Long before recorded history, the territory of today's Grand Duchy was home to Magdalenian and Celtic tribes. The Treviri, a fierce Celtic people who resisted invaders to the death, finally fell in the 1st century B.C. to Roman legions. Thereafter, one Roman emperor after another put down numerous uprisings of the independent-minded inhabitants, who stubbornly refused to give up their worship of Druidism for the paganism of Rome.
As Rome suffered military defeats, the Roman hold on the region weakened. By the 5th century the only reminders of the Romans left in Luxembourg were the bits and pieces of their urban civilization, a network of bridges, and place names like Ettelbruck (Attila's Bridge), named for the Hun warlord who dealt the knockout blow to the Western Roman Empire. Luxembourg was by then firmly in the camp of the Franks.
Along with monasteries that sprang up and flourished came educational and cultural influences that helped form the foundation of today's Luxembourg. The great Frankish leader Charlemagne brought in Saxons to settle the Ardennes, thus adding another ethnic imprint to the face of the region.
In the 10th century, Siegfried, the youngest of the counts of the Ardennes, built his castle on the ruins of Castellum Lucilinburhuc, an ancient Roman fort that had guarded the crossroads of the important roads from Paris to Trier and from Metz to Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen). On that strategic spot grew a town and eventually a country by the name of Luxembourg.
Enlightened Female Rule
By the 12th century, the counts of Luxembourg were at the helm. They enlarged their territory by wars with other noblemen, astute marriages, and diplomatic shenanigans.
When Henry the Blind's daughter, Countess Ermesinda, reached adulthood in the early 1200s, things were in disarray. But Ermesinda was able to restore some of Luxembourg's lost territory through a few marriages, as she inherited lands previously held by her ailing spouses. When her last husband died in 1225, she boldly took charge of the affairs of state. Her legacy was a united nation with enlightened social standards.
In 1308, Henry VII of the House of Luxembourg became emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. He spent the rest of his life trying to unite all of Europe under his rule; by the time his great-grandson, Wenceslas, gained the throne, the House of Luxembourg ruled a territory some 500 times the size of today's Luxembourg.
The glory days did not last long, however. King Wenceslas's son, Sigismund, was far less capable than his ancestors. By the mid-1400s Luxembourg itself was a province ruled by the dukes of Burgundy. During the next 400 years that rule shifted among Spain, France, and Austria.
A Strong Place
To quell the locals' growing unrest, each successive ruler found it necessary to further strengthen a capital city that was already one of Europe's best defended. Luxembourg, then, became a problem for the rest of Europe: Its position was too strategic and its fortifications too strong to allow it to be self-governing -- or even to be controlled by any one nation. The answer seemed to be to divide Luxembourg among several nations; therefore, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 handed over most of the country to Holland's William of Orange-Nassau, and the remainder to Prussia. Then, with the Treaty of London in 1839, more than half of Holland's piece of Luxembourg was given to Belgium (the resulting Belgian province still bears the name Luxembourg).
Still, its many fortifications made it all but impregnable, so in 1867 the European powers convened in London and decided that freedom would be granted the Grand Duchy on condition that its fortifications be dismantled. Luxembourgers were overjoyed. In October 1868, they affirmed a constitution that boldly proclaimed "the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg forms a free state, independent and indivisible."
War & Peace
Twice -- in World War I and World War II -- Luxembourg suffered military occupation.
In the winter of 1944 and 1945, part of the Battle of the Bulge was fought in the Ardennes region of northern Luxembourg. General George S. Patton's Third Army turned the tide of that battle, with an assault that relieved the besieged U.S. 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne in Belgium.
The little country didn't just work to rebuild itself in the postwar years. In 1945, Luxembourg joined the United Nations. In 1948, it formed a Customs union called Benelux with Belgium and the Netherlands that later became an economic union, and in 1949 was a founding member of NATO.
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