(Chapter XII, section 3)




Belgium, with its 11,755 square miles, is a small country, but it is one which is important in European history as the meeting place of the Germanic north and the territories whose cultures and languages have been determined by contact with Rome. With 686 persons per square mile, it is one of the most thickly populated countries of Europe - its total population of 8,092,004 persons (1930 census) being much greater than those of many sovereign states many times its area.

This population has more than doubled in the last century; for in 1831 it was 3,785,814. This increase was due not to immigration, but wholly to internal reproduction. Belgium is, of course, one of the most highly industrialized countries of Europe - her soil is rich in natural resources, and heavy industries dependent on the abundance of mineral wealth are especially developed here. Industrialism is, however, nothing new to Belgium, for during the Middle Ages and succeeding centuries, Flanders was the textile center of Europe.

Belgium has only 42 miles of seacoast, which consists of sandy beach and dunes, with the shore going off so shallow that there are no natural harbors - all older seports, such as Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges, having been located inland on waterways. At the back of this sandy shore is a belt of flat country which is for the most part flush with the level of the sea or only a little above it; but for the natural barrier of the dunes and for man-made reinforcements, large parts of this land would be inundated at every exceptional equinoctial tide. This flat area is the plain of Flanders, famous for centuries as the battleground of Europe. Here the Romans fought Belgae and Germans; here the Spaniards and Austrians struggled in their time for possession of the Low Countries; here Napoleon met his Waterloo, which has a good Flemish name; and here, during the World War, Flanders suffered its latest, but probably not its last, invasion.

In the time of the Romans, the plain of Flanders was a swamp, impenetrable save to those who lived or sought refuge in it; it could never have held a large permanent population. During the Dark and Middle Ages a systematic drainage of the land and the building of dykes, combined with the natural action of the wind and waves blowing off the North Sea, made it a fertile plain eminently habitable by man. Its intensive settlement, therefore, dates largely from the last centuries of the first Christian millennium.

Bordering the plain of Flanders, on drier ground, there stood in Roman times a dense forest which served to reënforce the barrier of tidal swamps and salt marshes. This forest, called Sylva Carbonaria by the Romans, was an extension of the Ardennes Forest of northern France, and served as a barrier between those few Belgae who lived in moist freedom on the marshes, and the upland-dwelling Belgae and Gauls who adopted Roman speech, and became Walloons - the word Walloon being a cognate of the German Welsch, or English Welsh, a word which the early Germanic peoples applied to all strangers, much as the Greeks used the word barbaroi.

The Walloon country is topographically differentiated from the Flemish plain; although its highest elevation is 2200 feet, it is covered with many hills and small valleys, and is forested, while the plain is almost treeless.

The Romans first learned of the Low Countries in the time of Caesar, who found Keltic-speaking peoples in possession of all regions south and west of the Rhine, as far as Gaul, and this Keltic country thus included all of Belgium and much of the modern Netherlands. In 15 A.D. this country became, by imperial decree, Romanized Gallia Belgica.

About 300 A.D. the Franks began swarming over the Rhine into Roman territory, and gradually worked their way southward and westward. They took over the land as they went, except for the coastal strip north from the Scheldt to the Ems, which became Frisian property. The Frisians were allies of the Saxons, who had given the Franks the urge to migrate by driving them out of their former homes; hence the Frisians and the Franks were enemies.

Modern Flemish, the permanent linguistic heritage of the Frankish invasions of Belgium, is a branch of the west-Germanic language group, which includes three main divisions: (1) English (2) Frisian (3) Modern German dialects. The third category includes, as well as modern Platt-deutsch, both Flemish and Dutch.19 In the sixth century certain sound shifts took place in German, starting in the mountains to the south and spreading north. The dialects which took over these shifts became High German, while those which retained their old form are Low German. Owing to this conservatism, the latter are closest to Frisian and to English. Flemish is a modification through Saxon and Frisian influences of Low Franconian, the speech brought into Belgium by the Franks. When the Franks entered the plain of Flanders, they found it nearly empty of people, hence it is no wonder that their speech took root there. In the then more populous Walloon country Latin soon reëmerged at the expense of Frankish, and has survived in the medium of an archaic Langue d'Ouil dialect.

When the comparative tranquility of the Middle Ages arrived, Flanders, drained and populous, the most important of all the Low Countries, then included some of what is now northwestern France, the Belgian provinces of East and West Flanders, and the Dutch province of Zeeland.

Mediaeval Flanders was important because of its chartered towns with their skilled craftsmen, whose fame was renowned all over Europe. The most important of these towns were Ghent, Bruges, and Ypres - those which arose in Antwerp, Brabant, and Limburg were later, as were the Dutch towns. During the thirteenth century these Flemish towns had an industrial population of 100,000 to 200,000 people, most of whom were supported by weaving. There was a strong trade connection with England, whence they obtained their wool. In 1400 A.D. Flanders was the richest spot in Europe and probably in the whole world, and it is no wonder that it excited the greed of foreign princes, who were willing to spill much blood in order to seize its fat revenues.

This picture of a fertile, prosperous, and populous Flanders accords ill with our previous portrayal of a swampy refuge, such as it was at the time of the Roman arrival. Although Flanders is much less affected by floods than are the Netherlands proper, still these have been of importance in Flemish history. Dykes had to be built before Flanders could be fully occupied, and even these dykes could not insure permanent safety. The twelfth century was an especially evil period in both Holland and Flanders; there were great disasters in both regions, and in 1111 A.D. many Flemish families moved to England to reside permanently and comfortably above high water. It was during the century after this series of inundations that Flanders attained its peak of prosperity.

During the sixteenth century, Protestantism spread into the Low Countries out of Germany, and became common in what is now the Netherlands, whereas it failed to dislodge Catholicism in the present Belgium. The attempts of Charles V and Philip II of Spain to suppress the heresy merely served to spread it; the gentle ministrations of the Duke of Alva and his executioners killed thousands, but there were many thousands more who survived. These inquisitorial activities had the effect of drawing a sharp line between a Protestant North and a Catholic South where the present boundary separates Holland from Belgium. It was not geography, nor a difference in culture or language, but an accident of religion consolidated by persecution that caused the separation of Flemish Belgium from the Netherlands. Since the time of Caesar we have witnessed a southward movement of political and linguistic boundaries; in 57 B.C. both were identical with the Rhine. Migrations and gross population shifts have pushed the Germanic-Romance linguistic frontier southward to a natural barrier, where it has remained constant for many centuries.

The skeletal prehistory of Belgium, for all practical purposes, starts with the Neolithic and concerns itself almost entirely with the Walloon country. Here there was a strong brachycephalic concentration during the Neolithic, and some low-vaulted, short-statured Mediterranean groups as well; on the whole, the concentration of brachycephals was greater in Belgium than in most of France. The Neolithic brachycephals of the Walloon country were as large-headed as the Ofnet people, and thus approached the Borreby type in vault dimensions, but their faces were smaller than those of the latter. The Belgian Bronze Age and the pre-Frankish Iron Age are practically unknown skeletally, but the Franks are well represented. They belonged almost entirely to a low-vaulted mesocephalic Nordic type, identical with that of the Iron Age Kelts.

A cranial series of modern age, not mentioned in the earlier chapters, is of particular interest. This is the Saaftingen series of 56 male and 38 female skulls,20 taken from a Flemish cemetary on an island which is now submerged at high tide. The date of his cemetary is roughly 1500 A.D. The crania are uniformly brachycephalic [SNPA correction: brachycranial], with a cranial index range of 79 to 92 for the male specimens, and 77 to 92 for the female. The mean cranial index for the males is 85.7. In size and vault conformarion they may readily be identified as pure Borreby type skulls. This identification extends to the facial dimensions and indices; the orbits are low, the nose mesorrhine, the face (136 mm.), and the jaw (104 mm.) wide. The problem of the racial character of the few inhabitants of the Flemish marshlands from Neolithic to Frankish times is perhaps solved; the swampy shores were apparently the home of a southwestern extension of the Danish Borreby people, who merged with Alpines in the highlands, and who, on their own marshes, maintained their racial identity in isolated spots until almost modern times.

