The Low Countries was collectively one of the earliest and most heavily urbanised societies in European history. Present-day Belgium and the Netherlands still share important common features, such as comparatively low income inequalities, high levels of per capita income, a balanced political structure, and a strong 'civil society'. This book traces the origins of this specific social model in medieval patterns of urbanisation, while also searching for explanations for the historical reproduction of social inequalities. Access to cheap inland river navigation and to the sea generated a 'river delta' urbanisation that explains the persistence of a decentralised urban economic network, marked by intensive cooperation and competition and by the absence of real metropolises. Internally as well, powerful checks and balances prevented money and power from being concentrated. Ultimately, however, the utmost defining characteristic of the Low Countries' urban cultures was located in their resilient middle classes.
Bruno Blonde is affiliated to the Centre for Urban History and the Urban Studies Institute at the Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium. He publishes on the history of urban networks in the Low Countries, pre-industrial transport, the history of consumption and material culture, retail trade, urban growth and social inequality. Marc Boone teaches medieval history at Universiteit Gent, Belgium. At the moment, his research is oriented primarily toward financial urban history, the social and political history of towns in the late medieval Low Countries and Burgundian history. Anne-Laure Van Bruaene teaches cultural history of the early modern era at Universiteit Gent, Belgium. Her research is oriented toward urban culture in the late medieval and early modern Low Countries, especially the Reformation and the Dutch Revolt, guilds and confraternities as well as the social context of art, literature and religion.