in Europe: 7000 - 2000 BC

The Neolithic revolution - introducing village life, the cultivation of crops and the rearing of animals - arrives in Greece in about 7000 BC from its region of origin in the Middle East. It will take about 3000 years to spread to the Atlantic coast and Britain, pushing back the way of life of the hunter-gatherers at an average rate of slightly more than a mile a year.

This slow rate of progress may partly reflect a reluctance of the hunter-gatherers to settle down to the hard labour of agriculture. But it is due also to the fact that here the labour is indeed hard. Europe, unlike the Middle East, is heavily forested. Clearing the ground for crops, with stone tools, is a massive undertaking.

In the Atlantic coastal regions, the transition to neolithic village settlement is marked by the world's most striking tradition of prehistoric architecture.

In most of Europe neolithic communities live in villages of timber houses, often with a communal longhouse as the central feature (one, discovered at Bochum in Germany, is some 65 metres in length). But along the entire Atlantic coast, from Spain to Britain and Denmark, the focus of village life is a communal tomb, around which simple huts are clustered. The tomb chambers of these regions introduce the tradition of stonework which includes Passage graves and megaliths, also the very solid domestic architecture of Skara Brae.

By the time the whole of Europe has entered the neolithic age, the eastern Mediterranean - where Africa joins Asia - is literate and civilized. Like farming, Civilization spreads by contagion from Asia to Europe. The point where the two continents meet, round the Aegean Sea, becomes from around 2000 BC the site of Europe's first Civilization - that of Minoan crete.

Minoan Civilization, after several centuries, yields to an incoming group which eventually provides nearly all the peoples of Europe - the Indo-Europeans.

Indo-Europeans: from 2000 BC

Tribes speaking Indo-european languages, and living as Nomadic herdsmen, are well established by about 2000 BC in the steppes which stretch from the Ukraine eastwards, to the regions north of the Black Sea and the Caspian.

Over the coming centuries they steadily infiltrate the more appealing regions to the south and west - occasionally in something akin to open warfare, and invariably no doubt with violence. But the process is much more gradual than our modern notions of an invading force.

Indo-Europeans in Europe: from 1800 BC

In Europe the first Indo-European tribes to make significant inroads are the Greeks. They move south into Greece and the Aegean from the 18th century BC.

Gradually other tribes speaking Indo-European languages spread throughout Europe. From an early date Germans are established in Denmark and southern Sweden. Balts settle along the southern and eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Tribes using an Italic group of languages descend into Italy. Across the centre of Europe the Celts move gradually west through Germany into France, northern Spain and Britain.

Another wave of migrating Indo-European peoples follows on behind, pressing westwards from Asia. The Slavs move into the region of Poland and western Russia, between the Vistula and Dnieper rivers. The Scythians establish themselves in the area to the north of the Black Sea.

Any map will oversimplify patterns of tribal migration, for it must attempt to separate groups which in reality intermingle and overlap. If there is not too much pressure on the available territory, different tribes often coexist within a region. Even so, in broad terms, the tribes mentioned here from the great majority of Europeans at the time when Greece and Rome dominate the Mediterranean region.


The Mediterranean colonized: 8th - 3rd cemtury BC

The Mediterranean is the chief arena of European development from the 8th century BC.

The focus at first is on the Aegean Sea. Here the civilization of Greece develops; from here Greek colonists move west to Italy and Sicily. Settlements of Phoenicians and Carthaginians also become established in the western Mediterranean. By the 3rd century Rome is firmly in control of central and southern Italy. Greece, Carthage and Rome are all involved in the Sicilian hostilities which in 264 provoke the first Punic war and which lead, eventually, to the dominance of the Roman empire throughout the region.

Rome's private sea: 1st century BC - 6th century AD

The gap between the establishment of Rome's first province outside mainland Italy (Sicily in 241 BC) and Roman control of the entire Mediterranean is little more than two centuries. With the annexation of Egypt in 30 BC, the Mediterranean becomes for the first time one political unit - a large lake within a single empire.

This situation lasts for four centuries, until Germanic tribes move round the western Mediterranean in the 5th century AD. This most historic of seas will continue to play a central role in human history, but never again under unified control. Tribal pressure from the north has been gradually building up throughout the heyday of Rome.

By the end of the 5th century southern France and Spain is in the hands of Visigoths. Vandals are established along the coast of northwest Africa. Even the eastern coast of Italy is ruled by Ostrogoths.

For a while, under Justinian in the 6th century, the Roman empire reasserts control over Italy and north Africa. But the impression of a return towards a unified Mediterranean proves illusory. A decisive change occurs in the 7th century, bringing to more than half the Mediterranean coastline a new culture which will prevail from then until our own time - that of Islam.

People on the move

Germans on the move: from the 2nd century BC

In the 2nd century BC, Germanic tribes move south and east from Scandinavia. The Goths and the Vandals drive the Balts east along the coast of the Baltic. Other Germans press south along the Rhine as far as the Danube, forcing the Helvetii - a Celtic tribe - to take refuge among the Swiss mountains.

Two German tribes, the Teutones and the Cimbri, even strike so far south as to threaten Roman armies in southern France and northern Italy. They are finally defeated and pressed back in 101 BC. But from the Roman point of view a long-term threat has been identified - that of the German barbarians whose territory is now the region beyond the Rhine and the Danube.

The lull before the storm: 3rd century AD

By the 3rd century AD various German tribal confederations, all of whom will leave a lasting mark on European history, are ranged along the natural borders of the Roman empire. They have settled in the territories east of the Rhine and north of the Danube and Black Sea. From here, in the great upheavals of the 4th and 5th century (known as the Völkerwanderung, 'migration of the peoples'), they will move throughout western Europe.

In the northwest, beyond the lower reaches of the Rhine, are the Franks. Further south, around the Main valley, are the Burgundians. East of the Alps, near the Tisza river, are the Vandals. Beyond them, occupying a far greater range of territory than the others, are the Goths.

The Goths are by now split into two groups. Those further east are known as the Ostrogoths, apparently meaning eastern Goths. The western group are the Visigoths, often said to mean western Goths. They prefer to intepret the name as 'valiant' Goths, declaring it unlucky to be associated with the west in which the sun sinks and dies.

The Visigoths occupy the region between the Danube and the Dniester. Beyond them the empire of the Ostrogoths stretches over a vast area north of the Black Sea as far as the river Don.

