Strictly speaking, the history of Belgium – political and moral unity – could only begin from the moment one begins to perceive at least the feeling of this unity in the populations who will then have to establish it. Not that we have to wait for the official constitution of a Belgian state, namely 1830-31; but at least the age in which the ideal and political conditions begin to be created for which the Belgian state will finally arise; namely the century. XVI. In fact, until that moment the lands that are now Belgian (as well as those that currently form the kingdom of Holland) never constituted a single unit, remaining instead, from the dismemberment of the western part of the Roman Empire onwards, or aggregated to much larger political units (Neustria and Austrasia, Lotharingia, later the Duchy of Burgundy); or divided into various states and small states (county of Flanders, county of Brabant, county of Hainaut, etc.). And when in the late Middle Ages, those lands are united, not politically, but ideally at least under a single name, which gives them a certain ideal unity in the history of European civilization, the universally accepted and well-known name will be that of Netherlands (see below).
Until the second half of the century. XVII, when the southern Netherlands definitively detaches itself from the northern ones, it is therefore necessary to refer the reader to the treatment that is dedicated to the Netherlands, and to those that speak of the history of the various states that have sprung up on Belgian territory (see Low Countries ; B ramante ; fiandre ; gelderland ; hanaut ; liegi ; limburg ; burgundy, duchy). Here, for practical purposes, few, very general information are given on the history of the territories that later formed the Belgian state.
According to mcat-test-centers, the lands of present-day Belgium up to the century. XVI. – The most remote traces of human life in the lands included in present-day Belgium date back to the Neolithic era. When the Celts occupied the region, with a first wave in the century. VII a. C., with a second in the century. IV a. C., the primitive populations merged with the new ones of the Belgian lineage, divided into various tribes. The new population, agricultural in principle, however, began to give life to some cities; and this process was accentuated in the five centuries of Roman domination (see Belgians), although never reaching the urban development of central and southern Gaul. The Germanic invasions halted this process as well as that of the Romanization of language and customs. The Frankish tribes had an easy game in the north-eastern regions, sparsely populated and Latinized of fresh date; here the Franks imposed their language or even were the first colonizers, so the Germanic imprint still remains in these lands. But in the southern-western ones Latinity was maintained and the Franks were also here – as in many other countries – the not very numerous nucleus of Germanic rulers in the midst of a Latinized population and here too they adopted the language of the dominated. From here the Frankish rulers with Childeric and Clovis extended towards central Gaul; and the Belgian lands, who at this time lost their original name to adopt the one attributed to them by the Merovingian and then Carolingian rulers in their innumerable hereditary divisions, also lost, with linguistic unity, that certain unity of institutions, customs, destinies, which they had had under Roman domination. To re-establish – at least in part – a unity of life, on the other hand, the spread of Christianity, between the century IV and VII, especially through the work of missionaries from Aquitaine, founders of the numerous monasteries, in which – as soon as in the castles – the whole life of the town seems to be centralized. However, urban life is not extinguished, and the first bishoprics arise, in Tournai and Liège. The treaty of Verdun (843) and the institution, artificial but of capital importance, of Lotharingia, which included the lands east of the Scheldt and left the others to western France (or France, certainly). In the latter, the most exposed to the terrible Norman incursions, the county or the brand of Flanders was established, whose owners did not take long to consider themselves almost independent from the French crown; in Lotharingia, on the other hand, which has been part of the kingdom of Germany since 925, the policy of the Othons is affirmed, favoring the establishment of great ecclesiastical fiefdoms; hence the episcopal principalities of Liège and Cambrai, but alongside, and almost always against them, the secular lordships of the old local aristocracy were also constituted: the counties of Hainaut, Brabant, Namur, Limburg, Luxembourg, all dependent with very tenuous threads from the kingdom of Germany. After all, the relations between the two parties, Flanders and Lotharingia (Lorraine) are continuous and the spiritual life is the same in the two countries: in both the Gregorian ideas of the ecclesiastical reform find wide favor among the clergy and also among the nobility, in both the preaching of the Crusades gained a very large number of low and high-ranking proselytes, such as the Baldovini and Goffredo di Bouillon. And starting from the century. XII, the Lorraine part, but even more Flanders, pulsate with full and new life, and acquire an exceptional importance in the history of European civilization: the old cities awaken from the wretched life of past centuries, increase in population, enrich