The World’s Oldest International Borders

The World’s Oldest International Borders


When we look at a map of the world today,
we often take for granted that that’s just the way it is. A stable set of lines dividing
the nations of the world. And while that is somewhat true now, this was far from the case
in the pre-modern world. In fact, the further back in time you go, the more drastically
the political map changed on a year to year basis. But while many borders changed drastically,
and frequently… some didn’t. Some borders have been around for a very, very long time.
So what are some of the world’s oldest international borders? This question is difficult to answer though,
because things get complicated when you try to apply a modern concept to a time when such
a concept had yet to emerge. For example, in medieval times, clearly defined lines on
a map agreed upon by two countries… wasn’t really a thing. More commonly, things were
arranged in a system known as feudalism, with hundreds of different rulers arranged in diverse
and complex hierarchies. The first border I’m going to look at, and
is almost certainly the oldest border in the world, is the microstate between France and
Spain — Andorra. Nestled in the Pyrenees mountain range, Andorra
is one of the smallest countries in Europe at less than 500km2 in size. Andorra is believed
to have been created as far back as the early 9th century, by the first Holy Roman Emperor,
Charlemagne. Andorra was originally part of the ‘Marca Hispanica’, the Frankish creation
used as a buffer zone between the Franks and the Moors, who controlled most of the Iberian
peninsula at the time. Andorra was ruled by the Count of Urgell until
988, when it was given to the Bishop of Urgell in exchange for land elsewhere. Thinking that
the Count might later try to reclaim the Andorran Valleys, however, the Bishop sought protection.
A co-sovereignty agreement was declared between the Bishop and the Lord of Caboet. Over the years, the latter title was passed
through various political marriages, and was eventually held by the Count of Foix. A military
dispute between the co-sovereigns in the 13th century led to the conflict being resolved
in 1278, with mediation from the King of Aragon, in what was known as the Paréage of Andorra.
This established Andorra as a condominium between the two lords, both having equal,
joint sovereignty. The country still exists with the same agreement in force, ruled by
two princes. The Bishop of Urgell still being one of them, but the Count of Foix title would
be inherited by Henry IV, King of France. This position has been held by the head of
state of France ever since, meaning that today one of the princes of Andorra is… the President
of France. Who of course is democratically elected, just not by the population of Andorra. Now, who Andorra shared its border with has
changed over the centuries – its southern border used to be with the Kingdom of Aragón,
but is now shared with Spain. Still, Andorra is pretty unambiguously the oldest unchanged
and complete border in the world… but what if instead of looking at entire borders, we
focus on sections of borders. The Spanish-Portuguese border in its entirety
is actually still one of the oldest borders in the world, dating all the way back to 1297.
So only slightly newer than that of Andorra. That being said, Portugal’s northern border
with Spain goes back a bit further. The Spanish-Portuguese border in its entirety
is one of the oldest borders in the world, only slightly newer than that of Andorra,
dating all the way back to 1297. That being said, Portugal’s northern border with Spain
goes back a bit further. The County of Portugal gained its independence
from the Kingdom of León back in 1139, after a decisive battle against the Moors, when
the Count of Portugal, Alfonso, was declared a king. The resulting border between the Kingdoms
of Portugal and León, today Spain, remains unchanged to this day. Over the next few decades Portugal began to
take its modern shape as they continued the Reconquista, removing the Moors from Iberia
and re-establishing Christain rule. After reaching the southern coast, taking control
of the Algarve in 1249, the Portuguese part of the Reconquista was completed, and Portugal’s
shape started to look a lot like the modern-day country. In 1295 however, Portugal had a brief war
with Castile, the now-dominant power on the peninsula. The Treaty of Alcañices in 1297
established the border that still exists today, as Castile ceded land to Portugal, though
a minor dispute over the bordertown of Olivenza has persisted ever since, but has never created
much tension between the two countries. Of course, there are countries whose history
goes back much further, even if its borders aren’t quite as old. San Marino, yet another
microstate, is often considered the world’s oldest republic, having been founded in AD
301. After more than a millennium, San Marino’s borders extended beyond just the City of San
Marino, reaching its peak borders in 1463; these borders have been retained until today,
with San Marino currently being an enclave within Italy. So while its borders are nowhere
near as old as the country itself, San Marino definitely has one of the oldest borders in
the world. Now, moving on, to a country that, in its
current form, is actually fairly new. The Czech Republic has some of the oldest borders
in the world, inherited from its predecessor, Bohemia, and its neighbours. The German-Czech
border, roughly speaking, goes as far back as perhaps a thousand years, or maybe more.
In fact, this border is so old… it’s arguably older than borders themselves. What I mean
by that, is that once we’ve gone this far back in history, the very notion of international
borders doesn’t really exist. At least, not as we know them today. Of course, that
doesn’t mean we can’t give it a go… Before Bohemia became part of the Holy Roman
Empire, and even before it became a Kingdom… the Duchy of Bohemia’s western border looked
