Which Countries Make Up Southern Europe?

By Jana Gregorio on September 25 2020 in World Facts

The Italian and Balkan peninsulas make up part of Southern Europe. Image credit: Trismegist san/Shutterstock
The Italian and Balkan peninsulas make up part of Southern Europe. Image credit: Trismegist san/Shutterstock
  • Southern Europe is composed of three of the five most prominent peninsulas of Europe: the Iberian, Italian and Balkan peninsulas.
  • Roman influence is prevalent in the Iberian Peninsula, from the languages spoken to the widespread practice of Roman Catholicism.
  • Italy makes up the bulk of the Italian Peninsula, but it also includes the independent states of San Marino and the Vatican City.

Southern Europe, also known as Mediterranean Europe, comprises nineteen countries and has a total population of more than 150 million people. Some of the major countries in the region include Spain, Italy, and Greece. Turkey and Cyprus are also part of southern Europe, but they are unique in that they are in both Europe and Asia. 

The region was also home to two of the most influential civilizations: ancient Greece and Rome. Ancient Greece was one of the most scientifically and culturally advanced societies in history. Its alphabet is the ancestor of all modern European alphabets. On the other hand, ancient Rome had a significant impact on Western ideas of military, government, and laws. Its laws and court systems have served as the foundation of modern Western justice systems.

Three of Europe’s five main peninsulas are in southern Europe: Iberian, Italian, and Balkan.

Map of Europe. The Iberian, Italian and Balkan peninsulas can be seen occupying the Southernmost regions of Europe. 

The Iberian Peninsula

The Iberian Peninsula is found in the southwest corner of Europe and is home to Spain, Portugal, and Andorra. Spain occupies about 85% of the peninsula, with a total area of 195,346 square miles. Andorra is one of Europe’s smallest states, with an area of 180 square miles. Portugal has a total area of 35,609 square miles and a population of more than 10 million people. 

In 206 BCE, the Romans conquered the Carthaginians and colonized the Iberian Peninsula for more than 600 years. Thus, Roman influence is prevalent throughout the area. An example of this is the languages spoken in the region. Castilian, Portuguese, Catalan, and Galician derived from Latin that the Romans brought over during their conquest. 

In addition to the languages, the Romans introduced Christianity to the peninsula. Today, Roman Catholicism is the most prevalent religion in Spain and Portugal, with about 68% of Spaniards and 81% of Portuguese people identifying as Catholic. 

Azenhas do Mar, Portugal, is on the Iberian peninsula. Image credit: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

The Italian Peninsula

The Italian Peninsula juts out into the Adriatic Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea. Italy makes up the bulk of the peninsula, but it also includes the independent states of San Marino and the Vatican City. San Marino was founded in 301 AD and is considered the oldest republic in the world. Vatican City is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. The independent city-state is the smallest country globally, with a total area of 0.17 square miles.

According to legend, brothers Romulus and Remus founded the city of Rome in 753 BCE. Ancient Rome would produce one of the most powerful empires in its time, which would collapse in the 4th century AD. Some of the most influential figures in history, such as Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony, and Augustus, lived during this time.

The Colosseum in Rome. The Roman Empire was the most prominent empire to occupy the Italian peninsula. Image credit: prochasson frederic/Shutterstock

Italy was also the birthplace of the Renaissance, which saw advances in art, science, literature, philosophy, and exploration. The Renaissance originated in Florence and eventually spread throughout western and northern Europe. Many experts say this period was the most important in human development since the fall of ancient Rome. 

The Balkan Peninsula 

The Balkan Peninsula is the easternmost of Europe’s southern peninsulas. It is composed of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia. Some descriptions of the Balkans also include Greece and Turkey. The Byzantine Empire controlled the peninsula before the Ottoman Turks took over in the 14th and 15th centuries. 

In the early 20th century, the peninsula was divided between Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Yugoslavia. In 1992, Yugoslavia separated into Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, North Macedonia, Slovenia, and Serbia and Montenegro (which has now split into two independent countries). The Balkan Peninsula is full of diverse religions and ethnic groups and is a melting pot of European and Asian civilizations.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the Balkan peninsula. Image credit: Zabotnova Inna/Shutterstock

Perhaps one of the most important ancient civilizations in the peninsula was ancient Greece. Greece flourished during its Classical Period, a golden age that began around 480 BCE and lasted 200 years. During this time, ancient Greece made considerable advancements in Western philosophy, literature, mathematics, history, and drama. It is the birthplace of democracy and the Olympic Games. Ancient Greece is widely considered the cradle of Western civilization.

Southern Europe is an area full of diverse cultures and rich histories. Each country, though sharing some cultural traits, varies significantly from its neighbor. Something all these countries share is a strong connection to the bodies of water that surround them, as a peninsula is surrounded on all three sides! 

Which Countries Make Up Southern Europe?

RankCountriesPopulation (2020)
3Bosnia and Herzegovina3,280,819
11North Macedonia2,083,374
13San Marino33,931
17Vatican City801

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