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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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A History of the Low Countries (Palgrave Essential Histories Series)

By Paul Arblaster

Brand: Palgrave Macmillan
Released: 2012-07-17
Paperback (322 pages)

A History of the Low Countries (Palgrave Essential Histories Series)
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This successful text remains the sole historical survey of the Benelux area to be written in English. Arblaster describes the full sweep of the history of the Low Countries, from Roman frontier provinces to the present day. The new edition has been revised and updated in the light of recent events and scholarship, and brings the story up to 2011.

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 From the Roman Invasion to the Present Day

By Emile Cammaerts

Released: 2011-03-24
Kindle Edition (444 pages)

Belgium From the Roman Invasion to the Present Day
Product Description:
This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.

History of the Low Countries

Berghahn Books
Released: 2006-06-01
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.

The Low Countries: A History

By Anthony Bailey

New Word City, Inc.
Released: 2018-05-24
Kindle Edition (262 pages)

The Low Countries: A History
Product Description:
Here, from British historian and New Yorker senior writer Anthony Bailey is the dramatic story of the Low Countries - Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg - from the early days of nomads and barbarian invaders to the birth of towns and cities to the rise and decline of world prominence and finally to the dark and tragic days of World War II.

Cities of Belgium – A Travel Guide of Art and History: A Comprehensive Guide to the Belgian Cathedrals, Churches and Art Galleries - Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, Antwerp

By Maxime Jensens

Released: 2016-04-28
Kindle Edition (382 pages)

Cities of Belgium – A Travel Guide of Art and History: A Comprehensive Guide to the Belgian Cathedrals, Churches and Art Galleries - Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, Antwerp
Product Description:

The Renaissance and Baroque architecture, artwork and religious buildings of Belgium are treasures to behold, rich in significance and beauty.

Tragically, many travel guides simply brush over these beautiful creations as mere items to check off a list during sightseeing in cities which together constitute the rich, centuries old essence of Flemish culture.

By contrast, Belgian Cities - A Travel Guide of Art and History is designed for tourists who wish to achieve an in-depth understanding during perusals of the wondrous achievements in painting, sculpture and architectural design pioneered and proliferated in the Belgian cities. Rich yet accessible descriptions of the most significant works, guidance through the hidden gems, old town districts and standout attractions abound. As a result, the curious reader is spurred to understanding a culture whose history and art can so often be overwhelming or mysterious to the visitor.

This book is designed as a cultural companion to a more general city and tour guide, to be read as you wander amidst the many breathtaking works of art and ancient designs that the cities of Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp and the capital Brussels contain. The many cathedrals, churches and art galleries are a fine highlight of the Belgian nation, with the period art and architecture dating between 1300 and 1700 a particular focus within this book.

In reading this guide composed by lecturer of art and heritage architecture Maxime Jensens, you will imbue your journey with enlightenment. Concluding your journey to Belgium, you will not simply carry happy memories of having seen and enjoyed the gorgeous culture, cuisine and fine hospitality - but a vivid, intense understanding of how significant and inseparable the country's art and architecture are from its very fabric and core of Belgian identity.

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.


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