5 Things You Should Know About: Europe

3D rendering of planet Earth using elements from NASA imaging. Image credit: NicoElNino/Shutterstock
3D rendering of planet Earth using elements from NASA imaging. Image credit: NicoElNino/Shutterstock
  • It's believed that our early human ancestors came to Europe around 38,0000 BCE, wiping out the Neanderthals who lived there.
  • The Black Death ravaged the European population from 1346 to 1353.
  • Istanbul, Turkey is the most populous country in Europe.

Europe is one of seven continents that comprise the Earth. Here are some interesting things you should know about this particular land mass. 

1. The Origins of "Europe"

There are several theories as to the precise origin of the word "Europe." One of the most popular is that the European continent takes its name from a Phoenician princess named Europa who was kidnapped by the god Zeus. According to ancient Greek linguists, the princess's name may stem from Eurys and Ops, roughly translated to "wide, broad" and "eye and face." Put together these terms signify something "wide-gazing" or "broad of aspect." Some historians do not believe that Europe's name came from the goddess Europa, and instead believe that the term "Europe" was used to describe the view the Greeks had of its broad shores.   

2. Europe's First Hominid Inhabitants

It's believed that human beings' ancestors first inhabited the European continent around 38,000 BCE during the period known as the Upper Paleolithic age. Scholars and historians believe that the first Europeans who settled throughout the region had travelled to the area from parts of western and central Asia. During this period Europe was mostly populated by Neanderthals who are considered to be the distant cousins of modern human beings, not our direct ancestors. Neanderthals were a hominid species that lived during the Ice Age some 120,000 to 35,000 years ago. Now extinct, Neanderthal populations predated the arrival of early humans to Europe which is thought to have taken place approximately 40,000 years ago.  

The Mediterranean shoreline. Some historians believe the name "Europe" came from the description of its wide shores in ancient Greek. Image credit: Maksimilian/Shutterstock  

3. Europe's Worst Pandemic (So Far)

Between 1346 and 1353 the world was ravaged by first the outbreak of the Black Death ( Bubonic plague). Europe in particular suffered devastating losses during this period. Also referred to as the Plague or Pestilence, this deadly pandemic swept across the globe killing up to 60% of the entire population residing in Europe. In total this ruthless epidemic is believed to have claimed anywhere from 25,000,000 to 75,000,000 lives. 

4. Land Mass, Population, and Borders

According to figures from Worldometer, there are about 747,696,000 people living on the continent of Europe in 2020. This number represents about 10% of all human beings currently inhabiting planet Earth. Europe is widely regarded as a multicultural continent with a population density that's currently estimated to be approximately 188 people per square mile. Despite only occupying a total land area of 3,931,000 square miles (10.18 million km²) Europe is the third-most populous continent on the planet behind Asia (4,646,446,00) and Africa (1,345,058,000). 

European Union flags along with the flags of its 27 members at the 2018 EU summit. Image credit: Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock

Due to an array of factors such as geography and political considerations, the exact number of European nations is difficult to determine with most counts varying anywhere from 44 up to 51. Part of the confusion is that some countries such as Russia, Georgia, and Turkey straddle both continental Asia and Europe and are considered to be part of the Eurasian supercontinent. It's interesting to note that despite the fact that in 1993 a large coalition of European nations came together to form the European Union, not all European countries agreed to be part of this economic and political union. Presently the European Union is made up of 27 member states.

5. Prominent Cities

The five most populous cities in Europe are:

1. Istanbul, Turkey (15,519,267)

2. Moscow, Russia (12,506,468)

3. London, United Kingdom (9,126,366)

4. St. Petersburg, Russia (5,351,935)

5. Berlin, Germany (3,748,148)

Rounding out the top ten most populous urban population centers are Madrid, Spain (3,223,334), Kyiv, Ukraine (2,950,800), Rome, Italy (2,860,009), Paris, France (2,148,271), and Bucharest, Romania (1,883,425). 


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