BASIC HISTORY OF EUROPE
Ancient History (3000 BCE to 500 CE)
The Minoans: The ancient civilization located on the island of Crete near ancient Greece from about 1700 BCE to the 1400s BCE. Its people were known for their written language, Linear A; their palace complex with a large labyrinth that was featured in Greek mythology; their large bureaucracy; their indoor plumbing; their advanced art and architecture; and their wide trading network. Its island location allowed its people to spend more time on cultural achievement and the gathering of wealth and less time on protection. The civilization disappeared for unknown reasons.
The Myceaneans: The ancient civilization located near Greece in the city of Mycenae from about 1600 BCE to about 1100 BCE. Its people were known for their graves filled with gold and silver; for their warlike culture; for their strong kings including Agamemnon; for their monumental palaces; for their written language, Linear B; and for being the setting of Homer’s epic poems.
Homer: The author of the epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey who lived in ancient Greece in the 600s or 700s BCE
The Celts: The civilization located in various parts of Europe from around the 700s BCE to the 400s CE whose people are known for their distinctive language, religious beliefs, and artistic traditions; their bravery in battle; their love of nature; their complex social and political organization; and their successful resistance to Roman takeover. At their peak in the first century CE, they were spread over much of central Europe. They did not have a written language, so knowledge of them is limited to Roman records.
Ancient Greece: The civilization located in modern-day Greece, Asia Minor, Crete and beyond from the 700s BCE to the 400s CE. It was known for the political independence of each of their city-states and their many contributions to political, artistic and scientific thought.
Hellenism: Greek culture, which included the development of democracy, philosophy, science, music, oratory, rationalism, individualism, theater, sports and much more. After spreading to Persia, Egypt and India after Alexander the Great’s campaigns, then to Rome, it became the basis of Western culture.
Ancient Athens: The largest and one of the most prominent ancient Greek city-states, which was known for its focus on education, particularly oration and rhetoric; its invention of the democratic style of government; its art and architecture, which included the Parthenon and the Acropolis; its busy port; and more. Athens was the home of Socrates, Plato and Cicero. The first Olympics was held there.
Cicero: A famous Greek orator, statesman and scholar who wrote about just government in De Republica, oratory in De Oratore and more
Socrates: The Greek philosopher who introduced the Socratic Method of questioning
Plato: The Greek philosopher taught by Socrates, who also recorded Socrates’ teachings
Aristotle: The Greek philosopher taught by Plato
Ancient Sparta: One of the most prominent ancient Greek cities and Athens’ rival, known for its focus on military education; its use of agricultural slaves; its comparatively extensive rights for women; its invention of the phalanx; and more. In one well-known battle against the Persians on a mountain pass, 300 Spartans died rather than retreat.
Phalanx: A military marching formation that was rectangular in shape in which individual soldiers marched forward as one entity
The Macedonian Empire: The short-lived empire extended by Alexander the Great in the 300s that, at its largest, included the kingdom of Macedon in northern Italy, Greece, Egypt, parts of Persia and India. After Alexander’s death, it fragmented.
Alexander the Great: The King of Macedonia who extended the Macedonian Empire during the 300s BCE. He is considered one of the greatest military commanders in history and many stories are told of his hubris (pride), including the story of the Gordian Knot. After losses in India, his soldiers refused to go further and Alexander died on the way home at the age of 32. Alexander failed to organize his colonies or make a plan for succession after his death. It is said that his last words were, “To the strongest.”
The Etruscans: The civilization located in central Italy from the 700s BCE to the 200s BCE prior to and concurrent with the Romans. It was known for its cultural legacies to Rome, including the arch, vaults, and other engineering techniques.
Ancient Rome: The civilization that started and was centered in Italy from the 500s BCE to the 500s CE that grew to dominate Europe. It was known for its expansiveness; its military might; its strong infrastructure including roads and aqueducts; its invention of concrete and the Roman arch that concrete made possible; its calendar; the Roman Catholic Church; and its self-inflicted fall. For its first 500 years, Rome was the Roman Republic, with a Greek-influenced democratic oligarchy. At its largest, it extended to much of western and central Europe, including modern-day Italy, France, Spain, and parts of Germany. The empire faced many challenges including economic decline, political instability, invasions from barbarian tribes, and over-extension of its military. Despite efforts to revive its power, the empire was eventually sacked by the Goths in 410 CE and finally dissolved in 476 CE after the fall of the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustus, to the Germanic king Odoacer. The fall Roman Empire is widely seen as a turning point in European history, marking the end of classical civilization and the beginning of the Middle Ages.
