Test Your European History Knowledge



By: Marie Hullett

7 Min Quiz

Image: stocknshares / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Naturally, European history is full of quotes by Europeans about history. As a result, we often only hear one side of this story—more often than not, the one riddled with bloody battles and heroic victories, and the fearless leaders who led them of all. 

George Orwell was acutely aware of this phenomenon, famously stating, "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." Sometimes Europe's leaders attempted to reassure people, but the reassurance turned out to be a prophetic warning, like when Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini said, "Fascism is a religion. The twentieth century will be known in history as the century of Fascism." Meanwhile, Karl Marx said, "Anyone who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without feminine upheaval." 

So, is history a list of battles and victories? Or is it about civilizations and technologies? Or maybe it's about small moments, captured by unknown people, like a painter gazing into a starry night. The Greeks invented comedy and tragedy early in European history because sometimes it doesn't make sense to try to understand the world through just one lens. We have always done the same with history. 

For a lot of us, simply remembering what we did last weekend can be a challenge, so don't worry if you can't remember all the facts—after all, history changes all the time. You can take the following quiz to see what you know, though! 

Who was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize?

Born in Poland and later naturalized a French citizen, Marie Curie became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize and the only woman to win it twice. She won in 1903 for Physics and again in 1911 for Chemistry. She also became the first woman professor at the University of Paris.


During WWI, the Germans shipped a troublesome emigré back to Russia. What was their name?

Lenin lived in exile in Switzerland for years while plotting a socialist revolution that caused local authorities to keep a close eye on him as well as the revolutionary group he co-founded, the Bolsheviks. During WWI, German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm thought sending them back to Russia to wreak havoc might help Germany in its fight against the Tsar. It worked, and in 1918, Lenin founded the Soviet Union.


On April 12, 1961 Yuri Gagarin made history. Do you know what for?

Yuri Gagarin, Soviet cosmonaut, became the first person ever to travel into space. When he left Earth in his capsule, Vostok 1, he reportedly shouted, "Off we go! Goodbye, until we meet soon, dear friends." He became a national hero but tragically died when his MiG-15 crashed in 1968.


Napoleon conquered most of Europe as a French General, but he began his life on a Mediterranean island. Do you know which one?

Napoleon was born on the island of Corsica in 1769. Corsica was known to the ancient Greeks as "Seirinoussai", meaning "of the Sirens"— the same ones referred to in Homer's Odyssey. The Sirens allegedly lured sailors off-course with their enchanting music and songs. However, Napoleon's ancestors weren't shipwrecked sailors—they were Italians who had come from Ligurgia in the 16th Century.


In 49 B.C., Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with his army, a move that would lead to the end of the Republic. What did he supposedly say as he crossed the river?

Caesar reportedly said "alea iacta est" or, "The die is cast," meaning that the decision could not be undone. The Rubicon River marked the northern border of Italy, which the Roman senate had ordered him not to cross. By doing so, he instigated the Roman Civil War and ended the nearly 500-year-old Republic.


Alexander III of Macedon created the largest empire in the world before he was 30. Some credit (and blame) for his actions might be awarded to his teacher, Aristotle. Do you know who Aristotle's teacher was?

Plato founded Europe's first post-secondary institution, the Academy, and remains revered as one of the most important figures in European intellectual history. The motto above the door of his academy read, "Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here." However, that didn't prevent him from spreading rumors about Atlantis.


From late antiquity until the beginning of the 13th Century, which was the largest and richest European city?

Crusader armies sacked Constantinople in 1204, and the treasures they stole included the huge wealth of knowledge from the city's Imperial Library. The library contained the remnants of the Library of Alexandria, which fell into decline in the 3rd Century. Historians estimate that 100,000 volumes of ancient texts existed in the Imperial Library.


Café Central was a famous meeting spot for prominent intellectuals in the early 20th Century. Do you know where it was located?

Coffee drinking in Vienna has always been serious business, with the city's coffee culture long holding a kind of institutional status. One of the most famous places, Café Central in Vienna, hosted a locus of revolutionary chitchat. Regulars included the likes of Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin, Sigmund Freud, Adolf Hitler, Josip Tito, Theodor Herzl, Alfred Adler and Ludwig Wittgenstein.


Martin Luther is known for nailing his "The 95 Theses," also known as the “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” to the door of the Wittenberg church. What else did he do?

Martin Luther is reportedly the first to place lighted candles on evergreen trees and became the arch-enemy of firefighters ever since. Long before Christmas trees, Europeans decorated trees and wreaths in Europe. Many associate the current, illuminated version of the Christmas tree with the Protestant Reformation.


Which best describes the "Prague Spring?"

The Prague Spring began on the Jan. 5, 1968 and lasted until Aug. 21. The protests sought to ease limits on individual rights in communist Czechoslovakia and to introduce democratization and economic reform. Soviet troops ultimately ended the movement and the country remained under communist control until the "Velvet Revolution" of 1989.


If you wanted to visit a mosque in medieval Europe, which country should you visit?

