The earliest signs of agricultural activity in the Netherlands were from around 5000 BC. The area was influenced by a number of non-indigenous ideas during the Neolithic period and was a key location in the development of the Bell Beaker culture, fusing knowledge from the earlier Funnel Beaker culture to the north and the Corded Ware culture to the east. The geographical position of the Rhine delta has also played a major part in Dutch history, with the river forming the frontier between Celtic and Germanic tribes and then making up the northern boundary of the Roman Empire.
After the fall of Rome, the Franks came to dominate the Low Countries. They made the region a founding part of the Holy Roman Empire, although there was little political cohesion with the region being a patchwork of feudal states. A supra-regional state began to form after the dukes of Burgundy undertook a series of arranged marriages, land purchases and wars, with the various fiefdoms joining to form the Burgundian Netherlands in 1384.
The Burgundian dynasty ended after Charles the Bold died in battle without leaving any male heirs, resulting in the territory being assimilated into the House of Habsburg through marriage. With Charles I of Spain, along with his son and successor Philip II, a period of overseas rule coincided with the emergence of the Reformation. The Catholic rulers tried to suppress the Protestant movement but only succeeded in increasing tension and paving the way for the Dutch Revolt and the Eighty Years' War.
William, Prince of Orange, became a leader of the Dutch Revolt in 1568, leading to the Dutch War of Independence. The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was established in 1581, but it was not until the Peace of Münster in 1648 that the Dutch Republic became internationally recognised. This period of war, and the decades that followed, represents what is known as the 'Dutch Golden Age'. During this time, the Netherlands saw a rapid increase in trade and the development of industry.
The Dutch East India Company was formed in 1602, creating the world's first multinational company. This led to the Netherlands embarking on major colonial activities in Asia, eventually enabling them to overtake Portuguese and Spanish dominance of trade. By the time the Dutch West India Company was formed in 1621, the Netherlands was secure in its status as the world's most powerful trading nation. This was the Dutch Golden Age, and it was not until a series of wars with Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries that Dutch power waned.
The House of Orange was removed from power in 1795 by a French republican army, leading to the Netherlands becoming French satellite state, the Batavian Republic. All of the Low Countries were united after the fall of Napoleon, but Belgium broke away in 1830, and Luxembourg followed suit following the Treaty of London of 1839, creating the modern-day countries of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The Benelux Customs Union and Benelux Economic Union, created after German occupation during World War 2, have since increased intergovernmental co-operation between the Low Countries, as has their joint membership of the European Union.
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