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March 19, 2014

Time and Perspective

Via Betsy Newmark comes an interesting overview of Europe's changing borders over the last millennium. Several commenters have pointed out a few inaccuracies, but overall it still provides a fascinating view of the way states grow or implode over time:

How quickly we forget.

Posted by Cassandra at March 19, 2014 08:06 AM

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Except for that brief, unfortunate situation (the correction of which we celebrate still 80 years on), it is truly remarkable how consistantly France managed to maintain its national borders over the period lacking, as it does, a formidable natural defense (e.g., England's "moat"). La France éternelle.

Posted by: spd rdr at March 19, 2014 09:44 AM

I certainly didn't realize that today's Germany was once a metric crap-ton of tiny little nations. It explains the massive number of kingdoms found in many Fairy Tales (many of which originated in that region).

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 19, 2014 09:55 AM

I did know that about Germany, but was very surprised at some of the overall patterns (in general, the Big Three - France, Germany, England) stay fairly constant in size over 1000 years, though certainly the idea of many of these states that didn't exist as such until fairly recently could more accurately be referred to "what we now think of as Germany").

I can remember reading Churchill's histories of England many moons ago and being shocked at the ethnic diversity of the "British"! I had always thought of them as Celts/Welsh/Irish/English but didn't realize how many other bloodlines were intermingled during their history.

Fascinating stuff. And I wouldn't mess with France :p

Posted by: Cassandra at March 19, 2014 10:00 AM

Vivid way to remind drive home the changes which happened even in my own lifetime.

CWAGA? Apparently not.

Discussions/decisions regarding nations and military must recognize the implications of that map. There exist meanies.

Posted by: Roy at March 19, 2014 11:36 AM

I noticed that Spain remains essentially unchanged until the Napolean era, and then as quickly returns to it's borders as well. Which, to me, seems interesting. After watching all the changes over the lands between Russia and France, I would have thought more trouble for Spain given it's access to both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Were I the conquer the world type, I would have been concentrating on that prime piece of property before worrying about the landlocked nations.
Wish there was a way to slow down the animation, though. Some places went so fast I could barely assimilate the movements at times.
Still, very cool.

Posted by: DL Sly at March 19, 2014 01:15 PM

And I wouldn't mess with France.
I concur. France is a one of mankind's truly remarkable success stories. And though its long history may not be entirely glorious, it has few rivals in terms of contributions to western civilization. It's unfortunate that, for many in this country, it is the military collapse and resulting capitulation to the Nazis seven decades ago that still informs their opinion of a great nation, and a formidable ally.

(P.S.: I would argue that France's defeat at the hands of a far-superior Wehrmacht was no cause for national shame. The same cannot be said for the despicable collaboration of the Vichy government that followed.)

Posted by: spd rdr at March 19, 2014 03:04 PM


When I was just a wee, rosy-cheeked Editorial Staff my Dad was the aide to the CINCLANTFLT/NATO commander and we lived aboard a tiny little base tucked away behind - gosh, I hope I'm remembering this correctly - the Armed Forces staff college in Norfolk.

My Dad tells some great stories about working with NATO and SHAPE dignitaries, both in Europe and here at home. Some of the funniest ones have to do with the French, who were more formidable than we like to think they are. They're a tough people.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 19, 2014 03:49 PM

The French have a damned fine Navy. I always enjoyed working with them.

Posted by: spd rdr at March 19, 2014 08:11 PM

This takes me back to my college days. The most feared course for history majors was "Europe Since", shorthand for Europe since 1848.
Many memory tricks were used to try to keep straight the endless shifting of borders.
It is too bad that we do not have good histories for many of the feudal areas, which were probably also partitioned into tiny fiefdoms.
And it would be nice to slow this animation down, to be able to click through it, year by year.

Posted by: Tom Johnson at March 20, 2014 08:21 AM


Posted by: spd rdr at March 20, 2014 01:46 PM

Comment of the Day, mr rdr :)

Posted by: Cassandra at March 20, 2014 06:04 PM

and BTW, my browser wouldn't load the file, the comments alone are worth a chew:

1. neither modern Germany nor Italy existed until the late 1800's.
2. screw France. They have always been selfish, and have been cowards since WW1.

1. if you have a strong stomach, read one of the very fine histories of the development of what is now the United Kingdom. It's a d*mn miracle they survived, much less had success.
2. that base behind the Armed Forces Staff college was the CINCLANTFLT Compound. It also hosts the U.S. NATO command, the Atlantic Fleet Marine Command (don't know proper acronym), and COMSUBLANT. Have visited it often.

