Why do central European nations use the color black as their national colors?

Why do central European nations use the color black as their national colors?

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We all know that national colors exists, often associated directly with the flag of a nation. Red and white for example are one of the most frequently used colors world wide by many nations (Austria, Poland, Japan, Indonesia,… ), also blue (US, France, UK, Russia).

Black on the other side today is only used by one of the major nations: Germany. It was also used in the past by its predecessor states, the Third Reich, the German Empire, and also many of the different German states before unification like Prussia. Austria also used Black in combination with Yellow for most of its history and only abandoned that after World War One around 1920.

Which leads us to my question - why are the central Europe nations the only major nations to use the color black as their national colors in the past and today? Does it symbolize something special?

Wikipedia (in German) has a long and fascinating article on the history of the German national colours. Without getting in all the details, it seems that the link with the colours of the Holy Roman Empire symbols isn't historically established and might have been a later rationalisation for the choice.

Still according to this article, the first use of these colours in association with the idea of a German nation dates back to the wars against Napoleon and specifically to the Lützow Free Corps. The flag seems to have been derived from the colours of their uniforms, which was in turn mostly a matter of practicality. As volunteers had to buy their equipment themselves, black coats would have been cheaper to obtain at the time. This regiment was strongly associated with the colour black and one of their nickname was in fact “Black rangers” (Schwarze Jäger).

The first sources explicitly linking the colours with the imperial banner date from the time of the 1848 revolutions, more than 30 years later, at a time when the flag and the colours were already strongly associated with (progressive) German nationalism.

To your broader question, black does not seem particularly unusual in flags (Wikipedia counts 69). Among larger countries, it's used by Egypt and if you discount the many other Arab and African countries using it as not being “major nations”, you only have very few countries left, with Germany (in its various shapes) being the only one using black (so no evidence of any association with Central Europe as such). In such a small sample, the absence of any given colour could therefore easily happen by chance and is not in need of any specific explanation.

I believe it is ultimately inherited from the colors of the holy roman empire.

Melting pot

The melting pot is a monocultural metaphor for a heterogeneous society becoming more homogeneous, the different elements "melting together" with a common culture an alternative being a homogeneous society becoming more heterogeneous through the influx of foreign elements with different cultural backgrounds, possessing the potential to create disharmony within the previous culture. Historically, it is often used to describe the cultural integration of immigrants to the United States. [1]

The melting-together metaphor was in use by the 1780s. [2] [3] The exact term "melting pot" came into general usage in the United States after it was used as a metaphor describing a fusion of nationalities, cultures and ethnicities in the 1908 play of the same name.

The desirability of assimilation and the melting pot model has been rejected by proponents of multiculturalism, [4] [5] who have suggested alternative metaphors to describe the current American society, such as a salad bowl, or kaleidoscope, in which different cultures mix, but remain distinct in some aspects. [6] [7] [8] The melting pot continues to be used as an assimilation model in vernacular and political discourse along with more inclusive models of assimilation in the academic debates on identity, adaptation and integration of immigrants into various political, social and economic spheres. [9]

If European Borders Were Drawn By DNA Instead Of Ethnicity

Map originally found on reddit

The map above shows what the borders of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa might look like if they were based on the dominant Y-DNA haplogroup rather than ethnicity and/or any other political considerations.

Here’s some very basic information about each group:

  • Haplogroup R1b: “It is the most frequently occurring paternal lineage in Western Europe, as well as some parts of Russia (e.g. the Bashkir minority) and Central Africa (e.g. Chad and Cameroon). It is also present at lower frequencies throughout Eastern Europe, Western Asia, as well as parts of North Africa and Central Asia.”
  • Haplogroup R1a: “It is distributed in a large region in Eurasia, extending from Scandinavia, Central Europe and southern Siberia to South Asia.”
  • Haplogroup N: “It has a wide geographic distribution throughout northern Eurasia, and it also has been observed occasionally in other areas, including Southeast Asia, the Pacific, Southwest Asia and Southern Europe.”
  • Haplogroup I1: “The haplogroup reaches its peak frequencies in Sweden (52 percent of males in Västra Götaland County) and western Finland (more than 50 percent in Satakunta province).[6] In terms of national averages, I-M253 is found in 35–38 per cent of Swedish males, 32.8% of Danish males, about 31.5% of Norwegian males and about 28% of Finnish males.”
  • Haplogroup I2: “The haplogroup reaches its maximum frequency in the Dinaric Alps in the Balkans, where the men are on record as being the tallest in the world, with a male average height of 185.6 cm (6 ft 1.1 in).”
  • Haplogroup J1: “This haplogroup is found today in significant frequencies in many areas in or near the Middle East, and parts of the Caucasus, Sudan and Ethiopia. It is also found in high frequencies in parts of North Africa, Southern Europe, and amongst Jewish groups, especially those with Cohen surnames. It can also be found much less commonly, but still occasionally in significant amounts, throughout Europe and as far east as Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent.”
  • Haplogroup J2: “It is found in Western Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, Europe and North Africa, but it is usually associated with Northwest Asia. It is thought that J2 might have originated between the Caucasus Mountains, Mesopotamia and the Levant.”
  • Haplogroup E: “Most members of haplogroup E-M96 belong to one of its identified subclades, and the E-M96(xE-P147, E-M75) is rare. E1a and E-M75 are found almost exclusively in Africa. By looking at the major subclade frequencies, five broad regions of Africa can be defined: East, Central, North, Southern and West. The division can be distinguished by the prevalence of E-V38 in East, Central, Southern and West Africa, E-M78 in East Africa and E-M81 in North Africa.”
  • Haplogroup G: “At the level of national populations, G-M201 is most commonly found in Georgia it is found at even higher levels among many other regional and minority populations in The Caucasus. G-M201 is also widely distributed at low frequencies, among ethnic groups of Europe, South Asia, Central Asia, and North Africa.”

