History of Belgium before 1830: Wikis


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Flint knives discovered in Belgian caves

Circa 400,000 BCE, Neanderthals lived on the edge of the Meuse river, near the village of Spy. From 30,000 BCE onwards the inhabitants were Homo sapiens. Neolithic remains can be found today at Spiennes where there was a silex mine. The first signs of Bronze age activity in Belgium date from around 1750 BC. From 500 BC Celtic tribes settled in the region and traded with the Mediterranean world. From c. 150 BC, the first coins came into use.

The earliest named inhabitants of Belgium were the Belgae (after whom modern Belgium is named). The population covered a significant area of Gaulish or Celtic Europe, living in northern Gaul at the time of the Roman occupation. The distinction between the Belgae to the North and the Gauls to the south of them is disputed, but it seems clear that the Gauls were the dominant group in the area until the Roman and Germanic influence came to dominate. The arrival of Germanic tribes from the north and east, is cited by Julius Caesar in his De Bello Gallico. Linguists have proposed that there is evidence that the Belgae had previously spoken an Indo-European language intermediate between Celtic and Germanic. This language or group of languages is sometimes referred to as the Nordwestblock.


see main article Gallia Belgica

In 54 BC, the Belgae were over-run by the armies of Julius Caesar, as described in his chronicle De Bello Gallico.

the Roman province Gallia Belgica (around 120 CE. For a map in 58 BCE, see Gallic Wars)

In this same work Julius Caesar referred to the Belgae as "the bravest of all the Gauls" ("horum omnium fortissimi sunt belgae").

What is now Belgium flourished as a province of Rome. This province was much larger than the modern Belgium and included five cities: Nemetacum (Arras), Divodurum (Metz), Bagacum (Bavay), Aduatuca (Tongeren), Durocorturum (Reims).

At the northeast was the neighbouring province of Germania Inferior. Its cities were Traiectum ad Mosam (Maastricht), Ulpia Noviomagus (Nijmegen), Colonia Ulpia Trajana (Xanten) and Colonia Agrippina (Cologne). Both provinces include what are now known as the Low Countries [1].

Pre-Romanesque period

After the Roman Empire collapsed (5th century), Germanic tribes invaded the Roman province of Gallia. One of these peoples, the Franks, eventually managed to install a new kingdom under the rule of the Merovingian Dynasty. Clovis I was the most well known of the kings of this dynasty. He ruled from his base in northern France, but his empire included today's Belgium. He converted to Christianity. Christian scholars, mostly Irish monks, preached Christianity to the populace and started a wave of conversion (Saint Servatius, Saint Remacle, Saint Hadelin).

The Merovingians were a short-lived and were succeeded by the Carolingian Dynasty. After Charles Martel countered the Moorish invasion from Spain (732 - Poitiers), the King Charlemagne (born close to Liège in Herstal or Jupille) brought a huge part of Europe under his rule and was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by the Pope Leo III in 800 CE in Aachen.

The Vikings were defeated in 891 by Arnulf of Carinthia near Leuven. The Frankish lands were divided and reunified several times under the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties, but eventually were firmly divided into France and the Holy Roman Empire. The County of Flanders became part of France during the Middle Ages, but the remainders of the Low Countries were part of the Holy Roman Empire. Through the early Middle Ages, the northern part of present-day Belgium (now commonly referred to as Flanders) had become an overwhelmingly Germanized and Germanic language-speaking area, whereas in the southern part people had continued to be Roman and spoke derivatives of Vulgar Latin.

Romanesque period

As the Holy Roman Emperors lost effective control of their domains in the 11th and 12th centuries, the territory more or less corresponding to the present Belgium was divided into mostly independent feudal states:

During the 11th and 12th centuries, the Rheno-Mosan or Mosan art movement flourished in the region moving its centre from Cologne and Trier to Liège, Maastricht and Aachen. Some masterpieces of this Romanesque art are the shrine of the Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral, the Baptismal font at St Bartholomew's Church, Liège by Renier de Huy, the shrine of Saint Remacle in Stavelot, the shrine of Saint Servatius in Maastricht or, Notger's gospel in Liège.

Gothic period

13th and 14th centuries

  • Many cities gained their independence from their heirs.
  • Huge trade within the Hanseatic League.
  • Building of huge gothic cathedrals and city halls.

Burgundian Netherlands

see main article Burgundian Netherlands
Philip the Good, painted c. 1450 by Rogier van der Weyden

By 1433 most of the Belgian and Luxembourgian territory along with much of the rest of the Low Countries became part of Burgundy under Philip the Good. When Mary of Burgundy, granddaughter of Philip the Good married Maximilian I, the Low Countries became Habsburg territory. Their son, Philip I of Castile (Philip the Handsome) was the father of the later Charles V. The Holy Roman Empire was unified with Spain under the Habsburg Dynasty after Charles V inherited several domains.