All these close neighbours of the Romans make their presence felt through continual raids into the empire. Coping with them becomes the main activity of the Roman legions. But gradually closer relationships are established through diplomacy and trade - meaning mainly a supply of slaves by the tribes in return for grain, wine and textiles from the Romans.

By the early 4th century, in the reign of Constantine, an element of stability has been achieved to the benefit both of the Romans and of their more primitive neighbours. But it is about to be upset, from about AD 370, by devastating incursions from the east.

New dispensations: 6th century AD

By the year 500 the map of Europe has settled into a new pattern. The centre of the Roman empire is now unmistakably in the east, at Constantinople. The only parts of the empire to have survived with any degree of continuity are southeast Europe (the Balkans and Greece) and western Asia (on round the Mediterranean to Egypt). The rest is in new hands.

Italy, the old centre of gravity, is now ruled by Ostrogoths. The Visigoths are in Spain and southwest France. The Burgundians are in southeast France and the Franks are in the north. In Britain a struggle is beginning between the Celtic inhabitants and invading Angles and Saxons.

The change from the heyday of the Roman empire could hardly seem greater, yet time will reveal strong hidden continuities. For a millennium, from 500 BC, there have been two influential cultures in Europe - Greece in the east and Rome in the west. In a different guise, for another 1000 years, the same two influences prevail. For each has its own primacy in relation to Christianity, the religion which now shapes Europe.

Constantinople is founded in330 as the great Christian imperial city. But Rome, the earlier imperial city, has its own different and prior claim - as the place where St peter is believed to have been martyred, and the seat of his successors as pope.

Constantinople never falters as the centre of eastern Christianity. Rome has its ups and downs, but it gradually imposes on the barbarians its own idea of the Christian religion and, with it, the authority of the pope. Latin and Greek were the political and cultural languages of the classical centuries. Now they become the cult languages of the Christian era. The old European pattern, disturbed though it is by the barbarian incursions, reasserts itself.

The most profound difference after the 5th century is that Germanic peoples from the north begin to play a major role in western Europe, while new communities of Slavs establish themselves in the east.

The Franks in western Europe: 6th - 10th century AD

The Franks are the first of the Germanic peoples to develop a large and stable kingdom in northwest Europe. Clovis, pressing south from the modern region of Belgium, extends his rule in the early 6th century to the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean.

Three hundred years later the Frankish Empire of charlemagne reaches east over the Rhine, up to the Baltic in the north, as far as Austria in the east, and beyond the river Po in Italy. Europe has a new Christian empire as extensive in the west as the original Roman example - but one which will prove more short-lived.

The region united by Charlemagne includes, in modern terms, northeast Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, much of Germany, Switzerland, Austria and north Italy. In 840, on the death of Charlemagne's son Louis the Pious, war breaks out between his three sons over their shares of this inheritance.

A division between the brothers is finally agreed, in 843, in a treaty signed at Verdun. The dividing lines drawn on this occasion prove of lasting and dark significance in the history of Europe.

Three slices of Francia: AD 843

Two facts of European geography (the Atlantic coast and the Rhine) dictate a vertical division of the Frankish empire, known in Latin as Francia. The three available sections are the west, the middle and the east - Francia Occidentalis, Francia Media and Francia Orientalis.

It is clear that Francia Occidentalis will include much of modern France, and that Francia Orientalis will approximate to the German-speaking areas east of the Rhine. Francia Media, an ambiguous region between them, is the richest strip of territory. Allotted to Charlemagne's eldest son, Lothair I, it stretches from the Netherlands and Belgium down both sides of the Rhine to Switzerland and Italy.

This central Frankish kingdom is in subsequent centuries, including our own, one of the great fault lines of Europe. The northern section becomes known as Lotharingia (the territory of Lothair) and thus, in French, Lorraine; between it and Switzerland is Alsace.

As power grows or decreases to the west or the east, in the great regions emerging slowly as France and Germany, these Rhineland provinces frequently change hands. So, for many centuries, do the Low Countries, Burgundy and northern Italy.

This central Frankish kingdom is in subsequent centuries, including our own, one of the great fault lines of Europe. The northern section becomes known as Lotharingia (the territory of Lothair) and thus, in French, Lorraine; between it and Switzerland is Alsace. As power grows or decreases to the west or the east, in the great regions emerging slowly as France and Germany, these Rhineland provinces frequently change hands or allegiance.

So, for many centuries, do the Low Countries, Burgundy and northern Italy.

Members of the Carolingian dynasty maintain tenuous power on both sides of the Rhine through the 9th century. But they lose control of Germany in 911 and of France in 987.

From 919 the ruling dynasty in Germany is Saxon in origin. But Hugh Capet, who becomes king of western Francia in 987, is a Frank. His descendants rule from Paris for nearly four centuries. In the name of their emerging nation, France, they perpetuate the achievement of the Franks.

The Slavs in eastern Europe: from the 6th century AD

The Slavs are first referred to by this name in518 when they press into the Roman empire across the Danube, though they have been settled for more than a millennium in the region to the north (between the Vistula and Dnieper rivers).

After the collapse of the empire of the Huns, in the 5th century, the Slavs begin to expand their territory. They move west into what are now the Czech republic and Slovakia and south towards the Adriatic and Aegean - where their separate regional and religious development as Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Macedonians and Bulgarians later makes the peninsula of the Balkans one of the most politically complex regions on the face of the earth.

Magyars: 9th - 10th century AD

The lower Danube, before the river enters the Black Sea, has been Europe's doorway to tribal groups arriving from the north and east. Here the Visigoths and ostrogoths and Slavs have first presented themselves to the Roman empire, requesting or demanding admission. And here there arrives, in889, another group.

They differ from their predecessors in that they are not Indo-Europeans. They speak a Finno-ugric language. They call themselves Magyars, but their federation of tribes is known as On-Ogur, meaning 'Ten Arrows'. The pronunciation of On-Ogur by their new Slav neighbours leads, eventually, to the name by which the Magyars are later known - Hungarians.

The Magyars have been living for several centuries near the mouth of the Don, as vassals of the Khazars. From 889 they spend a few years in the Balkans in the service of the Byzantine emperor, but soon they move on to the northwest, through the Carpathian mountains.

