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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.

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