The age of borders: when were the world’s current borders first defined

Borders are geographic boundaries of political entities established through arrangements. Some political borders open and utterly unguarded (European Union). Most borders are partly or wholly controlled and may be passed lawfully only at assigned border checkpoints.

The map below shows the age of the world’s borders.

Astonishing map showing the age of the world’s borders
Reddit user: PisseGui82

Most of the world’s borders were formed after World War I.

The world’s borders by the time period when they were formed:
1200-1499: 2,405km (0.9%)
1500-1699: 5,463km (2.1%)
1700-1724: 4,264km (1.6%)
1725-1749: 0km (0%)
1750-1774: 8,491km (3.3%)
1775-1799: 4,350km (1.7%)
1800-1824: 9,025km (3.5%)
1825-1849: 9,309km (3.6%)
1850-1874: 16,416km (6.4%)
1875-1899: 60,046km (23.6%)
1900-1924: 83,897km (32.9%)
1925-1949: 34,752km (13.6%)
1950-1974: 13,130km (5.1%)
1975-1999: 1,674km (0.6%)
2000-today: 1,189km (0.4%)
Undefined: 2,202km (0.8%)

52.2 percent of the world’s borders were set during the 20th century.

1000 years of state borders in Europe overlaid on one map

On the map below are presented all the borders of sovereign states in Europe in 100-year increments from 1000 to 2000.

One thousand years of national borders in Europe overlaid on one map
Anders Sundell. Data

Quick facts

Andorra’s mountainous 120km (74.6 mi) border with France and Spain was fixed in a feudal charter signed on 8 September 1278, making it the oldest remaining border in the world.

The 1783 Treaty of Paris defined the borders of the fledgling United States. In part, it coincided with the New York – Quebec (Later New York / Vermont – Quebec) border which was set 20 years prior and is today the oldest border in North America.

The 1815 Congress of Vienna, concluding the Napoleonic Wars, ‘reset’ many European borders to before the conflict and thus formalized many of them for the first time.

A stretch of roughly 200 kilometers (124 mi), first established as a border by the 1422 Treaty of Melno between the Teutonic Knights and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, became an international border again in 1990, now between Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave and the Republic of Lithuania.

Internal borders of the French colonies were set at the discretion of the various governors and changed frequently along with fluctuating administrative needs. Many were vaguely defined, and remain so after independence.

The Ottoman-Safavid War was ended by the Treaty of Zugab, signed on 17 May 1639, which defined what remains Asia’s oldest border. It currently divides Iran from Turkey and Iraq.

Originally conceived in 1916, the so-called Sykes-Picot Agreement divided the Ottoman lands between the UK and France. The plan was implemented after WWI, and its designs survive in many Middle Easter borders today.

During Britain’s 1947 partition of India, chairman of the Border Commissions Sir Cyril Radcliffe devised a line separating the Muslim from the Hindu areas, to become the borders between India, Pakistan and what is today Bangladesh. The ‘Radcliffe line’ displaced 14 million people and led to three wars and several currently ongoing disputes.

Established in the 15 Century, the Chinese Korean border was formalized after a joint 1712 surveying expedition by Qin and Choson officials. A sacred mountain top between the Yalu and Tumen rivers remains disputed.

At the 1884-85 Berlin Conference, the European colonial powers divided Africa among them. These loosely defined lines became more specific as the exploration of the ‘Dark Continent’ continued, and largely remain in place as international borders today.

During the South American Revolutionary Wars, the various new republics agreed to the ‘uti possidetis’ principle, respecting the Spanish colonial borders as they were in 1810. Through various conflicts, these borders gradually eroded and today only two small sections remain.

South Sudan’s borders are a patchwork of ill-defined colonial remnants. As preparations for the country’s independence, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Hague decided on the disputed, oil-rich area of Abeyi on 22 July 2009, making it the world’s youngest border segment. The area remains disputed, but both claims adhere to the 2009 border.

Related post:
Ten of the world’s shortest borders

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