For almost 1,000 years, Islam remained widespread on the Iberian peninsula. Arab culture spread across North Africa quickly and in 711, Tariq ibn-Ziyad sailed to Gibraltar and conquered most of Hispania for the Muslims. Today, fewer than two million Muslims live in Spain but you can still see their historical presence everywhere, especially in such architectural wonders as the Alhambra in Granada.


During the Roman Empire's reign in Britain, a local leader almost sent them packing. Do you know their name?

Boudica was the wife of a leader in Britain who was allied with the Romans. When he died, the Romans mistreated her, and in response, she formed a formidable army that she ordered to ransack Roman towns and fortifications in 60 A.D. One of the towns she leveled was the new Roman establishment of Londinium. She menaced the Romans so badly that Emperor Nero seriously considered abandoning the Isles for good.


If you're the kind of person who is into the extravagant and ornate, which of the following could describe your style?

The Baroque period lasted from the early 17th until the mid-18th century. It started in Rome and made its way through Italy and the Iberian Peninsula before spreading into the German speaking world. It had expressions in architecture, painting, dance, music and sculpture. Eventually, Baroque made its way into France, where it became Rococo.


Let's pretend that you're looking for Medb's Cairn. How would you describe it to a passerby when attempting to find it?

Queen Medb is a rowdy character from ancient Irish lore, known as the Queen of Connacht in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. Legend states that she's buried in Miosgán Médhbh, a nearly 40-foot high stone "cairn." They apparently buried her standing up so as that she could face her enemies in Ulster.


Baldassare Castiglione's "The Book of the Courtier," written in 1528, gives advice on how to make it in the high-stakes world of courtly intrigue. One quality he recommends people adopt is "sprezzatura." What is he talking about?

Renaissance Italy wasn't the unified nation we know today. Divided into small competing principalities, every local ruler demanded a retinue of sycophants and experts to aid in the day-to-day business of ruling. To help courtiers navigate the slippery terrain, Castiglione advised people adopt "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it."


If you wanted to learn a certain alphabet from А to Я, which European script would you study?

That backward R is called "Ya," which is one letter of Cyrillic script. Developed in the Bulgarian Empire during the 9th Century, various alphabets across Eurasia use it, particularly in Slavic-, Turkic- and Persian-speaking countries.


The Catholic Church "split" into east and west in which year?

Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 A.D. and then moved the Imperial Capital to Constantinople in 330 A.D. Over the centuries, theological and political differences emerged between the Christian East and West and eventually, they split. Constantinople served as the cultural center of the Eastern Orthodox Church and remained so until after 1453, when it came under the authority of the Ottoman Empire and later, the Turkish State.


Castle walls and heavy armor were commonplace in European battles, at least, until the introduction of gunpowder. Do you know who introduced it?

The Mongols, a nomadic group, encountered gunpowder in their battles with the Chinese. They then brought that technology westward in their push into modern-day Ukraine, Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland. They succeeded in their efforts until they reached Austria, when they turned back due to the death of their leader. They also introduced gunpowder to another nomadic group, the Turks.


If you got your hands on a book before the invention of the printing press, there was a good chance it was written on sheepskin. This led to the creation of palimpsests. What do you think these were?

The monks and scribes of the Middle Ages didn't have access to plentiful paper like we do now. Sometimes, if they possessed an old book, they would scrape off the text and then reuse the blank pages. Often, the original would still be visible if a reader looked very carefully. In fact, historians discovered several classic works this way. For instance, St. Augustine wrote over a work of Cicero.


If a Neanderthal decided they wanted to get from Belgium to Wales, how might they go about it?

Thousands of years ago, when the Neanderthals ran the place, much of Europe remained covered in glaciers—this is during the last Ice Age. As a result, sea levels were much lower, and one could potentially walk across the glaciers. The area now submerged below the North Sea, which once connected Britain to Continental Europe, was called Doggerland.


Gorgonzola is a town in the Metropolitan City of Milan. It is also the birthplace of the famous cheese. When did the Milanese first bestow this gift upon the world?

Gorgonzola is some of the world's oldest blue-veined cheese and although it's almost 1,000 years old, that's nothing in cheese years. Cheese itself seems to have existed for as long as Europeans have domesticated animals, and historical records describe cheese as a sophisticated enterprise by the start of the Roman Empire. Like most of European culture, we can trace the pre-European roots of cheese to Egypt, where archeologists recently uncovered a 3,200-year-old cheese in a tomb.


Do you know the name of the person who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg?

Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip sought an end to Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At 19, he took matters into his own hands and murdered Ferdinand and Sophie on June 28, 1914. Many consider this event as the catalyst for the outbreak of World War I.


Boats and shipbuilding were integral to European culture since antiquity. Which European civilization became the first to develop seafaring to a high degree?

The Minoans, a civilization on the Island of Crete, probably acquired their shipbuilding knowledge from the Egyptians. Their king, Minos, conquered the islands of the Aegean, at least according to Athenian historian Thucydides. Other accounts, though, state that Minos sacrificed children to the minotaur. Like with many ancient historical accounts, we'll never really know the truth.


