10 Oldest Countries in Europe

The continent of Europe is the smallest after Australia, and it is divided into roughly 50 independent sovereign states. Being rich in history, it’s no surprise that some of its countries were formed centuries upon centuries ago! Here are 10 of the oldest countries in Europe.

Note: It’s important to note that we’re not referring to empires or city-states, like those that existed in Greece, Rome, and others, but specifically to places that are roughly equivalent to what we now know as a country or nation-state. As such, we’re listing dates of establishment as dates where the countries in question achieved a modern nation-state format, and founders as the rulers in power when the countries achieved that status.

10. The Dutch Republic

Established in: 26 July 1581
Gained independence from: The Spanish Empire, specifically the Kingdom of Castile
Founder: N/A
Known today: Netherlands

The Dutch Republicphoto source: Credit

Most provinces of the Netherlands achieved independence through The Act of Abjuration, which was signed during the Dutch Revolt. This decision was primarily made by the States General of the Netherlands due to King Philip II, the rules of Spain, failing to keep up with his obligations and even oppressing his subjects, meaning he forfeited his thrones.

The newly freed provinces then formed the Dutch Republic in order to govern themselves after failing to find a suitable candidate to take over their respective thrones. The Dutch Republic would eventually become the Netherlands.

The Netherlands was the third country to have an elected parliament and is known for generally progressive policies. In fact, in 2001, it was the first to legalize same-sex marriage. It is also a founding member of a large number of organizations, including the EU and Eurozone. The country ranks very highly in terms of press freedom[29], economic freedom[30], happiness and quality of life[31], and human development, providing plenty of social benefits. It is known for its egalitarianism, especially in its taxing system.


9. Monaco

Established in: 1297
Gained independence from: The Republic of Genoa
Founder: Francesco Grimaldi
Known today: Monaco

MonacoCredit

Monaco as a state was re-founded in 1215 as a colony of the Republic of Genoa. In 1297, it was ruled by the House of Grimaldi after Francesco Grimaldi captured it from Genoa by outsmarting the fortress protecting the nation. This served as its basis for becoming the country known today.

For another century, Grimaldi and the Republic would fight over Monaco. The state was officially purchased by the Grimaldi family in 1419.

Monaco continues to be ruled by The House of Grimaldi and its defense is France’s responsibility, even though Monaco is independent and has two small military units. It is a part of the Council of Europe and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF).


8. The Old Swiss Confederacy

Established in: 1 August 1291
Gained independence from: The Crown of Aragon
Founder: N/A
Known today: Switzerland

The Old Swiss ConfederacyCredit

The Swiss confederation began to grow as a result of the communities who lived in the Central Alps’ valleys as they formed an alliance to allow for free trade and to care for other common interests. It is this unofficial alliance that would form what we now know as Switzerland.

Originally, the region was under the control of the Holy Roman Empire, though it was also mostly autonomous. In 1291, The Federal Charter that would be considered the Swiss Confederacy’s founding document was created and agreed upon between various rural communes.

Today, Switzerland is easily one of the most developed countries in the world[26]. Known for its neutrality, it ranks excellently in terms of wealth[27], quality of life[28], civil liberties, economics, and development.


7. Andorra

Established in: 1278
Gained independence from: The Crown of Aragon
Founder: N/A
Known today: Andorra

AndorraCredit

Andorra is a standout on this list as it isn’t exactly defined as a country. It is officially known as the Principality of Andorra and is a sovereign landlocked microstate between Spain and France, the latter of which it was once a part of.

This state achieved its independence due to a military dispute between the Bishop of Urgell and the Count of Foix, who signed a paréage to share Andorra’s sovereignty[23], which gave it the structure it continued to grow with and is now built upon.

Andorra is the sixth smallest nation in the continent of Europe[24] and is known for having the highest life expectancy of all nations in the world at 81 years old[25]. It is a member of the United Nations.


6. The Kingdom of Sweden

Formed: 12th century
Gained independence from: N/A
Founder: Eric the Victorious
Known today: Sweden

The Kingdom of SwedenCredit

The history behind the formation of Sweden is incredibly obscure. Svealand, the early name of Sweden, existed well before, perhaps, even the 8th century. However, a unified Kingdom of Sweden was only officially established sometime in the 12th century, making this a fairly old nation state.

Sweden is known for its high standards of living[22]. It has the eighth highest per capita income and is generally high ranking in areas of education, healthcare, equality, economy, and civil liberty. It is the third largest country in the EU by area.


5. The Kingdom of Portugal

Formed: 5 October 1143
Gained independence from: Kingdom of León
Founder: King Afonso I
Known today: Portugal

The Kingdom of PortugalCredit

The Kingdom of Portugal, which has origins in the County of Portugal, gained independence when its ruler King Afonso I broke the Treaty of Tui and invaded Galicia in the Kingdom of León[16]. This prompted a war known as the Battle of Valdevez.

