According to the old Greek myth, Europa, Phoenix and Perimede’s daughter, was a Phoenician princess who was so beautiful that Zeus, the Father of Gods, noticed her and turned into a great white bull, and invited her to ride him. Europe accepted and Zeus took her to Crete, where their three children were born, including Minos, the mythical founder of the Minoan civilization, one the first attested European culture.

Religions

Religions d'Europe

The first European religions were polytheist religions, brought by Indo-european-speaking peoples with the extension of agriculture in Europe at the end of the Neolithic period. These religions had similarities between them, and were inspired from Egyptian and Mesopotamian mythologies. Among the most known of them are the Celtic mythology and the Germanic mythology, which were “resurrected” by Wagner’s operas or the more famous Tolkien’s books, and the Greek/Roman mythology which knew a renewed interest during the Renaissance, and which is thanks to the Roman Empire the most famous polytheist religion of Europe.

Since the Roman period, Jewish communities have spread through Europe. Sephardi Jews originally lived in Spain and Portugal and were forced to exile in 1492 by the Catholic Kings of Spain. Sephardi Jews are now mainly located in Italy, Greece and Turkey, and in France since the 1960’s after the independence of Maghreb countries where they lived. The other main Jewish community are Ashkenazim Jews, whose origin is not really known. One hypothesis is that they lived in the Khazar Empire, which was a Jewish state of southern actual Russia and which collapsed with Russian invasions. Ashkenazim Jews live nowadays in Central and Eastern Europe, France and Great Britain, but the majority of them were killed during the Holocaust.

Christianity, which is the major religion in Europe, appeared during the first centuries of our era. It became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the IVth century AD, and was adopted by the Barbarian kingdoms after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Originally, Christianity was a unified religion, but there are three main churches nowadays: Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism. Catholicism corresponds to the Roman Church, lead by the Pope which is considered as the incarnation of Saint Peter. This religion is located in Western and Central Europe.

Eastern Christian churches (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem) separated from the Roman Church in 1054 (Great Schism). They are considered as “Orthodox Christianity”, but don’t consist in a unified Church. Indeed, Orthodoxy is composed of independent Churches lead by Patriarchs, the most powerful being the Church of Constantinople thanks to the extension of the Byzantine Empire. Nowadays, Orthodoxy is located in the Balkans, Cyprus and Eastern Europe.

Protestantism appeared at the end of the Middle Age with Luther’s thesis (Protestant reformations). Protestantism is not lead by a Pope or a Patriarch, because Luther rejected the clergy. An other Protestant branch is Calvinism, located in Switzerland, French Protestant minorities and Scotland. Lutheranism is more widespread: Germany, Netherlands, Scandinavia and Baltic States. The Anglican Church is a totally independent Church, considered as Protestant but closer to Catholicism, lead by the British monarch.

Islam was introduced in Europe with the Ottoman invasion of Balkans. This religion originally appeared in Arabic peninsula and extended to Middle East, Central Asia and Northern Africa. Muslim countries in Europe are Albania and Bosnia in the Balkans, Turkish communities in Bulgaria, and Caucasian peoples in southern Russia. We can of course notice Turkey, if it is regarded as a European country. European Muslims are Sunni, like the majority of Muslims. However, Azerbaijan is a Shiite country. Islam is also present in Western Europe thanks to recent immigration (France, Belgium, United Kingdom).

We can also notice Buddhism in the Russian republic of Kalmykia, peopled by Mongols who descend from Genghis Khan’s armies who invaded Eastern Europe in the XIIIth century.

Languages

Langues en Europe

Indo-European languages are the majority of European languages. They were brought in the continent from Anatolia or Eastern Europe with the introduction of agriculture. They are now divided into several families : Baltic languages, in Latvia and Lithuania (so-called Baltic States), Celtic languages in the British isles, Germanic languages in Northern (Scandinavia, British isles) and Central Europe (Germany, Switzerland, Austria), Romance languages (which descend from Latin language) in Southwestern Europe and Romania, Slavic languages in Eastern and Central Europe and in the Balkans, and isolated languages such as Albanian and Greek languages in Southern Balkans. An Asiatic branch of Indo-european languages is spoken in the periphery of Europe: Iranian languages in Kurdistan (Turkey) and Central Caucasus.

There are also some languages which don’t belong to this huge family. Basque language (Basque country in France and Spain), Georgian language (Georgia) and Caucasian languages (Northern Caucasus) are part of languages spoken in Paleolithic Europe and are now located in isolated mountainous areas. Altaic languages like Turkish and Finn-Ugric languages such as Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian languages were introduced more recently from Central Asia and Siberia. Maltese language of Malta island is an Arabic dialect.

Some of these languages have an official status, but a lot of them are spoken by ethnic minorities. The European Union, in its cultural policy, aims at protecting these languages and peoples, with two major texts: the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages aims at protecting these languages in several fields: education, justice, public services, medias, cultural activities, social and economic life. Many European countries have signed it, so had France but it hadn’t ratified it yet, because this charter is in disagreement with its Constitution.

The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities ensures the rights of ethnic minorities. Many European countries have signed it, but France hadn’t, according to its Constitution. This attitude can however have negative consequences, like the extinction of regional languages, regarded as a cultural wealth.

Advertisements