Belgium - Country history and economic development



500-200 B.C. The area that is now Belgium is settled by a Celtic tribe, the Belgae (who gave their name to the region).

57 B.C. Julius Caesar begins conquering Belgium. The province comes to be known as Gallia Belgae. For the next 400 years, the area prospers under Roman control.

400 A.D. As Rome declines, the Franks gain control of the territory.

431. The Franks establish the Merovingian dynasty in Belgium.

466-511. Reign of Clovis I. During his reign, the last Roman territories in Gaul are captured and the kingdom is expanded to include areas of France and Germany. The Belgian people are converted to Christianity.

751. Pepin III deposes the Merovingians and starts the Carolingian dynasty.

768. Charlemagne succeeds his father, Pepin III. Charlemagne expands the empire to include all of Western Europe, and the king is crowned Emperor of the West by the Pope in 800. During his reign, organized trade begins along Belgium's rivers. After his death, the empire declines.

843. The Treaty of Verdun divides the empire among 3 of Charlemagne's sons. The western areas of Belgium come under France's control, while the eastern territories are controlled under the Middle Kingdom of Lothair. Ultimately, Germans control the eastern territories.

867. In order to protect people from Norse raids, walled cities are created. The first of these is Ghent, followed by Bruges and Ypres.

977. Brussels is founded by Charles, the Duke of Lorraine.

1000. As the Norse raids subside, trade dramatically expands. This period is the golden age of Flanders. Merchants import wool from England that is woven into fine cloths and tapestries. Flemish cities become populous and wealthy.

1300. Because of their wealth, Ghent, Bruges, and Ypres gain virtual independence from the aristocracy. A civic culture flourishes. This independence is confirmed by the defeat of the French nobles in the Battle of the Golden Spurs.

1329. Aristocratic control is re-established and the independence of the Flemish cities is revoked.

1337-1453. There is a Hundred Years War between France and England. The English support their trade allies, the Flemish, in their continuing efforts to gain autonomy from France.

1384. Flanders comes under the control of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.

1419-1467. Philip the Good reigns. The Burgundian Empire in Belgium expands and includes the southeastern areas of Brussels, Liege, and Namur. Trade, arts, and culture expand. Prominent artists include Van Eyck, Rubens, and Van Dyck.

1490s. The canals around Bruges fill with silt and trade shifts further north to Antwerp.

1519-1713. Religious conflicts between the Protestant areas of Flanders and Catholics, led by Philip II of Spain, lead to the occupation of Belgium by Spain.

1648. The Protestant United Provinces of the North gain independence from Spain and become the Netherlands. The center of trade shifts from Antwerp and Ghent to Amsterdam. Meanwhile in order to avoid high labor costs and taxation, textile mills increasingly move from the urban areas to the countryside.

1719-1794. Austria occupies Belgium according to the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht. A revolt in 1790 leads to the establishment of the United States of Belgium, but Austrian control is soon re-established. During this period, landowners begin to mine various products, mainly coal and iron ore.

1795. France occupies Belgium and institutes a variety of civil reforms that serve as the foundation of the modern Belgian government. Encouraged by the French, industrialization begins during this period. By the turn of the century, factories with more than 100 employees become common. Ghent, home to numerous cotton mills, becomes the textile center of the country. Mining also continues to spread, especially in the French-speaking areas and in Liege.

1815. Belgium becomes part of the Netherlands by the Congress of Vienna. Dutch becomes the official language and William I of the Netherlands adopts a variety of programs to encourage industrialization in the south. However, the industrialization exacerbated the regional differences in the nation as the agrarian North sought free trade, while the industrialized South sought tariffs and other trade protections.

1831. Belgium gains independence from the Netherlands. Leopold of Saxe-Coburg becomes the Belgian king. Industrialization continues to sweep across the nation.

1835. The Banque du Belgique is founded. It provides financing for industry and serves as the model for similar banks in Germany, England, and France.

1844-46. Famine in Flanders leads to widespread economic problems and marks the final decline of the traditional linen industry. These combined problems slowed the economic development of the region well into the twentieth century.

1850. The National Bank of Belgium is formed.

1885. Congo becomes a personal possession of Leopold II.

1886. Worker unrest, which began in Liege, spreads throughout the nation. The government harshly suppresses this unrest, but it results in worker housing and wages reform.

1908. The Congo is annexed as a colony of Belgium.

1914. Germany invades Belgium at the start of World War I. During the war, some 20 percent of the nation's wealth is lost or destroyed.

1918. Universal suffrage is enacted.

1921. The Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union (BLEU) is formed.

1930. Flanders and Wallonia become legally unilingual.

1940. During World War II, Germany invades Belgium and the Netherlands.

1944. Belgium joins the Benelux Economic Union, formed between Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

1949. The nation joins NATO.

1952. Belgium joins the European Coal and Steel Community.

1957. Belgium is one of the founding members of the European Community.

1960. The Congo gains independence.

1961. Massive strikes lead to the creation of a permanent linguistic barrier between Flanders and Wallonia, while the Brussels region is officially bilingual.

1962. Rwanda and Burundi are granted independence.

1971. Flanders and Wallonia are granted cultural autonomy.

1973. The worldwide oil crisis initiates a period of deep industrial decline, which is exacerbated by the second oil crisis in 1979.

1989. A revised constitution grants greater autonomy to Flanders and Wallonia, and Brussels is granted the status of a region.

1993. King Baudouin dies and is succeeded by his brother, King Albert II.

1999. The kingdom joins EMU.

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