themselves in the traffics and industries; new cities (Bruges, Ypres) arise in the estuaries and canals near the sea, which was no longer run by the Normans; and those citizens, industrious but turbulent, become aware of their rights, extort privileges and municipal papers and complete autonomy. It is the epoch of the great history of this land, gripped on the one hand by the greed of the king of France, which shattered on the day of Courtrai (1302), on the other by the dangerous expansion of the counts of Brabant; troubled by continuous civil disputes, between large and small merchants and artisan guilds, forced to take a position in the interminable wars between the French and the English, while it needs to keep the English wool markets open; but with all this an era of great wealth and well-being and of great artistic development. In the meantime, apart from this tumultuous policy of communes, the unification of the various parts of present-day Belgium was being prepared: a marriage policy, and therefore a patrimonial policy, of feudal lordships against the essentially commercial policy of the city. In 1369 Flanders passed, as an inheritance from his wife, to the Duke of Burgundy, brother of the king of France and between 1384 and 1441, all the other parts, Artois, Namur, Brabant, Limburg, Luxembourg, the Hainaut and also Holland and Zeeland, passed to the same house in Burgundy, except for the bishopric of Liège. When Charles the Bold, the last Duke of Burgundy, died in 1477, the king of France hoped and tried to collect all the inheritance: but the emperor Maximilian, husband of the daughter of Charles the Bold, spoiled his plans:
We are in full Renaissance: and still historians and writers do not speak of a Belgium. In the Latin form yes, the name appears: among the humanists it begins to be found from the end of the century. XV, and became of general use starting from the century. XVI. Thus in Vera et simplex narratio eorum quae…. in Belgium…. gesta sunt by Hannart van Gameren (1578), in De bello civil belgico by Riccardo Dinotus (1586), in De iure belli belgici by W. Verheiden (1598), in the Annalium… de bello Gallo Belgico by Gaspare Ens (1606), in the Rerum Belgicarum libri quatuor by Johannes van Meurs (1614), etc. But the name remains of a clear classical imprint and derivation: while instead of meaning and of general and common use are the two terms Netherlands and Flanders, consecrated, both, in the national languages by historians (also frequently used, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it is the term Burgundy, with a reference not precise from a geographical point of view, but significant from a political point of view for the dominion of the house of Burgundy, of which the Habsburgs are only the prosecutors). Think of the Commentaries on the most memorable things that followed… in these Netherlands, by Ludovico Guicciardini (1566), to the Comentarios de lo sucedido en las guerras de los Payses Baxos, by Bernardino de Mendoza (1592), to the books Of the War of Flanders by Cardinal Bentivoglio (1633-1639). Indeed, it is typical that, where a Latin title of a work is to be translated, the name Belgium is rendered with the Netherlands: thus the Vera Narratio by Hannart van Gameren becomes in Italian the True narration of past things in the Netherlands (Milan 1578) ; the Declaratio causarum, ob quas Belgium gravissimis praemitur calamitatibus by Petrus a Sancto Audomaro (1582) is, in French, the Discours sur les causes et remèdes des troubles… du Pays – Bas (1585).
If not that, under the name The Netherlands will gather not only the territories of today’s Belgium, but also those of today’s Netherlands. The two state units of today, just as they do not have political individuality then, nor even real national individuality, however remarkable and profound the differences between the cities of Flanders (in the proper sense of the word) and the lands of ancient may have been. County of Holland or the Duchy of Gelderland.
The southern Netherlands can be distinguished from the northern ones: but the common term Netherlands still remains, and is used to give an at least formal unity to lands which have since broken away. The centralizing action of the House of Burgundy brought together the various blocks of territories under its power; Charles V added a series of northern territories, from 1523 to 1543: Friesland, Utrecht, Overyssel, Groningen, Gelderland and Zutphen; and to the south, with the 1526 Treaty of Madrid, Tournai with its province. Political unity, albeit momentary, of regions which were then divided. Perhaps, in the 1576 Pacification of Ghent, Catholics from the southern provinces and Protestants from the northern ones did not agree to free “the common homeland” ? This corresponds to the concept and general name of the Netherlands.
The clear division instead begins with the second half of the century. XVI: that is, when the religious contrasts, interfering with the struggle against the Spanish domination, determine the split between the Catholic and Protestant Netherlands, between the north and the south. In a word, between today’s Belgium and today’s Holland. And the split will no longer be composed, despite the ephemeral union of the two states between 1815 and 1830. The name Belgium does not yet appear; the official title of the country under Spanish domination is Catholic Netherlands; but by now a new historical unity is beginning to form. And from this moment, therefore, the history of Belgium can legitimately begin.