It is unclear exactly what transpired during the battle, but the rulers of each kingdom signed the Treaty of Zamora as a result, granting the Kingdom of Portugal its independence[17].

Today, Portugal is one of the 15 sustainable states in the world[18] and is the third most peaceful[19]. Notably, the country enjoys high living standards[20] and a good economy[21]. It is a founding member of NATO and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries as well as a member of other organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union.


4. Denmark and The Danish Kingdom

Formed: 965 AD
Gained independence from: N/A
Founder: King Gorm the Old, continued by his son Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson
Known today: Denmark

Denmark and The Danish KingdomCredit

According to the Jelling Stones uncovered in Jelling, Denmark, the country formed its first nation-state-like governance in 965 AD, when Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson introduced Christianity to the people of the kingdom, although the monarchy on Denmark itself traces back slightly further.

The move to attempt to convert the country to Christianity was likely to avoid being invaded by the rising Holy Roman Empire and other Christian powers.

Denmark is now listed as the world’s happiest country[13] due to its high social mobility[14], standard of living, and standards of healthcare, income equality[15], and education, among other notable qualities such as low corruption levels and protection of civil liberties. It is among the founders of NATO and the United Nations.


3. The Kingdom of England

Formed: 927 AD
Gained independence from: N/A
Founder: Æthelstan
Known today: England, The United Kingdom

The Kingdom of EnglandCredit

The Kingdom of England was formed when Æthelstan, who was the King of the Anglo-Saxons, decided to unify various of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms into one sovereign state. Together with Denmark and Norway, the kingdom became a part of the North Sea Empire of Cnut the Great. I would go through many more changes before becoming the modern England we know today.

England is considered the world’s first industrialized country[11]. Today, England is a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It has the world’s fifth biggest economy calculated by nominal GDP (ninth-largest based on purchasing power parity). England’s parliamentary system is also widely adopted by many other nations[12] and the UK is permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.


2. Carolingian Empire

Formed: August 843 AD
Gained independence from: N/A
Founder: Charles the Bald
Known today: France

Carolingian EmpireCredit

The Carolingian Empire was ruled by the same kings who ruled the Franks, and therefore, it can be said that this is where France came from. France’s first unification happened in 486 AD with the name Francia, but it wasn’t until the year 843 AD that the Treaty of Verdun was signed, which led to France’s beginnings as a nation-state.

The Treaty of Verdun divided Francia into three parts: the east, the west, and the middle. The West Francia portion went to Charles the Bald, and would eventually become the Kingdom of France, an early modern monarchy. This would serve as the beginnings of modern France.

Today, France is the single most popular tourist spot in the world, receiving 83 million foreign tourists yearly[6]. It is has the sixth biggest economy in the world calculated by nominal GDP[7], and is the world’s fourth richest by aggregate household wealth[8]. The country is also one of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council[9] and a leading member of the European Union and many other organizations[10].


1. San Marino

Formed: 3 September 301 AD
Gained independence from: Roman Empire
Founder: Marinus
Known today: San Marino

San MarinoCredit

The Republic of San Mario, or the Most Serene Republic of San Marino[1] is a microstate and is one of the smallest countries in the world with a size of just over 24 square miles and a small population of 33,562[2].

San Marino is officially the oldest sovereign state in the world, and the oldest constitutional republic as well[3] and has the oldest written constitution in history, created in 1600, which is a constitution it still follows to this day[4].

San Marino is named after a stonemason named Marinus, who came from a Roman colony and founded San Marino as an independent monastic community. It is currently one of the wealthiest countries in the world in relation to GDP per capita and has one of the lowers unemployment rates in the continent, as well as having a budget surplus and no national debt[5].