The Romani people, colloquially called Gypsies or Roma, have lived in Europe for around 1,500 years. Do you know where their ancestors hailed from?

Genetic studies reveal that the Roma share common ancestors with people from the Punjab and Haryana areas of Northern India. Today, Romani is spoken by groups in 42 European countries, some of which are on the verge of extinction for the first time.


If someone offered you a bottle of "Devil's wine" you might be an early adopter of which popular drink?

In France, people originally viewed bubbles in wine as a faux-pas, as many of them would cause bottles to explode and corks to pop, hence the name, "Devil's wine." In the 16th century, some French monks created this "Devil's wine" by bottling the wine early, prior to the end of fermentation. Later, the addition of sugar produced a second fermentation. This became known as the "méthode champenoise."


Which of these famous merchants was thrown overboard by his crew and married the mermaid daughter of the Sea Tzar?

Russian folk epics are called "bylina." Sadko was a poor musician who played the gusli on the shores of a lake. The Sea Tzar heard him, liked the tune and told Sadko to bet the merchants of Novgorod that he could catch a golden fish. With the help of the Sea Tzar, Sadko won the wager and set out as a merchant to trade on the sea.


Let's pretend we're in ancient times. What is the most likely purpose of your neighbor's visit to Mount Parnassus?

Mount Parnassus sits above the Gulf of Corinth and the seat of Delphi in Greece. In Ancient Greece, people believed that Delphi housed the most famous oracle of the ancient world. Thus, people from across the ancient world traveled to Delphi to consult the God Apollo, who would speak through the high priestess Pythia. Supposedly, the Oracle spoke in highly enigmatic riddles.


"Non plus ultra" or "nothing further beyond" served as a warning for travelers at which European landmark?

The Pillars of Hercules constitute the rock formations that flank the Strait of Gibraltar (the Rock of Gibraltar and Jebel Musa). According to Renaissance tradition, the pillars bore a warning to dissuade sailors to pass that read "Nothing further beyond." One story describes how Hercules pulled the two sides together into a narrow passage so that sea monsters from the Atlantic couldn't get into the Mediterranean.


The Black Plague or Black Death was a pandemic that devastated Europe in the 14th Century. How many people died of plague?

Historians estimate that the Black Plague killed 30 to 60 percent of Europe's population. The bacteria Yersinia pestis caused the plague, which is a microbe found on found on fleas. The bacteria moved from Central Asia into Europe on the backs of rats, most likely in the hulls of merchant trading vessels. The plague recurred in Europe until the 19th Century, although on a much smaller scale.


If you suddenly found yourself in the hall of "Dovregubbens," which country would you be in?

Dovregubbens is a troll king from Henrik Ibsen's play, "Peer Gynt," for which Edvard Grieg composed, "In The Hall of the Mountain King" in 1875. "Dovre" is a mountainous region in Norway and "gubbe" means "man." Trolls feature in Norse and Scandinavian folklore frequently. They live in caves and crannies and are generally unfriendly to humans.


When we think of big, dangerous animals, Europe isn't exactly what comes to mind. Can you guess the last time a bear was seen in Germany?

In 2006, Bear 1 or Bruno became the first bear spotted in Germany since 1838, when hunters shot a bear in Bavaria. Authorities wanted to allow Bruno to live, but he developed a reputation for trouble. His recorded kills included 33 sheep, four rabbits, one guinea pig and several hens and goats. Attempts to subdue him failed, and he's currently on display in the Museum of Man and Nature in Munich.


Originally known as Amantine Lucile Aurore, can you identify the famous European novelist and socialist from this list?

Formerly Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, the famous novelist and socialist who changed her name to George Sand enjoyed more popularity in England than Victor Hugo. During her career, the French government required women to apply for a permit to wear men's clothing in public, and many in society believed that only men should smoke tobacco. Still, George Sand wore suits and smoked like a chimney.


Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano. When did he make his first piano?

Cristofori worked for Ferdinando de' Medici, grand prince of Tuscany, and possessed the official job title "Keeper of the Instruments." Organs existed for a long time before evolving into harpsichords, a specialty of Cristofori's. He named the first piano, "a keyboard of cypress with soft and loud."


Italus holds a record in Europe. It came into existence around the year 789. Do you know what it is?

Italus is a pine tree in Italy which holds the record for oldest confirmed living European thing. At 1,230 years old, it remains the oldest dated tree in Europe. Some scientists claim a root system in Norway is about around 9,500 years old, but it lacks an official identification system.


During WWII, the allies in England communicated secretly with their counterparts in France to plan the D-Day landing. Which song was played on the radio to signal that the operation was underway?

The Allies used the song "Chanson D'Automne," written by Paul Verlaine, to signal to the French resistance. When the first lines broadcast, the French knew the attack would occur within weeks. When the following lines broadcast, they knew the invasion would happen within 48 hours. Afterward, they knew to commence the mayhem.


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