Since 890 their leader has been Arpad, elected prince by the chieftains of the seven Magyar tribes. His people number no more than 25,000, but together they subdue (within the space of a few years) the scattered population of the region now known as Hungary. So Arpad becomes the founder of a nation which somehow - in all the upheavals of central Europe - retains its identity and its language down through the centuries.

The arrival of the Hungarians brings a violent end to Moravia, also known as Great Moravia, the first stable kingdom established in eastern Europe. The Moravians are crushed at some time around 900. The Hungarians further demonstrate their power with a decisive victory over a German army near Bratislava in 907.

Thereafter, for several decades, the Hungarians are a profoundly disruptive force in the region, constantly raiding west into Germany and south into Italy. They are eventually subdued when the emperor Otto i defeats them on the Lechfeld, near Augsburg, in 955.

After their defeat on the Lechfeld the pagan Hungarians adopt a more conciliatory approach to their western neighbours in Germany. In 973 the supreme chieftain Géza, great-grandson of Arpad, sends an embassy to the German emperor Otto ii. And two years later Géza and his family are baptized in the Roman catholic church.

Hungary settles down as the eastern bulwark of feudal Europe. In the next generation it has a king rather than a chieftain. Even better, its first king is a saint. Géza's son, Stephen I, succeeds him in 997. He becomes the central symbol of Hungarian nationalism.

Rival faiths

Clashes in central Europe: 9th - 10th century AD

Central and eastern Europe, northwards from the Adriatic and the Aegean, is the arena in which many conflicting forces confront each other in the 9th and 10th centuries.

Germans, pressing towards the east, meet onslaughts from Slavs and Magyars moving westwards. Missionaries from Rome confront their rivals from Constantinople, competing for pagan souls with their rival brands of Christianity. The rulers of new kingdoms, emerging in this region at this period, decide which alliance and which religion to adopt. The frontiers established in these conflicts remain sensitive throughout European history.

Roman Catholic kingdoms: 9th - 10th century AD

The earliest large kingdom in central Europe is Moravia, the realm of a Slav dynasty which by the second half of the 9th century also controls Bohemia and adjacent parts of modern Poland and Hungary.

The struggle between Roman and Byzantine Christianity crystallizes here. The district is first evangelized by Roman missionaries from Bavaria, but the king of Moravia, resenting German pressure, wants his people to receive the faith in their own Slavonic tongue. He sends to Constantinople for missionaries, and receives (in 863) the brothers Cyril and Methodius. They introduce a Slavonic liturgy. It is later outlawed by German clerics, who in association with Rome impose the Latin rite on the region.

In neighbouring Hungary there are similar swings of faith, though here the Magyar royal family takes the opposite line. The Magyars, established in Hungary from about 896, overwhelm the Moravian kingdom soon after 900 and become a major threat to the Germans until defeated near the Lech river in 955.

By that time many of their chieftains are Greek Orthodox Christians. But the Hungarian king (Gezá, a great-grandson of Arpad) prefers to look westwards. In 975 he and his family are baptized in the Roman Catholic faith, initiating a lasting link between Hungary and Rome.

An even closer link with Rome is forged by Mieszko, the founder of the Polish kingdom. Deciding that his best hope of security lies in a western alliance, he adopts Roman Catholic Christianity in 966 and makes subtle use of the feudal system to win himself powerful protection.

He accepts the German emperor Otto i as his feudal lord, and shortly before his death goes one step better - placing Poland directly under the authority of the pope in Rome.

A much disputed border between Roman and Greek influence falls within the region known for much of the 20th century as Yugoslavia. Croatia, in the west, is Roman Catholic. Christian from the 7th century, it is an established duchy by 880; in 925 a Croatian ruler receives his crown directly from the pope. By contrast the ruler of Serbia, in the east, adopts the Greek Orthodox faith. In about 880 he invites disciples of Cyril and Methodius to educate his people.

This ancient division between two closely linked groups of Slavs is evident in their writing. Their shared language (called in recent times Serbo-Croatian) is written in the Roman script by the Croatians and in Cyrillic by the Serbians.

Greek Orthodox kingdoms: 9th - 10th century AD

The two great Slav kingdoms within the Greek Orthodox fold are Bulgaria and Russia. The rulers of both, according to tradition, weigh up the attractions of Rome and Constantinople. They choose the glories of the east.

The Bulgarian decision appears to be primarily political. The ruler, Boris I, is baptized in the Greek Orthodox church in 865, but for the next five years he plays Rome and Constantinople off against each other. In 870, when it is plain that Rome will not accept an independent Bulgarian patriarch, he brings his mainly pagan nation within the Byzantine fold (which allows greater independence to provincial churches).

The decision of the Russian ruler to embrace Greek Orthodoxy is presented in the traditional account as aesthetic rather than political. In about 988 the prince of Kiev, Vladimir, commissions a report which persuades him of the attractions of Byzantine Christianity.

It is a decision of profound importance for Orthodox Christianity, which in Russia finds its third great empire. Constantinople, the Christian seat of the Roman empire, becomes thought of as the second Rome. After its fall to the Turks, in 1453, Moscow is in place to take on the sacred mantle - describing itself proudly as the third Rome.

Middle Ages

Northwest Europe: 9th - 12th century AD

During the 9th and 10th century Scandinavia sends out the last great marauding group of Europeans, the Vikings. But the same period also sees the first settled kingdoms in the region.

By 811 Denmark has a king powerful enough to make a treaty with the Franks, and in the following century a Danish king, Harald Bluetooth, becomes the first Scandinavian ruler to convert to Christianity. He is baptized in about 960. A few years later a Norwegian king, Olaf I, takes the same step - between 995 and 999. Iceland becomes Christian in about 1000.

Denmark and Norway, linked in the 11th century in the empire of Canute, are by this time unshakably Christian kingdoms. But in the forests of Sweden the twin processes - unification and the defeat of paganism - begin later and take longer.

The first ruler of any part of Sweden to be baptized is Olaf, king of Götaland in the south, in about 1010. He and his successors struggle for more than a century against pagan rulers, whose most famous and jealously defended shrine is at Uppsala. Not until Uppsala is established as an archbishopric, in 1164, can Sweden be securely classified as Christian.

Feudal Europe: 10th - 15th century

Although Feudalism develops as early as the 8th century, under the Carolingian dynasty, it does not prevail widely in Europe until the 10th century - by which time virtually the entire continent is Christian.

