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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: May 2018

1 - The making of Europe


The geo-economic continuity of Europe

The formation of Europe was a long historical process which involved political, cultural and economic forces. The most striking fact is the geo-economic persistence and continuity of Europe during the last two millennia. We will deal with the integrative impact of trade as well as its border-maintaining effect in shaping and maintaining Europe. Trade was the cohesive force when political, religious and military conflicts threatened to tear Europe apart.

If we let the core of Europe be defined by the borders of the European Union, we can trace back the origins of that geographical entity to the Roman and Carolingian empires, the latter emerging in the ninth century, several centuries after the collapse of the Roman Empire. (See Maps 1.1–1.3.) About 80 per cent of the total population of the Roman Empire around the year 100 AD lived within the present (2010) borders of the European Union. It stretched from the Atlantic coast to the Black Sea. Ireland, the northern periphery of Europe, Scandinavia and Russia were touched by neither the Roman nor the Carolingian rulers. Russia's relationship to Europe has remained ambivalent throughout its history, with periods of self-imposed isolation as well as enthusiastic embracing of European ideals, and Scandinavia was late in joining the European Union; in fact Norway is still making up its mind whether to join or not.

The Carolingian Empire represented the revival of political order after the disintegration of the Roman Empire, and also the emergence on the political scene of Germanic peoples, who amalgamated their own traditions with the adopted culture, law and language of their Roman predecessors in their south and westward push. Germanic tribes also advanced towards the east, but kept their own language and pushed the Slavic languages back eastward when they subjected the indigenous peoples and their land.

The explanation of trade discussed in this chapter is known as the ‘gravity theory’ and is explored in all modern intermediate textbooks on international trade theory. It was first applied by Nobel laureate Jan, Tinbergen in Shaping the World Economy (New York: The Twentieth Century Fund, 1962). There are numerous articles developing the framework. See E., Helpman, M., Melitz and Y., Rubinstein, ‘Estimating trade flows: trading partners and trading volumes’, Quarterly Journal of Economics 123(2) (2008), 441–87.
Henri, Pirenne's argument was first expressed in the 1920s and in a monograph from 1937 published in an English translation in 1939 as Mohammed and Charlemagne (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1939). Critical reviews of the Pirenne thesis include R., Hodges and D., Whitehouse, Mohammed, Charlemagne and the Origins of Europe: Archaeology and the Pirenne Thesis (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983).
A modern classic: E. L., Jones, The European Miracle: Environments, Economics and Geopolitics in the History of Europe and Asia (Cambridge University Press, 1981).