The Low Countries (Dutch: de Lage Landen, French: les Pays-Bas) or Benelux is a coastal region in western Europe, consisting especially of the Netherlands and Belgium, and the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Meuse, Scheldt, and Ems rivers where much of the land is at or below sea level. This wide area of Northern Europe roughly stretches from French Gravelines and Dunkirk at its southwestern point, to the area of Dutch Delfzijl and German Eastern Frisia at its northeastern point, and to Luxembourg and French Thionville in the southeast.
Most of the Low Countries are coastal regions bounded by the North Sea or the English Channel. The countries without access to the sea have linked themselves politically and economically to those with access to form one union of port and hinterland.
The Low Countries were the scene of the early northern towns, newly built rather than developed from ancient centres, that marked the reawakening of Europe in the 12th century. In that period, they rivaled northern Italy for the most densely populated region of Europe. Most of the cities were governed by guilds and councils along with a figurehead ruler; interaction with their ruler was regulated by a strict set of rules describing what the latter could and could not expect from them. All of the regions mainly depended on trade, manufacturing and the encouragement of the free flow of goods and craftsmen.
Germanic languages such as Dutch and Luxembourgish were the predominant languages, although Romance languages also played an important role. Secondary languages included French (Luxembourg, Brabant around Nivelles), Romance-speaking Belgium (cf. the Bishopric of Liège), the Romance Flanders (i.e. Cambrai, Lille, Tournai), and Namur (Walloon).