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History of Belgium

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The Ancient Celts

Beginning in 57 BC, Julius Caesar extended the power of Rome into the region of Europe that is now Belgium. The people he encountered there were the Belgae, one of the various Celtic tribes of early Gaul, and the Romans dubbed their new province Gallia Belgica. In the fourth century AD, with Rome in decline, control of Gaul was ceded to the Franks, a Germanic tribe that the weakened empire employed as mercenaries. As the Franks flourished, they decided to dispense with their Roman employers. By 431, they had established an independent dynasty, the Merovingian, with its capital at Tournai. Soon after, under Clovis I (c.466-511), the Merovingians succeeded in pummeling the last of the Romans in Gaul. They held large parts of present day France and Belgium as well as southwestern Germany. Clovis also adopted Christianity, thus gaining the support of the Church.

After Clovis' death the Merovingian kingdom began to fragment, and the Frankish lands did not come together under single rule again until the reign of Pepin III (the Short) in 751. Pepin deposed the last of the Merovingians and founded the Carolingian dynasty, which is named after his son Charlemagne.

Charlemagne succeeded his father in 768 and ruled for almost a half century, creating during that time an empire that covered nearly all of continental Europe, with the exception of Spain and Scandinavia. In 800, Pope Leo III crowned him Emperor of the West. Although Charlemagne spent much of his reign conquering and subduing various parts of Europe, he also did much to foster commerce and the arts. The beginnings of organized trade along Belgium's rivers was one result of his reign, as was the preservation of classical learning and the arts.

On Charlemagne's death, his empire was divided, and familial feuding led finally to the Treaty of Verdun in 843. Under the terms of the treaty, three of Charlemagne's grandsons split the empire between them. West Francia, under Charles the Bold, formed the basis of France. The Middle Kingdom was given to Lothair, though it would soon fragment. East Francia, under Louis the German, became the basis of Germany. West Francia included the narrow strip of land north and west of the Scheldt river in today's Belgium. The remainder of present-day Belgium was included first in the Middle Kingdom, under Lothair, but it gradually came under the sway of the German kings.

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