The Roman Republic: The name of the Roman civilization during its first 500 years when it was a Greek-influenced democratic oligarchy led by patricians (oligarchs)
The Roman Empire: The name of the Roman civilization from the first century till its fall when it was a dictatorship led by emperors. Roman emperors presided over the Roman golden age, capitalizing on their system of strong central rule by taking on massive infrastructure projects and building well-known feats of architecture such as the Roman aqueducts, Roman roads and more.
Julius Caesar: The Roman general and statesman who lived during the first century BCE. He was known for his conquest of Gaul and his invasion of Britain, which expanded the Roman Empire; for his reforms to the Roman Republic, such as the introduction of the Julian calendar, which had a lasting impact on Western civilization; for his murder by his fellow politicians that led to the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire; and for being one of the greatest military commanders in history.
Marcus Antonius/Mark Antony: The Roman politician and general who lived during the first century BCE. He was known for being a close ally of Julius Caesar and for playing a key role in the events following Caesar’s death and for his alliance with Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. After Caesar’s assassination, Antony formed an alliance with Octavian and Lepidus known as the Second Triumvirate and together they defeated Caesar’s assassins in the ensuing civil war. Later, he was defeated by Octavian, who became the first Roman emperor.
Gaius Octavius/Octavian/Emperor Augustus: The Roman politician who founded the Roman Empire and became its first emperor. He was known for his political acumen, shown in his ability to convince Rome to move from an oligarchy to a monarchy; for his leadership skills, shown in his ability to bring peace and stability to Rome after decades of civil war; and his cultural, political, and military achievements, including the expansion of the Roman Empire, the establishment of a standing army, and the construction of many monumental buildings. He became known as Augustus after becoming emperor.
Emperor Nero: The Roman emperor who ruled during the first century CE after being adopted by the previous emperor. He is known for his tyrannical rule; for his brutal persecution of Christians; for his extravagance; for allegedly starting the Great Fire of Rome and blaming the Christians; for his madness; for expanding the Roman road system and other infrastructure; and for committing suicide after the Roman Senate declared him a public enemy.
Emperor Diocletian: The Roman emperor who ruled during the late 200s and early 300s CE and was known for restructuring the Roman Empire into four administrative regions, each with its own emperor, which helped stabilize it and extend its longevity; for implementing price controls as well as military and tax reforms; and for persecuting Christians.
Constantine the Great: The Roman Emperor who ruled during the 300s CE and was known for his conversion to Christianity; for establishing Christianity as the dominant religion in the Roman Empire; and for splitting the empire into the Western Roman Empire (where Rome remained the capital) and the Eastern Roman Empire/The Byzantine Empire, with Constantinople (formerly Byzantium) as the capital. Because Rome had been in decline for many years, Constantinople himself moved to Constantinople and headed that half.
The Council of Nicaea: A conference held by Constantine the Great that helped define the doctrine of the Christian Church
The Edict of Milan: A law of Constantine the Great’s that granted tolerance to Christians and other religions in the Roman Empire
The Eastern Roman Empire/The Byzantine Empire: The empire set up by Constantine the Great when he split the Roman empire into two halves. It lasted from the 300s CE to the 1400s CE. It included parts of Greece, Asia Minor and the Balkans. It is known for serving as the continuation of the Roman Empire after the Western Roman Empire fell; for spreading classic Greek and Roman culture; for spreading Christianity; and for influencing Byzantine art and architecture.
Odoacer: The Germanic king who in 476 overthrew the last Western Roman emperor to become king of Italy, an event that marks the end of ancient history and the beginning of the Middle Ages
The Middle Ages (500 CE to 1500 CE)
The Roman Catholic Church: The Christian church that was founded in the 1st century CE and is centered in Rome, Italy. It is known for playing a major role in the development of Western civilization and for being a dominant cultural and political force for over a thousand years, influencing art, architecture, law, education, and morality.