To learn more about DNA and Haplogroups have a look at the following books:

Also if you’d like to get your DNA tested have a look at:

If you found this map interesting please help by sharing it:


BS. It could make sense if it was drawn without current borders in mind.

A little bit biased I would say….

1. Some HGs are split to deeper levels, R1a & R1b, J1 & J2 while E is left the top parent root, a 55K years old. Instead Bulgaria and Albania should be assigned to EV13, found virtually in Europe, splitting it as R1a vs R1b

2. This is only YDNA, representing only 2% of us, not DNA as whole….

Why should a map be drawn according to the 1% of genetic material that makes me different from any given stranger? DNA and genes have fallaciously replaced “blood” as the metaphor for essential differences among humans. So, sure, let’s use our knowledge of genetics to fight disease and trace our history, but let’s stop making more of it than it is. Our complexity comes from other stuff.

That’s the most intelligent response to such an article.

James, I believe, you are the one who assigns any meaning to the article than what it is meant to be. It doesn’t claim that our complexity is based on the genetic composition. It shows what dominating gene is presented by a majority of the population in the given area. It is called ANTHROPOLOGY.

I was inarticulate about the complexity point. Let me try again.

It’s the article that compared the zones of haplogroup concentrations to political borders. And it’s the visual rendering of the map which simplified the findings to suggest zones of uniformity which don’t exist in reality (as the accompanying stats seem to emphasize). Just as nation-state labels simplify ethnic complexity, so this map does the same with genetic complexity. So, using nation-state borders as a metaphor for zones where certain genetic characteristics are found in a high concentration, coupled with an oversimplified visual is, I would, argue, not very illuminating.

Nevertheless, DNA has become a piece of mental furniture that gets shoved around in media and everyday conversation, standing for essential differences. To my eye, having a map suggesting that there are somehow “unseen” borders, which are really there underneath, just echoes, to mix my metaphors, that fallacy.

If anthropologists and others use detailed information about the flow of genetic material to figure out stuff about our history, about our susceptibility to disease, and other things, that’s great. Comparing it to political borders -not so useful.

I find these maps show more the origin of Y haplogroups hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. Not really relevant to modern political boundaries. This map is more like a historical snapshot in time. Perhaps a more accurate map would show migration patterns of these haplogroups. A video of these migrations and Europe changing colour patterns would be even better.

The Y gene never changes, it is actually a 50% majority of your DNA, as an X is compounded genetic memory of several mothers. mother’s mother and even father’s mothers. Oddly enough it is so unpredictable, the X gene, your maternal side cousin could have 1% in common with you and a second cousin 10-25%……not pushing incest, although it may explain those like the Rooseveldts.

I think you’re asking a map to show complexity to an impossible level.
It is a fact that R1b, my haplotype, is dominant in Western Europe, more than half the male population carries it with concentrations increasing towards the West..
That fits neatly on a map.
If you want to produce a map showing it’s origin on the Pontic Steppe, the move into Europe in the Bronze age and the origin and spread of it’s various subclades during the Migration Period – best of luck.
Now rinse and repeat for all the other haplotypes.
You’ll end up with a mess.
Be satisfied with the text making it clear that “it’s not that simple”.

so where does our complexity comes from? for example we have

96% same genes with chimps and if our difference doesnot come from this 4% than from where?

Barley, I believe, has more genes than we do, but it’s not more complex.

I’m not a research scientist, but I am married to one : )

She talks to me about epigenetics…Our genes obviously have something to do with it, I would hazard, but the interplay of environment and genetics has a lot do with it, how proteins are expressed and other things beyond my ken, (I’m thinking of the recent rat studies that show effects of maternal stress on development of individuals – maybe Lamarck wasn’t entirely wrong).

In Mindwise, (author’s name escapes me just now) an economist discusses the nature of mind. He cites comparative studies between chimps and young children, showing that for certain tasks the chimps and the children are nearly indistinguishable. But for certain tasks which require co-operation the children are miles ahead of the chimps. Our complexity, perhaps, comes from a combination of our genetics and how we interact…? What’s your take?

We share more than 90% of out DNA with fishes, 1% is a universe of difference.

Emily Elizabeth Windsor-Cragg says

Diversity is okay, and it’s important. Being an anti-Racist and rejecting the idea that people can exhibit profound and fundamental GENETIC differences in their abilities and disabilities is just another way of denying reality. There’s nothing wrong with the fact some people cannot read music and other people are color blind but everybody can learn to behave decently if that’s the objective and intention embedded in the Teachings with which they are socialized.

White ( a blanket term for the European tribes) folks have the most diversity of all races.Racism is a human reality. A DNA based construct. Loving or lionizing another race is a form of virtue signaling at social construct.

Whites do not have the most genetic diversity of the different populational groups. Africans do. There have been a few major out-of-Africa events. In all of these events there was a significant genetic bottleneck for those leaving the continent.

That said, Europeans do have much of the phenotypic diversity.

Your correct! Those low iq Africans and India should stop complaining abt European colonialism. We are all PEOPLE.. what bigots to believe they’re different from anyone else..

Flags of European Countries

The country flags of all the European Nations is more or less have worldwide recognition. However, the most recognized amongst them is the Union Jack of the United Kingdom possessing a unique design which is a combination of three distinguished crosses within a single field. The design of the United Kingdom&rsquos Flag is also used into the national flags of many other countries that were formerly the members of the British Empire. Besides the Flag of United Kingdom, the other recognized European Flags comprise of the national tricolours of France, Germany, Ireland and Italy.

Flags of Europe- Origin and Design

There are several European Flags as every country has its own national flag that differ in design but each one of those are united by their shared heritage. Majority of the designs of European Flags originated from the coat of arms of the feudal kings while some of the flags of Europe were designed particularly to create difference from this traditional designs of the flags in order to keep themselves distinguished. Thus, those flag designs were inspired by the revolutionary movements which in turn established another tradition leading to similarities among the flags of the European countries.

List of Europe Flags - Updated List 2021

Historic Similarities in the flags of European countries with Flags of the Kings and the Rebels

The flags that initially began to be used as the personal symbols of the King show a huge variety. Majority of these flags have history that can be traced down to hundreds of years. Scandinavian nations comprise of some of the oldest flags that are characterized by the cross made on a solid background of other color. The similarities amongst those European Flags is the reflection of shared heritage and history of the nations. Many other nations that comprise of the recent designs of Flag such as United Kingdom still incorporate the symbols that arise from the medieval flags. Flags of some European countries that aren’t inspired from the medieval designs usually comprise of a three striped designs with different colors. The most popular amongst these is the Flag of France from which the flags of revolutionary movements of Europe took an inspiration. Further, Flag of France was altered by adoption of the colors related to the traditional culture of several other nations of Europe in order to create the revolutionary flags. The evolution of some of those traditional colors. The European flags that were even designed to highlight the ideals of revolutionary movement are often related to the Europe’s medieval past as the traditional colors used in its design are derived from the feudal heraldry.


The European continent together comprises of many flags as it constitutes of the flags of each country in the continent. But apart from these Europe itself comprises of its own flag that is recognized by both the European Union and the Council of Europe. Additionally, the Pan-European Organizations make use of the unique flags for representing themselves. The most popular amongst these is the Flag of European Union. This is much younger in comparison to any other Flags of Europe. The designs of these flags do not reflect any regional or national heritage instead it is indicative of the Organization’s role.

Flying the German Flag

In Germany, you will find that there are very different uses when it comes to the public use of their flags and national symbols. Official authorities primarily use the German flag during special occasions. It can also be used publicly during sports events.

Flag days are saved for election time, and other state-specific flag days there may in other states. When flying flags in Germany on flag days, you will find that they are flown at half-mast, and no vertical flags are lowered.

So, the meaning of Germany flag? The flag’s three colored bands – the black red gold flag – represents their national colors. These national colors date back to the republic democracy that was proposed in the mid-1800s. Under this democracy, the colors symbolized German unity and freedom for Germany. During the Weimar Republic, the colors represented the centrist, democratic and republican parties.

To learn more about the meaning of Germany flag, you need to understand their history.

Which black travelers I’m I referring to?

I make it a point to acknowledge how your nationality affects your travel experiences as a black person. Having an American or British passport could, for instance, save you from a long interrogation at border patrols. Although I have experienced race-motivated mistreatment, I also know that being an American citizen has been an advantage when navigating Europe. For instance, when I would go to exchange money anywhere in Spain, presenting my American passport would lead to polite conversation and smiles. I also encountered the same hospitality in Greece and Italy, countries that you’ll typically find on lists of the most racist places in Europe. It’s as if my passport is sort of magical wand that instantly puts service people on their best behavior (most of the time.) For the purpose of this article, I am mostly referring to black travelers from the west – African Americans, Black Brits, and the like. Without further ado, here are the best countries for black tourists in Europe, in no particular order.

A Brief History of “Dark Mode”—From the Matrix-like Displays of the Early ’80s to Today

Now that “screen” is a metonym for all digital technology—“screen time” a shorthand for staring at anything that glows—it’s easy to forget that the earliest computers didn’t have screens at all. Instead, machines like IBM’s ENIAC proclaimed their functionality through punch-card printouts and flashing lights. The display for the first programmable computer, the Manchester Baby (first run in 1948), was powered by cathode ray tubes (CRT), a technology perfected in WWII for use in radars, in which electron guns target and illuminate phosphors behind a glass screen. Nascent CRT technology wasn’t efficient enough to illuminate an entire surface without burning out, which is why computers in the ’70s and ’80s had those Matrix-style black backgrounds with green text (or white, or amber). For the very first computer screens, dark mode was default.

Manchester Bay, 1945. Photo courtesy Computer History Museum. Illustration by Beatrice Sala.

Of course, “dark mode” wasn’t a term that early computer designers would have recognized. Sometimes also referred to as “night mode,” the phrase describes an interface option available on operating systems, browsers, websites, and apps that allows a user to switch a background from light to dark. It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly dark mode was introduced, but in the past year or so , it’s become an increasingly popular feature in mainstream products like Facebook and Google’s mobile apps. Modern digital screens, most of which are light emitting diode (LED) or organic light emitting diode (OLED) are far advanced from CRT ones. And yet, decades later, there’s a stark, if superficial, similarity between the old and the new.

For decades, dark backgrounds have been associated with boxy, buzzy computers that ran on CRTs and had limited mobility. And yet dark mode today, although similar aesthetically to screens of the past, is actually more of an indication of where display technology will go in the future. But before we get into that, let’s take a look back at early computing history and how screens changed from black to white.

Apple II, 1977. Photo courtesy Computer History Museum. Illustration by Beatrice Sala.

The first home computers, like the Apple II (1977), actually sidestepped the issue of monochrome CRT displays — they were designed to be plugged into televisions. “Once people at home were using color,” says design historian Paul Atkinson, “it was fairly obvious that businesses needed to follow suit.” As a result, almost as soon as backlit CRT displays made it possible to make a background white instead of black, computer screens started to shift. They went from their own aesthetic to mimicking that of another: the desktop. The graphical user interface (GUI) developed by Alan Kay at Xerox PARC and perfected by Apple in the early 1980s changed the dynamic of computer displays, orienting them around the tactile world. In line with the skeuomorphic representations of trash cans, file folders, and the envelopes on email apps that populate our digital desktops, the bright, light background was meant to emulate everyday notebook paper.

Today, as Keely puts it, “we’re beyond paper.”

“Our expectations for viewing information, basically, were established by paper,” says Bert Keely, a semi-retired Silicon Valley designer who spent his career designing handheld technology, including Microsoft’s first tablet PCs . The idea that displays should look like what we write on in the physical world, and be as handy and legible as it, he says, shaped his work. For a long time, that concept went largely unquestioned, but today, as Keely puts it, “we’re beyond paper.” Instead, designers are asking a different question: what could digital displays be? When you can do anything, the idea of imitating a sheet of paper seems quaint. Dark mode, without it’s analog doppelgänger in the physical office supply universe, is a step in this direction.

CRTs dominated the personal computer market for decades. The first iMac , released in 1998, had a CRT display, as did the majority of Gateway computers produced between 1987 and 2002 . It wasn’t until the mid ’90s that flat-panel color LCDs started to appear, and even then, the graphics weren’t on par with CRTs. Mike Nuttall, an IDEO co-founder and veteran product designer, assisted Bill Moggridge with his design of the GRiD Compass (1981) , the first portable computer that didn’t use a CRT display. With its clamshell shape (also a first) and half-briefcase size, it filled a need that “luggables,” (mobile CRT computers like the Osbourne 1 ) didn’t.

GRiD Compass, 1981. Photo courtesy Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Illustration Beatrice Sala.

The GRiD had an electroluminescent (ELD) screen — the kind of display that’s often used in car dashboards—which like early CRTs had a dark background by necessity. Yet around the same time, Nuttall designed a product called WorkSlate (1983), which he describes as “not really a laptop, more like a spreadsheet,” and the first product of its kind to use an LCD display. The WorkSlate, with a screen only slightly larger than a postcard, was one of the earliest examples of a black on white monochrome display.

Workslate, 1983. Photo courtesy Smithsonian Institute. Illustration by Beatrice Sala.