For the next 500 years, great accumulations of power and landed wealth pass between a few favoured players as if in a vast board game. The rules are complex, and to an outside eye deeply mysterious. But certain actions and qualifications bring a distinct advantage.

The top players in feudal Europe come from a small group of people - an aristocracy, based on skill in battle, with a shared commitment to a form of Christianity (at once power-hungry and idealistic) in which the pope in Rome has special powers as God's representative on earth. As a great feudal lord with moral pretensions, holding the ring between secular sovereigns, the pope can be seen as Europe's headmaster.

Bishops and abbots are part of the small feudal aristocracy, for they are mostly recruited from the noble families holding the great fiefs. Indeed bishops can often be found on the battlefield, fighting it out with with the best.

As in any other context, the strongest argument in Feudalism - transcending the niceties of loyalty - is naked force. The Normans in England or in Sicily rule by right of conquest, and feudal disputes are regularly resolved in battle.

But Feudalism also provides many varieties of justification for force. And the possession of a good justification is almost as reassuring to a knight as a good suit of armour.

One excellent excuse for warfare is the approval of the church. In 1059 the pope virtually commands the Normans to attack Sicily, by giving them feudal rights over territory not as yet theirs. Similarly Rome lets it be known that the Holy See is on the side of William when he invades England in 1066.

Another important form of justification is a dynastic claim to a territory. Generations of marriages, carefully arranged for material gain, result in an immensely complex web of relationships - reflected often in kingdoms of very surprising shape on the map of Europe.

A simple example is the vast swathe of land ruled over in the 12th century by England. Stretching from Northumberland to the south of France, it has been brought together by a process of inheritance and dynastic marriage.

More complex, but equally typical of Christian Feudalism, is the case of Sicily. In the 11th century the Normans seize it by invitation of the pope. In the 12th century the island is joined to distant Germany because the German king marries a Sicilian princess. And in the 13th century it is linked with France because the pope, intervening again, is now opposed to the Germans.

European prosperity: 12th - 14th century

The period differs profoundly from the previous five centuries in that it is no longer the people of Europe who are on the move. Since the declining years of the Roman empire, the Germanic tribes of the north have been jostling for space. Now they are settled. It is their leaders who are still restless for power, wealth and glory - within Europe but also to the east, where successive popes send them on Crusades.

This change brings two contrasting results - a volatile scene of politics and warfare, with an underlying increase in stablity.

The shifting pattern of feudal alliances in medieval Europe is a process of surface adjustment. Corrections are made in long spasmodic conflicts, such as the Hundred years war. Occasional victories between small numbers of Heavily armed men redraw the map for succeeding generations.

Meanwhile the people of Europe are busy with matters of more basic importance - agriculture, crafts, trade and the development of Commerce in towns of increasing wealth. Beneath the savage glitter of feudal Europe lies the steady growth of a continent capable once again of mighty achievements - evident, for example, in the spectacular Christian Architecture of the period.

Intruders from the east: 13th - 14th century AD

The Russian steppes have long been vulnerable to invading groups of nomads, such as the Kipchak turks. But from the 13th century Europe suffers much more violent incursions from the east.

In the long run the most successful intruders will be the Ottoman turks, who first move into Europe through Gallipoli in 1354. But an earlier and more devastating destruction comes in the previous century with the arrival of the Mongols. They enter Russia in 1236. They sack Moscow in 1238 and Kiev in 1240. In 1241 they move further west and south.

One army from the Mongol horde advances into Poland in 1241. They defeat a joint force of German and Polish knights at Legnica in April. In the same month another Mongol army wins a crushing victory over the Hungarians at Mohi. The tribesmen spend that summer on the plains of Hungary, grasslands similar to their own steppes. Eastern Europe is ill-equipped to dislodge these fierce nomads. But a faraway event resolves the issue.

News comes in December that the great khan, Ogedai, has died in Karakorum. The leader of the horde, Batu, and other Mongol nobles must attend the quriltai which will elect his successor. Batu withdraws from Hungary, returning the horde to its grasslands around the Volga.

Ups and downs in the economy: 12th - 14th century AD

Throughout Europe the period from about 1150 to 1300 sees a steady increase in prosperity, linked with a rise in population. There are several reasons. More land is brought into cultivation - a process in which the Cistercians play an important part. Rich monasteries, controlled by powerful abbots, become a significant feature of feudal Europe.

In tandem with the improvement in rural wealth is the development of cities thriving on trade, in luxury goods as well as staple products such as wool.

Prominent among the trading centres of the 13th century are the coastal Italian cities, whose merchants ply the Mediterranean; Venice is particularly prosperous after the opportunities presented by the Fourth crusade. In a similar way the cities of the Netherlands are well placed to profit from commerce between their three larger neighbours - England, France and the German states. And the Hanseatic towns handle the trade from the Baltic.

Together with this increase in trade goes the development of Banking. Christian families, particularly in the towns of northern Italy, begin to amass fortunes by offering the financial services which have previously been the preserve of the Jews.

In the 14th century this economic prosperity falters. Land goes out of cultivation, the volume of trade drops. There are various possible reasons. There is an unusual run of disastrously bad harvests in many areas in the early part of the century. And social structures are painfully adjusting, as the old Feudal system of obligations crumbles.

The final straw is the Black death, which not only kills a third of Europe's population in 1348-9; it also ushers in an era when plague is a recurrent hazard. The 14th century is not the best in which to live. But in the 15th century - the time of the Renaissance in Europe, and the age of Exploration - economic conditions improve again.

The economic troubles of the 14th century are reflected in disorder and unrest throughout much of Europe. This is true both at a grassroots level, in a series of peasants' revolts, and among great institutions of state. The Papacy is unsettled, in exile in Avignon. France and England are engaged in the futile rivalry of the Hundred Years' War. The condottieri wreak havoc in Italy.

Bohemia is an exception, enjoying a period of stability under Charles IV. But the most significant political development, from the later part of the 14th century, is the accumulation of territory in the hands of the dukes of Burgundy.

The duchy of Burgundy: AD 1369-1491

Ever since the creation of Francia media, Burgundy has been an important realm at the heart of western Europe - sometimes within the German empire, sometimes linked to the French kingdom, sometimes split between the two.

