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Wikipedia puts the boundary as:

The modern definition of Europe delimits it from Asia at the Aegean Sea, the Dardanelles-Sea of Marmora-Bosporus, the Black Sea, along the watershed of the Greater Caucasus, the northwestern portion of the Caspian Sea and along the Ural River and Ural Mountains, as both mapped and listed in many atlases including that of the National Geographic Society and as described in the World Factbook.

However, there is no cite for this and I can't seem to find definitive information. What group, or individual, put forward this as the boundary between Europe and Asia? I know that this boundary has changed a lot historically so I'm curious as to the most current boundary, assuming Wikipedia is correct.

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I would challenge your statement that "this boundary has changed a lot historically" - could you clarify this please? –  Andrew Turvey Jun 7 '12 at 19:14
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@AndrewTurvey I guess I was mostly thinking of the gradual inclusion of Russia into the idea of Europe. Peter the Great was really the first one that started that transition, so parts of Eastern Europe were not really considered Europe in the past. Along those lines Turkish membership in the EU is talked about so if they were to join wouldn't they necessarily need to be part of Europe? –  ihtkwot Jun 8 '12 at 20:07
    
The Treaty on European Union [1] - one of the two core Treaties making up the EU - states that "Any European State which respects the principles set out in Article 6(1) may apply to become a member of the Union".[2] Emphasis on the term "European state" - that particular clause was explicitly used to reject the application of Morocco. Whether a country is or isn't European becomes quite crucial in that context.[1]en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… [2] eur-lex.europa.eu/en/treaties/dat/12002M/htm/… –  Andrew Turvey Jun 17 '12 at 21:18
    
As to Turkey, the part of the country that is north & west of the Dardanelles is nearly always considered part of Europe - see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Thrace. That is the basis for their application to join the EU. –  Andrew Turvey Jun 17 '12 at 21:23

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Your question assumes that some kind of a formal decision was made and that most countries explicitly agree that there is an official demarcation. As this boundary is mostly cartographical, no country has ever, to the best of my knowledge, made an issue out of this location. It's been the practice to just use whatever demarcation that other cartographers use by map makers since the 6th century BC when Greeks began writing about the continents. As the wiki points out, the reason the line they are using is 'official' is simply that most authoritative map makers place it there. If a great many map makers placed the line somewhere else, that would then be conventionally considered the line of demarcation.

I said mostly cartographical because some countries have used this boundary as an impetus for political decisions and for propaganda. Despite this, it has never been a point of contention in what would be the ultimate decision: A contest of arms between nations.

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so is there a majority viewpoint on this? How did the wikipedia description come to be then? –  ihtkwot May 11 '12 at 16:02
    
@ihtkwot, whatever the consensus of the most recognized cartographers of an era say is the boundary, that's where the boundary between continents is. This isn't a point of contention among countries in general, and so no country has ever formally made a decision that I know of. The practice has always been to just go with whatever the cartographers say. The wiki article says that the line is there because most cartographers in the countries that the wikipedia editors are from say it's there. –  Nathan C. Tresch May 24 '12 at 22:24
    
"no country has ever, to the best of my knowledge, made an issue out of this location." - on the contrary, many countries have made a big deal about emphasising their Europeanness, particularly when there is something at stake like membership of the EU. Look at Turkey, for instance. –  Andrew Turvey Jun 7 '12 at 19:11
    
@AndrewTurvey, true, that. No country has ever gone to war to enforce this boundary is more accurate, and what I really meant. –  Nathan C. Tresch Jun 13 '12 at 18:48
    
I disagree that this boundary is not political. Moving it to the west was used to justify wars against those "Asian barbarians" of Russia (and even of Poland!). Moving the boundary to the south was used to justify that Armenia was a bastion or European-Christian culture against the Turkish-Muslim hordes etc etc. –  Anixx Jun 19 '12 at 7:26

"Europe" can mean different things depending on context. To geologists, there is no such thing as a distinct European land-mass since it is inseparable from Asia (hence Eurasia). Politically, Europe might mean the member states of the EU or the EEC. In sporting terms, Israel and Kazakhstan are in Europe. According to Turkey, country is entirely in Europe, but at the same time Istanbul is split into Asian and European halves. The countries in the Caucasus, Christian Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are usually considered to be in Europe, separated from Iran only by political, not geographic, borders.

There is no Central American continent, but few people speak of Panama as being in North America, even though geographically is it. The Papua half of New Guinea plays football in Oceania, while the Indonesian half plays as an Asian team. Likewise, Australia recently switched continents and is now in Asia.

The point is that continents have no formal definition or that continents have multiple definitions depending on who is defining them and why. Politics, geography, culture, language, religion are all used to lay down the continental lines, and there is no single authority on what they are.

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I think the question was specifically about geographic definition, not membership in international organizations, although it is true that an Asian country can participate in European championships as an exception. –  Anixx May 11 '12 at 17:06
    
@Anixx You are right. I guess I was trying to point out that continents - by any definition - do not have fixed boundaries that are universally accepted. –  SigueSigueBen May 11 '12 at 17:13
    
+1, this is other way of saying what I was trying to say: The lines are only a convention. –  Nathan C. Tresch May 24 '12 at 22:25

According to Wikipedia, this division was first put forward in the 18th century by Philip Johan von Strahlenberg. It's best if I just quote the passage in full:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurasia#History_of_the_Europe_and_Asia_division

In ancient times, the Greeks classified Europe (derived from the mythological Phoenician princess Europa) and Asia (derived from Asia, a woman in Greek mythology) as separate "lands". Where to draw the dividing line between the two regions is still a matter of discussion. Especially whether the Kuma-Manych Depression or the Caucasus Mountains form the southeast boundary is disputed, since Mount Elbrus would be part of Europe in the latter case, making it (and not Mont Blanc) Europe's highest mountain. Most accepted is probably the boundary as defined by Philip Johan von Strahlenberg in the 18th century. He defined the dividing line along the Aegean Sea, Dardanelles, Sea of Marmara, Bosporus, Black Sea, Kuma-Manych Depression, Caspian Sea, Ural River, and Ural Mountains.

Politically, the most important consequence from this definition is found in the context of the enlargement of the European Union. Many countries to the East and South of this bloc aim to join, as they see it as providing prosperity, jobs, migration opportunities and political freedoms. The Treaty on European Union states that "Any European State which respects the principles set out in Article 6(1) may apply to become a member of the Union".

The term "European state" was used to reject the application of Morocco as only "European" countries can theoretically join the EU. Interestingly Cyprus, by most definitions, is technically in Asia yet was allowed to join, and Greenland, technically in North America, was for a long time a member as part of Denmark. Turkey was accepted as an applicant as a corner of the country - Eastern Thrace - is technically part of Europe.

The Council of Europe has a similar definition in its constitution and currently includes nearly all "European" (or partly European) countries.

By contrast, Eurovision song contest eligibility is more liberally defined to include the area of the European Broadcast Area including many countries that are not considered part of Europe including Israel, Morocco and Tunisia.

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