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Brief history of the Netherlands – part 1

In Too lazy to assign a category on January 26, 2007 at 8:44 pm

For 18,000 years, human beings inhabited the land that is now called the Netherlands. Archeologists have discovered crude stone weapons and tools as proof. These early people did not settle in one place however, but continually moved around in search of food and shelter. Evidence of the first settled tribes can still be seen along the eastern border with Germany, where these people heaped up huge piles of large rocks as memorials to the dead. These memorials, known as “Hunnebedden”, date back 4,000 years. The English term for these memorials is Dolmen.

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(Example of a Dolmen)

Other remnants of the past, that date back 2,500 years, can be seen in the province of Friesland. There, tremendous mounds of earth and clay, called “terpen” stand out in the Frisian landscape.

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(Example of a terp)

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(Example of a terp, seen from the air)

The Frisians built these islands in an attempt to deal with the North Sea. Other tribes, including Celtic people from central Europe and Germanic tribes from northern Europe, settled in the Netherlands. The Frisian, Celtic, and Germanic tribes each had their own appearance, customs, dialects, and way of life.

In the 1st century BC, the Romans, whose empire was expanding throughout Europe and the Mediterranean region, overpowered the Netherlands. The people of the Low Countries were no match for the massive, well-organized army of Julius Caesar. Around 50 BC the Romans conquered the areas that consist today of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. The conquest was a mixed blessing for the Dutch. Although the people no longer had their independence, the Roman invaders taught them how to build highways, towns, and more effective dikes. For the majority of the Roman occupation, the boundary of the Roman Empire lay along the Rhine. Romans built the first cities in the Netherlands, most importantly Utrecht, Nijmegen, and Maastricht.

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(sarcophagus found in Nijmegen, next to the main road of the Roman city that once was there)

All was not peaceful under Roman rule, however, and the Dutch revolted from time to time. These uprisings were unsuccessful until the Roman Empire began to crumble. A Germanic people called the Franks drove out the Romans in the early 5th century AD and overcame their neighbours, the Saxons, and laid claim to a kingdom that included the present-day countries of the Netherlands, Belgium, France and part of Germany, during the reign of Charlemagne (Charles the Great). The Frankish empire divided and re-united several times, in the end giving rise to two major powers, France and the Holy Roman Empire in Germany. The Netherlands formed part of the latter.

The Dutch faced tremendous difficulties at that point – not only had they lost their independence, but they continued to struggle against the sea. To make matters worse, they faced a new threat: the Vikings. Vikings were Scandinavian seafarers who plundered and terrorized the coasts of northern and western Europe. For 200 years, the Dutch were subject to vicious, unpredictable raids by these fierce Norwegians and Danes.

During the 10th century, a number of feudal semi-autonomous vassal states, owing allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire, emerged as the rulers of the Low Countries. Local vassals made their countships and duchies into private kingdoms and felt not much obliged to the emperor, who over large parts of the nation governed only in name. Large parts of what now comprise the Netherlands were governed by the count of Holland, the duke of Gelre, the duke of Brabant and the bishop of Utrecht, but Friesland and Groningen in the north kept their independence, being governed by the lower nobility. Most of what is now the Netherlands and Belgium was united by the duke of Burgundy. This period was known as the Burgundian Dynasty.

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