Europe, second smallest of the world’s continents, composed of the westward-projecting peninsulas of Eurasia (the great landmass that it shares with Asia) and occupying nearly one-fifteenth of the world’s total land area. It is bordered on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the south by the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, and the Caspian Sea.
Europe’s largest islands and archipelagos include Novaya Zemlya, Franz Josef Land, Svalbard, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, the British Isles, the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, Crete, and Cyprus. Continental Europe’s highly irregular coastline is about 24,000 miles (38,000 km) long.
The empire of ancient Rome, at its greatest extent in the 2nd century CE, revealed, and imprinted its culture on, much of the face of the continent. Trade relations beyond its frontiers also drew the remoter regions into its sphere. Yet it was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that modern science was able to draw with some precision the geologic and geographic lineaments of the European continent.
Europe occupies some 4 million square miles (10 million square km) within the conventional borders assigned to it. That broad territory reveals no simple unity of geologic structure, landform, relief, or climate. Rocks of all geologic periods are exposed, and the operation of geologic forces during an immense succession of eras has contributed to the moulding of the landscapes of mountain, plateau, and lowland and has bequeathed a variety of mineral reserves. Glaciation too has left its mark over wide areas, and the processes of erosion and deposition have created a highly variegated and compartmentalised countryside.