Roy: You're right, of course. and therefore you are unwelcome in diplomatic circles, and the current administration's National Security bureaucracy.

Sly: might wanna take another look at history of Spain. It was divided until the major remaining kingdoms finally pushed out the Moors, and then decided to unite via marriage. There are succession today in Spain.

Spd: no hard feelings, but I do not respect the French Navy. They've always had good ships; they've rarely been willing to actually fight them, and their political leadership is venal.

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at March 20, 2014 06:45 PM

The French have had difficulty with their navies since the Hundred Years War, but they have often done well when dry land was under their feet.


The history of what becomes Spain is one of the worst told, and most interesting, stories in Medieval Europe. If you're interested, I recommend Angus MacKay, Spain in the Middle Ages: From Frontier to Empire, 1000-1500 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1977).

Posted by: Grim at March 20, 2014 07:08 PM

Well, of course my expereince with the French Navy goes back a few years to... Admiral Comte de Grasse... but I don't blame the French Navy for the dithering of its civilian political leadership. That would never do.

Posted by: spd rdr at March 21, 2014 06:28 AM

Well said, monsieur rdr :)

Posted by: Cassandra at March 21, 2014 09:59 AM

Yes, Yorktown, but also in that era Bantry Bay.

Look, I'm not opposed to showing the French due honor. It's just that they sent all their best sailors to England in 1066.

Posted by: Grim at March 21, 2014 10:18 AM

Well said Grim!

Posted by: CAPT Mike at March 21, 2014 02:25 PM

here's the link @ youtube.


I recommend you boost the res to max and full screen it.

Posted by: OBloodyHell, "Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses." at March 22, 2014 09:28 PM

}}} Wish there was a way to slow down the animation, though. Some places went so fast I could barely assimilate the movements at times.
Still, very cool.

You nominally can, but it takes a bit of computer knowledge and determination.

First, you have to get a copy of the video file -- the easiest way to do this is using FireFox and a you-tube downloader -- there are many, but I find these two to be good:
They are both worthwhile depending on purpose. The latter can nominally be used with Chrome but I have not figured out how -- Google owns YouTube and does not allow the store to distribute addons that save YouTube vids.

Second, you have to have something that gives you the video codec for playing .FLV files (though not as needed if you're using the .mp4 downloader, you'll still possibly need a codec for that).

For that, you can go here:
And get a codec pack (I recommend one of the two "K-Lite" codec packs -- see the "codec packs" section on the left sidebar).

The codec pack likely will install also "Media Player Classic", a non-bloatware version of Microsoft's venerable Media Player that is a lot less of a resource hog than the current versions.

That site has been around for more than 10 years (just to show you, see here), and I've never known it to distribute malware. Just in case you might be worried.

MPC can play stuff at variable rates, or you can get one of the more well-known and full-featured video players, such as KMPlayer or VLC MP, there or via Downloads.com.

Posted by: OBloodyHell, "Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses." at March 22, 2014 09:44 PM

}}} I noticed that Spain remains essentially unchanged until the Napoleonic era

Well, Spain is largely protected by the mountain chain that blocks it off from the rest of Europe. So most attacks must be amphibious, which is generally not a trivial undertaking prior to modern technology.

And also, as a result, that makes "Spain" a natural body -- while there have been a number of changes of "owners" over time, the boundaries don't tend to change too much as a result of those natural barriers.

As far as France's stability goes, well, who really wants to take over the French? You'd have to associate with them in order to do that.

I would also say that France, as of the 20th C, became pretty much a paper tiger. The only reason they continue to exist is far more due to the national stability in Europe encouraged by Anglo-Saxon hegemony than anything else.

That started with Napoleon, who, faced with a dearth of qualified officers began the first real examples of modern mass warfare, throwing lots of ill-trained, unexperienced bodies into an army and attempting to overwhelm the opposition.

That worked ok until he tried to stupidly attack Russia, and, as so many Euros did and do (including, yes, Hitler), did not grasp in truth the sheer DISTANCE involved.

With that campaign he lost something like 90% of the troops he entered Russia with, thereby providing the French with the perverse incentive of cowardice being the survival trait (clearly, those who avoided service lived, those who bravely fought did not).

Further events only exacerbated the trend.

Posted by: OBloodyHell, "Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses." at March 22, 2014 09:58 PM