Following the end of the migration period in the West around 500, with large federations (such as the Franks, Vandals, Alamanni and Saxons) settling the decaying Roman Empire, a series of monumental changes took place within these Germanic societies.
Among the most important of these are their conversion from Germanic paganism to Christianity, the emergence of a new political system, centered on kings, and a continuing process of emerging mutual unintelligibility of their various dialects.
It is also around this time, that ethnonyms such as Diets and Nederlands emerge.
In the second half of the 14th century, the dukes of Burgundy gained a foothold in the Low Countries through the marriage in 1369 of Philip the Bold of Burgundy to the heiress of the Count of Flanders.
Dutch people and their descendants are found in migrant communities worldwide, notably in Aruba, Suriname, Guyana, Curaçao, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, In the Middle Ages, the Low Countries were situated around the border of France and the Holy Roman Empire, forming a part of their respective peripheries, and the various territories of which they consisted had become virtually autonomous by the 13th century.
Under the Habsburgs, the Netherlands were organised into a single administrative unit, and in the 16th and 17th centuries the Northern Netherlands gained independence from Spain as the Dutch Republic.
Significant percentages of the Dutch are adherents of humanism, agnosticism, atheism or individual spirituality.
As with all ethnic groups, the ethnogenesis of the Dutch (and their predecessors) has been a lengthy and complex process.
The text below hence focuses on the history of the Dutch ethnic group; for Dutch national history, please see the history-articles of the Netherlands.
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Trade flourished, population numbers increased dramatically, and (advanced) education was no longer limited to the clergy; Dutch epic literature such as Elegast (1150), the Roelantslied and Van den vos Reynaerde (1200) were widely enjoyed.
The various city guilds as well as the necessity of water boards (in charge of dikes, canals, etc.) in the Dutch delta and coastal regions resulted in an exceptionally high degree of communal organization.
For Dutch colonial history, see the article on the Dutch Empire.