Hesbaye (French) or Haspengouw (Dutch) (Latinized as Hesbania in medieval documents), is a region spanning the south of the Belgian province of Limburg, the east of the Belgian provinces of Flemish Brabant and Walloon Brabant, and the northwestern part of the province of Liège.
The Limburgish portion contains the cities of Tongeren, Sint-Truiden, Bilzen and Borgloon, the Flemish Brabantian portion includes Tienen, Landen and Zoutleeuw, the Walloon Brabantian portion includes Jodoigne and the Liège portion contains among others Hannut and Waremme.
Geographically it borders on two similar regions of rolling hills: Condroz to the south, and Hageland to the west. To the north is borders on the flat sandy Campine (Dutch Kempen) region, and to the east it borders on the valley of the Meuse (Dutch Maas) river.
The fertile ground of this region's rolling countryside is mainly used for agricultural purposes, and in this context it is often divided into two divisions, with the boundary running through Sint-Truiden, Borgloon and Tongeren. The northern "Humid" (Dutch Vochtig) part has a high water table and many springs. It is by far the main fruit growing area of Belgium. And it is also home to some of the most northerly vineyards in Belgium. The southern "Dry" division is somewhat more fertile and the ground water sinks more easily. In this region sugar beet, chicory, flax, rapeseed and grains (90% of which is wheat and barley) are grown in the area.
From the seventh century Hesbaye (then called Hesbania in Latin) was an important fief in the northwestern marches of the Merovingian kingdom of Austrasia. It lay in "that region where the western foreland of the Eifel meets the south-western fringe of silva carbonaria, a woodland frequently mentioned in Frankish historiography." The Merovingian county was consolidated from the old mark Haspinga of which the final -ga element survives in the -gouw of the modern Dutch name: Gau (plural Gaue) was an old Frankish term for a political division, equivalent in its etymology to the French pays.
Hesbania (confusingly spelled Hispania in some old documents) was perhaps set apart for Lambertus (born 640), son of Guerin, count of Poitiers (ca. 612 in Austrasia, – 677/87). It was mentioned in the division of territories between Charles the Bald and Louis the German in 870 in the Treaty of Meerssen. In 1040, the Emperor Henry III gave the fief to the prince-bishop Nithard of Liège who integrated it with the Prince-Bishopric of Liège.
Today Hesbaye continues to be rural, with many small villages. Théo Brulard, La Hesbaye. Étude géographique d'économie rurale (Louvain) 1962, attempted to disengage the original aspect of the region from its open, deforested agricultural aspect of modern times, characterising Hesbaye as a human region rather than a natural one.
- Rolf Badenhausen, "Merovingians by the Svava?" Identifying Didrek of the Old Swedish Thidrekssaga with Theuderich, son of Clovis; includes Geographic glossary of placenames
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