From the late 10th century the western part of Burgundy, lying to the west of the Saône river, is held as a dukedom by a junior line of the French royal family - first the Capetians and then, from 1363, the Valois.

Burgundy's rise to the status of a major European power begins in 1369 when the first Valois duke of Burgundy, Philip the Bold, marries Margaret, heiress to the county of Flanders.

The couple come into their Flemish inheritance in 1384. They and their descendants steadily increase their territories, aiming particularly to bridge the gap between Burgundy and the Netherlands with acquisitions such as Luxembourg (in 1443).

By 1470 their great-grandson Charles the Bold rules a vast territory stretching from Burgundy and Franche-Comté in the south through Alsace up to Friesland in the extreme north and then down the Atlantic coast as far as Calais.

In name Charles rules only a duchy. In reality he has an empire. But he has no son. The heir to these vast possessions is a daughter, Mary. As Europe's greatest marital prize she falls to a family, the Habsburgs, whose specialization is advantageous marriages. The Habsburgs bring dignity rather than territory. The head of their house, Frederick III, is the Holy roman emperor.

From 1473 secret negotiations are undertaken between the Holy roman emperor and Charles the bold. The proposed bargain is that Frederick iii will raise Burgundy from the status of a duchy to that of a kingdom, in return for which Charles's daughter Mary will marry Frederick's son Maximilian.

When Charles dies in battle in January 1477, neither plan has come to fruition. But it suits Burgundy to clinch this imperial alliance as security against its neighbour, France. The marriage plans are hurried through. Maximilian weds Mary by proxy in March and in person in August.

The French king, Louis XI, makes strenuous efforts to recover the part of the Burgundian inheritance which has been most closely linked to the French crown - the Duchy of burgundy to the west of the river Saône. He also covets the Franche-Comté ('free county' of Burgundy) to the east of the river, historically linked to the German empire but recently French.

The betrothal of his son to a Habsburg princess promises to secure both these territories for Louis. But in 1491 a different marriage is arranged for his son - bringing another prize, that of Britanny. The result is that only the Duchy of burgundy is merged with France, leaving everything east of the Saóne to the Habsburgs.

16th - 17th century

Western Europe: early 16th century AD

The Habsburg marriages of Maximilian in 1477 and of his son Philip i in 1496 have the eventual effect of bringing Burgundy, Austria and Spain under a single ruler - the Holy Roman emperor, Charles v.

Geographically this is a most unwieldy inheritance, reminiscent of the patchwork quilt of territories owing allegiance to feudal monarchs such as Henry ii. But Charles to some extent rationalizes his vast estate in 1522. He gives control of Austria and other German-speaking Habsburg territories to his brother, Ferdinand i.

This still leaves Charles with an awkward clutch of territories in western Europe. He rules Spain, Burgundy and much of Italy, including the north. His possessions flank the kingdom of France on almost all its land boundaries - a circumstance unwelcome to Francis i, the king of France. The struggle between Charles and Francis, or the houses of Habsburg and Valois, is a recurrent theme of the first half of the 16th century.

With the increasing trend towards strong nations, ruled by absolute monarchs, this Habsburg-Valois rivalry evolves into enduring conflicts between Spain and france and subsequently Austria and france (until the famous Diplomatic Revolution of 1756).

The third nation of western Europe, England, also has a strong ruler in the early 16th century, but he is as yet a minor player in this league. Henry VIII may be a useful ally for Francis or Charles against the other (as the Field of cloth of gold suggests) but on his own he is not a match for either.

All three kingdoms - Spain, France and England - also compete in another context, across the Atlantic. This new dimension shifts Europe's centre of gravity to the west during the 16th century. Subsequently it brings increasing power and wealth to England and to her nearest neighbours, the Dutch, through a blend of overseas trade, the planting of colonies and general pugnacity at sea.

Eastern Europe: early 16th century AD

Two events on the eastern extremes of Europe, during the second half of the 15th century, set the pattern for the future. The fall of Constantinople in 1453, bringing to an end the Byzantine empire, completes the Turkish dominance of the Balkans. Henceforth there is a hostile boundary between Muslim and Christian territory in southeast Europe, frequently adjusted by warfare - with the Hungarians in the front line for Christianity.

Meanwhile a great new power is emerging in northeast Europe which will replace to some extent (at least in its own self-image) the lost Byzantine empire.

From the reign of Ivan the Terrible, beginning in 1462, Moscow emerges as the powerful centre of an expanding Russia. This is now the most powerful kingdom practising Orthodox Christianity. Russia begins to present herself as the new Christian empire, ruled by a tsar - the third Rome.

By 1500 the power blocs are in place around Europe which will dominate the continent during the next three centuries - the Russian empire, the Turkish or Ottoman empire, the Habsburg empire, and the kingdoms of France and England.

Reformation: 16th - 17th century AD

The conflicts of Europe in the early 16th century (Spain and france in the west, Christians and Muslims in the east) are further complicated by a most violent dispute within the Christian community itself.

The spark of the Reformation, struck by Luther in 1517, blazes for a century and a half across the whole of western Europe. From martyrdom of Protestants in one place and Catholics in another, through sudden massacres (as on St Bartholomew's Day in France) to prolonged warfare (the Thirty Years' War), the prevailing mood of the continent becomes one of religious intolerance and frenzy, often usefully put to the service of politics. Not till the late 17th century does national interest transcend religious fervour.

18th century

Nations at war: AD 1700-1721

By the last decades of the 17th century the dominant European power is France, brought to a pinnacle of prestige by that most absolute of monarchs, Louis xiv. The main concern of France's neighbours and rivals is to keep this mighty force in check.

But to the north and east of the continent powerful forces are stirring too. Russia is flexing her muscles, against the Swedish empire to the west (for control of the Baltic) and against the Ottoman empire to the southeast (for access to the Black Sea).

Events in the very first year of the new century lead to major conflicts on both fronts. Between February and August in 1700 the armies of Denmark, Saxony and Russia successively invade different parts of Sweden's empire, launching a war which last for twenty-one years - usually referred to as the Northern war.

And in November the king of Spain, Charles ii, dies.

Charles ii of Spain has no children. In recent years there has been much effort by Europe's diplomats to influence his choice of an heir. The general fear is that the wealth of Spain (particularly that which derives from its Spanish colonies) will upset the balance of European power if added in its entirety to the existing hand of any one of the major players.

