Countries in Europe

Europe, second smallest of the world’s continents, composed of the westward-projecting peninsulas of Eurasia (the great landmass that it shares with Asia) and occupying nearly one-fifteenth of the world’s total land area. It is bordered on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the south (west to east) by the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, the Kuma-Manych Depression, and the Caspian Sea. The continent’s eastern boundary (north to south) runs along the Ural Mountains and then roughly southwest along the Emba (Zhem) River, terminating at the northern Caspian coast, Countries in Europe.


Europe’s largest islands and archipelagos include Novaya Zemlya, Franz Josef Land, Svalbard, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, the British Isles, the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, Crete, and Cyprus. Its major peninsulas include Jutland and the Scandinavian, Iberian, Italian, and Balkan peninsulas. Indented by numerous bays, fjords, and seas, continental Europe’s highly irregular coastline is about 24,000 miles (38,000 km) long.

Among the continents, Europe is an anomaly. Larger only than Australia, it is a small appendage of Eurasia. Yet the peninsular and insular western extremity of the continent, thrusting toward the North Atlantic Ocean, provides—thanks to its latitude and its physical geography—a relatively genial human habitat, and the long processes of human history came to mark off the region as the home of a distinctive civilization. In spite of its internal diversity, Europe has thus functioned, from the time it first emerged in the human consciousness, as a world apart, concentrating—to borrow a phrase from Christopher Marlowe—“infinite riches in a little room.”

As a conceptual construct, Countries in Europe, as the more learned of the ancient Greeks first conceived it, stood in sharp contrast to both Asia and Libya, the name then applied to the known northern part of Africa. Literally, Europa is now thought to have meant “Mainland,” rather than the earlier interpretation, “Sunset.” It appears to have suggested itself to the Greeks, in their maritime world, as an appropriate designation for the extensive northerly lands that lay beyond, lands with characteristics vaguely known yet clearly different from those inherent in the concepts of Asia and Libya—both of which, relatively prosperous and civilized, were associated closely with the culture of the Greeks and their predecessors. From the Greek perspective then, Europa was culturally backward and scantily settled. It was a barbarian world—that is, a non-Greek one, with its inhabitants making “bar-bar” noises in unintelligible tongues. Traders and travelers also reported that Europe beyond Greece possessed distinctive physical units, with mountain systems and lowland river basins much larger than those familiar to inhabitants of the Mediterranean region. It was clear as well that a succession of climates, markedly different from those of the Mediterranean borderlands, were to be experienced as Europe was penetrated from the south. The spacious eastern steppes and, to the west and north, primeval forests as yet only marginally touched by human occupancy further underlined environmental contrasts.