Data on living Belgians are limited for the most part to the conventional surveys of stature, head form, and pigmentation, as in France. The Belgians as a nation are men of medium stature,21 and the same is true of both the Flemings and the Walloons. In the 1880-82 conscript classes, Houzé found a mean stature of 166.1 cm. for Flemings, and of 164.8 cm. for Walloons. In those years the linguistic boundary was also a stature boundary, since the tallest Walloon province was shorter than the shortest Flemish province. In the 1902-07 classes, this difference had largely disappeared, since the mean for Flemings was 166.2 cm., and that for Walloons 165.8 cm. Belgian convicts measured in 1920 had a stature mean of 167.4 cm. for Flemings, 167.3 for Walloons. Thus regional stature differences in Belgium have been largely obliterated during the last half century.

Since the present stature level is about that of the Neolithic Belgian brachycephals and of the Belgae and Franks, any increase must be considered in the light of a return to an earlier level after an intervening period of depression, as in Scandinavia. Flanders was for centuries a recruiting ground for soldiers. Furthermore, adverse industrial conditions have been endemic there longer that in any other European country. Both factors may have tended, during the Middle Ages, to lower the mean stature both environmentally and by selection. On the whole the present-day Belgians are a little taller than Frenchmen, shorter than English and Dutchmen, and about the same as southwestern Germans. Both Flemings and Walloons are moderately thick-set in bodily build;22 their shoulders are broad, and their relative sitting height (53.5) great. Their arms, however, are not long, and their relative spans 103, is of an average European position.

The cephalic index seems to follow the linguistic cleavage to a greater extent than does stature.23 In the Flemish-speaking country the mean index of Limburg, the easternmost province, is 78.9; this rises regularly from east to west, reaching 80.5 in West Flanders. In the Walloon country the lowest mean is 80.7 for Namur; Liege and Hainaut have means of 81.1 and 81.4; Walloon Brabant of 82.3. The province of Luxemburg, the southeasternmost of the kingdom, has a mean of 83.4. In the Flemish country, the lowest indices are those nearest Germany; the highest are near the coast, where pre-Frankish brachycephalic populations have been absorbed. The mean cephalic index of all Flemings is 79.4; of all Walloons 82.0.24 The Flemings are on the whole mesocephals, the Walloons, except for the Luxemburg people, sub-brachycephals; the last named are the only true brachycephals.

The heads of all these people, except for the Luxemburg sample, are extremely large. The mean head length of Flemings is 194 mm., for Walloons 191.4 mm. Only the Luxemburg group has a mean of under 190 mm. If one selects the individuals from the different provincial samples with cephalic indices of 82 and over, so as to eliminate the influence of dolichocephals and mesocephals, and seriates for head lengths and breadths, one finds mean lengths of 190-192 mm. for all provinces except Luxemburg, where the mean is 186 mm.; the mean breadths of these selected heads are 160 mm. and over, except for Luxemburg, where the mean is 157 mm. The significance of this exercise is clear. Among both Flemings and Walloons, the major brachycephalic element is of Borreby size, while in Luxemburg only is truly Alpine brachycephaly in the French sense predominant. The head length and breadth means of the major group are nearly as great as those of the Baltic island of Fehmarn, the modern Borreby concentration point, while those of Luxemburg are similar to the dimensions of French brachycephals. The modern Walloons retain in unaltered form the cranial characters of their brachycephalic Neolithic ancestors. Today as during the Neolithic, they form a southwestern periphery of the Borreby racial area, the center of which lies actually well to the south of Denmark.

The pigmentation map of Belgium25 follows the same general pattern of the stature and cephalic index distributions. The Flemings are fairer than the Walloons, but not by much. Beddoe found 54 per cent of Flemings to have light eyes, as against 50 per cent for Walloons; dark eyes totalled 33 per cent amound the former, 37 per cent among the latter. Both are well on the light side of intermediate in eye color. The Flemings have 52 per cent of medium brown hair, and 18 per cent of lighter shades, as against 37 per cent of brown and 13 per cent of light among the Walloons. The difference is not great, but it is consistent, and both groups are again of intermediate pigmentation. Among schoolchildren who still show their infantile dominance of light hair, 50 per cent or over in every province show both hair and eye blondism; in the Walloon provinces the ratio falls under 55 per cent, in the Flemish provinces it ranges between 55 per cent and 68 per cent. Since latent blondism may be detected more easily among children tham among adults, the conclusion is that the Belgians of both linguistic groups contain both blond and brunet genetic factors; with the former slightly more important in the case of the Walloons, and considerably more in the case of the Flemings.