The Pope: The bishop of Rome and the supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church
The Holy Roman Empire: The collection of loosely organized, multi-ethnic territories in central and western Europe that were each ruled by kings or other leaders as well as the mostly powerless emperor of the empire. It lasted from the 900s CE to the 1800s CE. It was known for its first and most famous emperor, Charlemagne, and for its role in the Crusades, the Reformation and the Thirty Years’ War.
Charlemagne: The first Holy Roman Emperor, formerly a king of the Franks, who was crowned in 800 CE. He was known for unifying much of Western Europe by creating the Carolingian Empire; spreading Christianity; promoting education and laying the groundwork for the revival of learning known as the Carolingian Renaissance; and issuing the legal code known as the “Capitularies”.
The Vikings: A seafaring people who lived from the 700s CE to the 1000s CE, primarily from Scandinavia (Norway, Denmark, and Sweden). They were known for their naval raids and conquests, which took them as far as North America, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East; trading, which led to the establishment of settlements, such as the one at Normandy in France; their longships; and their rich and distinctive culture.
Feudalism: The social, economic, and political system that dominated Europe, including France, England, Germany and Italy, from the 800s CE to the 1400s CE. It was characterized by the granting of lands (fiefs) by a lord to vassals in exchange for loyalty, military service, and agricultural production; hierarchical relationships between lords, vassals, and serfs (tenant farmers who worked the land and owed labor and tribute to their lords); dominance of the landed nobility and relative powerlessness of the monarch; a system of justice and administration based on local custom and the authority of lords, rather than central laws.
William the Conqueror: The King of England during the 1000s CE who started as the Duke of Normandy in France. He is best known for claiming the English throne after the death of an English king who had no successors, then defeating his competitor at the Battle of Hastings to become the King of England, thus beginning the Norman Conquest of England. He is also known for bringing to England Norman nobles and administrators who significantly influenced the development of the English language and other aspects of English culture; for attempting to control England by establishing a new system of feudalism that involved a series of castles, fortifications, and lands granted to Norman lords; and for commissioning the Domesday Book, a comprehensive survey of England’s land and resources.
The Norman invasions: The series of military campaigns led by Norman nobles in the 1000s and 1100s CE aimed at conquering and settling new lands in Europe and the Mediterranean. The Norman invasions were characterized by their use of advanced military tactics, including the use of heavy cavalry. The Norman Conquest of England led by William the Conqueror was part of this effort. The Normans also set up the Kingdom of Sicily in southern Italy and Sicily, which became a center of trade and culture. Many Norman knights joined the Crusades.
The bubonic plague/black plague/Black Death/black plague: The pandemic of that swept through Europe, the Middle East, and Asia in the 1300s CE that killed between 75 million and 200 million people, or roughly one third of the world’s population at the time. It was spread through fleas that lived on rats. Death often came within three to five days. The pandemic led to widespread economic disruption, social upheaval, and the death of many skilled workers and intellectuals. The pandemic also helped bring about the end of the feudal system and the rise of a money economy, as well as contributing to the development of new ideas about medicine and the causes of disease.
The Hundred Years War: The series of conflicts fought between England and France in the 1300s and 1400s over control of the French throne. It was initiated by Edward III of England. It was known for the use of new military tactics, such as the widespread use of longbows; for the use of new weapons, such as the cannon; and for contributing to the decline of feudalism.
Joan of Arc: The French army leader who rallied the French to victory in several key battles of the Hundred Years’ War, including the liberation of the city of Orleans. She was known for believing herself to be inspired by God to lead; for being captured by the English and tried for heresy; for being burned at the stake; for being a symbol of French nationalism; and for being canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church in 1920.
