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‘The past is a foreign country’ has become a truism, yet we often forget that the past is different from the present in many unfamiliar ways, and historical memory is extraordinarily imperfect. We habitually think of the European past as the history of countries which exist today – France, Germany, Britain, Russia and so on – but often this actually obstructs our view of the past, and blunts our sensitivity to the ever-changing political landscape.

Europe’s history is littered with kingdoms, duchies, empires and republics which have now disappeared but which were once fixtures on the map of their age – ‘the Empire of Aragon’ which once dominated the western Mediterranean; the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, for a time the largest country in Europe; the successive kingdoms (and one duchy) of Prussia, much of whose history is now half-remembered at best. This book shows the reader how to peer through the cracks of mainstream history writing and listen to the echoes of lost realms across the centuries.