Especially during the Burgundy period (the 15th and 16th centuries), Ypres, Ghent, Bruges, Brussels, and Antwerp took turns at being major European centers for commerce, industry (especially textiles) and art. The Flemish Primitives were a group of painters active primarily in the Southern Netherlands in the 15th and early 16th centuries (for example, Van Eyck and van der Weyden). Flemish tapestries hung on the walls of castles throughout Europe.

The Spanish Netherlands

The Pragmatic Sanction of 1549, issued by Charles V, established the Seventeen Provinces (or Spanish Netherlands in its broad sense) as an entity separate from the Empire and from France. This comprised all of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg except for the lands of the Bishopric of Liège.


Eighty Years' War

However, the northern region now known as the Netherlands became increasingly Protestant (i.c. Calvinistic), while the south remained primarily Catholic. The schism resulted in the Union of Atrecht and the Union of Utrecht. When Philip II, son of Charles ascended the Spanish throne, he tried to abolish all Protestantism. Portions of the Netherlands revolted, beginning the Eighty Years' War between the Netherlands and Spain. For the conquered Southern Netherlands the war ended in 1585 with the Fall of Antwerp. This can be seen as the start of Belgium as one region. That same year, the northern Low Countries (i.e. the Netherlands proper) seized independence in the Act of Abjuration (Plakkaat van Verlatinghe) and started the United Provinces and the Dutch Golden Age. For them, the war lasted until 1648 (the Peace of Westphalia), when Spain recognized the independence of the Netherlands, but held onto the loyal and Catholic region of modern-day Belgium which was all that remained of the Spanish Netherlands.

Southern Netherlands

Rubens' Adoration of the Magii

While the United Provinces gained independence, the Southern Netherlands remained under the rule of the Spanish Habsburgs (1519-1713).

Until 1581 the history of Belgium (except the Bishopric of Liège), the grand duchy of Luxembourg and the country the Netherlands is the same: they formed the country/region of the Netherlands or the Low Countries. In Dutch, a distinction still exists between on the one hand 'de Nederlanden' (plural, the Low Countries) and 'Nederland' (singular, the present-day state of the Netherlands) that is a consequence of this separation in the 17th century. Before 1581, the Netherlands refers to the Lowlands (De Nederlanden).

During the 17th century, Antwerp was still a major European center for commerce, industry and art. The Brueghels, Peter Paul Rubens and Van Dyck's baroque paintings were created during this period.

Austrian Netherlands

The Belgian and Luxemburgian territories except the Bishopric of Liège were transferred to the Austrian Habsburgs (1713-1794) after the War of the Spanish Succession when the French Bourbon Dynasty inherited Spain at the price of abandoning many Spanish possessions.

French period

Following the Campaigns of 1794 of the French Revolutionary Wars the Southern Netherlands were invaded and annexed by the First French Republic in 1795, they were divided into nine united départements and became an integral part of France. The Bishopric of Liège was dissolved. Its territory was divided over the départements Meuse-Inférieure and Ourte. Austria confirmed the loss of the Austrian Netherlands by the Treaty of Campo Formio, in 1797.

In 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte was forced to abdicate by the Allies and was exiled to Elba, ending the French period. However, Napoleon managed to escape from Elba and quickly returned to power during the Hundred Days. Napoleon knew that his only chance of remaining in power was to attack the existing Allied forces in Belgium before they were reinforced. He crossed the Belgian frontier with two armies and attacked the Prussians under the command of General Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher at the Battle of Ligny on June 16, 1815. Meanwhile, Ney engaged the forces of the Duke of Wellington and the Prince of Orange in the Battle of Quatre Bras on the same day.

The Butte du Lion

Napoleon was finally defeated by the Duke of Wellington and Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher at Waterloo in present-day Belgium on 18 June 1815. Napoleon's strategy failed and his army was driven from the field in confusion, by a combined Allied general advance. The next morning the Battle of Wavre ended in a hollow French victory. Napoleon was forced to surrender and was exiled to Saint Helena.

King William I of the Netherlands had the Butte du Lion erected on the battlefield of Waterloo to commemorate the location where his son, William II of the Netherlands (the Prince of Orange), was knocked from his horse by a musket ball to the shoulder and as a tribute to his courage. It was completed in 1826. The younger William had fought as commander of combined Dutch and Belgian forces at the Battle of Quatre Bras and the Battle of Waterloo.

United Kingdom of the Netherlands

After Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the major victorious powers (England, Austria, Prussia, Russia) agreed at Congress of Vienna on reuniting the former Austrian Netherlands and the former Dutch Republic, creating the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was to serve as a buffer state against any future French invasions. This was under the rule of a Protestant king, namely William I of Orange. Most of the small and ecclesiastical states in the Holy Roman Empire were given to larger states at this time, and this included the Prince-Bishopric of Liège which became now formally part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Episode of the Belgian Revolution of 1830, Egide Charles Gustave Wappers (1834), in the Musée d'Art Ancien, Brussels


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