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From this period onwards, Europe played a predominant role in global affairs.Between the 16th and 20th centuries, European nations controlled at various times the Americas, most of Africa, Oceania, and the majority of Asia.The fall of the Western Roman Empire, during the migration period, marked the end of ancient history and the beginning of an era known as the "Middle Ages".

Europe is taken to be bounded by large bodies of water to the north, west and south; Europe's limits to the far east are usually taken to be the Urals, the Ural River, and the Caspian Sea; to the southeast, including the Caucasus Mountains, the Black Sea and the waterways connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.The primarily physiographic term "continent" as applied to Europe also incorporates cultural and political elements whose discontinuities are not always reflected by the continent's current overland boundaries.Europe covers about 10,180,000 square kilometres (3,930,000 sq mi), or 2% of the Earth's surface (6.8% of land area).The Industrial Revolution, which began in the United Kingdom at the end of the 18th century, gave rise to radical economic, cultural, and social change in Western Europe, and eventually the wider world.Both world wars were largely focused upon Europe, contributing to a decline in Western European dominance in world affairs by the mid-20th century as the United States and Soviet Union took prominence.

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