“When we all changed to color [LCDs], like with the first real laptops, I don’t remember anyone ever having a dark screen,” says Nuttall. He compares color LCDs to monochrome LCDs (like the one used on WorkSlate), in which the resting state of the components of the screen (the crystals) is light. He says color LCDs are light by default for the same reason: “You have a backlight, so you have a light screen.” Turning that screen black or grey would actually use more power, because you have to switch the crystals over. “They’re in a sort of open mode when they’re white.”

iMac G3, 1998. Photo courtesy Wikicommons. Illustration by Beatrice Sala.

Early LCDs looked good on profile, but lacked the (comparatively) crisp graphics of CRTs. Despite their sophisticated appearance, color LCDs were low resolution, which is why foot-deep CRT monitors persisted in desktop computers for so long. It may also be another reason why color LCDs had white backgrounds instead of black ones: In the ’90s, a light character on a dark screen would have been harder to read on an LCD than a CRT screen. And besides, LCD screens needed to be distanced from monochrome CRTs, a reliable but stodgier technology.

Macbook, 2015. Photo courtesy Wikicommons. Illustration by Beatrice Sala.

By the mid 2000s, LCDs had finally surpassed CRTs in image quality and became the norm in both laptop and desktop displays. This eventually led the way to LEDs, which combine crystals with a more precise backlight in the form of diodes. The monochrome monitors of early computers still seem charmingly inert as compared to the addictive, full color screens that we’re now used to. But given the graphics capabilities of today, along with innovations like OLED screens—which essentially create a true black backdrop for any image—starting from dark simply makes more sense. (OLED screens don’t require a backlight. They’re the only kind of displays that conserve power in dark mode.)

Dark mode on iPhone and Android. Photo courtesy Wikicommons. Illustration by Beatrice Sala.

Today, dark mode stans, of which there are many, claim that it improves legibility and reduces eye strain. Those claims are up for debate , but it’s clear that many also prefer dark mode for purely aesthetic reasons: it comes off as sleeker, makes colors pop against the contrast, and frankly just offers something different from the usual white. Dark mode does, however, throw the focus on individual parts of a screen over the whole of it, providing somewhat of a visual respite from overstimulation. It turns a screen into a kind of black box theater that highlights what’s important and eliminates everything else. Perhaps that desire for focus is why, years later, with many options available, dark backgrounds have become popular.

Dark mode, Keely says, might be just the beginning of what’s next for displays across industries.

The proliferation of digital technology in the home over the past decade has led to a number of muted interfaces in products as varied as the Nest thermostat (motion-activated, multi-color text on black LCD), the Roku app (animated, dark purple backdrop) and the Instant Pot (white text on deep blue monochrome LCD). This trend towards dark displays, and their tendency to fade into the background with accents at the fore, may be a sign of an entirely different interface. Dark mode, Keely says, might be just the beginning of what’s next for displays across industries. The craving for distraction that even an un-illuminated screen can inspire is enough to make you consider what it would be like to eliminate them altogether.

Head-up displays (HUD), which use OLEDs to project images, are becoming more common in car designs. (That may sound imposing, but HUDs only appear when activated and offer an alternative to oversized screens like those seen in Teslas .) Augmented reality products like HUDs seem like a natural extension of eliminating a background, allowing objects to exist in borderless space rather than a glowing white rectangle. The discreet edges of screens, and the compartmentalization they represent, offer a semblance of control over technology. Augmented reality, which appears when it’s needed and is out of sight when it’s not, gives users another layer of detachment. Black, white, purple, blue…in a few years, we could be beyond screens altogether.

Europe: Physical Geography

Encyclopedic entry. Europe is the western peninsula of the giant "supercontinent" of Eurasia.

Biology, Ecology, Earth Science, Geology, Geography, Physical Geography

Europe is the second-smallest continent. Only Oceania has less landmass. Europe extends from the island nation of Iceland in the west to the Ural Mountains of Russia in the east. Europes northernmost point is the Svalbard archipelago of Norway, and it reaches as far south as the islands of Greece and Malta.

Europe is sometimes described as a peninsula of peninsulas. A peninsula is a piece of land surrounded by water on three sides. Europe is a peninsula of the Eurasian supercontinent and is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Mediterranean, Black, and Caspian Seas to the south.

Europes main peninsulas are the Iberian, Italian, and Balkan, located in southern Europe, and the Scandinavian and Jutland, located in northern Europe. The link between these peninsulas has made Europe a dominant economic, social, and cultural force throughout recorded history.

Europe can be divided into four major physical regions, running from north to south: Western Uplands, North European Plain, Central Uplands, and Alpine Mountains.

Western Uplands

The Western Uplands, also known as the Northern Highlands, curve up the western edge of Europe and define the physical landscape of Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, and Denmark), Finland, Iceland, Scotland, Ireland, the Brittany region of France, Spain, and Portugal.

The Western Uplands is defined by hard, ancient rock that was shaped by glaciation. Glaciation is the process of land being transformed by glaciers or ice sheets. As glaciers receded from the area, they left a number of distinct physical features, including abundant marshlands, lakes, and fjords. A fjord is a long and narrow inlet of the sea that is surrounded by high, rugged cliffs. Many of Europes fjords are located in Iceland and Scandinavia.

North European Plain

The North European Plain extends from the southern United Kingdom east to Russia. It includes parts of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Poland, the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), and Belarus.

Most of the Great European Plain lies below 152 meters (500 feet) in elevation. It is home to many navigable rivers, including the Rhine, Weser, Elbe, Oder, and Vistula. The climate supports a wide variety of seasonal crops. These physical features allowed for early communication, travel, and agricultural development. The North European Plain remains the most densely populated region of Europe.

Central Uplands

The Central Uplands extend east-west across central Europe and include western France and Belgium, southern Germany, the Czech Republic, and parts of northern Switzerland and Austria.

The Central Uplands are lower in altitude and less rugged than the Alpine region and are heavily wooded. Important highlands in this region include the Massif Central and the Vosges in France, the Ardennes of Belgium, the Black Forest and the Taunus in Germany, and the Ore and Sudeten in the Czech Republic. This region is sparsely populated except in the Rhine, Rhne, Elbe, and Danube river valleys.

Alpine Mountains

The Alpine Mountains include ranges in the Italian and Balkan peninsulas, northern Spain, and southern France. The region includes the mountains of the Alps, Pyrenees, Apennines, Dinaric Alps, Balkans, and Carpathians.

High elevations, rugged plateaus, and steeply sloping land define the region. Europes highest peak, Mount Elbrus (5,642 meters/18,510 feet), is in the Caucasus mountains of Russia. The Alpine region also includes active volcanoes, such as Mount Etna and Mount Vesuvius in Italy.

Flora & Fauna

Much like its physical regions, Europes plant and animal communities follow a general north-south orientation. The tundra, found in Iceland and the northern reaches of Scandinavia and Russia, is a treeless region where small mosses, lichens, and ferns grow. Huge herds of reindeer feed on these tiny plants.

The taiga, which stretches across northern Europe just south of the tundra, is composed of coniferous forests, with trees such as pine, spruce, and fir. Moose, bear, and elk are native to the European taiga.

Just south of the taiga is a mixture of coniferous and deciduous trees, including beech, ash, poplar, and willow. Although this area remains heavily forested, the continents forests were drastically reduced as a result of intense urbanization throughout human history. Intense trade introduced many species, which often overtook native plants. The forests and grasslands of western and central Europe have been almost completely domesticated, with crops and livestock dominant.

Finally, small, drought-resistant plants border the Mediterranean Sea, Europes southern edge. Trees also grow in that southernmost region, including the Aleppo pine, cypress, and cork oak. The only primate native to Europe, the Barbary macaque, inhabits this Mediterranean basin. A small troop of Barbary macaques lives on the tiny island of Gibraltar, between Spain and the African country of Morocco.

The waters surrounding Europe are home to a number of organisms, including fish, seaweeds, marine mammals, and crustaceans. The cold water surrounding northern Britain and Scandinavia is home to unique species of cold-water corals. All of the major bodies of water in Europe have been fished for centuries. In many places, including the Mediterranean and North seas, waters have been overfished. About a quarter of marine mammals are threatened.

Today, around 15 percent of Europes animal species are threatened or endangered, mainly by habitat loss, pollution, overexploitation, and competition from invasive species. The European bison, the heaviest land animal on the continent, is one of the most threatened species.

Beginning in the 20th century, many governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have worked to restore some of Europes rich biodiversity. Establishing fishing limits, protecting threatened habitats, and encouraging sustainable consumption habits are some efforts supported by European conservationists.

Europe is the western peninsula of the giant "supercontinent" of Eurasia.

Map by the National Geographic Society

Most Renewable Electricity Produced
Iceland (99.9% hydropower, geothermal)

Population Density
188 people per square kilometer

Largest Watershed
Volga River (1.38 million square km/532,821 square miles)

Highest Elevation
Mount Elbrus, Russia (5,642 meters/18,510 feet)

Largest Urban Area
Moscow, Russia (16.2 million people)

modern farming methods that include mechanical, chemical, engineering and technological methods. Also called industrial agriculture.

Changes in government functions

Shifts in the political spectrum and larger issues of industrial society prompted important changes in government functions through the second half of the 19th century. Mass education headed the list. Building on earlier precedents, most governments in western Europe established universal public schooling in the 1870s and ’80s, requiring attendance at least at the primary levels. Education was seen as essential to provide basic skills such as literacy and numeracy. It also was a vital means of conditioning citizens to loyalty to the national government. All the educational systems vigorously pushed nationalism in their history and literature courses. They tried to standardize language, as against minority dialects and languages (opposing Polish in Germany, for example, or Breton in France).

A second extension of government functions involved peacetime military conscription, which was resisted only in Great Britain. Prussia’s success in war during the 1860s convinced other continental powers that military service was essential, and conscription, along with steadily growing armaments expenditures, enhanced the military readiness of most governments.

