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Political and Administrative History
The Flemish (Dutch) speaking peoples of Belgium are closely related to those speaking Germanic languages in other countries. The French or Walloon speaking peoples are associated with the populations of France and Luxembourg. The Belgae, a Celtic people, were overrun by the Franks, a Germanic stock.
Modern Belgium was originally part of Charlemagne’s empire, but was later divided between the Holy Roman Empire of Germany and the French Kingdom. With Luxembourg and the rest of the Netherlands in was incorporated into the Kingdom of Burgundy of the German Empire in 1484. Eventually the Spanish branch of the Habsburg family inherited Burgundy. After the revolt of the Dutch Protestant northern provinces in 1581, the remaining Catholic territory was known as the Spanish Netherlands. These provinces passed to Austria in 1713. Because of their Flemish (Dutch) and French (Walloon) speaking elements, they were claimed and overrun by France in 1792, and then given to the Netherlands in 1815. They chose to revolt in 1830 from the Netherlands, and were recognized as a separate Kingdom of Belgium.
Belgium obtained possession of the Congo in 1884. It was incorporated into Belgium in 1908, and its citizens became Belgian citizens. When the independence of the Belgian Congo was recognized in 1960 it became known as Zaire, and has subsequently become known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Belgium was the scene of fighting in both the First and Second World Wars.
The population of Belgium passed the half million mark in AD 1100. It increased steadily and reached 1.3 million in 1350 when the plague reduced the population by about one third. In the 16th century the Dutch revolted against Spanish rule and many Belgians left for the Netherlands, resulting in a stagnant population in Belgium. With the Industrial Revolution population began to pick up and had reached 3.25 million by 1800. By 1900 it had jumped to 6.8 million, and today includes 10.2 million inhabitants. Ethnic groups include Flemish (Dutch) 58%, Walloon (French) 32%, Italian (2%), German (1%), Polish, Spanish, African and others. Over 900,000 foreigners currently reside in Belgium, mostly from southern Europe and Africa.
The area of Belgium was 11,373 square miles in 1900. By reclaiming the sea it has reached 11,799 square miles today, about twice the size of Massachusetts. The population density is 864 inhabitants per square mile.
The capital is Brussels (pop. 950,500), which is officially bilingual. Other important cities include Antwerp (pop. 453,000), Ghent (225,500), Charleroi (205,000), and Liege (189,500). The metropolitan areas of each of these cities is much larger.
1568 - 1648 - The Eighty Years' War divided the Low Countries into the northern United Provinces Federated Netherlands and the Southern Netherlands the Royal Netherlands. The latter were ruled successively by the Spanish and the Austrian Habsburgs and comprised most of modern Belgium
1815 - The reunification of the Low Countries as the United Kingdom of the Netherlands occurred at the dissolution of the First French Empire
1898 - French was originally the single official language until Dutch recognition became official in 1898
1914 - Germany invaded as part of the Schlieffen Plan to attack France, and much of the Western Front fighting of World War I occurred in western parts of the country
1940 - German forces again invaded the country and 40,690 Belgians, over half of them Jews, were killed during the subsequent occupation and The Holocaust