The Flemings are as light as most of the regional English populations; the Walloons on the whole are lighter than most of the French.26

An individual study of the inhabitants of a small, isolated Flemish village, Mendonck, in the canton of Lochristy in the province of East Flanders, shows us that local concentrations of the lowland Borreby racial type, as seen at Saaftingen, have not yet been completely dissolved. The mean stature of 60 males is 170.3 cm.; the cephalic index 81.2, with head lengths and breadths of 192 mm. and 156 mm. The bizygomatic diameter is 139 mm. These men are thus tall, sub-brachycephalic, and broad-faced; in pigmentation, 74 per cent have light skins which will not tan or have not tanned, having turned red on the exposed parts, like many English integuments. The eyes are 15 per cent blue, 73 per cent mixed, and 12 per cent brown; since Houzé followed Bertillon's method, these figures may be considered accurate. The hair is listed as blond, 63 per cent; light brown, 6 per cent; dark brown, 31 per cent. In other words, they are intermediate in hair and eye color, but on the light side. Occipital flattening is common; the nasal profile is usually straight, and the nasal tip often snubbed.

Houzé's regressions make it clear that there are, in this Mendonck population, two clearly distinguishable types, a Frankish Nordic, with a stature of about 167 cm., and leptorrhine; and a Borreby type with a stature of 171 cm., and a mesorrhine tendency. The tall brachycephals have a heavy body build, a broad face, a deep, heavy jaw, short upper facial segment, and heavy browridges. The Nordic type runs more to prominence and length of nose and upper face, and less to bony eminences in general. It is a more delicate, less massive type.

The conclusions derived from this study are not that the Flemings are Nordics and the Walloons Alpines, as has been frequently stated. The Flemings are, in fact, a people who are largely Nordic, and who derived their Nordic blood from their linguistic ancestors, the Franks. The Nordic sub-type of the Franks is that of the Keltic Iron Age. They have absorbed, especially in western Flanders, a certain amount of Borreby blood by intermarriage with the earlier inhabitants of the Flemish plain, who lived there in small numbers before this plain had been dyked and drained. The Walloons are the descendants of the large-headed highland population of the Neolithic, which was of mixed Alpine and Borreby derivation. To this has been added a Nordic accretion, and the actual metrical differences between Flemings and Walloons, while consistent, are not great. Only the inhabitants of the province of Luxemburg may be called Alpines in the strict sense, and their relationship is clearly with Lorraine and Burgundy.


19. Priebsch, R., "German Language," Encyclopaedia Britannica, thirteenth edition, vol. 11, pp. 778-783.

20. DePauw, L., and Jacques, V., BSAB, vol. 3, 1884, pp. 191-260.

21. Sources on Belgian stature are:
Houzé, E., BSAB, vol. 6, 1887, pp. 278-304.
Vervaeck, L., BSAB, vol. 28, 1909, pp. 1-60; vol. 34, 1920, pp. 50-90.

22. Vervaeck, L., BSAB, vol. 34, 1919, pp. 138-144.
MacAuliffe, L., and Marie, A., CRAS, Paris, 1921, vol. 172, pp. 284-286.

23. Housé, E., BSAB, vol. 7, 1888, pp. 177-205; vol. 16, 1897, pp. 78-89.
MacAuliffe and Marie, loc. cit.

Provincial means cover series of 26 to 61 individuals, and are too small to be completely reliable.

24. All available series have been pooled, making 362 Flemings and 366 Walloons.

25. Beddoe, J., The Races of Britain.
Claerhout, J., BSAB, vol. 29, 1910, pp. 1-55.
Houzé, E., BSAB, vol. 16, 1897, pp. 78-89.
MacAuliffe, L., and Marie, A., Ethnographie, vol. 5, 1922, pp. 41-48.

26. Direct comparisons may be made between Flemish and English through Beddoe's work, between Walloons and French through that of MacAuliffe and Marie.