DefinitionFurther information: List of countries spanning more than one continent Further information: Borders of the continents
The use of the term "Europe" has developed gradually throughout history. In antiquity, the Greek historian Herodotus mentioned that the world had been divided by unknown persons into three parts, Europe, Asia, and Libya (Africa), with the Nile and the River Phasis forming their boundaries—though he also states that some considered the River Don, rather than the Phasis, as the boundary between Europe and Asia. Europe's eastern frontier was defined in the 1st century by geographer Strabo at the River Don. Flavius and the Book of Jubilees described the continents as the lands given by Noah to his three sons; Europe was defined as stretching from the Pillars of Hercules at the Strait of Gibraltar, separating it from North Africa, to the Don, separating it from Asia.
A cultural definition of Europe as the lands of Latin Christendom coalesced in the 8th century, signifying the new cultural condominium created through the confluence of Germanic traditions and Christian-Latin culture, defined partly in contrast with Byzantium and Islam, and limited to northern Iberia, the British Isles, France, Christianized western Germany, the Alpine regions and northern and central Italy. The concept is one of the lasting legacies of the Carolingian Renaissance: "Europa" often figures in the letters of Charlemagne's cultural minister, Alcuin. This division—as much cultural as geographical—was used until the Late Middle Ages, when it was challenged by the Age of Discovery. The problem of redefining Europe was finally resolved in 1730 when, instead of waterways, the Swedish geographer and cartographer von Strahlenberg proposed the Ural Mountains as the most significant eastern boundary, a suggestion that found favour in Russia and throughout Europe.
Europe is now generally defined by geographers as the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, with its boundaries marked by large bodies of water to the north, west and south; Europe's limits to the far east are usually taken to be the Urals, the Ural River, and the Caspian Sea; to the south-east, including the Caucasus Mountains, the Black Sea and the waterways connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. Because of sociopolitical and cultural differences, there are various descriptions of Europe's boundary. For example, Cyprus is approximate to Anatolia (or Asia Minor), but is usually considered part of Europe and currently is a member state of the EU. In addition, Malta was considered an island of North Africa for centuries, while Iceland, though nearer to Greenland (North America), is also generally included in Europe.
Sometimes, the word 'Europe' is used in a geopolitically limiting way to refer only to the European Union or, even more exclusively, a culturally defined core. On the other hand, the Council of Europe has 47 member countries, and only 27 member states are in the EU. In addition, people living in areas such as Ireland, the United Kingdom, the North Atlantic and Mediterranean islands and also in Scandinavia may routinely refer to "continental" or "mainland" Europe simply as Europe or "the Continent".
Rep. Denmark Estonia Finland France Germany Georgia Greece Greenland (Dk) Hungary Iceland Ireland Italy S. Mar. Kazakhstan Kos. Latvia Liech. Lithuania Lux. Mac. Malta Moldova Mon. Mont. Neth. Norway Svalbard (Nor) Poland Portugal Romania Russia Serbia Slovakia Slo. Spain Sweden Switz- erland Turkey Ukraine United
Kingdom Far. (Dk) Vat.
Sea Aegean Sea Barents Sea Bay of
Sea Greenland Sea Baffin Bay Gulf of
Sea Mediterranean Sea North
Sea Strait of Gibraltar
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