Johannes Gutenberg: The inventor of the first movable type and the first printing press for books, which began the printing revolution in the 1400s
The fall of Constantinople: The capture of the Byzantine Empire’s capital city, Constantinople, by the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s, which helped establish the Ottomans as a major power in the region and signified the end of the Middle Ages
Early Modern Times (1500 CE through 1900 CE)
The Renaissance: The cultural and intellectual movement that took place in Europe from the 1300s to the 1600s and was characterized by a renewed interest in classical learning and a revival of the arts and sciences. It was characterized by renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman culture; a shift away from the religious and feudal norms of the Middle Ages; the production of some of the most innovative and enduring works of Western civilization, including Michelangelo’s David, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and Shakespeare’s plays; and increased exploration, with advances in cartography and navigation that enabled European powers to establish colonies and expand their trade networks across the globe.
The Protestant Reformation: The major religious, political, and cultural movement that took place in Europe in the 1500s as a reaction against the corruption and excesses of the Roman Catholic Church, which led to the formation of new Protestant denominations and considerably reduced Catholic power
Martin Luther: The father of the Protestant Reformation. A German monk and theologian, he is most known for his “Ninety-Five Theses,” the list of criticisms of the Catholic Church’s practices, especially the sale of indulgences, that he nailed to the door of a church in Germany. His ideas quickly spread throughout Europe, challenging the authority of the Church and leading to the formation of Protestant denominations. He is also known for translating the Bible into German, making it accessible to the common people, and for writing numerous treatises and sermons that outlined his views on salvation, faith, and the role of the Church.
King Henry VIII: The king of Great Britain in the 1500s who is known for severing ties with Roman Catholicism after the Pope refused to annul his marriage; establishing the Church of England, with himself as the head of it; and his six wives
The colonial era: The period of time from the 1400s to the mid-1900s when European powers established colonies and empires in various regions of the world, including the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. This period is characterized by European exploration, the establishment of settlements, the exploitation of resources and labor, and the imposition of European cultural, political, and economic systems on the colonized populations.
Vasco da Gama: The Portuguese explorer and navigator who is best known for his role in opening up a sea route from Europe to Asia in the late 1400s. He was the first European to reach India by sea, and his voyage marked the beginning of the European exploration of Asia and the eventual establishment of European colonies in the region.
Ferdinand Magellan: The Portuguese explorer and navigator who is best known for leading the first expedition to circumnavigate the Earth in the early 1500s. After crossing the Atlantic, Magellan reached South America, then sailed across the Pacific to the Phillippines. Though Magellan died there, his expedition continued and some of the crew returned home safely.
Hernán Cortés: The Spanish conquistador who played a key role in the conquest of the Aztec Empire in Mexico in the 1500s. Cortés arrived in Mexico with a force of approximately 600 men and quickly gained the support of several indigenous groups who were hostile to the Aztecs. He marched on the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, with a mixed army of Spanish soldiers and indigenous allies and captured the city. This marked the beginning of the Spanish colonization of Mexico and established Spain as a major world power.
Francisco Pizarro: The Spanish conquistador who is best known for his conquest of the Inca Empire in South America in the 1500s. After arriving in South America, he quickly established a small settlement in what is now Peru. He then led a force of Spanish soldiers and indigenous allies against the Incas, eventually capturing their emperor, Atahualpa, and securing control of the empire.
The Thirty Years’ War: The religious war that took place in Europe during the 1600s, mostly among states belonging to the Holy Roman Empire but also involving France, Sweden, and the Habsburg empire. It occurred due to ambitions of expansion as well as ideological differences between Protestant and Catholic states. It resulted in the deaths of about a third of the population of the Holy Roman Empire. It contributed to the lessened frequency of religious wars in Europe, the decline of the Holy Roman Empire, and the rise of the modern nation-state. The war also marked the beginning of the modern era of warfare, as it was one of the first wars in which mass conscript armies, new military technologies, and tactics were used.
The English Civil War: The English Civil War was a series of conflicts between Parliamentarians (also known as Roundheads–those that sought increased power of the parliament) and Royalists (also known as Cavaliers–those that sought increased power of the monarchy) that took place in England in the 1600s. The Parliamentarians won and overthrew (and killed) King Charles I; however, the power gap was soon filled by Oliver Cromwell and later, the monarchy was restored with the coronation of King Charles II.
