Caesar described the Belgae as "the bravest of all the Gauls" ("horum omnium fortissimi sunt belgae"). His Legions conquered them (54 BC).
The Roman province of flourished. The two provinces include what would be come known as the Low Lands or Low Countries. The medieval history of the Low Lands in genral was complicated, but led to the development of an independent spirit which caused the Dutch to resist first Spanish and then French rule. Here they were assisted by both geography and the interests of the English in preventing a continental power from dominating the area. The Lowlands were inherited by the Hapsburghs which after the Protestanr Reformation set up a struggle between the indepent-minded Low Landers and the Hapsburgs leading the Counter Reformation. The Dutch (United Provinces) in the north managed to maintain their independence in the North, but the Spanish prevailed in the south which is why the Flemish are predominately Catholic. French Revolutionary armies conquered the province (1794). Austria formally ceded it to France (1797). After the Napoleonic Wars the Congress of Vienna combined it with the United Provinces to form the Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815). The province revolted from Dutch rule and formed modern Belgium with a German monarchy (1830). The Kingdom combined Dutch speaking Flanders with French speaking Walonia. The independence and neutrality of the Kingdom was guaranteed by Britain. The Belgians were responsible for one of the most reprehensible activities during the "Scramble for Africa". Belgium was a bi-lingual country and during the 19th century the Flemish struggle for language rights. After the unifcation of Germany, Begium found itself between two hostile countries--France and Germany. The German war plan entiled attacking France through Germany. King ??? complained, "Belgium is a country not a road". The German invasion brought Britain into World War I and ultimately was a major cause in Germany's defeat. The heroic Belgian resistance and suffering under German occupation helped turn American public opinion against Germany. Germany invaded Belgium again in World war II. Belgium after D-Day was liberated by the Allies, but was the scene of the Horific Battle of the Bulge. Belgium participated in the movement toward European unification. Conflict between the Waloons and Flemish continue.
Archeologists have found evidence of human habitation in Belgium (800,000 BC). Neanderthals are believed to have lived along the Meuse River (400,000 BC). There are several Neolithic sites. Bronze age activity began ( 1750 BC). Celtic tribes settled in the region (about 500 BC). There were contacts with the Mediterranean.
The Belgans claim descent from the Celtic Belgica tribe living in the Lowlands north of modern France.
They were the earliest known named inhabitants were the Belgae which give the country its name. Both the Belgae and Gauls to the south were Celts and the relation between the two are not fully understood, but the Celts are believed to have been the larger dominant group. The Belgae may have been related to some degree to the Germanic tribes pushing east. Some linguists suggest have proposed that there is evidence that the Belgae had previously spoken an Indo European language intermediate between Celtic and Germanic. Julius Caesar notes the arrival of the Germanic tribes. [De Bello Gallico]
Julius Caesar moved into the region of modern Belgium (57 BC). Caesar described the eltish tribe he encounteted there, the Belgae, as "the bravest of all the Gauls" ("horum omnium fortissimi sunt belgae"). His Legions conquered them (54 BC).
The Romans named their new province Gallia Belgica. The Roman province of flourished. It consisted of five cities: Nemetacum (Arras), Divodurum (Metz), Bagacum (Bavay), Aduatuca (Tongeren), Durocorturum (Reims)--much larger than modern Belgium. To the northeast was another Roman province--Germania Inferior. The cities were Traiectum ad Mosam (Maastricht), Ulpia Noviomagus (Nijmegen), Colonia Ulpia Trajana (Xanten) and Colonia Agrippina (Cologne). The two provinces include what would be come known as the Low Lands or Low Countries.
As the Roman Empire decline, the Franks--German-speaking tribes who shared similar laws and customs began settling northern and western Belgium.
The Franks spanned the ancient and early medieval era. Roman power began to decline (4th century AD).
One of the Germanic tribes, the Franks, crossed the Rhine and established an important presence in modern Belgium and northern France. At first they were used by the Romans as mercenries, but with Romen declining gradually established their independence. They set up an independent state and dynasty--the Merovingian centered at at Tournai (431 AD). Clovis I (466?-511) defeated the Roman remanant and gained control of Gaul. The Merovingians empire eventually included modern France and Belgium and areas of southwestern Germany. Clovis converted to Christianity brining the Ftanks into developing Christian Europe.