more-or-less the same as the modern-day country’s border with Germany. Of course at the time
it was bordering various other imperial German states. The German-Czech divide may go back even further,
though, arguably going back to the migration period following the decline of the Roman
Empire, dividing western Slavs from the various Germanic tribes. This may be due to the dense
forests of the region, today called the Bohemian and Bavarian forests on the Czech and German
sides, respectively. This divide can actually be seen from satellite photos of Earth, which
the modern border follows very closely. In this sense, the Czech-German border has
been indirectly yet continuously shaped by the geographical realities of the region.
And this isn’t an isolated case – nature itself has had a profound impact on the countries
that formed around it. These natural borders are quite common, especially in Europe and
Asia, where all the oldest borders are. Of course, forests aren’t the only natural
borders out there – there’s also rivers. One of the most important rivers in Europe,
the Danube, flows through 10 different countries, and makes up one of the oldest borders in
the world (albeit between different political entities and not continuously). The vast majority of the modern-day border
between Romania and Bulgaria follows the Danube. Only on their east coast does it deviate from
the river’s path. This section of the river was historically the north-eastern frontier
of the Roman Empire some 2000 years ago. This persisted even after the fall of the Western
Roman Empire. The river would be the northern border of
Bulgaria, Byzantium, Bulgaria again, the Ottomans, briefly… and after a few hundred years of
Ottoman rule, Bulgaria again, as the Balkan states gained their independence in 1878.
The border is the same today as it was then, even though it was changed after the Second
Balkan War, when Bulgaria ceded land to Romania. This change was reversed during World War
II, under pressure from Nazi Germany. Other common natural borders that have endured
even to the modern era are mountain ranges. Historically, the difficulty of moving across
mountainous terrain resulted in barriers between civilizations. One example of this would be the border between
France and Spain, whose border is set at the Pyrenees mountain range, which divides the
Iberian peninsula from the rest of Europe. For the last 1,500 years, the Pyrenees have
been a partition between tribes, kingdoms, and countries. Whether it be the Visigoths
from the Franks, the Moors from the Franks, Aragon from France, or finally, Spain from
France, the Pyrenees were always there. The treaty that created the modern-day border
was agreed upon in 1689 in the appropriately named Treaty of the Pyrenees. This was the
result of a conflict that arose during the Thirty Years’ War. The Spanish Kingdom ceded
to France all villages north of the Pyrenees. Due to a technicality there does remain one
Spanish town, called Llívia, north of the mountain range. Natural borders are a good way of understanding
how geography has influenced human politics throughout history, and even to this day.
For example, getting out of Europe, China and India are the two most populous countries
in the world. They share a 4,000km border, with many, many disputed regions. The two
countries are not culturally, nor politically, aligned, and are two of the most ancient civilizations
in history. Yet despite this, they have basically never been at war… well, expect for a one-month
conflict in 1962, but that’s it. The reason why is actually fairly straightforward
— the Himalayas. This extremely tall and extensive mountain range separates China and
India. Of course, China hasn’t always extended as far west as the Himalayas. The People’s
Republic of China annexed Tibet in 1950 after they had been de facto independent following
the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. Ever since, Tibet has been of great strategic importance
to China. As things stand, China has a massive natural boundary with India, which acts as
protection from a potentially hostile neighbour. If China didn’t control Tibet, then India
might… and an Indian controlled Tibet could expose the Chinese heartland in the event
of military conflict. When we talk about geopolitics, we often focus
too much on the ‘politics’ without giving as much thought to the ‘geography’. A
mountain range doesn’t care about politics, culture, or religion, it will split peoples
without discrimination. Arguably, the oldest borders in the world are the ones that were
shaped by nature. Every country in the world is confined by the geography of its location. The importance of geography and how it shaped
the world we live in is something I learned about from a fascinating audiobook I listened
to called Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, a New York Times best-seller – in fact, I
got the idea to talk about the Chinese-Indian border from there. I was able to listen to
this audiobook using Audible, the sponsor for this video and the world’s largest selection
of audiobooks and audio entertainment. If you’re as interested in geopolitics as
I am, then I’m confident you’ll love Prisoners of Geography. The audiobook is split up into
10 chapters, exploring different regions of the world. The author looks at topics such
as why Russia is so massive, and how geography facilitated the United States’ path to becoming
a global superpower. You can start listening now with a 30-day
Audible trial. Choose 1 audiobook and 2 Audible Originals absolutely free. Visit audible.com/wonderwhy
or text wonderwhy to 500-500. Audiobooks are yours to keep even if you cancel, and can
be exchanged if you don’t like what listening to. Unused credits roll over month to month. Again, that’s audible.com/wonderwhy or text
wonderwhy to 500-500. And as always, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you
next time.

