Belgium is, on the whole, a level, and even low-lying country; diversified, however, by hilly districts. In the south-east, a western branch of the Ardennes highlands (2000 feet) separates the basin of the Maas from that of the Moselle. The unfertile Campine, composed of marshes and barren heaths, extends along the Dutch frontier. In Flanders dykes have been raised to check the encroachments of the sea. The abundant water-system of Belgium is chiefly supplied by the great navigable rivers Scheldt and Maas, both of which rise in France, and have their embouchures in Holland. These rivers have numerous and important tributaries, and there are some 40 canals (563 miles). Of the total area, almost two-thirds are in ordinary cultivation, more than one-eighth is meadow and pasture, one-sixth is under wood, and less than 600,000 acres are waste or water. Good pasturage is found on the slopes and in the valleys of the hilly districts, and in the rich meadows of the low provinces. Beet is largely grown; and the level provinces raise wheat, rye, oats, and barley, leguminous plants, hemp, flax, colza, tobacco, hops, dye-plants, chicory, and a little wine. It has been said that the agriculture of Belgium is gardening on a large scale, so carefully and laboriously is every inch of soil cultivated by the farmers, the vast majority of whom are small holders owning less than one hectare (about 2 1/2 acres) of land. The spade is still the principal implement used. Belgium is famous for its horses. In the Campine, honey, silk, and fine butter are produced. There are valuable fisheries on the coast. Belgium is rich in minerals, which yield great quantities of coal and iron, with lead, copper, zinc, calamine, manganese, alum, peat, marble, limestone, granite, and slate. The chief manufactures are linen, woollens (with carpets), cotton, silk, lace, leather, metals (especially iron and iron goods), paper, glass, porcelain, and beet-sugar. Among the principal articles of export are coal, flax, linen, woollen and cotton goods, glass, firearms, and nails. More than a third of the whole is consigned to France, and most of the remainder to Germany, England, and Holland. The chief imports are cereals and flour, raw textiles, vegetable substances, chemicals, minerals, timber, resin and bitumen, hides, tissues, coffee, animals, meat, yarns, wines. The sea-borne trade is almost entirely in British hands. In 1902 the imports were valued at over £94,227,000, and the exports at over £77,000,000. These sums exclude the value of 'goods in transit,' which may amount to some £70,000,000 more. The commercial intercourse of Belgium with Great Britain in 1902 amounted to £26,550,000 for exports from Belgium, and £12,620,000 for imports into it. In the middle of the 13th century, Flanders, with Bruges as its chief seat of manufactures, had surpassed all its neighbours in industry. After the discovery of America, Antwerp took the place of Bruges. The unhappy period of Spanish oppression and the war in the Netherlands deeply depressed Flemish commerce. But Belgium has long been again a busy and prosperous commercial country, the separation from Holland having been indirectly favourable to the development of Belgian resources. Belgium employs the French decimal system of weights, measures, and moneys.
The Roman Catholic is the dominant religion. Although full liberty of worship is guaranteed to all, and the ministers of each denomination are paid by the state, almost the entire population are Roman Catholics, the number of Protestants being set down at 10,000, of Jews at 4000. There are over 1200 conventual houses, inhabited by 4000 monks and 21,000 nuns. Diversity of dialects has retarded the formation of an independent national literature to act as the bond of national unity. The Flemish element - the most important - has done much of late to foster the Flemish tongue, and if possible secure its predominance. Painting and architecture formerly flourished in the wealthy old towns of Flanders; and in modern times a revival of art has taken place. There are universities at Ghent, Liege, Brussels, and Louvain, and an elaborate school system, partly secular, partly Catholic.
Military service is by conscription, all males above 19 being liable; but substitution is permitted. The army, on a peace footing, numbers 48,841 officers and men; in war time, 154,780, besides the garde civique, of 43,647 men. The importance of Belgium in a military point of view affords a reason for the maintenance of fortifications at Antwerp, Dendermonde, Namur, Diest, Liege, and other places. The chief arsenal is at Antwerp. In 1902 the revenue of Belgium was £20,031,000, leaving a margin over the expenditure, £19,901,000; while the national debt was under £112,000,000. The interest is more than covered by the revenue from the railways, for which the debt was almost entirely contracted.
The Gallia Belgica of the Romans passed under the sway of the Franks, and fell later to the Burgundian princes. On the death of Charles the Bold in 1477 it passed by marriage to the House of Hapsburg. The Spanish Netherlands remained (unlike the northern provinces which rebelled against Spain and became a Protestant republic) under the Spanish branch of the Haps-burgs, till in 1713 they were transferred to Austria. From 1794 Belgium was under French sway, but on the fall of Napoleon was united with the kingdom of the Netherlands. It rebelled in 1830, and since then has had a separate career as a limited constitutional monarchy. The legislative body consists of two chambers - the Senate, and the Chamber of Representatives, non-resident members of the latter body being paid a small salary during the session. Both are elective bodies.
See descriptive works on Belgium by Genon-ceaux (1879), Hymans (1880), Wauters (1882), and Scudamore (1901); and histories by Juste (1868), Moke (1881), Hymans (1884), and Boulger (1902).