Development of a Nation
How Belgium became Belgium,
and how the Belgians became Belgian.
Belgians as a people, and the country of Belgium as a nation-state,
evolved and materialized into current form, in terms of ancestral
bloodlines, language, borders, culture, and even how they
received their name.
Development of Language
Formation of Borders
Etymology (How Name Received)
Belgium in 2008
- Same as
Dutch people until 1648.
- During 16th century, most in the Northern Netherlands
would become Protestant, fostering dissatisfaction with Catholic
rule of Habsburg Spain. They would begin to revolt in 1568,
beginning the 80-Years War with Spain, also known as the Dutch War
of Independence. The Dutch cemented their distinct identity and
nationality when they achieved independence from
during 80-Years War ending in 1648. The Protestant Dutch in the
north formed the independent United Provinces. The Southern Dutch in
Belgium and Luxembourg remained under Spanish rule (as the “Spanish
Netherlands”), due to their less enthusiastic and less effective
revolts. The Catholic Southern Dutch did not have the same religious
conviction as the Protestant Dutch in the north. This finalized the
separation between the Dutch and those in modern Belgium and
Luxembourg from that point forward. With this, the nationality of
those considered “Belgian” was largely set.
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Development of Belgian Language:
- After Napoleon conquered and annexed Belgium (known as
Austrian Netherlands at the time), a substantial French
population settled in modern Belgium. From that time forth,
Belgium would feature a significant French population, making
French the majority language, dominating southern Belgium. Dutch
is still prevalent in the north.
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Formation of Belgian Borders:
Germanic peoples that settled around
the modern Netherlands and Belgium were ancestors to the
Franks and Dutch. Franks migrated into Gaul in the 5th
century, facilitating the collapse of the Roman Empire, and
becoming the ruling class in Gaul (modern France). Those
that remained behind became the ancestors to the Dutch
(northern) and Belgians (to the south).
- German lands, including modern
Netherlands, were conquered by the Franks in the 8th
- Separated by other Germanic peoples by
the division of the Frankish Kingdom in 843, but realigned
with them when most of the region was ceded to the Eastern
Realm in 870 (with exception of County of Flanders, which
went to the Western Realm – West Francia). At this point,
the predecessors to the Dutch were reunited the Germanics.
Their territory became known as the “Low Counties”
(comprised of modern Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg).
Over time, the Low Counties began to view themselves as a
distinct people within the larger Germanic nation, due to
their location at the northwestern fringe of the main body
- The Eastern Realm became decentralized
in 888, becoming a collection of affiliated German duchies.
- The Holy Roman Empire was established
- Between 1000 and 1433, those in the
“Burgundian Netherlands” (a.k.a. “Low Counties”, comprised
of modern Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg) began to operate
independently from the Holy Roman Empire. They began to
refer to themselves as “Dutch”, the English pronunciation
for their German language (Deutsch). The County of Flanders
was joined to Netherlands through marriage in 1384.
- The Dutch would come under Habsburg
Austrian rule in 1477, before being annexed by Habsburg
Spain in 1556 (as a result of division of Habsburg empire
between heirs). By now, the Dutch were considered a separate
nationality from the pan-German nation (which were broken
into various principalities under the Holy Roman Empire
- During 16th century, most
in the Northern Netherlands would become Protestant,
fostering dissatisfaction with Catholic rule of Habsburg
Spain. They would begin to revolt in 1568, beginning the
80-Years War with Spain, also known as the Dutch War of
Independence. The Dutch cemented their distinct identity and
nationality when they achieved independence from Spain
during 80-Years War ending in 1648. The Protestant Dutch in
the north formed the independent United Provinces. The
Southern Dutch in Belgium and Luxembourg remained under
Spanish rule (as the “Spanish Netherlands”), due to their
less enthusiastic and less effective revolts. The Catholic
Southern Dutch did not have the same religious conviction as
the Protestant Dutch in the north. This finalized the
separation between the Dutch and those in modern Belgium and
Luxembourg from that point forward.
- The Spanish Netherlands would later
fall under Austrian rule again in 1714, after Spain’s defeat
in the War of Spanish Succession, becoming the Austrian
- Napoleonic France invaded and
conquered the Austrian Netherlands, along with the
independent Dutch United Provinces in 1795, consolidating
both Netherlands nations into the Batavian Republic. In
1806, when the Northern and Southern Dutch nations failed to
mesh, the Southern portion (Belgium) was annexed directly
into France, while the northern portion was reconstituted
into the Kingdom of Holland.
- After the Napoleonic Wars, Belgium and
Luxembourg were enjoined with the Netherlands by the
European Powers (such as United Kingdom, Russia and Prussia)
in 1815, forming the manufactured Kingdom of the
- Belgium separated to form the Kingdom
of Belgium in 1830, forming the modern boundaries of both
Netherlands and Belgium. During the ensuing Belgian War of
Independence (1830-39), Belgium gained possession of more
than half of Luxembourg’s territory, achieving its modern
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Etymology (How Name Received):
Upon gaining independence (1830), Belgians
decide not to take upon themselves the same name as those they
just gained independence from, despite the fact they had always
been considered Dutch, or the Netherlands
(Southern/Spanish/Austrian Netherlands). They instead took upon
themselves the historic name of the region before the Germanic
people migrated there. Before the Germanic migrations inside
Roman borders, a substantial portion of modern Belgium was part
of the Roman province of Gallia Belgica, named after the Celtic
tribe that presided in the region. The Belgium name was adapted
from this in 1830.
Unlike its Dutch relatives to the north (Netherlands), the
“Southern Netherlands” (modern Belgium) retained its strong
Catholic heritage, rather than converting to Protestantism
during the Protestant Reformation. This proved to be a major
factor in the division of the Netherlands in the 17th century,
as Protestant Netherlands were far more motivated to break free
from Catholic Spain.
The tale of the two Netherlands (both considered Dutch)
evolved over the next two centuries, culminating in the
re-combining of the two nations into the Kingdom of the
Netherlands following the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. However, the
Catholic-dominated southern Dutch could not tolerate following
the lead of the Protestant Dutch under the same banner. Tensions
reached a boiling point in 1830, leading to the War of Belgian
Belgium won its independence in 1839, with anti-Dutch
sentiment serving as a cementing agent for the newly-formed
nation, which was fairly diverse in its own right. It consisted
of a formidable Dutch and French population, along with a
significant German contingency.
However, over the years, the rivalry and animosity with the
Netherlands diminished, exploiting the lack of natural cohesion
within the country. As a result, sectarian lines have been
established, with the Belgian “Dutch” (Dutch language speakers)
occupying the north, French-speaking “French Belgians” (rooted
from French immigrants from the Napoleonic rule) dominating the
south, along with a substantial German population in the east.
Each group has remained entrenched within their cultural
Thanks to stability and prosperity, sectarian
tensions have been kept in check. Belgian rests along the
natural geographical highway intersecting Germany and France
(east to west), while also serving as a hub between north and
south. As a result, the transportation industry has flourished
in Belgium. Belgium has also placed a premium on education,
positioned among the top tier in the world in education and
income per capita.
Economy: Advanced capitalistic
economy. Highly integrated into the pan-European market, since dependent
on imports and international trade. Relatively few natural resources,
forcing significant trade deficit, but central location makes it a
natural hub for trade. Economy somewhat sluggish since worldwide
slowdown from 2001-2003.
Government: Constitutional monarchy (democracy with monarch still
Religion: Roman Catholic 75%, most of remaining 25% Protestant.
Still very secular, but Roman Catholicism has engendered greater
religiosity throughout Europe. Nations dominated by Catholicism like
Belgium tend to be a little more religious (although still very secular
trend). Survey: 43% believe in God, 29% in some other form of
intelligent design, 27% atheist/agnostic.
Demographics: 92% Belgian, highly homogenous. 60% speak Dutch
(mostly northern half), 40% French (mostly southern half), as French
began settling in the south beginning with the Napoleonic era, and
afterward. Belgium now somewhat divided between these sectarian lines,
resulting in amendments to the constitution allowing regional autonomy,
adding a federalist element to government.
Foreign Policy: Part of NATO
Population: 10,403,951 (2008)
For females, use maiden name
(last name before marriage)