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How Has History Affected the People of Western Europe?

Who Are the People of Western Europe?, What Is Western Europe Like Today?

Europe portrait

Imagine you visit the great cities of Europe. You hear different languages. You eat special kinds of food. Yet the governments, laws, customs, and religion for most of Europe are similar. They go back to ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. How does this common history tie the countries of Western Europe together? Read this chapter about Western Europe to find the answer.






Industrial Revolution

standard of living

free trade

The laws and governments in Europe came from ancient Greece and Rome. Democracy (dih-mahk-ruh-see) began in Greece. In a democracy, the people rule themselves.

At first, kings ruled Rome. About 700 B.C., Rome became a republic. In a republic, people choose their leaders. Romans voted for members of the Senate. The Roman Senate passed laws. These laws protected citizen's rights and property. The Romans ruled most of Europe until about A.D. 500.

In the Middle Ages A.D. 500 to about A.D. 1500), the Germans added their laws and customs to Roman laws. They started kingdoms all over Europe. Many of these kingdoms became Christian. Christianity spread across Europe. During times of war and danger, many people found strength in their religion.

In 771, Charlemagne (shahr-luh-mayn) of France became an important king in Europe. He ruled an area called the Holy Roman Empire. After his death, the empire broke down into smaller kingdoms. These kingdoms became the modern countries of Germany, Italy, France, and Spain.

Europe portrait Map of Western and Southern Europe and the Three Main Religions, A.D. 1200

During the Middle Ages, a new political system called feudalism began in Europe. Feudalism (fyood-ul-iz-um) is a system in which people, called serfs, worked and fought for a local lord. In return, serfs used the lord's land for crops. The lord also protected the serfs. Most people were serfs.

By the 1400s, feudalism began to end. A new way of life began. Cities grew. These new cities became important trade centers. Europe began trading with other parts of the world. Italy was a major trade center. Countries traded not only goods but also ideas.

By the end of the Middle Ages, a very creative time began in Europe. New ideas spread across Europe. The people became very interested in art. They wanted education. Science became important. This special time is called the Renaissance (ren-uh-sahns). Renaissance is French for “rebirth.” It lasted from about 1350 through the 1500s.

Painters and sculptors created great works of art. The printing press was invented. Now there were more books for people to read. People wanted freedom. They also wanted to have a say in their own government.

By the 1700s, people in Western Europe did have more freedom. In England, the king's power was limited. America and France both fought wars for independence.

In the mid-1700s, there was another big change in the way people lived. It was a time of new inventions. This period is called the Industrial Revolution. New machines made goods faster and cheaper. Western Europe had plenty of raw materials. They also had cheap labor. The Industrial Revolution changed the way people lived. Their strong economy made Western Europe very powerful.

Europe portrait Self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, a great artist and inventor from the Renaissance period.

Europe portrait

Europe portrait

The ideas for democracy and laws in Europe came from ancient Greece and Rome. During the Middle Ages, Christianity spread across Europe. Feudalism organized society. As the Middle Ages ended, the Renaissance began. It was a time of creativity and change. In the mid-1700s, the machines of the Industrial Revolution completely changed the way people lived and worked.

Europe portrait

When you interpret maps, you read the title and study the map key. The key tells you what the symbols and colors mean. Sometimes you need to look at more than one map of a place to get all the information you need.

Who Are the People of Western Europe?

Think about your way of life in the place where you live. Is it like other communities you have visited? How is it different? How do you think life where you live might be different from life in London or Madrid? Why do you think people with the same values and culture live together? Let's look at the people of Western Europe.

Study the map of Western Europe below. It has many countries. Some countries make up regions. A region might have the same weather, history, or landforms.

For example, Scandinavia is a region in Northern Europe. It is not a country. It is made up of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland.

Europe portrait Political Map of Western Europe

Each country in Europe has its special culture. Countries are famous for their own special holidays, food, and traditions. Italy, for example, has wonderful pastas and pizzas. The French make great breads and cheeses. And if you want some of the best chocolate in the world, go to Switzerland. Foods from Western Europe are famous all over the world.

The people of Western Europe celebrate many holidays. They have religious and national holidays. Some are the same holidays we have in the United States. Great Britain has Mother's Day. In France, they call Mother's Day Fête des Mères.

The world celebrates very similar holidays. But there are some very special festivals! Each year in one Spanish city, the people have a huge tomato fight. In Pamplona, Spain, people run through the streets chased by bulls. Then there is a very unique festival near Gloucestershire, England. People chase a round of cheese down a hill!

Other holidays are more traditional. In Sweden during midsummer, the sun shines 24 hours a day. The Swedes celebrate Midsummer's Eve with dancing, maypoles, and music. In France, they celebrate Bastille Day. It is similar to the Fourth of July in America.

Europe portrait “Running of the bulls” in Pamplona, Spain.

Europe portrait

Europe portrait

Western Europe is made up of many countries. Like communities within big cities, the countries of Western Europe have their own traditions. Many countries that have similar weather, history, and landforms make up regions. The cultures within these regions are similar.

Europe portrait

Which country in Western Europe do you think is the most densely populated? The Netherlands wins, with 1,254 people per square mile. Belgium, just below the Netherlands, is the second most densely populated, with 887 people per square mile. How densely populated is the United States? It has 84 people per square mile.

Europe portrait Frankfurt, Germany

What Is Western Europe Like Today?

Mountains divide France and Spain. The North Sea separates the United Kingdom from the rest of the continent. Look again at the physical map of Europe on map 35. Locate the rivers and mountains. In early times, these rivers and mountains divided the people of Europe.

Today, it is very easy for the people of Western Europe to move from place to place. Imagine eating lunch in London. Then just three hours later, you can have dinner in Paris. Europeans travel quickly by boat, airplanes, and high-speed trains.

This easy travel shapes the culture of Western Europe. People can travel from place to place. Goods can get from one country to another very quickly. When people travel, so do their ideas. The movement of people, ideas, and goods has helped make Western Europe very successful.

But it was not always as easy to travel in Europe. And parts of Europe did not have a high standard of living. The standard of living is how well people are living. It is determined by the amount of goods and services they can afford.

A United Europe. For hundreds of years, Western Europe has been a center for world trade. But many countries looked after just their own interests. They blocked trade to protect their own industries.

For hundreds of years, countries fought one another. In the 1900s, there were two terrible World Wars. European leaders decided that Europe needed to change.

In the 1950s, several countries got together. They decided to work together to improve their economies. The countries formed an organization called the European Union, or the EU.

Europe portrait The EU flag

Free Trade. In some ways, the EU is like the United States. Countries in the EU have free trade with one another. Free trade removes all barriers so that goods flow freely among countries. Most use the same money. This makes it easier to buy and sell goods. Workers can work in other EU countries without work permits or visas.

The EU works to improve the standard of living for all its members. It works to increase trade and create jobs. As the economies of the countries improve, so do the living standards for all the people.

Europe portrait EU currency

Europe portrait Building Skills: People Per Car

Europe portrait

Europe portrait

When you analyze information, you carefully look at all parts of an event or issue. One way to look at a country's standard of living is to compare the number of people and the number of cars. The fewer people per car, the higher standard of living.

Europe portrait

Today, Western Europe has a high standard of living. The movement within Europe of people, goods, and ideas helped to make it successful. The European Union was formed to make Europe more powerful, improve trade, and build peace.

Additional topics

History Reference: Ancient History & World HistoryThe Eastern Hemisphere - Europe and Russia