You May Also Like

About the Author: Sam Caldwell

100 Comments

  1. In this video I look at some of the world's oldest international borders. The oldest border is actually quite straightforward (spoiler alert: it's Andorra). However, there is so much more to this question than I had originally thought when you look at in it different ways.

    I looked at sections of borders, as well as significantly loosening the definition of a "border" as I went even further back in time. Back to before border were even really a thing (at least as we know them today).

    This topic was inspired by a Reddit post (link in description) by /u/PisseGuri82 in which he took on the daunting task of trying to put a date on every single border in the world! I didn't think there was enough to talk about for a video about 'The Oldest Border' (since the answer seemed farily unambiguous). It was only after listening to the audiobook that I recommend at the end of the video, Prisoners of Geography, and learning all about nature borders, that realised this could be a great video.

    If you are interested in having a listen, head to http://audible.com/wonderwhy to get a copy completely free now. I promise you'll enjoy it and learn a lot of interesting stuff, and you'd be helping out this channel in the process! Thanks to everyone for watching and subscribing. Until next time!

  2. wouldn't the world's oldest borders be whatever the first island to be colonized and considered an independent country? with the coast being the borders

  3. Sweden is a prime example, finnish border: Torneälven, norwegian border: Skanderna (mountain range), Danish border: Öresund

  4. I'm not so sure about your claim that India might control Tibet if China hadn't.
    The truth is, India has never in its history ever had much of a political influence in the regions above the Himalayas.
    Tibetans and Chinese on the other hand have had numerous conflicts with each other and the current rule by the Chinese is merely the most recent of these conflicts.
    It's easier to walk armies across deserts, be they hot or cold rather than have them walk across mountains tbh

  5. What about hadrian's wall… that separated scotland from england…. its from Roman times…. technically it was a border

  6. Damn, didnt expect Bohemia to make it into the vid, since were usually forgotten by most, so that was a nice suprise. Cool video eh 😀

  7. Prisoners of geography is one of the most anti-scientific, misinforming ,deceptive, narrative-driven, fact-less idiotic books that anybody can ever read in their entire life time. The book is written by a tabloid author who merges cold war geopolitics and terminology with thousands of years of history. The author completely re-write history, cherry picks half-truths and attempts to explain his fact-less contradictory theories with even more fact-less and contradictory theories. I truly feel sorry for anybody reading that book and believing it. For a started, his definition of Western Europe is the Western bloc from the Cold War minus Turkey and Japan. He mixes that with cherry picked historical events from Europe, many of which not even in what he defines as 'western Europe'. I could write an essay of his utterly ridiculously idiotic and misinforming his book is. For anyone interested in geopolitics, PLEASE, make the slightest effort of learning about the Cold War, pre-cold war and post-cold war politics. Learn about the very basic of economics, the economic history of the US and other countries. Learn the difference between culture and politics. And at least the basic history of Europe. If you can't do even that much, PLEASE do not write books or make videos.

  8. It's nice that you didn't forget Olivenza during the explanation of the Spanish-Portuguese border. I had seen some videos discussing old borders but always forgiving about Olivença💚💛

  9. Why would a Scottish presenter mis the fact that the Scotland – England border is older than any mentioned in this video? Scotland is the oldest country in Europe by far.

  10. No, the oldest border is the border of San marino, its stayed the same since the founding of the nation, 3 september 301.
    although the nations have changed, it has always stayed the same.

  11. I'm surprised when you talked about mountain range borders you didn't talk about the England-Scotland border, which though not now the defiance of their border but it was the main divide that kept the Celtic peoples in and the Romans out

  12. Very happy to see my country finally appearing in one of your videos! 🇵🇹🇵🇹

    PS: Olivença is portuguese!

  13. The north border between Spain and Portugal has always been the same… kinda. For more than 8 centuries there was a microstate called Couto Mixto, that was finally partitioned on 1864

  14. I wonder, what english do you use ? I heard some unique pronounciation of certain words. Like the words exist, eversince, divide…

  15. Hadrian's Wall, which was built by the Romans, in what is now Northern England, in 122 AD, was built to divide the Romano-British Southerners and the Brittonic Northerners.
    The Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD, a time in which the native Britons lived right across the island.
    However, when the Romans invaded and took hold of Britain, they built Hadrian's Wall in the North of modern day England, to kepe out the Northern Britons, notably the Picts.
    Whislt, the Southern Britons, notably the Cymry (Welsh), lived on the Southern, Roman side.
    Eventually, in around about 400 AD, the Romans withdrew from Britain and the Irish invaded the North of Hadrian's Wall, forming what is now Scotland, with the Anglo-Saxons (English) invading what is now the South of Hadrian's Wall, forming England.
    The Southern Britons were subsequently pushed into what is now Cymru (Wales), with smaller groups of Britons fleeing to Cornwall and Brittany, creating the modern Celtic Brittonic groups of Bretons and the Cornish.
    Also, the lesser known Antonine Wall was built in 142 AD by the Romans, across the middle of modern day Scotland, in order to further push back the Northern Britons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *