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Travel Guide 2   >   Europe   >   Belgium   >   History


Belgian History

Although Belgium has been inhabited for many thousands of years, its written history begins in 54 BC when Julius Caesar conquered the area as part of his campaigns in Gaul, as described in his Commentaries on the Gallic War (Latin: Commentarii de Bello Gallico). As a result, for the next several centuries, Belgium and the surrounding areas were incorporated in the Roman Empire as the province of Gallia Belgica.

When the Roman Empire eventually collapsed in the 5th century CE, and Belgium then became part of the area ruled by the Merovingian Frankish dynasty. Eventually the Merovingian dynasty was replaced by the Carolingians, and Belgium found itself on the border between the successor states of France and the Holy Roman Empire. It was during this period in the Middle Ages that the more northerly parts of the country became Germanized, whereas southern parts did not, thus giving rise to the Flemish and Walloon language regions that are still found in Belgium today.

In the mid 16th century, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands all came under Habsburg rule. In the reformation, northern parts of this region turned to Protestantism, whereas southern parts remained Catholic. When the Spanish Habsburgs tried to reimpose Catholicism across the entire region, this led to the 80 years war (1568 to 1648), but ultimately this effort largely failed - the northern parts of the region becoming the new country of the United Provinces (the precursor of the Netherlands), although the southern parts remained under Habsburg rule as the Spanish Netherlands.

The area that is Belgium was ruled by the Habsburg for more than 300 years, first as the Spanish Netherlands, and later as the Austrian Netherlands. During this period, it was a frequent site of battles during the Habsburg's many wars with France.

During the French Revolutionary Wars, the Austrian Netherlands were overran and then annexed by France. However, following the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the area was removed from French control, and united with the Netherlands as part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

In 1830, revolution broke out in Belgium, which led to independence from the Netherlands. Leopold I became king, and the new country became an independent Catholic parliamentary democracy, The major powers of the Concert of Europe sanctioned the new country's existence on acceptance of it being permanently neutral, a status that Belgium retained until after World War I.

In 1885, King Leopold II of Belgium acquired the Congo Free State as a personal possession, although in 1908 it became a Belgian colony. Other Belgian colonial possessions included a concession in Tietsin, China (occupied until 1930 as a result of Belgian forces' role in surpressing the Boxer Rebellion), and Ruanda-Urundi (gained from Germany during World War I).

Durig the 20th century, Belgium has twice been invaded by Germany - in World War I in 1914, and in World War II in 1940. As a result of World War I and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles, Belgium gained several border towns from Germany, which is the origin of the German-speaking community in the East of the country.

After World War II, Belgium joined NATO, formed the Benelux group of countries (with Luxembourg and the Netherlands), and was a founder member of the European Coal and Steel Community and subsequent European Economic Community (which eventually led to today's European Union). Belgium's remaining colonial possessions were granted independence in the post-war period; the Congo in 1960, and Ruanda-Urundi (as the two new countries of Rwanda and Burundi) in 1962.

Here are some books about the history of Belgium:

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Books about Belgian History

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Belgium: Long United, Long Divided

By Samuel Humes

Paperback (256 pages)

Belgium: Long United, Long Divided
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This concise history describes the traditions and transitions that over two thousand years have developed in Belgium in a sense of shared identity, common government, and a centralized nation-state - and then over a few recent decades paved the way for Flemish-Walloon schism that now threatens to break up Belgium. It responds to the question: Why does a government, unified for more than 600 years, no longer seem capable of holding together a linguistically divided country

In tracing the evolution of Belgian governance, Humes describes why and how the dominance of French-speaking propertied elite eroded after having monopolized the land's governance for centuries. The extension of suffrage, combined with the rise of literacy and schooling enabled labor and Flemish movements to gather sufficient momentum to fracture the Belgian polity, splitting its parties and frustrating its politics. The presence of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has, in a tangential way, enable the Belgian separatists to discount the merit of a national government that is no longer needed to defend the country militarily and economically.

Belgium: A History (Studies in Modern European History)

By Bernard A. Cook

Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers
Paperback (205 pages)

Belgium: A History (Studies in Modern European History)
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Although Belgium has only been an independent state since the 1830s, it has a long and complex past. This history is essential for understanding the complexities of issues that led to a devolution of the unitary Belgian state into a federation of linguistically based regions. In addition to the elements that contributed to Belgium’s particular political evolution, the history which is traced in this book is a composite of many themes of broad historical interest and importance. Belgium: A History covers the gamut of Belgian history through dramas of religious and cultural conflict, intense localism, state building, uneven development, divergent class interests, war and domination, and finally, integration into a larger European community.

A History of the Low Countries (Macmillan Essential Histories)

By Paul Arblaster

Red Globe Press
Released: 2018-10-31
Paperback (332 pages)

A History of the Low Countries (Macmillan Essential Histories)
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This introductory overview of the Low Countries’ history traces their development since Roman times, providing equal weighting to the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Paul Arblaster looks at political, cultural and social history, including the rise of the merchant classes, the Renaissance and Golden Age, and the two world wars of the twentieth-century. The final chapter has been expanded and revised to take into account developments since 2011. This third edition is thoroughly updated and revised throughout and benefits from our recently refreshed series design.

This timely and engaging narrative provides an invaluable starting-point for students of History focusing on the Low Countries, European Studies and Dutch studies.

History of the Low Countries

Berghahn Books
Released: 2006-06-30
Paperback (536 pages)

History of the Low Countries
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The history of the smaller European countries is rather neglected in the teaching of European history at university level. We are therefore pleased to announce the publication of the first comprehensive history of the Low Countries - in English - from Roman Times to the present. Remaining politically and culturally fragmented, with its inhabitants speaking Dutch, French, Frisian, and German, the Low Countries offer a fascinating picture of European history en miniature. For historical reasons, parts of northern France and western Germany also have to be included in the "Low Countries," a term that must remain both broad and fluid, a convenient label for a region which has seldom, if ever, composed a unified whole. In earlier ages it as even more difficult to the region set parameters, again reflecting Europe as a whole, when tribes and kingdoms stretched across expanses not limited to the present states of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.

Nevertheless, its parts did demonstrate many common traits and similar developments that differentiated them from surrounding countries and lent them a distinct character. Internationally, the region often served both as a mediator for and a buffer to the surrounding great powers, France, Britain, and Germany; an important role still played today as Belgium and the Netherlands have increasingly become involved in the broader process of European integration, in which they often share the same interest and follow parallel policies. This highly illustrated volume serves as an ideal introduction to the rich history of the Low Countries for students and the generally interested reader alike.

Rick Steves Belgium: Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp & Ghent

By Rick Steves

Rick Steves
Released: 2018-10-16
Kindle Edition (364 pages)

Rick Steves Belgium: Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp & Ghent
Product Description:
Stroll through medieval squares with soaring bell towers and along quiet canals: with Rick Steves on your side, Belgium can be yours! Inside Rick Steves Belgium: Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp & Ghent you'll find:
  • Comprehensive coverage for spending a week or more exploring Belgium
  • Rick's strategic advice on how to get the most out of your time and money, with rankings of his must-see favorites
  • Top sights and hidden gems, from the European Parliament and Flanders Fields to wafel trucks and popular breweries
  • How to connect with local culture: Lose yourself in the art of the Flemish masters, taste fish fresh from the North Sea at the Vismarkt, and sip Trappist ales with friendly locals
  • Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps with Rick's candid, humorous insight
  • The best places to eat, sleep, and relax while you indulge in a chocolate truffle (or two)
  • Self-guided walking tours of lively town squares and inspiring museums
  • Detailed maps for exploring on the go
  • Useful resources including a packing list, Dutch and French phrase books, a historical overview, and recommended reading
  • Over 300 bible-thin pages include everything worth seeing without weighing you down
  • Complete, up-to-date information on Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, and more
Make the most of every day and every dollar with Rick Steves Belgium: Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp & Ghent.

DK Eyewitness Belgium and Luxembourg (Travel Guide)

By DK Eyewitness

Released: 2017-04-18
Paperback (344 pages)

DK Eyewitness Belgium and Luxembourg (Travel Guide)
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Stroll through the bustling city streets, explore the Caves of Hotton, and visit the Euro Space Center when you travel to Belgium and Luxembourg. See history, art, and more in these unique and vibrant countries.

Discover DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Belgium & Luxembourg.

   • Detailed itineraries and "don't-miss" destination highlights at a glance.
   • Illustrated cutaway 3-D drawings of important sights.
   • Floor plans and guided visitor information for major museums.
   • Guided walking tours, local drink and dining specialties to try, things to do, and places to eat, drink, and shop by area.
   • Area maps marked with sights.
   • Detailed city maps include street finder indexes for easy navigation.
   • Insights into history and culture to help you understand the stories behind the sights.
   • Hotel and restaurant listings highlight DK Choice special recommendations.

With hundreds of full-color photographs, hand-drawn illustrations, and custom maps that illuminate every page, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Belgium & Luxembourg truly shows you the country as no one else can.

Series Overview: For more than two decades, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides have helped travelers experience the world through the history, art, architecture, and culture of their destinations. Expert travel writers and researchers provide independent editorial advice, recommendations, and reviews. With guidebooks to hundreds of places around the globe available in print and digital formats, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides show travelers how they can discover more.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: the most maps, photographs, and illustrations of any guide.

Belgium in the Great War

By Jean-Michel Veranneman

Pen and Sword Military
Released: 2018-11-30
Hardcover (240 pages)

Belgium in the Great War
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In August 1914, the German Empire invaded neutral Belgium in order to outflank the defenses of the French army. Unexpectedly, the Belgian army resisted and fought on, holding a small part of unoccupied Belgian territory north of Ypres, alongside the British and French armies, until the Armistice of 1918. Because of their heroic defense, Belgium and its King, Albert I enjoyed enormous international prestige after the war. Its colonial army conquered part of German East Africa out of the Congo.Occupied Belgium suffered executions of civilians, severe destruction and was widely stripped of its industrial infrastructure, which was one of the most developed in the world. It was saved from starvation by food shipments from the United States which came in via neutral Holland.Belgium emerged from four and a half years of complete turmoil a different country and the experiences would have a lasting impact of its politics. Universal suffrage was introduced and the Flemish question was exacerbated. The war resulted in the abandonment of the country’s neutrality policy and her claims for reparation and territory, only very partially met, were to have serious foreign policy implications.


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