Europe, the smallest of the seven continents except Australia. Despite its small size—the entire continent is only 10 per cent larger than the United States—Europe has played a dominant role in world affairs for more than 2,000 years. Ancient Greece and Rome contributed much to civilization. Great Britain, France, Spain, and other European countries have spread their cultures to many distant lands through exploration and colonization. Europe is a centuries-old center of education and culture, and has made many important contributions to the arts and sciences.
Europe is a great peninsula running west from Asia. Europe, in turn, has a number of large peninsulas of its own, including the Iberian, Balkan, Italian, and Scandinavian. Europe and Asia are often referred to as a single continent, called Eurasia, because there is no clear-cut dividing line between them.
Europe is bounded on the north by the Greenland, Norwegian, and Barents seas. The eastern boundary is usually placed at the Ural Mountains and the western shore of the Caspian Sea. On the south the continent is bounded by the Caucasus region and the Black Sea, Sea of Marmara, and Mediterranean Sea. On the west are the Atlantic Ocean and its various bays and seas.
Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia lie within the Arctic Circle. The prime meridian (0º longitude) runs through Great Britain, France, and Spain.
The coast, about 25,000 miles (40,000 km) long, is extremely irregular and dotted with many islands. Major islands include: