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The exact nature of the distinction between the Belgae to the North and the Celts to the south, and the Germani across the Rhine, is disputed. It seems clear that Celtic culture and language were very influential upon the Belgae, especially those in modern France. On the other hand, linguists have proposed that there is evidence that the northern part of the Belgic population had previously spoken an Indo European language related to, but distinct from, Celtic and Germanic , and among the northern Belgae, Celtic may never have been the language of the majority.
See Belgian language and Nordwestblock. The leaders of the Belgic alliance which Caesar confronted were in modern France, the Suessiones , Viromandui and Ambiani and perhaps some of their neighbours, in an area that he appears to distinguish as the true "Belgium" of classical times. The Menapii and northern Germani lived among low thorny forests, islands and swamps, and the central Belgian Nervii lands were deliberately planted with thick hedges, in order to be impenetrable to cavalry. There is also less archaeological evidence of large settlements and trade in the area.
According to Tacitus , writing a generation later, the Germani cisrhenani who included the Eburones were in fact the original tribe to be called Germani , and all other uses of the term extended from them, though in his time the same people were now called the Tungri. Modern linguists use the word "germanic" to refer to languages but it is not known for sure whether even the Belgian Germani spoke a Germanic language , and their tribal and personal names are clearly Celtic.
This is in fact also true of the possibly related tribes across the Rhine from them at this time. Archaeologists have also had difficulty finding evidence of the exact migrations from east of the Rhine which Caesar reports and more generally there has been skepticism about using him in this way due to the political motives of his commentaries. But the archaeological record gives the impression that the classical Belgian Germani were a relatively stable population going back to Urnfield times, with a more recently immigrated elite class who would have been of more interest to Caesar.
These Roman provinces were broken into civitates , each with a capital city, and each representing one of the major tribal groups named by Caesar. At first, only one, Tongeren capital of the Tungri, was in modern Belgium. The Nervian capital was in the south of the territory in modern France, at Bavay , and later moved to Cambrai. Trier , the capital of the Treveri, is today in Germany, near Luxembourg. The northeastern corner of this province, including Tongeren and the area of the earlier Germani , was united with the militarized Rhine border to form a newer province known as Germania Inferior.
Belgica Prima was the eastern part and had Trier as its main city, and included part of the Belgian province of Luxembourg. It became one of the most important Roman cities in Western Europe in the 3rd century. Christianity was also first introduced to Belgium during the late-Roman period, and the first known bishop in the region Servatius taught in the middle of the Fourth century in Tongeren. The modern Belgian language boundary derives from this period, as the area was a contact point of Frankish and Romanized populations.
As the Western Roman Empire lost power, Germanic tribes came to dominate the military, and then form kingdoms. Coastal Flanders, the old territory of the Menapii, became part of the " Saxon Shore ". In inland northern Belgium, Franks from the Roman frontier in the Rhine delta were allowed to re-settle in Toxandria in the 4th century.
Wallonia, dominated by bands of forests and poor farming land, remained more heavily Romanized, although eventually became subject to Franks in the 5th century. Franks remained important in the Roman military, and the Romanized Frankish Merovingian Dynasty eventually took over northern France. Clovis I , the best-known king of this dynasty, first conquered Romanized northern France, later called Neustria , then turned north to the Frankish lands later referred to as Austrasia , which included all or most of Belgium.
He converted to Catholicism , followed by many followers. Christian missionaries preached to the populace and started a wave of conversion Saint Servatius , Saint Remacle , Saint Hadelin. The Merovingian dynasty was succeeded by the Carolingian dynasty , whose family power base was in and around the eastern part of modern Belgium. The Vikings raided widely throughout this period, but a major settlement that had caused problems in the area of Belgium was defeated in by Arnulf of Carinthia in the battle of Leuven. The Frankish lands were divided and reunified several times under the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties, but eventually were firmly divided into France and the Holy Roman Empire.
The parts of the County of Flanders stretching out west of the river Scheldt Schelde in Dutch, Escaut in French became part of France during the Middle Ages, but the remainders of the County of Flanders and the Low Countries were part of the Holy Roman Empire, specifically they were in the stem duchy of Lower Lotharingia , which had a period as an independent kingdom.
Through the early Middle Ages, the northern part of present-day Belgium now commonly referred to as Flanders was a Germanic language -speaking area, whereas in the southern part people had continued to be Romanized and spoke derivatives of Vulgar Latin. As the Holy Roman Emperors and French Kings lost effective control of their domains in the 11th and 12th centuries, the territory more or less corresponding to the present Belgium was divided into relatively independent feudal states, including:. The coastal county of Flanders was one of the wealthiest parts of Europe in the late Middle Ages, from trading with England, France and Germany, and it became culturally important.
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In this period, many cities, including Ypres , Bruges and Ghent , obtained their city charter. The Hanseatic League stimulated trade in the region, and the period saw the erection of many Gothic cathedrals and city halls.
The lack of imperial protection also meant that the French and English began vying for influence in the region. Through the remainder of the 13th century, French control over Flanders steadily increased until when an attempt at total annexation by Philip IV met a stunning defeat when Count Guy who had the support of the guilds and craftsmen rallied the townspeople and humiliated the French knights at the Battle of the Golden Spurs.
The king imposed harsh peace terms on Flanders, which included ceding the important textile-making centers of Lille and Douai. In Brabant, skillful work by the duke of that territory and the Count of Hainaut-Holland foiled various French manipulations. Paris's influence in the Low Countries was counterbalanced by England, which maintained important ties to the coastal ports.
Flanders faced the difficult situation of being politically subservient to France, but also reliant on trade with England. Many craftsmen emigrated to England, which also came to dominate the wool-shipping business. Flemish cloth nonetheless remained a highly valued product, and it was highly dependent on English wool.
Any interruption in the supply of that invariably resulted in riots and violence from the weavers' guilds. On the whole though, Flemish trade became a passive one. Flanders received imports from other areas of Europe, but itself purchased little abroad except wine from Spain and France. Bruges became a great commercial center after the Hanseatic League set up business there and the Italian banking houses followed suit.
A few towns in the Low Countries dated back to Roman times, but most had been founded from the 9th century onward.
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The oldest were in the Scheldt and Meuse areas, with many towns in what's now the Netherlands being much younger and only dating from the 13th century. From early on, the Low Countries began to develop as a commercial and manufacturing center. Merchants became the dominant class in the towns, with the nobility largely limited to countryside estates. By most of the Belgian and Luxembourgish territory along with much of the rest of the Low Countries became part of Burgundy under Philip the Good.
Especially during the Burgundy period the 15th and 16th centuries , Tournai , Bruges , Ypres , Ghent , Brussels , and Antwerp took turns at being major European centers for commerce, industry especially textiles and art. Bruges was the pioneer. It had a strategic location at the crossroads of the northern Hanseatic League trade and the southern trade routes. Bruges was already included in the circuit of the Flemish and French cloth fairs at the beginning of the 13th century, but when the old system of fairs broke down the entrepreneurs of Bruges innovated.
They developed, or borrowed from Italy, new forms of merchant capitalism, whereby several merchants would share the risks and profits and pool their knowledge of markets.
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They employed new forms of economic exchange, including bills of exchange i. In art the Renaissance was represented by the Flemish Primitives , a group of painters active primarily in the Southern Netherlands in the 15th and early 16th centuries for example, Johannes Van Eyck and Rogier Van der Weyden , and the Franco-Flemish composers e. Guillaume Dufay. Flemish tapestries and, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Brussels tapestry hung on the walls of castles throughout Europe. The Burgundian princes from Philip II the Bold to Charles the Bold enhanced their political prestige with economic growth and artistic splendour.
These "Great Dukes of the West" were effectively sovereigns, with domains extending from the Zuiderzee to the Somme. The urban and other textile industries, which had developed in the Belgian territories since the 12th century, became the economic center of northwestern Europe. The death of Charles the Bold and the marriage of his daughter Mary to the archduke Maximilian of Austria ended the independence of the Low Countries by bringing them increasingly under the sway of the Habsburg dynasty. The northern part of Belgica Regia, comprising seven provinces and eventually forming the Dutch Republic, became increasingly Protestant specifically, Calvinist , while the larger part, called 't Hof van Brabant and comprising the ten southern provinces, remained primarily Catholic.
This schism, and other cultural differences which had been present since ancient times, launched the Union of Atrecht in the Belgian regions, later followed by the Union of Utrecht in the northern regions. After the Iconoclastic Fury of , Spanish authorities were able to largely gain control of the Low Countries. The most notable event of this period was the Battle of Oosterweel , in which Spanish forces destroyed an army of Dutch Calvinists. Alba established a special court called the Council of Troubles nicknamed the "Council of Blood".
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The Blood Council's reign of terror saw it condemn thousands of people to death without due process and drive the nobles into exile while seizing their property. Alba boasted that he had burned or executed 18, persons in the Netherlands, in addition to the far greater number he massacred during the war, many of them women and children; 8, persons were burned or hanged in one year, and the total number of Alba's Flemish victims can not have fallen short of 50, The Dutch Revolt spread to the south in the mids after the Army of Flanders mutinied for lack of pay and went on the rampage in several cities.
With the arrival of large numbers of troops from Spain, Farnese began a campaign of reconquest in the south. By the treaty of Arras in , he secured the support of the "Malcontents", as the Catholic nobles of the south were styled. The seven northern provinces, controlled by Calvinists, responded with the Union of Utrecht , where they resolved to stick together to fight Spain. Farnese secured his base in Hainaut and Artois , then moved against Brabant and Flanders.
He captured many rebel towns in the south:  Maastricht , Tournai , Oudenaarde , Dunkirk , Bruges , and Ghent Antwerp was one of the richest cities in northern Europe and a rebel stronghold ever since Spanish and Walloon troops sacked it in The city was open to the sea, strongly fortified, and well defended under the leadership of Marnix van St. Engineer Sebastian Baroccio cut off all access to the sea by constructing a bridge of boats across the Scheldt.
The Dutch sailed fireships, called Hellburners , [a] against the bridge and one of the exploding infernal machines blew up a foot-long span and killed Spaniards. The besiegers repaired the damage, however, and pressed the investment. In a war composed mostly of sieges rather than battles, Farnese proved his mettle.