Antwerp was a small trading center by the early 8th cent. It was destroyed by the Normans in 836, but by the 11th cent. it was a fairly important port. The city was chartered in 1291. Antwerp was held (13th to mid-14th cent.) by Brabant and then became an early seat of the counts of Flanders. In the 15th cent. it rose to prominence as Bruges and Ghent declined. In 1446 the English Merchant Adventurers and other traders motivated port trade by moving their operations from Bruges to Antwerp. By the middle of the 16th cent. Antwerp was Europe's chief commercial and financial center with spices, gold, and other luxury goods from the East and the Americas arriving at its ports. The diamond industry, established in the 15th cent., had expanded considerably after the arrival (early 16th cent.) of Jewish artisans expelled from Portugal. The city's prosperity suffered in 1576, when it was sacked and about 6,000 of its inhabitants killed by Spanish troops (the Spanish fury), and again in 1584–85, when the city was captured by the Spanish under Alessandro Farnese after a 14-month siege.

Under the Peace of Westphalia (1648), the Scheldt was closed to navigation (as a means of favoring Amsterdam), and Antwerp declined rapidly. The city revived with the opening of the Scheldt by the French in 1795 and with the expansion of its port facilities by Napoleon I. The incorporation (1815) of Belgium into the Netherlands again hindered Antwerp's economic development, a situation that was continued by the Dutch-Belgian treaty of separation (1839), which gave the Netherlands the right to collect tolls on Scheldt shipping. The expansion of Antwerp as a major modern port dates only from 1863, when, by a cash payment, Belgium ended Dutch restrictions on traffic on the Scheldt. Antwerp was seriously damaged in World War I when it was captured (Oct., 1914) by the Germans after a 12-day siege. In World War II it was again taken (May, 1940) by the Germans, who bombarded it heavily after it had been recaptured (Sept., 1944) by the Allies.

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