The map above shows what Europe’s borders looked on the eve of World War One in 1914, overlaid on top of the borders of European countries today. The first thing that jumps out at you is how many fewer countries there were.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire and Russian Empires in particular controlled most of the today’s Central and Eastern European states. Moreover, Russia’s control also stretched north and included the Baltic states and Finland as well as south into the Caucasus.
Germany was also much larger than it is today and controlled what are now bits of Poland, France, Denmark, Belgium and Lithuania.
Borders in Western Europe have also changed a little since 1914. For example, the Republic Ireland is an independent country and no longer part of the United Kingdom. Also, France no longer controls the states of North Africa as it did in 1914.
Finally, by 1914, while the Ottoman Empire had largely retreated from Europe, it still had nominal control over most of the Middle East.
And what had been the European bits of the Ottoman Empire were just emerging as their own nation states following the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913.
World War One, World War Two and the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe repeatedly redrew the map of Europe to create today’s modern states, but at an extremely high human cost.
Thankfully, Europe today is far more peaceful than it was in the 20th century. This is due in no small part part to the fact that European leaders recognise that they have far more to gain from working together than they do trying to compete with one another.
Food for thought for those who see the EU as a failed project.
To learn more about Europe on the eve of World War One have a look at the following books:
- The Guns of August: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Classic About the Outbreak of World War I
- The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
- Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War
- The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914
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