Governments also expanded their record-keeping functions, replacing church officials. Requirements for civil marriages (in addition to religious ceremonies where desired), census-taking, and other activities steadily expanded state impact in these areas. Regulatory efforts increased from the 1850s. Central governments inspected food-processing facilities and housing. Inspectors checked to make sure that safety provisions and rules on work hours and the employment of women and children were observed. Other functionaries carefully patrolled borders, requiring passports for entry. Most countries (Britain again was an exception) increased tariff regulations in the 1890s, seeking to conciliate agriculturalists and industrialists alike while not a new function, this signaled the state’s activist role in basic economic policy. Most European governments ran all or part of the railroad system and set up telephone services as part of postal operations.

Educator, record-keeper, military recruiter, major economic actor—the state also entered the welfare field during the 1880s. Bismarck pioneered with three social insurance laws between 1883 and 1889—part of his abortive effort to beat down socialism—that set up rudimentary schemes for protection in illness, accident, and old age. Austria and Scandinavia imitated the German system, while the French and Italian governments established somewhat more voluntary programs. Britain enacted a major welfare insurance scheme under a Liberal administration in 1906, and in 1911 it became the first country to institute state-run unemployment insurance. All these measures were limited in scope, providing modest benefits at best, but they marked the beginnings of a full-fledged welfare state.

The growth of government, and the explosion of its range of services, was reflected in the rapid expansion of state bureaucracies. Most countries installed formal civil service procedures by the 1870s, with examinations designed to assure employment and seniority by merit rather than favouritism. State-run secondary schools, designed to train aspiring bureaucrats, slowly increased their output of graduates. Taxation increased as well, and just before the outbreak of war in 1914, several nations installed income tax provisions to provide additional revenue. Quietly, amid many national variants, a new kind of state was constructed during the late 19th century, with far more elaborate and intimate contacts with the citizenry than ever before in European history.

Other Assorted Furs

Budge (Budetum, Bougie, and Bugee) and Lamb

Budge was a black lambskin originally imported to Europe from Béjaïa in modern-day Algeria which was known as Bougie, a Moorish kingdom during the Middle Ages. It initially provided a cheaper alternative to skins from the Baltic area and over time, the budge supply concentrated in Spain. The colors came in black, but also white, which was apparently less valuable than the black version. Budge was a popular fur for lining hoods. Young lambs’ fur is softer and silkier than a grown sheep’s wool fleece, and so other varieties of lamb fur was also in popular use.

Coney (Rabbit) and Hare

Coney is the term that was used to describe rabbits in Europe during the time covered. Hares are not the same animal, though similar in appearance. Hares are typically larger, and are far more common in Europe than rabbits. Rabbit fur tends to be quite silky in texture, but easily falls out, so was not as highly valued for use in clothes as other, more stable furs. Hare fur tends to mat, and as such made a better material for hatters than for clothiers, who used it to make stiff felt hat forms. These furs were not as luxurious as furs from weasels and squirrels, and consequently were more commonly found in the working classes’ clothing.

Fitch (Fichew, Ficheux)

This is mustelid more commonly known as the polecat (Mustela putorius). Like the civet cat, it’s not really a cat, being instead a close cousin to weasels. In fact, domesticated ferrets were originally bred from polecats. This fur grew in popularity once the Baltic trade in squirrels began to decline at the turn of the 15th century. Polecats were more plentiful throughout the continent of Europe. There was no need to rely on a supply from northern traders. Colors ranged from pale champagne to dark brown, and the furs were often variegated—fading from dark to light and then dark again.

Fitch skins in Copenhagen. By Vadeve (talk) 18:10, 13 February 2011 (UTC) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fox (Gupil, Gulonus, Vulpes, Vossiten Werk)

Fur trappers sought red, black, gray, and white varieties, especially their winter coats. This fur was typically quite thick and long, and was perhaps the one fur with the most variety in color options.

Fox purfelles galore. The dark gray fur appearing on various men’s garments was likely fox. Note how the fur puffs out far more than a squirrel pelt’s would, which is one way to differentiate between gray fox fur and gris, the gray winter coat of the Eurasian red squirrel. Chroniques de Hainault, KBR MS 9242, fol. 1, circa 1448. (Public Domain)

Genette (Jonette, Jehanettes, Gianetta)

This was a term for a member of the viverrid family called Genetta genetta, otherwise known as a common civet. People have historically used the term “civet cat”, though cats are from a different family—the felids. Genette has dark grey and black, lush fur, often with beautiful patterns. The blacker the fur, the more valuable it was. This animal came to the Iberian peninsula at least 1000 years ago, and still survives there today.