King Charles: The king of England who was deposed during the English Civil War
Oliver Cromwell: The English military and political leader who installed himself as the Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland during the English Civil War. Though he called himself a Parliamentarian, during his reign he dissolved the Rump Parliament and established a military dictatorship known as the Protectorate. He is also known for modernizing England’s military and administrative systems. After his death, Cromwell’s body was exhumed and he was posthumously tried and executed for his role in the regicide of Charles I.
The Seven Years War: A global conflict that took place primarily between France and Great Britain during the 1700s, and also involved most of the major powers of Europe as well as their colonies. It was caused by a complex set of political, economic, and territorial disputes and resulted in the British gaining control of large territories in North America that previously belonged to France. It also aided Britain’s rise as a global superpower.
The Enlightenment/The Age of Reason: The cultural, intellectual, and scientific movement that took place in Europe and North America in the late 1600s and 1700s and which was characterized by a focus on reason, individualism, and scientific inquiry and a challenging of traditional authority, particularly in the fields of religion, politics, and science. Prominent figures of the Enlightenment included philosophers such as John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant, as well as scientists like Isaac Newton.
Eli Whitney: The inventor of the cotton gin, who accomplished this in the late 1700s. This machine revolutionized the production of cotton by making it much faster and easier to separate the fibers from the seeds. The cotton gin allowed cotton to be produced on a large scale, which in turn fueled the growth of the textile industry and helped to drive the American economy during the Industrial Revolution.
The French Revolution: The war that took place in France in the late 1700s that resulted in the overthrow of the monarchy and the feudal system and the establishment of democracy in France. It began with the storming of the Bastille and ended with the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. The revolution was caused by a variety of factors, including the financial crisis in France, widespread poverty, and Enlightenment ideas about individual liberty and equality.
The Bastille: The prison located in Paris, France that was attacked and taken by a mob on July 14, 1789, which is now celebrated as Bastille Day in France. The Bastille was eventually torn down, and its stone was used to build the Place de la Bastille, a large square in Paris that remains an important symbol of the Revolution.
Maximilien Robespierre: One of the leaders of the French Revolution and of the post-revolution government, who is best known for establishing the Committee of Public Safety with himself at its head, then starting the Reign of Terror. Eventually, Robespierre himself fell from power and was arrested and executed by the new government.
The Reign of Terror: The period of extreme violence and repression during the French Revolution that was implemented by the Committee of Public Safety, a revolutionary government body established to defend the Revolution from its enemies both foreign and domestic. During this time, thousands of people were arrested and executed without trial on charges of being enemies of the Revolution.
Napoleon Bonaparte: The First Consul of the newly created French Republic, and, following this, the Emperor of the French. He is known for his ruthless and relentless military conquests across Europe; for making France one of the dominant powers in Europe; and for establishing the First French Empire. At its height, his empire included much of Europe, including parts of modern-day France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands. However, his empire began to crumble after a series of defeats, and he was eventually exiled to the island of Elba in the early 1800s. He escaped after several years and returned to France, but was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled to the island of Saint Helena, where he died.
The Napoleonic Wars: The military campaigns of Napoleon Bonaparte
The Battle of Waterloo: The last battle of Napoleon Bonaparte, fought near the town of Waterloo in modern-day Belgium
The Congress of Vienna: The series of diplomatic meetings held in Vienna, Austria in the early 1800s that sought to reestablish peace and stability in Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. It resulted in an enlargement of Russia and Prussia; a consolidation of the approximately 300 states of the Holy Roman Empire into a loose German confederation of about 39 states under the leadership of Prussia and Austria; and other changes. The Congress also created system of international relations based on the principle of legitimacy, which held that monarchs should rule according to laws and customs and that borders should be respected. Finally, the Congress reestablished many of the pre-Napoleonic monarchies, imposing conservative, anti-democratic policies aimed at preventing the spread of revolutionary ideals.
The Crimean War: The conflict that took place primarily in the Crimea area on the Black Sea coast of modern-day Ukraine during the mid-1800s between the Russian Empire and an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia. Russia sought to expand, while the other countries sought to check Russian expansion. Russia lost decisively. The Crimean war is known for the introduction of new technologies and tactics, including the use of ironclads, telegraphs, and modern nursing practices and the creation of the Red Cross, which was established to provide humanitarian aid to wounded soldiers.
