Essential Historical Background


For our purposes it is convenient to divide the history of Europe into three periods. The first spans about a thousand years, from 500 BC, when Athens began to emerge as the dominant intellectual and cultural centre of Greece, to AD 500. It is the period of antiquity, of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. The second period, also a millennium long, from AD 500 to AD 1500, is that of Christian Europe. It began after the collapse of the Western Empire, which is officially dated in 476. In that year the Germanic general Odoaker deposed the last Roman emperor and did not even bother to lay claim to the imperial throne. The Christian faith and its church filled the gap left by the disappearance of the imperial systems of administration, organisation and communication. The period ended when the Roman Church was successfully challenged by religious reformers, a new scientific and humanistic spirit agitated the intellectual scene, and European monarchs embarked on a policy of absolutism at home and of conquering the newly discovered continents in search of riches and colonies. Thus, AD 1500 is a convenient date to mark the beginning of the period of modernity, which continues to this day. On the next pages the reader will find an outline of European history, with marginal references to important thinkers and currents of thought. The outline lists in a rough chronological order some of the major events and transformations that have played a part in the genesis of the world in which we now live. The focus throughout is on the European continent, but when we get to the nineteenth and the twentieth century, it will be necessary to refer to what happened elsewhere



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