When it is discovered that the king of Spain has left everything to a grandson of the king of France, the War of the spanish succession becomes inevitable.

When the dust has settled on the first two European wars of the century, the chief territorial gain has been Russia's. Peter the great now has access to the Baltic, having taken from Sweden the site on which his magnificent new capital of St Petersburg is already under construction. Further down the coast he has also acquired territories corresponding to modern Estonia and Latvia.

In the Mediterranean there have been changes of ownership in the patchwork quilt of Italy, and Britain has been ceded by Spain two useful strategic bases - Gibraltar and minorca.

But the War of the spanish succession has also had one major effect in central Europe - not yet perhaps as evident as the territorial changes. In 1701 the Austrian emperor, Leopold I, needing the allegiance of Prussia in the forthcoming war, has allowed the elector of Brandenburg to call himself king in Prussia, as Frederick I. In the treaties of 1713, at the end of war, the other European nations ackowledge this new royal status.

In this same year Frederick is succeeded by his son, Frederick William I. He will turn Prussia's administration and army into the most efficient in Europe, bequeathing to his own son, Frederick II, a military machine which will have much influence in the coming years.

Prussia Austria and others: AD 1740-1748

The next bout of war between the continental powers follows the accession in 1740 of two young monarchs on central European thrones. In May the 28-year-old Frederick ii succeeds to the throne of Prussia; in October the 23-year-old Maria theresa inherits the crowns of Austria and Hungary. The first woman in the Habsburg imperial line inevitably provokes an international crisis, and Frederick seizes his opportunity.

In December Frederick marches into the Austrian province of Silesia, starting the War of the austrian succession. Eight years later the conflict is finally settled with few changes to the map of Europe - except that the youthful aggressor is allowed to retain Silesia in the peace agreed at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.

The loss of Silesia remains a very sore point with Maria theresa, and much of her policy is now directed towards its recovery. Reforms in Austria's government and army are one part of her plan. Another is the achieving of a diplomatic realignment before the next conflict.

France and Austria (the Bourbon and Habsburg dynasties) have been Europe's chief rivals for nearly two centuries. Maria theresa and her chancellor, von Kaunitz, now plan to change this alignment - in a previously unimaginable reversal which becomes known as the Diplomatic Revolution. They achieve the impossible. A defensive alliance between Austria and France is signed at Versailles in May 1756.

In addition to her new alliance with France, Maria theresa has a more active pact with Russia. The empress Elizabeth offers, in April of this year, to send 80,000 Russian troops to support an attack on Prussia.

An Austrian move to recover Silesia is clearly in preparation, when it is suddenly thwarted by the most decisive ruler in Europe.

Prussia Austria and others: AD 1756-1763

Frederick II of Prussia precipitates war on the continent of Europe in 1756 just as he has in 1740 (in the War of the austrian succession). On that occasion his motive was to seize the rich territory of Silesia, and the peace of Aix-la-chapelle has allowed him to keep it. This time, knowing Austria's burning desire to win it back, he is interested more in a pre-emptive strike.

On 29 August 1756 Frederick marches with 70,000 Prussian soldiers into Saxony (lying between Prussia and Austria). This act of aggression surprises the Saxons and launches the New war. It will last for seven years, merging with an existing imperial conflict between France and britain, before peace is finally restored.

The peace treaty agreed at Hubertusburg between Prussia and Austria maintains the recent status quo in central Europe. Frederick the Great, twice the aggressor, is again allowed to keep Silesia.

This conclusion strengthens the influence of Prussia within the German empire and reduces that of the official imperial power, Habsburg Austria. It also leaves Poland flanked by two increasingly powerful neighbours, Prussia and Russia, who since 1762 have been in alliance. The development does not bode well for Poland's future. Austria too attends the feast, when it begins in 1772.

Eastern turmoil: AD 1768-1795

In the last few decades of the 18th century the main unrest in Europe is in the eastern part of the continent. Previously European friction has centred on Germany: within the German empire itself (particularly in the Thirty Years' War); on the western borders of Germany, in France's attempts to expand towards the Rhine; and to the north of Germany, in struggles for the Baltic.

This pattern remains true even in the Seven Years' War, with the majority of the battles fought on German soil. It is in the aftermath of that war that the focus shifts east, when the region from the Baltic down to the Black Sea is flanked by four major powers.

Two of the four, Austria and Turkey, are ancient powers now slightly past their prime. The other two, Prussia and Russia, have grown greatly in strength during the 18th century. The quartet is made up of two profoundly hostile couples - Prussia and austria (competing to lead the German world), and Russia and turkey (rivals for control of the Black Sea). In the middle, almost as if placed there as a victim, is a large but weak nation, Poland.

Prussia and austria have fought two wars between 1740 and 1763. Russia and turkey fight two between 1768 and 1791. Poland is devoured in three stages, between 1772 and 1795, in a process sufficiently enticing to tempt even the hostile powers into brief cooperation.

French upheavals: AD 1789-1815

Western Europe is unusually peaceful during the quarter century leading up to the French revolution. But for the next twenty-six years, from 1789, the continent is convulsed by ideas and armies emanating from France.

During the first three years of the French revolution, while the ambitious middle classes compete to overthrow the ancien régime, the turmoil is confined within the borders of France. But in 1792 the country is invaded by guardians of the old order, a joint army of Austrians and prussians.

The resulting French revolutionary wars merge imperceptibly into the Napoleonic Wars. Apart from one year of peace (the Peace of amiens, 1802-3), there are battles across the continent and on the high seas for a continuous twenty-three years.

During the early part of this time French republican ideals are forcibly carried abroad, resulting in offspring such as the Batavian republic in the Netherlands (from 1795) and the Helvetic republic in Switzerland (from 1798).

Subsequently a similar pattern is followed, though with a different political complexion, as Napoleon creates kingdoms for his brothers - placing Louis on the throne of Holland in 1806, and making Joseph king of spain in 1808.

Meanwhile he has himself joined Europe's elite club of emperors, previously limited to the Habsburg and Romanov dynasties. Napoleon places a new imperial crown on his own brow in a spectacular ceremony in Notre dame in 1804.

Diplomatic U-turns are legion during this entire period of turmoil in Europe, as nations veer between positions of hostility, neutrality or alliance in their relations with France. The only consistent enemies through thick and thin are France and britain.

Not until the battle of Leipzig in 1813 (as also at its replay at Waterloo in 1815) are all Napoleon's powerful neighbours united in their opposition. In 1814 they foregather in Vienna to decide how to reassemble the continent in which he has caused such mayhem.


Congress of Vienna: AD 1814-15

The congress of Vienna, summoned by the four powers who have done most to defeat Napoleon (Britain, Russia, Prussia, Austria), is an attempt to stabilize the map of Europe after the upheavals caused by more than twenty years of war. All the crowned heads and their representatives are welcome in Vienna, with the result that there is much entertainment and glamorous festivity throughout the winter of 1814-15.

Behind the glitter, orchestrated by Metternich, the hard work of diplomacy goes on. The four great nations intend to make all the decisions themselves, but Talleyrand - representing the newly restored Louis xviii - ensures that France has an equal place at the table. Her participation in any agreed balance of power will be essential.

Everyone is well aware that a breakdown in the negotiations can easily lead to a renewal of war, in the familiar pattern of recent years. Yet each participant has a vested interest in ensuring that none of the others becomes too strong. The main players are like heavily armed gangsters who nevertheless need to clinch a deal.

Danger lies primarily in Poland and Saxony, the much fought over regions bordered by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Poland has already been dismembered by her neighbours before being partly reconstituted by Napoleon - as a grand duchy which he grants to the king of Saxony. (Saxony remains a French ally longer than anyone else and thus ends up on the losing side.)

Eventually the major powers reach a compromise in Vienna, to the predictable detriment of Poland and of a much reduced Saxony. In most other areas this congress of conservative monarchies restores the pre-Napoleonic status quo. Just as Louis xviii returns to the French throne, so Naples is restored to the Bourbons, the papal states to the pope, and much of northern Italy to Austria.

Among the more important changes, the larger German states keep their gains from the process of rationalization introduced by Napoleon; Denmark loses Norway to Sweden; and a new kingdom of the Netherlands links the Austrian Netherlands (or Belgium) and the United Provinces, as a barrier to renewed French expansion northwards.

Austria by now has no objection to relinquishing the Poland. But decisions of this kind are old-fashioned diplomacy, conducted between crowned heads and bearing little relation to the wishes or identity of people in the affected areas. Partly for this reason, the newly created kingdom of the Netherlands lasts only fifteen years before splitting apart.

Nevertheless in most respects the negotiators at Vienna succeed in their primary aim of finding a basis for peace. Most of their solutions hold good for several decades. The new Europe of the 19th century is no longer characterized by frequent wars. Instead, each nation is confronted internally by the likelihood of revolution.

Quadruple and Holy Alliances: AD 1814-1822

At the treaty of Chaumont in 1814, during the advance on Paris, Napoleon's four main enemies (Russia, Prussia, Austria and Britain) have pledged themselves not to make peace with France individually.

This Quadruple Alliance is renewed in a different form at the Congress of vienna, when the same nations agree to hold regular congresses in order to safeguard the newly re-established peace in Europe. This so-called congress system lasts for four international gatherings, from Aachen (or Aix-la-Chapelle) in 1818 to Verona in 1822.

Meanwhile there is another group, professing a similar purpose, which derives from an initiative of the Russian emperor Alexander I. Russia's sufferings at Napoleon's hands In 1812 have inspired him with what he believes to be a God-given mission.

In Paris in the autumn of 1815, negotiating for the second time a peace treaty with France, Alexander persuades two other autocratic rulers among the victorious nations - the king of Prussia and the emperor of Austria - to join him in a Holy Alliance to promote a peaceful community of Christian nations.

The intention is for all the European powers to join this Holy Alliance. Eventually there are just three notable absentees - Great Britain, papal Rome and the Ottoman empire.

The main issue confronting both alliances is whether the powers should intervene when legitimate rulers are threatened by internal revolution. The members of the Holy Alliance tend to say yes. Austria wins approval when intervening to protect the crowned heads of Naples and Piedmont in 1821. But in 1822, at the congress of Verona, Britain opposes plans for intervention in Spain and Latin america - and subsequently withdraws from the Quadruple Alliance. (Regardless of this a French army marches into Spain in 1823 to restore Ferdinand VII to his throne.)

This brings to an end the congress system, but the principle of regular cooperation between nations on such issues has been established and will not be forgotten.

Meanwhile members gradually defect from the Holy Alliance, until it consists only of its three founders, Russia, Prussia, Austria. As such it seems merely a club of the more reactionary crowned heads of Europe attempting to hold back the tide of progress in an age of revolution. With intervention across frontiers now generally discouraged, each ruler is likely to be on his own in confronting unrest. But the contagion of rebellion knows no boundaries. Radical notions prove hard to quarantine, in spite of the best efforts of Europe's secret police.

Revolutions: AD 1830-1848

The heady example of the French Revolution remains an inspiration to liberals (a term coined in Spain in 1810) throughout the first half of the 19th century. At first the centre of political agitation is Latin America, where between 1809 and 1821 liberation movements claim and win independence from Spain and Portugal. But soon there are barricades again in European streets.

France once more takes the lead. The Bourbon restoration has developed into an increasingly reactionary regime, and by July 1830 the citizens of Paris have had enough. Angry crowds assemble waving the tricolour, the flag of the revolution which has not been seen since 1815.

After three days of street fighting the ultra-reactionary king, Charles X, flees from Paris. He is replaced on the throne by a distant cousin, Louis Philippe, so moderate in his political views that he becomes known as the Citizen king. But his reign, even though it lasts eighteen years, remains a period of restless and violent political factions. When revolution breaks out again, Paris is as usual much involved (and Louis Philippe loses his throne). But this time it is a Europe-wide phenomenon.

Sicily sets the pattern for the most turbulent year of the 19th century, with an uprising in January 1848 against Bourbon rule. Revolutions soon follow in Vienna and Paris.

By the end of this year of revolutions the Austrian emperor has fled from Vienna, the French king from Paris and the pope from Rome. And there are uprisings too in Munich, Berlin, Budapest, Prague, Venice and Milan.

A coincidence reveals that there is now a new element in Europe's political turmoil. In February the Communist manifesto, hastily written by Marx and Engels, is printed in Paris. But for the moment the forces of reaction are strong enough to recover their position. By the end of 1849 almost all the ruling dynasties are back on their thrones. The exception is France, where the fall of Louis Philippe is followed by the Second republic. But the Second republic lasts only four years before being transformed into a Second empire.

