Five Great European Powers

By 1750, five European powers had come to dominate European affairs. They were Austria, Prussia, France, Britain, and Russia. All five had strong centralized governments. Although Spain and the Ottoman Empire ruled parts of Europe, these once powerful empires were in decline.

Struggles for Power

As these five nation-states competed with one another, they formed various alliances to maintain the balance of power. Though nations sometimes switched partners, two basic rivalries persisted. Prussia battled Austria for control of the German-speaking states. At the same time, Britain and France competed for power and influence both in Europe and in their growing overseas empires.

On occasion, these rivalries resulted in worldwide conflict. The Seven Years' War, which lasted from 1756 until 1763, was fought on four continents.

In Europe, Prussia and Britain battled Austria, France, Russia, and Sweden. Britain and France also battled for power in India, Africa, and North America, where the conflict became known as the French and Indian War.

Absolutism at Its Peak

Absolutism reached its peak in the mid-1700s. Four of the five great European powers were ruled by absolute monarchs. Britain, with its strong Parliament, was the only exception.

At the same time, new ideas were circulating about natural rights and the role of government. In time, demands for change and reform would topple French absolutism, revolutionize European societies, and transform the balance of power in Europe.

Painting of a group of eighteenth century soldiers charging a wall in the snow, holding bayonets, some already injured.

The Seven Years' War in Europe pitted Europe, Prussia, and Britain against Austria, France, Russia, and Sweden. This painting shows a December 1757 battle in which the Prussians defeated the Austrians.


  1. Identify Cause and Effect What were the causes and results of the Thirty Years' War?
  2. Identify How were the goals of Austria and Prussia similar?
  3. Describe How did European nations try to maintain a balance of power?
  4. List What steps did Peter the Great take to modernize Russia?
  5. Describe How did Russia grow under Peter the Great and Catherine the Great?

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments