The cultural and linguistic boundary that
still exists today in Belgium was created from the 400s,
between Germanic people who came from the north and
Celtic groups in the south who spoke Latin dialects. The
area obeyed over the centuries during various European
dynasties. It was not until 1830 that the state of
Belgium was formed. The main focus was on Wallonia,
where industrialization began early, while Flanders
ended up in the backwater. During both world wars,
Belgium was occupied by the Germans, and once again the
country became a battlefield for foreign armies.
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Belgium, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
The area that makes up Belgium became part of the
Roman Empire and the province of Gallia Belgica in the
50s BC, which is believed to have got its name from
Celtic people called Belgians. Eventually the Romans
were pushed back by Franks from the north. For several
hundred years the area was part of various Frankish
kingdoms. The King Charles the Great, who was crowned
Roman Emperor in 800 and whose kingdom included large
parts of Western and Central Europe, was born in the
region around Liège.
Already in the 700s Flemish merchants made contact
with trading houses in the Mediterranean and in the
1000s began to develop a tissue industry (with wool from
England) which became very extensive. During the late
Middle Ages, Flanders was Northern Europe's most
developed part with a thriving cultural life in rich
commercial cities such as Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent. At
the end of the 15th century, Belgium came to belong to
the German prince Habsburg, who taxed these rich
provinces severely. When the Habsburg Empire was divided
in the middle of the 16th century, the area fell to the
Spanish branch of the dynasty ("the Spanish
During the Reformation, which began in Germany and
Switzerland in the 16th century, the Calvinist church
won many followers in the areas that are today Belgium
and the Netherlands. However, the Spanish
counter-Reformation made the southern parts (Belgium) a
homogeneous Catholic area. The Spanish dominion meant a
period of stagnation, decline and devastating wars. The
area was repeatedly subjected to French conquest
attempts. After the Spanish war of succession, Belgium
came under the Austrian Habsburgs ("Austrian
Netherlands") in 1713.
When the French Revolutionary Armies, led by Napoleon
Bonaparte, marched in, hardly any resistance could be
offered. From 1795 to 1814 the area was incorporated
with France. It contributed to a French-speaking
dominance that aroused resistance among Flemish people.
A Flemish peasant uprising that broke out in 1798 is
sometimes regarded as the birth of Flemish nationalism.
Since Napoleon had been defeated at Waterloo in 1815
just south of Brussels - with the support of other
European great powers - the United Kingdom of the
Netherlands (Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) was
proclaimed under the Protestant Kingdom of Orania.
The July Revolution in Paris in 1830 inspired the
Belgians, who in August rebelled against the Dutch king.
In October a provisional Belgian government was formed
and on November 10, 1830 Belgium's independence was
declared. The great powers recognized Belgium as a
sovereign state and guaranteed the country "constant
neutrality". In connection with the liberation from the
Netherlands, the Belgians occupied the whole of
Luxembourg except for the capital. In 1831, Prince
Leopold was elected by Saxony-Coburg (prince's house in
present-day Germany) as Belgian King by the name of
The Dutch continued the armed struggle to regain
influence over Belgium. However, they were forced to
recognize the existence of the new state in 1839. At
that time, the current boundary between the two
countries was established; Belgium was awarded the
Walloon part of Luxembourg, while the rest of the Grand
Duchy remained under the Dutch king.
In the middle of the 19th century, an economic boom
began. With the help of British engineers, Belgium
became the first country on the European continent to be
industrialized. The country's economic center of gravity
came to the Wallonia coal district, where the iron
industry was located. Between the industrialized
French-speaking Wallonia and the poor agricultural
Flanders, there was a gap that widened due to the
dominant position of the French language in the
King Leopold II, son of Leopold I, was involved in
the colonization of Africa by the European great powers.
During the 1880s, he succeeded in gaining personal
sovereignty over today's Congo-Kinshasa (Democratic
Republic of Congo). King Leopold's unusually brutal
exploitation of the area aroused international
criticism, and in 1908 he was forced to surrender Congo
to the Belgian state as a colony. After the First World
War (1914-1918), Belgium was given the mandate to
administer Rwanda-Urundi, which had previously belonged
to Germany. In 1960, Congo (named Zaire from 1971 to
1997) became independent and in 1962 the states of
Rwanda and Burundi were formed.
Leopold II died in 1909 and was succeeded by his
German occupation in two world wars
During the First World War, Belgium's neutrality was
violated by Germany and almost the whole country was
occupied. A large part of the Bloody Front's bloody
trench warfare was fought in Flanders. After the war,
Germany was forced to resign from Eupen-Malmedy to
Belgium. The economic difficulties of the war were
reinforced by the international depression of the 1930s.
The linguistic contradictions were also sharpened and a
particular Flemish party received increased support and
representation in Parliament.
During World War II, Belgium was again occupied by
the Germans, between 1940 and 1944. King Leopold III
(son of Albert I) chose to stay in the country and was
held in German captivity, while the government went into
exile in London. Most of the population opposed the
occupation, but the Germans sought and received some
support from the Flemish nationalists.