The history of Belgium covers the peoples who have lived in the region of modern-day Belgium, and the main developments there since pre-historic times, although Belgium as an independent state and even regional identity emerged only a few hundred years ago. Belgium's history is intertwined with those of its neighbours: the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxembourg. For most of its history, what is now Belgium was either a part of a larger territory, such as the Carolingian Empire or the Spanish Netherlands, or divided into a number of smaller states, prominent among them being Brabant, Flanders, Liège and Luxembourg. A feature of its history is the number of wars between other European powers which have included campaigns on Belgian territory, causing it to be nicknamed the "cockfighting arena of Europe". It is also remarkable as a European nation which contains, and is divided by, a language boundary between Latin-derived French, and Germanic Dutch and German.
The name 'Belgium' is derived from Gallia Belgica, a Roman province in the northernmost part of Gaul that, before Roman invasion in 100 BC, was inhabited by the Belgae, a mix of Celtic and Germanic peoples. A gradual immigration by Germanic Frankish tribes during the 5th century brought the area under the rule of the Salian Franks, putting it in the centre of the early medieval Merovingian and then Carolingian Empires. These split into what became the Kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire, with what is now Belgium divided into a number of smaller, more or less independent fiefdoms which were vassals of one of those two rulers.
Belgium's formation into a single country can be traced to several events. First, the majority of the territory of the Low Countries was united, mostly by marriage, as the Burgundian Netherlands, which became part of the Habsburg Empire. Second, as a result of the Eighty Years' War from 1568 to 1648, the Dutch Republic gained its independence, leaving most of modern Belgium as the remaining Spanish Netherlands, and later the Austrian Netherlands. Third, the parts of modern Belgium that had remained under the Prince-Bishop of Liège, were unified administratively with the rest while under the control of the First French Empire. Fourth, after the defeat of Napoleon the region came under Dutch rule, but Belgium gained independence in the 1830 Belgian Revolution, giving the state its name and approximate modern borders.
Upon its independence in 1830, Belgium was one of the first countries to experience an Industrial Revolution and, during the course of the 20th century, gained a number of colonies in Africa. Belgium was invaded by Germany during both World Wars. The Belgian Congo gained independence in 1960; Ruanda-Urundi following with its independence two years later. In the postwar period Belgium joined NATO as a founding member and was one of the six founding members of what became the European Union; Brussels is now host to the headquarters of NATO and is the de facto capital of the European Union.
The second half of the 20th century was marked by the rise of contrasts between the Flemish and the Francophones fuelled by differences of language and the unequal economic development of Flanders and Wallonia. This ongoing antagonism has caused far-reaching reforms, changing the formerly unitary Belgian state into a federal state, and several governmental crises.
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—Adrienne Rich (b. 1929)