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Europe's history soaked in blood of repeated wars

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Oct. 13, 2012, 8:43 p.m. |

A European Union flag waves in the wind in front of the chancellery in Berlin Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, after the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize. The EU won the prize for fostering peace on a continent ravaged by war, giving bruised leaders of the 60-year-old European project a badly needed boost in morale. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
© AP

  The European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its contribution to keeping the peace on a continent ravaged by war.

Here is a summary of some of Europe's major wars over the last two centuries:

NAPOLEONIC WARS 1803-1815

The rise of Napoleon Bonaparte in France threatened the balance of power in Europe and led to a series of devastating conflicts over a dozen years during which the French leader dazzled his enemies with a string of impressive victories. Exhausted by years of war, the French were finally beaten in battles in Leipzig in 1813 and at Waterloo in 1815, after which Napoleon went into exile where he died six years later.

CRIMEAN WAR 1853-1856

The war broke out when Russia occupied Turkish-dominated territories along the Danube River in the Balkans. Fearing Russian domination, Austria, Britain and France declared war on Russia. The conflict was fought mostly in the Black Sea area, including on the Crimean Peninsula which is now part of Ukraine. But fighting spread as far as East Asia and the Baltic Sea. By some estimates the conflict claimed more than 1 million lives — most of them Russians who died of disease and neglect — and destroyed the system of alliances in place since the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR 1870-1871

The war was provoked by Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck as part of a plan to create a united German Empire. France feared the rise of Prussia and when a German prince related to the Prussian royal family agreed to seek the Spanish throne, the French became alarmed at the threat of German expansionism. As tensions rose, France declared war as von Bismarck had hoped. The French expected a quick victory but instead were defeated. Paris surrendered on Jan. 28, 1871. The war established the German Empire, toppled the French monarchy and deepened animosity between the French and Germans that contributed to the two world wars.

WORLD WAR I 1914-1918

The assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne by a Serbian nationalist prompted the Austro-Hungarian Empire to invade Serbia. The German Empire rallied to Austria's side. France and Britain sided with Russia. By the time the war ended more than four years later, more than 9 million combatants were dead and the empires of Russia, Austria, Turkey and Germany lay in ruins. The conflict shattered Europe's political and social system and paved the way for another devastating war a generation later.

WORLD WAR II 1939-1945

Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany promising to erase the stain of defeat in 1918. On Sept. 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland to regain land lost after World War I. France and Britain sided with Poland and declared war. The Germans and their allies quickly overran much of Europe, defeating the French. In June 1941 Hitler invaded Russia and six months later his Japanese allies bombed U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor, escalating the war into a global conflict. When the war ended in 1945, an estimated 50-70 million people were dead. Europe was divided between the U.S.-dominated west and the Soviet-dominated east — a division that was to last for nearly 50 years.

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