[1] “San Marino”. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2012. Retrieved 1 March 2011.
[2] “Informazioni sulla popolazione – Repubblica di San Marino, portale ufficiale”. Sanmarino.sm. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
[3] “Europe’s Micro-States: (04) San Marino”. Deutsche Welle. 24 July 2014. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
[4] “The United States has “the longest surviving constitution.””. PolitiFact.com. Retrieved 26 September 2012.
[5] “San Marino”. The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency.
[6] “UNWTO Highlights” (PDF). United Nations World Tourism Organization. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
[7] “GDP (current US$)”. Data.worldbank.org. The World Bank Group. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
[8] https://web.archive.org/web/20141109055804/http://piketty.pse.ens.fr/fichiers/enseig/ecoineg/EcoIneg_fichiers/DaviesShorrocks2010%28CSGlobalWealthReport%29.pdf
[9] Jack S. Levy, War in the Modern Great Power System, 1495–1975, (2014) p. 29
[10] “Europa Official Site – France”. EU. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
[11] Mathias, P. (2001). The First Industrial Nation: the Economic History of Britain, 1700–1914. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-26672-6.
[12] “Country profile: United Kingdom”. BBC News. news.bbc.co.uk. 26 October 2009. Retrieved 1 February 2009.
[13] Melnick, Meredith (22 October 2013). “Denmark Is Considered The Happiest Country. You’ll Never Guess Why.”. The Huffington Post.
[14] Dave Serchuk. Happy Country=Social Mobility? Forbes. 12 July 2011
[15] “1997–2001”. The World Bank. 1997. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
[16] Reilly, Bernard F. (1998), The Kingdom of León-Castilla under King Alfonso VII, 1126–1157, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press; P ereira, Felix John (2009), Abridgement of the History of Portugal, Charleston, South Carolina: BiblioLife LLC.
[17] Lay, S. (2008-11-28). The Reconquest Kings of Portugal: Political and Cultural Reorientation on the Medieval Frontier. Springer.
[18][18] “Fragile States Index 2017”. Fund for Peace. Retrieved 2017-05-14.
[19] “Vision of Humanity”. Institute for Economics and Peace. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
[20] “Quality of Life Index by Country 2017 Mid-Year”. www.numbeo.com/quality-of-life/rankings_by_country.jsp
[21] “SOCIAL PROGRESS INDEX 2015 : EXECUTIVE SUMMARY” (PDF). 2.deloitte.com.
[22] “OECD Better Life Index”. OECD Publishing.
[23] https://archive.is/20100209181327/http://www.coprince-fr.ad/catala/elements.htm
[24] “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision”. ESA.UN.org (custom data acquired via website). United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.
[25] GBD 2013 Mortality and Causes of Death, Collaborators. (10 January 2015). “Global, regional, and national age-sex specific all-cause and cause-specific mortality for 240 causes of death, 1990-2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013.”. Lancet. 385 (9963): 117–71.
[26] Simon Bowers (19 October 2011). “Franc’s rise puts Swiss top of rich list”. The Guardian. London, UK.
[27] Subir Ghosh (9 October 2010). “US is still by far the richest country, China fastest growing”. Digital Journal. Canada.
[28] “Swiss and German cities dominate ranking of best cities in the world”. City Mayors. London, UK: Mercer Consulting. 28 April 2009. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
[29] https://web.archive.org/web/20170201195036/https://rsf.org/en/ranking
[30] https://web.archive.org/web/20130510115657/ http://www.heritage.org/index/country/netherlands
[31] Helliwell, John; Layard, Richard; Sachs, Jeffrey (20 March 2017). “World Happiness Report 2017” (PDF). United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

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There are 13 comments

  1. I think you should place Bulgaria at number 2. It was established in 681 ad and it has never changed its name since then. Would you check the facts, please! And mail me about the results. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. When does Bulgarian history begin? Bulgaria is a nation of immigrants. DNA tests show Bulgarians are a mixture of Turkish, Persian, and Gypsy — mixed some Slavic, Italian, and Greek. Modern-day Bulgaria is less than 1000 years old.

      Reply
      1. Bulgaria was created in 632AD. Bulgarians are Slavic + thracian descent , they are neither turkish or neither gypsies.

        Reply
  2. Which country isn’t a mix? In what world do you live in, Bella? Modern day country? Are you serious? Tell me how you’d break down Germany’s history, or England’s history? Or American history? Hopeless you are!

    Reply
  3. How exactly did Bulgaria not make number 2 in this list? Same name, same geographical location, same ethnic group as main occupant. Here’s some history to help you understand..

    In 680 the Turkic semi-nomadic Bulgar tribes under the leadership of Asparukh moved south across the Danube and settled in the area between the lower Danube and the Balkan, establishing their capital at Pliska. A peace treaty with Byzantium in 681 marked the beginning of the First Bulgarian Empire. The Bulgars gradually mixed with the local population, adopting a common language on the basis of the local Slavic dialect.

    So, again, how did Bulgaria not make number 2 in your list?

    Reply
    1. I don’t now..Should be ! And the founding year of the Great Old Bulgaria (Kubrat’s Bulgaria) is approximately 45 years earlier than 679-81…. Some authors (e.g. P.Dobrev) suggest even 165 AD according data in Armenian sources. What state could be San Marino? No civilization or historic impact!

      Reply
  4. Bella, this article is about European countries and Bulgaria was established in 681 AD under that exact name and is located in Europe. So it should stand at number 2. It doesn’t matter at all, what these DNA tests (unknown to me) show…

    Reply

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