Nicolaus Copernicus: A Polish astronomer and mathematician who became one of the founders of modern astronomy during the 1500s and who is best known for his theory of the universe that stated that the Earth and the other planets revolved around the Sun, not the Earth as previously thought
Galileo Galilei: An Italian astronomer, physicist, and mathematician who made major contributions to the Scientific Revolution during the 1500s and who is best known for his work using the newly invented telescope to observe the heavens, which led to several groundbreaking discoveries. He was eventually put on trial by the Inquisition for heresy.
The Inquisition: The series of institutions established by the Catholic Church primarily in the late 1100s and 1200s, but also as late as the 1800s in some areas, to combat religious dissent in Europe. It was a judicial body, with the power to investigate, prosecute, and punish individuals suspected of heresy. Its methods were often brutal, and it was known for its use of torture to extract confessions. Those found guilty of heresy were often punished by death, either by burning at the stake or by being hanged and quartered.
The Industrial Revolution: The period of rapid industrialization and modernization that took place in Europe and North America in the 1700s and 1800s. It was characterized by the development of new technologies, especially in manufacturing, farming and transportation, which made consumer goods cheaper; increasing urbanization; economic growth; and the rise of capitalism. Notable inventions of this time included the steam-powered engine and the train; the camera; the steamship; and the telegraph.
The Modern Era (The 1900s through the Present)
World War I: The global conflict that lasted from 1914 to 1918 and involved Europe, the United States, Russia, Japan, Australia and other countries. The causes of the war included nationalism; militarism; imperialism; and entangling alliances, which caused nations to defend their allies, spurring even more conflict. The spark that ignited the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary by a Serbian nationalist. The conflict quickly escalated, as Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire formed the Central Powers and went to war against France, Russia, and the United Kingdom, who formed the Allied Powers. The war was fought on several fronts, including the Western Front in France and Belgium, the Eastern Front in Russia, and the Italian Front. The war is known for its mass casualties (including about 20 million deaths); the introduction of new weapons, such as machine guns, poison gas, and tanks; the horrific experience of trench warfare; and for setting the stage for World War II.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand: The heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian Empire whose assassination led to the outbreak of war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, which then led to the outbreak of World War I
The Treaty of Versailles: The treaty that officially ended World War I. It called for harsh financial and military penalties for Germany and created many new Eastern European countries out of the German, Austrian/Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman Empires.
The Weimar Republic: The German government founded after World War I to replace the monarchy
The League of Nations: The precursor to the United Nations which was promoted by U.S. president Wilson after World War I to prevent further large-scale wars
The Great Depression: A severe worldwide economic depression that lasted from 1929 to 1939. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the century. The depression originated in the United States and quickly spread to other countries, leading to a decline in global trade and economic activity. During the Great Depression, millions of people lost their jobs and many were forced to live in poverty.The causes of the Great Depression are complex and include a combination of factors such as the overproduction of goods, a decrease in consumer spending, a decline in agriculture and the failure of the banking system. It led to increased governmental involvement in the economy.
The Commonwealth: A voluntary political association of sovereign states, most of which were once part of the British Empire, which serves as a platform for cooperation and collaboration on a wide range of issues and promotes the values of democracy, human rights and more. Some of these states are republics, while others are monarchies.
World War II: The global conflict that lasted from 1939 to 1945 and involved the majority of the world’s nations, including all of the great powers, eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. The war began with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin and quickly spread, drawing in many other nations. From there, Hitler overtook many European countries including France, Scandanavia and the Balkans (though Britain successfully resisted). Italy, meanwhile, attempted to take North Africa. Then Hitler invaded the USSR and was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Japan (who joined in 1940) attacked the British in Southeast Asia and the U.S. at Hawaii. Then Germany declared war on the U.S. The U.S., which had already been supplying aid to the Allies, joined at that time. The war in Europe ended after a decisive victory at Normandy and the rapid advancement of the Allies through Europe that followed. The war in the Pacific ended after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. The primary causes of the war included aggressive expansionist policies by the Axis powers, particularly Nazi Germany, as well as a failure by the international community to prevent the aggressive actions of these powers. The war resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people, including soldiers and civilians, and caused widespread destruction across Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The Axis Powers: The name for the alliance between Germany, Italy and Japan during World War II
The Allied Powers: The name for the alliance between Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the U.S. during World War II
Adolf Hitler: The Chancellor of Germany and leader of the Nazi party during the 1930s who is known for starting World War II and for implementing the Holocaust. He committed suicide before being captured by the Allies as they closed in on the city. His girlfriend (who he married before their death), Eva Braun, also killed herself at that time.
