How Maps Of 12 Modern States Looked In The Middle Ages

Voting Rules
Vote up the most interesting territorial changes.

The borders of modern nations today tell the stories of the ever-changing fortunes of history. The medieval borders of some of the most prominent kingdoms differ greatly from their modern equivalents; for example, Russia's enormous contemporary borders were once confined to the lands of an obscure duchy, while the United Kingdom was a long way from united.

This collection looks at some of the most interesting territorial changes that occurred from medieval times to the world we know today.

  • Summary of changes: A German sense of identity stretches back to ancient times, but a single, unified German nation didn't form until 1871. For centuries the numerous German states were loosely bound together in the Holy Roman Empire. The extent of the emperor's authority over the many small German states was greatly limited. The Holy Roman Emperor was more of a powerful figurehead than a monarch in the traditional sense. 

    After Napoleon dissolved the Holy Roman Empire in the early 19th century, the long path to German unification began in the mid-1800s, ending with the formation of the German Empire in 1871. The tumult of the first half of the 20th century saw German territory expanded and sharply contracted with the fortunes of war. After splitting in the wake of the World War II, Germany united once more 1990. 

    67 votes
  • Summary of changes: In the 1300s, Russia was merely the Grand Duchy of Muscovy and a tributary of the Mongol Empire. The entity we know as Russia was formed in 1547 during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Eastward expansion began during Ivan's reign and continued into the 19th century. At one point there were even Russian settlements in California.

    Significant territorial changes took place in the 19th & 20th centuries. Alaska was sold in 1867; the island of Sakhalin was lost and regained from Japan; and the Baltic nations were annexed by and later broke off from the Soviet Union. The curious exclave of Kaliningrad was gained after World War II and still remains part of Russia today. Fifteen new nations formed in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, including Russia. 

    61 votes
  • Summary of changes: In the Middle Ages, the Iberian peninsula was divided between northern Christian kingdoms and Muslim emirates to the south. The Balearic Islands were conquered by the Christian kingdom of Aragon in the 13th century. Spain formed from the union of Castille and Aragon by the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand; this paved the way for the completion of the Reconquista in 1492 by conquering the last Iberian emirate of Granada. Later that same year, Christopher Columbus made his famous voyage with the financial backing of the Spanish crown, ushering in a period of colonization. 

    Spain lost the key port of Gibraltar to the British in 1704, and the issue remains a bone of contention between the two nations to this day. Spain's expansive colonial empire dissolved after a series of independence wars broke out in the early 1800s. The last of the empire was swallowed up by the US at the turn of the 20th century. Today, the northeastern region of Catalonia is the subject of a major independence movement. 

    44 votes
  • Summary of changes: Anatolia was subject to a vast number of territorial changes in its storied history. In the 13th century, parts of the area were still just about in the hands of the ailing Byzantine Empire (shown in purple) but would soon give way to the rising power in the region: the Ottomans. The Ottoman Empire would reach its greatest extent toward the end of the 17th century, where it would control Southern Europe and much of the Arabian peninsula. The empire entered a long period of decline in the 18th century and lost most of its European territory by 1914. 

    After the World War I, the empire fell and modern-day Turkey formed in the aftermath in 1923. Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) has the unusual distinction of being a city that sits on two continents. Cyprus is the subject of a territorial dispute between Turkey and Greece; Turkey's claim on the northern part of the island is unrecognized internationally. 

    54 votes
  • Summary of changes - What was often referred to as the Aztec Empire was the Triple Alliance of three great city-states: Tenochtitlan, Tetzcoco, and Tlacopan. Tenochtitlan became the dominant power and was centered where Mexico City stands today. Before the arrival of the Spanish and deadly European diseases, the Aztecs ruled directly over central Mexico, but exerted influence as far away as the Yucatan peninsula.

    After centuries of Spanish rule, Mexico won independence in 1821 after more than a decade of conflict. It lost more than half of its territory in 1848 after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded more than half a million square miles of territory, including California and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah. More territory was sold to the US in 1854 with the Gadsden Purchase, which brought the southern portions of modern-day Arizona and New Mexico into the US.

    45 votes
  • Summary of changes: Egypt was ruled by the Mamluks in the Middle Ages, whose territory spanned from modern-day Libya to Syria. The Ottomans conquered the empire in the 16th century, but it managed to briefly regain a certain degree of autonomy in the 19th century before falling under British influence in 1882.

    Although technically still a vassal of the Ottomans, Egypt was essentially ruled by the British until the 1950s. The Republic of Egypt formed in 1953, but it wasn't until 1956 that British troops finally departed for good. 

    45 votes