A country of northwest Europe on the North Sea. Inhabited in ancient times by the Belgae, the region was part of the Roman and Carolingian empires before breaking up into a number of feudal states during the Middle Ages. The area occupied by present-day Belgium passed to the Hapsburgs in the 15th century and to the French in the 18th century. Following the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, Belgium was given to the kingdom of the Netherlands, from which it gained independence as a separate kingdom in 1830. Brussels is the capital and the largest city. Population: 10,400,000.