When did the modern concept of borders first come about?

Obviously, the concept of political boundaries between different regions and states has probably existed for thousands of years, but what I mean is when did the concept of a border as a guarded physical boundary first come into existence?

Many people think of the Schengen Zone of the EU as being an unprecedented form of free movement, but were borders clearly defined and enforced in 1800s Europe, for example, or even earlier than that?

Pro-EU supporters often claim that the idea that any EU citizen can freely go and live in another EU country as historically unprecedented and was for the most part simply not possible for the average person in the past, yet is that really the case?
Jun 2015
Roman Empire? Ottoman Empire? British Empire? I guess those don't count fully as they were one state.

Borders being defined have been around for millennia, and I guess have been more guarded with better technology. There is the Danelaw/King Alfred and Guthrum treaty, the Imperial Limes, Hadrian's and Antonine Walls, the banks in Schwleswig-Holstein, Great Wall of China. these are all examples of borders, but then they had no infra-red, long-distance communications, GPS, satellite tracking to monitor borders definitively.

As for the past, people moved around a lot in ancient/medieval times, and there were no passports back then or border controls. In pre-colonial Africa, people used to travel for goods, and in medieval Europe traders would move around also. The EU also isn't the only form of single market, NAFTA, the Caribbean are two other similar examples.
Oct 2015
Northwest Territories, USA
The Great Wall of China was built as a defense of their states' borders against invading forces, to keep people from entering their country and eventually to impose taxes on goods along the Silk Road. The first segments were constructed between the 8th and 5th centuries, BC. That would indicate that "borders" demarcating one state's possession of land from another state existed at least at that time and certainly before the walls were built. Before that there were geographical borders - rivers, mountain ranges, and seas - that separated nations. Another type of border was a neutral zone, frontier, or marchland between jurisdictions, which have been abandoned in favor of a declared and surveyed line.

I would guess that the Great Wall was the first time a nation declared that a particular line across the ground defined one "land" from another.
Oct 2011
the middle ground
Interesting question. My guess is the modern border came (gradually!) with the rest of the emerging concepts of sovereignty and 'international' law &c in the "Westphalian" system of states after the Thirty Years War.


Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
Border controls have existed in one form or another for thousands of years. Merchants paid taxes (customs duties) to local lords and certain official messengers were given documents (passports) to show they were on their lord/monarchs business.
In the modern sense border controls were implemented after WWI, when not only officials, but all people wishing to travel to another nation required documentation. It was at this time that the USA became the last major receiver of immigrants to cut off the 'open borders' policy of accepting almost any immigrant who could afford the fare and began to restrict the numbers entering the country, finally ending the era of undocumented travel.


Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
Exactly, before 1914 no passport needed save in Ottoman an Russian Empires...but after 1918, the totalitarism came to Europe (and north America)... the "obsession" by security as excuse to stablish totalitarian laws

Black Dog

Ad Honorem
Mar 2008
Damned England
Evidence of borders (without passport offices etc) are at least Neolithic. Since a certain sized population needs so much land to survive, it makes sense to chase off those who would try to use the land your tribe needs.

In the pre farming Megalithic or Mesolithic days, hunter gathering usually meant nomads, and hence borders probably never existed.