Story of Europe 1: Origin and Identity

Historian Christopher Clark of Cambridge University explains the origins of the continent of Europe, and how it’s identity was formed in ancient times.

The name came from the Greek goddess Europa, who Zeus fell in love with. Clark travels to Lascaux, France where cave paintings dating to 35,000 years ago have been discovered. These paintings provided the first evidence on the continent of homo sapiens, not simply Neanderthals.

From there, he travels to the island of Crete, where the earliest civilization of readers and writers emerged. Their alphabet came from the Phoenicians.

Next he travels to Athens, where democracy or self-government was first tried. It ultimately did not survive military dictatorship. But it remained one of founding principles of Europe, especially the concepts of creating a balance of power between governmental branches.

Ancient Greece established the foundations of European culture in other ways. In 490 B.C., Marathon, a small town in Greece, was the site of a battle between the heavily outnumbered Athenians and the Persian empire that felt threatened by Greek cities. The Persian king Xerxes I, son of Darius I, encountered Pythius on his way to invade Greece.

In 490 B.C., Marathon, a small town in Greece, was the site of a battle between the heavily outnumbered Athenians and the Persian empire that felt threatened by Greek cities. The Persian king Xerxes I, son of Darius I, encountered Pythius on his way to invade Greece.

Aeschylus was one of the first playwrights, , telling the story of the the Persian Wars.

Pericles, a general, gave a famous funeral oration challenging citizens to accept their responsibilities as citizens rather than to be idiots content to be entertained.

Alexander the Great spread Greek culture world wide.

In 350 BC, the Greeks encountered and named the Celts. The Greeks saw the Celts as strong warriors and metal workers located north of the Alps. The Greeks observed that the Celtic tribes were not unified. Even so, the Celts were able to conquer Rome in 387 BC.

The Roman Caesar called the Celts the Gauls in his account of the Gallic wars. Battle of Alesia. The Celts’ leader, Vercingetorix, is still considered a national hero of France.

But Caesar ultimately defeated the Celts and transformed the Roman Republic into an empire.

Augustus built the first Roman forum. He created coins with his face on them, creating one of the first cults of personality for a ruler. Roman RoadsRoman law, the Roman concept of citizenship, in which everyone was equal, was granted to all men in the empire except slaves. Everyone was equal.

The caesars’ style and pattern of governance became a model for Europeans for centuries, for emperors, kaisers, and czars throughout Europe, including for the founder of Europe, Charlemagne in the ninth century.

The Germans and Scots, among others, resisted Roman rule. Hadrian’s wall was built by the Romans to separate England from Scotland. The Romans decided that the Scots were ungovernable, or not worth their trouble. Limes Wall was built on the border of Germany to let Roman soldiers know that the territory north of the wall was not theirs to govern.

East of the Rhine, the Romans saw ungovernable European tribes.

Initially, these lines of demarcation worked, leading to 300 years of a Pax Romana.

Eventually, the Romans learned that walls and fences were not a permanent solution. The Goths, Germanic and barbarian tribes began to cross the Danube, the Rhine, and other barriers.

The Romans lost control of their empire in 395 A.D. to what they called “barbarian hordes.” The empire was divided between the Eastern and Western Roman Empire. This upset the balance of power in ancient Europe.

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