The criteria is simple – the top 5 most influential conflicts in European history over the last 2,000 years. Some are battles others are wider campaigns. What do you think? Have I left anything out?
1. The Battle of the Milvian Bridge (312).
In 312 the Roman emperors (there were two under the tetrarchy system) Constantine and Maxentius fought a major encounter at the Milvian bridge. Constantine, reputedly fighting under the banner of the christian cross, defeated his rival and took power. The biggest impact was Constantine’s initiation of a process that converted the pagan Roman Empire (and therefore most of Europe, North African and large part of the Middle East) to Christianity. This changed European history forever. Of course one can argue that the religion had been growing for centuries but the Milvian Bridge certainly marked its coming of age.
2. The invasion of Rus and Eastern Europe by the Mongols (1239-1241).
When the Mongols swept through modern European Russia (Rus) and large parts of eastern Europe crossing the Danube in late 1241, it changed the region and Europe arguably forever. While an invasion of Western Europe was halted only when the great Khan Ogedie died, the Mongols had already conquered vast territories. This saw large parts of modern Russia subsumed into the Mongol Empire which stretched to the pacific ocean. For the first time in history a direct overland route to China from Europe was established. Within a few years the Franciscan John of Plano Carpini travelled to Karakoram in modern Mongolia to visit the court of the Great Khan. The increased contact was transformative in everyway imaginable – everything from spice to the Black Death traveled to Europe along these new routes from Asia.
3. The siege of Constantinople (1453).
This siege saw the remnants of the Roman Empire finally exit the stage of history. After the collapse of the Empire in the west in 476 the emperors of the east had held sway at Constantinople. While they had been under attack from the growing Islamic Caliphates and the Italian city states most notably Venice for centuries in 1453 the Sultan Mehmet II finally conquered the city in a massive assault. It thereafter became the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
4. The French Revolution (1789).
Zhou Enlai, the Chinese communist supposedly once said it was too early to tell the impact of the French Revolution. While Zhou Enlai may have been referring to the 1968 uprising in France the confusion nevertheless underscores the importance and influence of the 18th century French Revolution. In 1789 a revolution of extraordinary breadth and scope took place in France sweeping away the old order and instituting a republican government. In the short term it saw war break out across Europe that lasted until 1815. It inspired numerous revolts including the 1798 revolt in Ireland and the Haitian revolution of the 1790s. From a long-term perspective many cite the revolution as the point at which European society diverged between the left and right. While this maybe hyperbolic it certainly crystallised attitudes on both sides.
5. Battle of Stalingrad (1942-3).
This was without question the most decisive battle in World War II in Europe and ended the prospects of a German victory. Had the German sixth army under Von Paulus defeated the Soviet forces in the city under Chuikov and crossed the Volga, the USSR would have been effectively split in two. It would also have opened the path to vast resources for Nazi Germany. Worse still the Nazi racial ideology which had seen hundreds of thousands executed would have continued unabaited. This didnt happen. In several months of fighting the Red Army not only held the ruined city but subsequently encircled the entire German sixth army. Most view this as the decisive turning point in the entire war after which it was an Axis victory was impossible.