The Munich Agreement: The treaty signed in Munich, Germany in 1938 between the leaders of Nazi Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy. The agreement allowed Nazi Germany to annex the Sudetenland, a region in western Czechoslovakia with a large German-speaking population, in exchange for a guarantee of peace. The Munich Agreement is widely seen as having paved the way for the Nazi occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia and the eventual outbreak of World War II. It is often criticized for appeasement and a failure to stand up to aggression.
Winston Churchill: The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II, who is known for successfully fighting off Germany during the Battle of Britain; for forging an alliance with the United States and Soviet Union to defeat the Axis powers; for his inspiring speeches; for not negotiating with Hitler; and for being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The Lend-lease Act: A U.S. law passed in 1941 that called for financial and material aid (including weapons, food and raw materials) to be provided to the Allies by the U.S. during World War II, even though the U.S. had not yet officially entered the war
The Normandy Landing/D-day: The military operation during World War II in which Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, France in 1944, recaptured France from Germany and started the push through Europe that ended the war
Victory in Europe Day/V-E Day: The May 8 holiday that marks the end of World War II in Europe when the Allies accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany
The Holocaust: The systematic genocide of eleven million people, including six million Jews, by Germany between 1933 and 1945. The victims, including Jews, disabled individuals, political prisoners, homosexuals, and others, were sent to concentration camps, where they were subjected to forced labor, medical experiments, and mass extermination through gas chambers. The Nazis called this effort the Final Solution.
The United Nations/UN: The international organization founded after World War II to promote peace, security, and cooperation among nations. It has 193 member states and its headquarters is located in New York City. The UN’s main objectives are to maintain international peace; engage in diplomacy; and promote human rights. The World Health Organization and UNICEF are part of the UN.
The Marshall Plan: A U.S.-led plan offering subsidies to help rebuild Western Europe after World War II
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization/NATO: The political and military alliance of thirty North American and European countries that was established in 1949 with the goal of providing collective defense against potential threats and promoting stability in the North Atlantic region
The Warsaw Pact: The agreement between the Soviet Union and many communist Eastern European countries that was made after Word War II to ally against the U.S. and against the spread of democracy
The Iron Curtain: A term used to describe the division of Europe into the Western, democratic countries and the Soviet-controlled communist countries, where political freedom was limited. The countries behind the Iron Curtain were known as the Eastern Bloc, and included countries such as the Soviet Union, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania. The fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 marked the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the reunification of Europe, as Communist governments in Eastern Europe fell and countries in the region transitioned to multiparty democracies.
The Suez Crisis: The conflict over control of the Suez Canal Zone in the 1950s between Egypt (where the canal is located) and Israel, Britain and France, who captured it from Egypt. The crisis brought widespread international condemnation and the intervention of the United Nations, which eventually forced Israel, Britain and France to withdraw from Egypt. It damaged the reputation of France and Britain and helped establish the U.S. and the Soviet Union as the two superpowers of the Cold War.
The European Union (EU): The political and economic union of 27 European countries that was founded after World War II to promote peace, stability and economic growth in Europe. It operates through a number of institutions, including the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the European Council. The EU has a common market, which allows for the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people within its member states. The EU has also established a common currency, the euro.
The euro: The currency used by 19 of the 27 countries of the European Union (EU), whose introduction in 1999 was a major step in the integration of European economies and was designed to facilitate trade and investment, promote economic stability, and reduce transaction costs
The Covid-19 pandemic: The flu variant that killed two million people globally and caused local and national governments to require large-scale quarantines
Brexit: The separation of the UK from the EU that occurred in 2020
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