The Other Europe: Eastern Europe to 1945

By E. Garrison Walters | Go to book overview
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History to 1800

EASTERN EUROPE is an area of considerable ethnic diversity. The population of some one-hundred million people is composed of fourteen major nationality groups and nine smaller ones. The absence of natural features that presented serious barriers to population movements, together with the historical predominance of multinational political organizations, ensured that the various ethnic groups were mixed together over much of Eastern Europe. The savagery of the Second World War and the political decisions that followed the end of the fighting did much to simplify the ethnic map, but considerable complexity remains.

Since it is almost impossible to describe the peoples of Eastern Europe without also discussing the historical events that formed them, this section will survey the period from the beginning of history to about the year 1400. By the start of the fifteenth century, the last of the presentday nationalities was firmly established in the area, and the history of Eastern Europe began to be integrated into European history as a whole.

The first historical records about Eastern Europe were provided by Greek chroniclers. 1 In addition to their own Hellenic tribe, these writers recorded the presence of six other groups: Germanic, Celtic, Scythian, Illyrian, Thracian, and Dacian. Of this group, contact with the first three was sporadic. The Germanic tribes were weak and scattered in early times, and their usual habitat was far to the north of the Greek world. The Celts, who appear to have ruled once over most of Europe, were in decline at the beginning of recorded history, with their remaining strength shifting westward. Evidence of their earlier importance in Eastern Europe is to be found in the name of Bohemia, which is of Celtic origin.

The Scythians, who did not inhabit Eastern Europe proper, were loosely settled in the steppe land of southern Ukraine (from about the eighth to the first centuries B.C.). A semi-nomadic people, the Scythians

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