Land of the ancient Belgae, who Julius Caesar believed to be “the most courageous tribe in all of Gaul,” Belgium (as part of the Low Lands which included The Netherlands and Luxembourg) was controlled for 1,800 years by a succession of foreign powers anxious to reap their wealth. The area was renowned for its international commercial trade from the 1400s through 1700s thanks to its ready access to the sea and powerful merchant class. Belgium is a land of divided heritage – the Dutch-speaking Protestant Flemish and the French-speaking Catholic Walloons – as a result of its geography and this fluctuating control. After years of Spanish and Austrian annexation, it was incorporated into France by Napoleon in 1794 . That was short lived. Following the Napoleonic Wars, the region was given to the Netherlands under the Treaty of Paris (1815). By 1830 Belgium was in revolt and declared itself an independent and “perpetually neutral” state by 1838. A constitutional monarchy was established with Leopold I (uncle of Great Britain’s Queen Victoria) on the throne (1831-1865) followed by his son, Leopold II. During the son’s reign Belgium would colonize the Congo and Leopold II would adorn Belgian postage stamps on two continents.
Belgian philately begins in 1849 and is divided into several areas and time periods: the King Leopold Period (1849-1911), the King Albert Period (1912-1940), the Post-War II Period. Where the Leopold Period was dominated by royal portraits on stamps, the Albert Period included many more commemorative issues. When Belgium was liberated at the end of WWII, the Post War Period of Belgian philately began. While postage stamps are integral to these periods, Belgium’s rich specialty stamps, especially its semi-postal and parcel post stamps, are equally long-lived and important.
The stamps of Belgium showcase a strong cultural and national heritage. Their stamps include commemorations of famous Belgians, like Adolphe Sax (inventor of the saxophone), and important landmarks and religious subjects. Philately remains a popular, though diminished, hobby in the country; numerous issues celebrating stamp collecting and major philatelic expositions have been released over the years.