Italy and Germany: AD 1861-1871

Much of the unrest in 1848 has been either in the Italian territories of the Habsburg emperor in Vienna, or in the German kingdoms and principalities which have in recent centuries owed allegiance to Vienna within the notional framework of the Holy roman empire. The next major changes within Europe are the result of these same areas first asserting independence and then forging a shared nationhood.

The progress of the Italian peninsula towards unification is largely the result of pressure from the kingdom of Piedmont and its energetic chief minister, Cavour.

War with Austria brings Lombardy (and its capital, Milan) under the control of Piedmont in 1859. Soon Parma, Tuscany and the papal states follow, in 1860, after uprisings are followed by plebiscites in which the majority votes to merge with Piedmont.

In the same year Garibaldi captures Sicily and Naples on behalf of Victor Emmanuel, the king of Piedmont. In 1861 the Piedmontese parliament in Turin declares Victor Emmanuel to be king of Italy. This leaves outside his control only Venice and its surrounding region (subsequently captured from Austria in 1866) and Rome (seized from the pope by Italian troops in 1870). With this Europe has a new nation, the Italy of today.

This same decade, the 1860s, sees the kingdom of Prussia flexing its muscles under the guidance of an aggressive new prime minister, Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck's intention is that Prussia rather than Austria shall lead the German world, and he makes his point conclusively with victory in the Seven Weeks' War of 1866.

The following year Bismarck uses his advantage to merge all the German states north of the river Main into a Federation led by Prussia and deliberately excluding Austria. The Catholic states south of the Main maintain a tentative independence until Bismarck rallies all German patriots in a joint assault on France in 1870.

Germany's rapid defeat of France in the Franco-prussian war of 1870 is followed by Bismarck's final moment of triumph. All the German states agree to unification under the leadership of Prussia. In January 1871 Bismarck announces the rebirth of the ancient German empire, with the Prussian king transformed into the emperor William I.

These events leave Europe with a massively powerful new nation at its centre, together with a bitter sense of hostility provoked by the humiliation of France in 1870. Moreover Bismarck soon engages in an imperial contest against both France and Britain, in the so-called 'Scramble for africa'. Europe has new tensions which bode ill for the future. And in the east other ancient hostilities are also approaching crisis point.

20th century

The Balkans: AD 1876-1914

Europe first becomes aware in 1876 of a new wave of unrest among the Christians of eastern Europe against their Muslim ruler, the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul. Stories arrive of appalling Atrocities carried out by the Turks against rebellious Bulgarians.

In the resulting international crisis other groups in the Balkans begin to press for their freedom. A Congress in berlin in 1878 decides that Bulgaria is to be autonomous within the Ottoman empire, while Serbia and Romania are to become fully independent and Bosnia-Hercegovina is to be administered from Vienna. Thus the Ottoman empire in Europe continues to shrink, in a process begun earlier in the century with the independence of Greece.

By the 1890s only Macedonia and Albania remain under direct Turkish control. In the next two decades there are several outbreaks of war as their recently independent neighbours attempt to absorb these remaining territories.

By 1913 Macedonia has been largely divided up in this manner, while the independence of Albania has won international acceptance. Bosnia-Hercegovina remains the last major anomaly in the Balkans. Still under the much resented rule of the Austrian empire, it seethes with nationalist agitation. It is a very local act of political terrorism here, at Sarajevo in 1914, which plunges Europe into the most destructive war in its long and violent history.

Five weeks to war: AD 1914

The flashpoint comes in Bosnia on 28 June 1914, when a Serbian nationalist assassinates the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. This is a highly dramatic event, though less unusual then than now (since the turn of the century assassins have claimed the lives of a president of the Usa, a king of Portugal and a king of Greece). But it is certainly not due cause for a world war.

The mere five weeks between the shot fired in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip and the first declaration of war between the major powers demonstrates vividly the tangle in which Europe's statesmen have tied themselves.

The first reaction to the outrage at Sarajevo is from Vienna. To the Austrian emperor and his advisers the immediate requirement is to destroy the influence of Serbia, the mainstay of Slav resistance to Austria-Hungary in the Balkans. But the danger is that an invasion of Serbia may provoke Slav solidarity and thus war with Russia.

So an urgent question is sent on July 4 to Berlin. Will Germany come to the assistance of Austria-Hungary if Russia intervenes on behalf of Serbia? Within two days an answer comes back in the affirmative. The Austrian emperor should deal with Serbia as he thinks fit.

Germany nevertheless hopes that Russia will hold back, leaving the Serbian crisis as a local affair between Vienna and Belgrade. Subsequently the Kaiser even sends telegrams to the Tsar urging this course of action. But if Russia does intervene, there will be one advantage to Germany. The subsequent war can be presented to the world as the result of Russian aggression.

For three weeks there is a deceptive lull, partly owing to disagreements in Vienna and partly because Serbia makes conciliatory efforts to defuse the situation. Then suddenly, on July 28, Austria-Hungary declares war on its small neighbour. The following day, removing all chance of further diplomacy, an Austrian flotilla on the Danube bombards Belgrade.

In response Russia mobilizes her army, thus inevitably triggering the urgent launch by Germany of the Schlieffen plan - for if Russia gains the advantage of amassing troops in the east, there will be no time for the preliminary defeat of France in the west. With her options thus seemingly reduced by strategic demands to only one, Germany impetuously declares war on Russia on August 1.

Two days later she also declares war on France. During the night of the same day, August 3, German armies cross the border into Belgium, to begin the flanking movement which is intended to bring them rapidly down into northern France and so once again (echoes of 1871) to Paris.

This action brings in the fifth of the European powers. Britain's Entente Cordiale does not commit her to come to the defence of France, and many in the German high command expect her not to do so. But the violation of the neutrality of Belgium introduces an element which the Germans have either overlooked or have considered insignificant. Britain was one of the powers guaranteeing (in 1831 and again in 1839), to protect Belgium as 'an independent and perpetually neutral state'.

Under this obligation Britain declares war on Germany on August 4. For the first time in 100 years all the major powers of Europe are at war. A mere five weeks and three days have passed since the unexpected event at Sarajevo.

This History is as yet incomplete.

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