The Franks after Clovis began to splinte. They were again unified under Pepin III (the Short) (751). Pepin deposed the last Merovingian ruler and founded a new dynasty--the Carolingians. The dynasty is named after his son--Charlemagne. Charlemagne succeeded his father (768). He is one of the great figures in European history. Charlemagne ruled for nearly half a century. He expanded the Frankish empire to include almost all of continental Europe, except for Moorish Spain and Scandinavia in the north. Pope Leo III crowned him Emperor of the West (800). Charlemagne was primarily involved with the military campigns that carved out his far-flung empire. He was for a war leader, a remarable individual--interested in culture and learning. He promoted commerce, education, and the arts. Charlemagne saw his empire as the revival of the Roman Empire that ironically the Franks had played a role in destroying. He thus sought to revive clasical learning. It was Chaerlemage that fostered the beginnings of organized river trade that would play a major role in the development of the Low Countries.
The medieval history of the Low Lands in genral was complicated, but led to the development of an independent spirit which caused the Dutch to resist first Spanish and then French rule. Here they were assisted by both geography and the interests of the English in preventing a continental power from dominating the area. The Lowlands were part of Charlemagne's empire. Charlemagne had his son Louis the Pious made co-emperor during his life time. When Louis died, his sons quareled. Much of European history can be seen as a coninuation of these quarels. A series of battles eventually led to the Treaty of Verdun (843). Three of Charlemagne's grandsons agreed on how to divide his empire. Charles the Bold took West Francia which evolved into modern France. Lothair took the title of Emperor and the Middle Kingdom which would become the basis for the small sttes tht developed between France and Germany. Louis the German took West Francia which would evolve into modern Germany. Most of modern Belgium was in Lothairs Middle Kingdom or Lotharingia. This included modern Belgium, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, and parts of France and Germany. A narrow strip of land located north and west of the Scheldt river was part of Louis' German kingdom. Gradually most of modern Belgium came under the control of the German kings. As with other areas of Lothair's Middle Kingdom, it would be contested by France and Germany not only in the medieval era, but into the 20th century. Here England would play a major role beginning in the late medieval era to ensure that the Low Countries would remain independent. Geography also played an important role. Rivers from Germany flowing north emptied into the North Sea through the Low Countries. As rivers were he principal arteries of garments, this would help to make the Low countries important commercial centers. Belgium gradually split into self-ruling feudal principalities. Belgium's Godfrey of Bouillon, duke of Lower Lorraine, was a leader of the First Crusade. In 1099 he became the ruler of Jerusalem, after his death, his brother became King Baldwin I. Descendents of this royal Belgian family
ruled Jerusalem for years. The Crusades although in many ways Quixotic, opened up European trade with the East. Belgian merchants became wealthy and the Lowlands incliding the Netherlands and Belgium became one of the most prosperous areas of Europe. The wealth created enabled many of the Low Lands towns to purchase a degree of independence from their feudal overlords. Artisans and prosperous merchants orgabnized communes or free cities and gained important political rights. The citizens of Liege in 1066 were granted one of the world's first charters of civil liberties.
Burgandy in the late 1300s gained control of Belgium. Burgundy was titularly part of France, but the French monarchy at the time was weak and Burgandy acted as a powerful independent kingdom. Mary of Burgundy in 1477 married the Hapsburg Maximilian of Austria who became the Holy Roman Emperor. Their son Philip in 1477 inherited Burgandy and Belgium under Austrian Hapsburg rule. Philip the Handsome married Juana the Mad, daughter of Spain's Ferdinand and Isabella. Philip's son Charles (King Charles I of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) ruled vast domains, including Belgium, which was then considered a part of the Netherlands. The following two centuries were a time of great political and religious upheaval throughout Europe. There was great conflict between Protestants and Catholics in the Netherlands. Belgians had developed a taste for self-government and basic civil rights.
At the time of the Reformation, Belgium did not exit as a state. What is now Belgium was part of the Seventeen Provinces of the Low Countries, including Luxembourg, northrn France, and northwest Germany (16th century). Te area at the time was known as the 'Burgundy circle'. They had been assembled by the dukes of Burgundy, separated by the Episcopal Principality of Liège. Future emperor Charles V was born in Ghent (1500). He inherited the Low Countries as part of his Hasburg patrimony. Martin Luther launched th Reformation while Charles was still a teenager (1517). Luther's ideas rapidly spread, especually in northern Europe, including the Low Countries. Imperial authorities attempted to supress the Reformation. They burned two monks, Henri Voes and Jean van Esschen, who moved by Luther were nurned at the stae Grand’Place in Brussels (1523). Charles V issued notices (placards) denouncing the ideas making them illegal, throwing the full power of the imperial structure behind the Catholic Church in an effort to suppress the Reformation. Thousands of people were imprisoned or put to death. The Reformation was spreading all over Europe. Jean Calvin beame another powerful voice for Protestantism. Calvin's wife, Idelette’ de Bure, came from Liège. Authorities steadily ecalated repressive action (especially after 1529). Charles V abdicated (1555-56). The hapsburg patrimony was divided between Austria and Spain. The Low countries, became the Spanish Low Countries or Netherlands. His son became King of Spain as Philip II. He was even more determined to stampout Protestantism thsn his father. Calvinist reformer Guy de Brès (1522-67) was a major Protestant figure in the Low Countries. He authored the Confession of Faith of the Spanish Low Countries. He was forced to sek refuge in London and Geneva. He was hung in Valenciennes, now in northern France. Philip II of Spain’s absolutist policies launched a reign of terror in the Spanish Netherlands. He dispatched an army commanded by the Duke of Alba. The Duke managed to restore Spanish control of the southern Low Countries/Netherlabds. The Dutch in the north mnaged to reel Spanish attacks--the Dutch War of Independence/Eighty Years War (1568-1648). The Duke oversaw the beheading of 19 noblemen in the Grand Sablon square in Brussels (1568). The count of Egmont and the count of Hornes were executed in the in the Grand’Place. Over 10,000 people were sentenced by the dreaded Rebellion Council. Even this not stop the spread of the Reformation. One estimate suggests that about 20 percent of the population had adhered to Protestantsm. More than 1,000 noblemen signed a petition asking for clemency (the “Compromis des Nobles”) to end the persecution> When presented to the Regent, Marguerite de Parme, her counselor assured her, “Do not fear, Madame, they are only villains”. This is the origin of the nickname of the Low Countries Protestants. "Long live the villains !” became rallying cry. The act known as the “Pacification of Ghent” gave the Protestants a few years of peace (1574). A rebellious group took over the Brussels Town Hall and proclaimed a Republic (1577). They would allow the Protestants to worship in public.
There were similar actions in other cities. This was, however, short lived. Philip's general Alexandre Farnese gradually reconquered the country. The Calvinist Republic surrendered (1585), although Ostend held out until 1604. The purpose of the Spanish Armada was to transport the Duke of Akba's army across the Channel to England to deposeQueen Ekizabeth and restore the Catholic Church (1588). As a result of the Dutch War of Independence, the Seventeen United Provinces were gradually dismembered. The seven United Provinces of the north remained calvinist (the Union of Utrecht) and became the Dutch Republic (1585). The southern provinces (Artois, Flanders, Hainaut and the Walloon province) remained Catholic and the Protesrants were repressed. They became known as the Spanish Low Countries/Nethrlands and were essentiall the area of modern Belgium. Protestants had to flee the country. A few Walloon (French-speaking) churches were established in the north of the Low Countries, Germany, and England. Some Protestants settled in Scandinavia, Prussia, or even crossed the Atlantic where the English had establihed colonies (early-17th century). As a result, the 17th century became known as the 'century of sorrow'. With the Spanish defeatingthe rebellion, the Archdukes Albert and Isabelle (1598-1633) supported the Jesuit effort of totaling s in their project of eliminating the protestants. There were scattered pockets of Protestant resistance. The embassies of England and the United Provinces in Brussels were allowed to have a protestant chaplain. In Antwerp a group formed around the respected artists Jordaens and 'Olivier from Brabant'. With these minor exceptions, Spanish authorities controlled the province (17th century). The Spanih Netherlands became a battleground for the maor Ruropean powers, especially Louis XIV's efforts to expand the borders of France. Louis took Artois, southern Flanders including Lille and the Cambresis from the Spanish. With Louis final war, the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14), the Engkish and Germans entered the struggle. Anglo-Batavian troops commnded by John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough became the protector of the protestants. Under the protection of Dutch troops, Protestant churches were opened in several towns (Namur, Tournai, and Ypres). Elsewhere the Spanish persecution of the Protestants continued. The War ended with the Treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Rastadt (1714). The Spanish Low Countries/Netherlands were returned to the Austrian Habsbourgs of Austria. This ended the European religious wars. The ideals of the Enlightenment gained increased acceptance. The Hapsburg Austrian Emperor of Austria, Joseph II extended Edict of Tolerance to the firmer Spanish Netherlands (1781). This granted relgious freedom to non-Catholics but they were only allowed private services. Protestants were able to register their own official documents, meaning births and mriages (1784). This religious policy and the associated legal reforms which went with it upset the traditional Catholic establishment. The Brabant Revolution drove out the austrians. The United Belgian States proclaimed their independence. The Reoublic was shirt-lived. With the French Revolution, the Austrians reoccupied the Provice (1790). to power in 1790.
The Lowlands were inherited by the Hapsburgs which after the Protestant Reformation set up a struggle between the indepent-minded Low Landers and the Hapsburgs leading the Counter Reformation. The Dutch (United Provinces) in the north managed to maintain their independence in the North, but the Spanish prevailed in the south which is why the Flemish are predominately Catholic.
France also acquired some territory during the Wars of Louis XIV. It is in large measure the approximate territory of modern Belgium. With the Peace of Utrecht (1714).
What remained of the Spanish Netherlands reverted to the Austrian branch of the Hapsburg family. Emperor Joseph II in the 1780s tried to centralize the government in Vienna. The Emperor's reforms which were resiste by conservative Catholic elements and the province declared independence (1790). The Belgans rejected the monarchy and declared a new United States of Belgium. The Hapsburgs managed to peacefully restore order by a show of force (1790), in part because of the outbreak of the French Revolution. The Belgians were forced to accept Joseph's great-nephew Charles as their grand duke.
Contrl of the Spanish Netherlands passed to the Austrian Netherlands in the years just before the French Rvolution. The Hapsburg Emperor Joseph I in the 1780s tried to centralize the government in Vienna. The Belgans rejected the monarchy and declared a new United States of Belgium, but the Austrian army suppressed the rebellion. The Belgians were forced to accept Joseph's great-nephew Charles as their grand duke. After only a few years, however, Revolution swept France and revolutionary forces fighting Austrian and royalist forces seized control of Belgium. French Revolutionary armies conquered the province (1794). Austria formally ceded it to France (1797). Belgium remained under French control until 1815, when Emperor
Napoleon Bonaparte returning from exile on Elba was finally defeated by British and Prussian forces at the Battle of Waterloo which was fought in Belgium.
The monarchies of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars redrew the map of the continent at the
Congress of Vienna (1815). The result were a series of decisions which with drew the map of Europe. The Great Powers decided to reunite the Northern and Southern Netherlands, regions which had been separated for over 200 years as a result of the Dutch War of Independence. The result was a new Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The two territories, however, had grown apart during their political division. The union of what had been the Spanish or Austrian Netherlands ruled by the Hapsburgs with Holland was an arbitrary, in many ways artificial act. The people in the northern and southern areas of the briefly united kingdom differed in religion, language, interests, and historical sentiments. Dutch King William I was unpopular. A nationalist movement grew in the south during the 1820s. Liberals and Catlolics alike (a rare combination) were ready to revolt against the Dutch supremacy. The outbreak of the 1830 French Revolution set the example, and on the king's birthday (August 24, 1830), several riots occurred in various Belgium towns. The ill-advised occupation of Brussels by an army of 14,000 men exasperated the Belgian nation beyond measure. In 7 days the people deposed the old authorities and appointed a provisional government. Prince Frederick, the son of the Dutch king, who commanded the troops, was compelled to retreat from Brussels to Antwerp.
A Provisional Government declared Belgium independent (October 4, 1830). At the national congress which followed, out of 200 votes only 13 were in favor of republican government (November 10). Only a few years after the French Revoution and Napoleonic Wars, republicanism was still seen as radical and dangerous. The American Republic was still seen as an experiment. The Great powers were all monarchies. Meanwhile the London Congress had assembled, and the representatives of Austria, Prussia, Russia, and England recognized the severance of the two kingdoms as a fait accompli (December 20). The Belgians decided on a monarchy and chose a Belgisan prince who became the first king--Leopold I. The Kingdom combined Dutch speaking Flanders with French speaking Walonia. The independence and neutrality of the Kingdom was guaranteed by Britain.
The colonial era was launched by one of Europe's smallest countries--Belgium. King Leopold II, who proved to be the most brutal colonizers launched the colonial race in Africa. Belgium was a new country and had not participated in the colonial competition of the 16th and 17th century. Now Leopold declared, "Belgium must have a colony". The colony Leopold founded, the Belgian Congo, was a far cry from the humanitarian inpulse with which the Victorians justified colonialism. Leopold administered the Congo as his personal property and not a national colony. The people in the the Congo Free State were essentilly turned into slaves worked to enrich Leopold persnally. They were subjected to horendous abuses. As reports filtered out describing the terrible abuses, King Léopold eventually relinguished personal control of the Congo. Belgium annexed the Congo with a Treaty (November 28, 1907). The Belgian Colony was administered by a governor-general at Boma. A Colonial Council and colonial minister in Brussels set policy. The Congo was divided into 15 administrative districts. The new colonial adminstration made many improvements. The Belgians to redeam their national reputation attempted to turn the Congo into a "model colony". The Belgiand opened primary and high schools. Unlike some colonial powers, many of the ethnic laguages were used in the new schools. Belgian doctors and medics worked on tropical diseases, an eradicated the sleeping disease. The Belgians set up perhaps the most comprehensive medical infrastructure in Africa. The Belgians developed the Congo economicallt, building railways, ports, roads and opening mines and plantations. At the time of indepence, the Comgo had Africa's highest gross national product was the highest in Africa. The wealth was not, however, well distriubuted nd the Belgian Government did very liitle to prepare the colony for self government.
Belgium was a bi-lingual country and during the 19th century the Flemish struggle for language rights. After the unifcation of Germany,
Belgium is not one of the countries that played a major role in building modern America. Less than 0.4 million Americans identify as being even partly of Belgian origins. [U.S. 2010 Census] That is less than 0.1 percent of the U.S. population and less than 0.2 percent of the Belgian popultion at the time (1900). . The first number is affected by the country's small size, but not the first. These are smaller numbers than most European countries, especially the Netherlands to the north. We suspect that the difference was that the Dutch were an independent maritime power and Protestat. Belgians or residents of the Southern Netherlands began arriving in America early in the British colonial era, even before Belgium existed (17th century). Most Belgian Americans are descended from immigrants arriving in the late-19th century and early 20th century. Their primary motivation was economic opportunity. The earliest Belgian communities were in New York and New Jersey, perhaps because of affinity to the Dutch, althoughthe Belgians including the Flemish wre mostly Catholic. The modern state of Belgium was created after the Napoleonic Wars and a brief union with the Netherlands (1830). Through the Census of 1910, some 0.1 million Belgian emigrated to America. There was a brief blip of Belgian immigranrs (1847-49), presumably related to the disorders associatedwith the revolutions of 1848. One source reported disease and economic hardship It was much later than Belgians began arriving in relatively large numbers (late-19th century). Economic opportunity was often the reason Europeans came to America, but in other Euroean countries political repression, conscription were also factors. This was less true of the Belgians. European emogration declined as a result of the First World war I (1914-18) and then Congressionally imposed restrictions. The belgins emigrating during this peak period were farmers, meaning largely landless farm workers. There were also miners, Belgium had important coal mines. Other Belian emigrants were craftsmen (carpenters, masons and cabinetmakers) or other skilled workrs (glass blowers and lace-makers). Belgium was known for its lace industry. The two states with the largest Belgian population are Wisconsin and Michigan. We suspect that these were states where land was still available under the Homestead Act as well as minig was important were factors. Belgian Americans as might be expected were heavily involved in efforts to help their countymen during the German World War I occupation.
Begium found itself between two hostile countries--France and Germany. Germany after Russia allied with France conceived a war plan to rapidly defeat France before the superior resources of these two countries could be brought to bear on Germany. Because the French had heavily fortified the border, the German Schliffen Plan called for a massive stike through neutral Belgium to avoid the French fortifications along the French-German border. King Albert complained, "Belgium is a country not a road". The Germans invaded Belgium (August 4, 1914). This horified the world because it was correctly seen as the Germans trampeling the rights of a small neutral coutry in violation of international law. Thus from the beginning the Germans were seen in American and other countries as an unprincipled aggressor in the War. More importantly at the time, the German invasion brought Britain into the War (August 4, 1914). Britain had understandings with France and Russia, but there were not firm treaty commitments. Britain had guaranteed Belgian independence in the Treaty of London (1839). Britain may have entered the War anyway, but it was the invasion of Belgium that triggered the British declaration of war and the dispatch of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to stop the Germans. The Germans gambled that they could defeat the French quickly as they did in the Franco-Prussian War. They disregarded the Belgian Army and calculated that they could defeat the French army before the British could deploy a substantial force to aid the French. Te Belgians put up and unepectedly stiff resistance, slowing the German advance. King Albert I proclaimed, "Belgium is a nation, not a road." The BEF although at first small also slowed the Germans. A Russian offensive forced the Germans to divert forces from the drive on Paris. In the end the Germans were stopped by the Miracle on the Marne (September 1914). Although the Germans were stopped, they had overrun most of Belgium which remained in German hands for most of the War.
Neutral Belgium fought with the Allies in World War I after being invaded by the Germans. King Albert I ably led the Belgian Army and their resistance delayed the Germans, making the Miracle on the Marne possible. After the War, Belgium returned to a neutral status like the Netherlands to the north. The NAZIs again invaded Belgium (May 1940). King Albert's son Leopold took over command of the Belgian Army, but the Germans advanced with unrelenting speed. Quickly surrounding the Belgian Atmy, King Leopold III surrendered, imperiling the British-French Dunkirt eacuation. Belgian officials escaped to London and set up a govertment-in-exile. That Government maintained control over Belgian colonial possessions (primarily the Belgian Congo). The German occupation was severe in World War I, but this time the Germans lived up to the Workd war I images. The NAZIs persued the Holocaust in Belgium, but with somewhat less success than in the Netherlands. The German occupation policies were largely race based, thus the occupatio while brutal and expoitive, did not aprroach the horrors of the east, except for the Jews. There was some collaboraion with the NAZIs, but the Allies were received with jubilation when Belgium was liberated (September 1944). The NAZIs launched their last offensive of the War in the Ardennes (December 1944). The resulting Battle of the Bulge was largely fought in Belgium. It was the scene of the Horific Battle of the Bulge.
Belgium participated in the movement toward European unification.
Conflict between the Waloons and Flemish continue into the 21st century. Unlike some other multi-lingual/ethnic countries (Luxenbourg and Switzerland), the Belgians have not been able to reach an acceptable compromise on the language issue. Many Walloons (French) and Flemish (Dutch) want to be autonomous or even independent. This tension has not abated in modern Blgium despite European integration. Many Walloons desire to be French and want to speek only French. And many Flemish want to be completly independant and wanted speek only Dutch, refusing to speek french. But both peoples respect the monarchy. As aresult of these tensions, for more than a year, Belgium has been unable to form a government (2010-11).
Navigate the Children in History Website :
[Return to the Main European history page]
[Return to the Main Belgian royalty page]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Freedom] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Belgin pages:
[Return to the Main Belgian page]
[Belgian catalogs [Belgian choirs] [Belgian literature] [Belgian movies] [Belgian royals] [Belgian schools] [Belgian youth groups]