By Mickey Bohnacker, Presse-Fotograf, Frankfurt/Main (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The lynx fur used in clothing may have come from two different varieties: the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) and the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx). The former has a shorter, smoother coat, while the latter tends to have a thicker coat, being from more northerly climes. Both varieties sport spots, and their coloring ranges from tan to gray to red to brown.

Lynx and wild cat, painted circa 1407 in Paris. Dark gray wild cats were hunted for their furs, but not as enthusiastically as lynx was hunted. The fur quality was considered middling at best. Gaston Phoebus, Le Livre de la chasse, Morgan, MS M. 1044, fol. 27r. (Pubic Domain)


Otter pelts were a deep, rich brown, and tended to have a more solid, unvaried color than martens. It’s quite hard to look at 14th or 15th century clothing portrayals with dark brown fur and know whether one is seeing marten, sable or otter.

Third wave: Out of the Steppe

One bright October morning near the Serbian town of Žabalj, Polish archaeologist Piotr Włodarczak and his colleagues steer their pickup toward a mound erected 4,700 years ago. On the plains flanking the Danube, mounds like this one, a hundred feet across and 10 feet high, provide the only topography. It would have taken weeks or months for prehistoric humans to build each one. It took Włodarczak’s team weeks of digging with a backhoe and shovels to remove the top of the mound.

Standing on it now, he peels back a tarp to reveal what’s underneath: a rectangular chamber containing the skeleton of a chieftain, lying on his back with his knees bent. Impressions from the reed mats and wood beams that formed the roof of his tomb are still clear in the dark, hard-packed earth.

“It’s a change of burial customs around 2800 B.C.,” Włodarczak says, crouching over the skeleton. “People erected mounds on a massive scale, accenting the individuality of people, accenting the role of men, accenting weapons. That’s something new in Europe.”

It was not new 800 miles to the east, however. On what are now the steppes of southern Russia and eastern Ukraine, a group of nomads called the Yamnaya, some of the first people in the world to ride horses, had mastered the wheel and were building wagons and following herds of cattle across the grasslands. They built few permanent settlements. But they buried their most prominent men with bronze and silver ornaments in mighty grave mounds that still dot the steppes.

By 2800 B.C, archaeological excavations show, the Yamnaya had begun moving west, probably looking for greener pastures. Włodarczak’s mound near Žabalj is the westernmost Yamnaya grave found so far. But genetic evidence, Reich and others say, shows that many Corded Ware people were, to a large extent, their descendants. Like those Corded Ware skeletons, the Yamnaya shared distant kinship with Native Americans—whose ancestors hailed from farther east, in Siberia.

Within a few centuries, other people with a significant amount of Yamnaya DNA had spread as far as the British Isles. In Britain and some other places, hardly any of the farmers who already lived in Europe survived the onslaught from the east. In what is now Germany, “there’s a 70 percent to possibly 100 percent replacement of the local population,” Reich says. “Something very dramatic happens 4,500 years ago.”

Until then, farmers had been thriving in Europe for millennia. They had settled from Bulgaria all the way to Ireland, often in complex villages that housed hundreds or even thousands of people. Volker Heyd, an archaeologist at the University of Helsinki, Finland, estimates there were as many as seven million people in Europe in 3000 B.C. In Britain, Neolithic people were constructing Stonehenge.

To many archaeologists, the idea that a bunch of nomads could replace such an established civilization within a few centuries has seemed implausible. “How the hell would these pastoral, decentralized groups overthrow grounded Neolithic society, even if they had horses and were good warriors?” asks Kristian Kristiansen, an archaeologist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

A clue comes from the teeth of 101 people living on the steppes and farther west in Europe around the time that the Yamnaya’s westward migration began. In seven of the samples, alongside the human DNA, geneticists found the DNA of an early form of Yersinia pestis—the plague microbe that killed roughly half of all Europeans in the 14th century.

Unlike that flea-borne Black Death, this early variant had to be passed from person to person. The steppe nomads apparently had lived with the disease for centuries, perhaps building up immunity or resistance—much as the Europeans who colonized the Americas carried smallpox without succumbing to it wholesale. And just as smallpox and other diseases ravaged Native American populations, the plague, once introduced by the first Yamnaya, might have spread rapidly through crowded Neolithic villages. That could explain both their surprising collapse and the rapid spread of Yamnaya DNA from Russia to Britain.

“Plague epidemics cleared the way for the Yamnaya expansion,” says Morten Allentoft, an evolutionary biologist at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, who helped identify the ancient plague DNA.

But that theory has a major question: Evidence of plague has only just recently been documented in ancient Neolithic skeletons, and so far, no one has found anything like the plague pits full of diseased skeletons left behind after the Black Death. If a plague wiped out Europe’s Neolithic farmers, it left little trace.

Whether or not they brought plague, the Yamnaya did bring domesticated horses and a mobile lifestyle based on wagons into Stone Age Europe. And in bringing innovative metal weapons and tools, they may have helped nudge Europe toward the Bronze Age.

Watch the video: European Countries Colonial Flags