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Strange Maps

The Map of 20th-century Europe, as Predicted in 1863

The continent would be ruled by ten neat little empires. 

In a slim volume entitled L’Europe au XXe siècle, published in Paris in 1863, French author Henri Dron predicted the political future for the Old Continent in the coming century. Dron showed himself to be an amateur rather than a connaisseur of geopolitics, by committing the original sin of futurology: assuming that the future will be more sensible, less chaotic than the present.

Dron’s future is predictably idealistic. He foresees how the tangle of greater, smaller, older, newly formed and still forming European states of his day will coalesce into a neat collection of ten little empires, each about similar in size, all but one with their capital conveniently somewhere near the middle of the territory. The course of Dron’s intra-European borders is noticeably more smooth and regular than the real borders were at that time – or would be afterward.

  • In Dron’s futuristic Europe, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1) would be extended to include Iceland, reorienting the UK’s sea power towards the Northern Atlantic. 
  • Spain and Portugal are reunited to form an All-Iberian empire. In Dron’s time, Portugal was independent, but an Iberian Union between both countries did exist for a significant period, from 1580 to 1640.
  • Dron’s own France, which in 1863 had the same borders as today, would benefit greatly from his rearrangement. Basically, France would expand to regain the ancient borders of Gaul, as they were described by Julius Caesar. The northern and northeastern border would be the Rhine, which would include Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and parts of Germany and the Netherlands in this French empire.
  • Germany, which in 1863 was still taking shape as a unified nation under the auspices of Prussia, would retain the West Bank of the Rhine, much of Austria, all of Bohemia (2) and the western part of present-day Poland, then Prussian territory.
  • A Scandinavian Union would consist mainly of Usual Suspects for such a federation: Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland (only Iceland, now British would need to be included. And possibly Greenland, but let’s not drift off). Both Denmark and Finland are larger than at present, the Danes not yet having lost its southern territories in the Second Schleswig War of 1864, and the borders of Finland, at that time still a Russian grand-duchy, generously extended to include the Kola Peninsula and all of Karelia up to the White Sea.
  • This bites a considerable chunk out of the Russian empire, but not as much as the Circassian empire does. Russia is reduced to the northern half of its European bit, which at that time does also include the Baltic states.
  • The Circassian state is doubtlessly Dron’s greatest leap of the imagination. The Circassians were a people famed for the beauty of their women, and for the fierceness in battle of their men. The Russian push south towards the Caucasus caused an extended conflict that was raging at the time of Dron’s proposal, and would eventually be decided by the defeat, and decimation or diaspora of the Circassians. To Dron, a Circassian victory might still have seemed possible; or else he was moved to territorial generosity as only compassion for the victims of a distant defeat can engender.
  • The latter option seems to be confirmed by the size of the Polish empire. Poland is absent from the 1863 map, its territory divided between the Prussians, Russians and Austrians. But in Dron’s 20th century, Poland again stretches from sea to shining sea, as it did in its 17th-century heyday, from the Baltic all the way to the Crimea.
  • The Italian empire includes Corsica and what seems to be a bit more of the Riviera, the Savoy and the Adriatic than at present.
  • The real shocker – not least, one presumes, to Greeks themselves – is the extension of a Greek empire up the Balkan peninsula all the way to the gates of Vienna. Most of that area was still occupied by the Ottomans at Dron’s time, but to assume that the vacuum left by their withdrawal would be filled by the fledgling Hellenic state then clinging to the Pelopponnesos seems farfetched in the extreme.
  • Dron’s choice of capitals is interesting where it deviates from our expectations: Toledo for the Iberian empire, Dresden for the German one and Novgorod for the Russian one. The French futurist is centralist to the degree that he seems to prefer constructing the Polish and Circassian capitals from scratch, just for location’s sake. 

    Vienna, on the border between the German and Greek empires and rather central in Europe as a whole, is the Capital of Europe.

    Lisbon, in spite of its eccentric position on the edge of the continent, seems to lay claim to some other elevated status – perhaps capital of the world?

    I have very little information on this map, which apparently appeared in the August/September 2010 issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, under the title ‘Le temps des utopies’ (‘The Era of Utopias’). This map was found here on the French website Agora Vox, in an article which mentions that Dron’s map (or maybe his entire pamphlet) was refused for publication twice, but fails to explain why.

    Strange Maps #491

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    (1) The UK still included all of Ireland at the time of Dron’s prediction.

    (2) Not quite the same area as the present-day Czech Republic, but close.


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