Here's a short list of 15 famous, or great, Belgians.  

Some will be familiar, but you probably didn't know they were Belgian, and some you never heard of, but they have intersected with your life. 

To qualify, they were born or lived in what is now Belgium.  Some of them are fictional, but still Belgian!

Enjoy, and give thanks to what Belgium has given us, in addition to fine chocolate and fries.


(742 – 814)

 Born and raised near Liege, Charles the Great was the son of Pippin the Short.  He inherited part of his father’s Frankish lands, which he expanded until, on Christmas Day, 800, he was crowned the first Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope in Rome.  The first post-Roman to consolidate much of modern Europe, he is considered by many the Father of Europe.


Godfrey of Bouillon 

(1060 – 1100) 

Not the inventor of the Bouillon Cube, but rather a chief organizer and leader of the first Crusade.  Unlike many that followed after him, Godfrey seems to have been a pious man who really wanted to do God’s work.  He sold most of his land and possessions to raise funds, and set off for the Holy Land.  After victory, he was made leader of Jerusalem, although he declined the title of King.  It’s unclear the cause, but he died in Jerusalem after an extended illness, and never returned to Europe.


Gerardus Mercator 

(1512 – 1594) 

Born Gheert Cremer in Flanders, he invented the Mercator Projection, a way of representing the spherical globe on flat paper.  Thanks to him, we think Greenland is bigger than Africa.  He coined the word Atlas for a collection of maps, and was famous in his day for making globes.


Peter Paul Rubens 

(1577 – 1640)

The prolific Baroque painter was born in Westphalia, but his mother returned with him to her home in Antwerp when he was a boy, and he spent most of his life there.  His work gives hope to large women everywhere that they will return to fashion someday.


Lambert Quételet 

(1796 – 1874) 

An astronomer, he developed statistical methods still used today.  He then turned these same techniques on humans, and made his most lasting contribution to science:  the Body Mass Index, which tells us we are all fat, or at least overweight.


Adolph Sax 

(1814 – 1894)

A native of Dinant, which has been renowned for copper and brass working since the middle ages, he invented the saxophone in 1854.  This instrument combines qualities of both woodwinds and brass, and without it we would never be Born to Run.


Father Damien 

(1840 – 1849)  

Flemish priest, later a Saint, who devoted his life to caring for the lepers in Hawaii.  He eventually contracted the disease himself, and died from it.  He is the patron saint of lepers, AIDS patients, and other outcasts.


Victor Horta 

(1861 – 1947) 

From Ghent, Horta was one of the first to apply the new decorative style of Art Nouveau to architecture.  His buildings are filled with the twisting, flowing lines of nature, both in the building itself, but also in the furniture, fixtures and decorations, in all sorts of materials. 


Georges-Henri Lamaître 

(1894 – 1966)

From Charleroi, Lamaître was a Catholic priest, and taught at the University in Leuven, in the days before all the French speakers were evicted.  In 1927 he published his theory, which was derisively called the Big Bang, explaining the evidence of an expanding universe and its origins.  He died shortly after hearing of the discovery of the microwave background radiation that confirmed his ideas.


René Magritte 

(1898 – 1967) 

Born near Brussels, and a leader of the Surrealist movement, Magritte believed that a painting was not just an image, but a “container for ideas.”  Bourgoise to the core, he lived a thoroughly ordinary personal life, yet his work is full of strange visions and odd juxtapositions, speaking to the nature of representation, as when he pointed out that a picture of a pipe is not, in fact, a pipe at all.


Jacques Brel 

(1929 – 1978)

Considered one of Europe’s greatest singers, though not that well known in the US, he was born in Brussels, but lived much of his life in Paris.  He is buried in Polynesia, near Paul Gauguin, who was not Belgian.


(Not actually true)

Eddy Merckx 

(1945 - ) 

Generally agreed to be the greatest cyclist ever, even by fans of Lance Armstrong.  He won five Tours de France, and was only caught for doping three times!


Hercule Poirot 

(1920 - 1975) 

Agatha Christie’s ingenious detective, born in Spa, and famous for using his “little grey cells” to solve the most vexing cases.  He is proud of his roots, declaiming,”I am not a bloody little Frog!  I am a bloody little Belgian!”


(Not a Belgian!)


(1929 - 1983) 

A young (gay) comic book reporter and crime fighter, created by Hergé.  Not so well known in the US, but with a Speilberg movie coming out, that will change soon.  While he and his dog are called Tintin and Milou in French, in the Dutch editions they are Kuifje and Bobbie, and in English his dog is called Snowy.  Typical Belgian confusion.  It is fun to read the old ones, especially about his travels in America and the Congo.  Let’s just say, they are not politically correct!


Dr. Evil 

(1997- ) 

Austin Powers’ nemesis is from another time, and doesn’t have a real country to call his own.  So, naturally, he is Belgian.


(Not a Belgian!)