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History of Luxembourg

Celtic Luxembourg existed during the period from roughly 600 BC until 100 AD, when the Celts inhabited what is now the territory of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Their culture was well developed, especially from the 1st century BC as can be seen from the remains of the extensive Titelberg site in the far southwest of the country and from the impressive finds in several tombs and necropolises in the Moselle valley and its surroundings.

The Celts inhabited large areas of Europe from the Danube to the Rhine and Rhône during the 6th to 1st centuries BC, a period sometimes referred to as La Tène after a site in Switzerland where Celtic remains were discovered in 1857. It was around 100 BC that the Treveri, one of the Celtic tribes, entered a period of prosperity. They constructed a number of fortified settlements or oppida near the Moselle valley in what is now southern Luxembourg, western Germany and eastern France.

The recorded history of Luxembourg begins with the acquisition of Lucilinburhuc (today Luxembourg Castle) by Siegfried, Count of Ardennes in 963. Around this fort, a town gradually developed, which became the centre of a small state of great strategic value. In the 14th and early 15th centuries three members of the House of Luxembourg reigned as Holy Roman Emperors. In 1437, the House of Luxembourg suffered a succession crisis, precipitated by the lack of a male heir to assume the throne, which led to the territory being sold by Duchess Elisabeth to Philip the Good of Burgundy.

In the following centuries, Luxembourg’s fortress was steadily enlarged and strengthened by its successive occupants, the Bourbons, Habsburgs, Hohenzollerns, and the French, among others. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, Luxembourg was disputed between Prussia and the Netherlands. The Congress of Vienna formed Luxembourg as a Grand Duchy in personal union with the Netherlands. Luxembourg also became a member of the German Confederation, with a Confederate fortress manned by Prussian troops.

The Belgian Revolution of 1830–1839 reduced Luxembourg’s territory by more than half, as the predominantly francophone western part of the country was transferred to Belgium. Luxembourg’s independence was reaffirmed by the 1839 First Treaty of London. In the same year, Luxembourg joined the Zollverein.

Luxembourg’s independence and neutrality were again affirmed by the 1867 Second Treaty of London, after the Luxembourg Crisis nearly led to war between Prussia and France. After the latter conflict, the Confederate fortress was dismantled.

The King of the Netherlands remained Head of State as Grand Duke of Luxembourg, maintaining personal union between the two countries until 1890. At the death of William III, the Dutch throne passed to his daughter Wilhelmina, while Luxembourg (at that time restricted to male heirs by the Nassau Family Pact) passed to Adolph of Nassau-Weilburg.

During World War I, Luxembourg was invaded and occupied by Germany, but was allowed to maintain its independence and political mechanisms.

During World War II, Luxembourg was unable to maintain its policy of neutrality when in 1940, Nazi Germany invaded and occupied the country due to its strategic location on the invasion route into France. In contrast to the First World War experience, Luxembourg was treated as a Germanic territory and informally annexed to an adjacent province of the Third Reich in 1940. A government in exile based in London fought alongside the Allies, sending a small group of volunteers who participated in the Normandy invasion. Luxembourg was liberated in September 1944. It became a founding member of the United Nations in 1946 and of NATO in 1949.

In 1957, Luxembourg became one of the six founding countries of the European Economic Community (later the European Union) and in 1999 joined the Euro currency era. In 2005, a referendum on the EU treaty establishing a constitution for Europe was held in Luxembourg.

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