Historical Wessem is more than a thousand years old.
Little is known about the early history. The name sounds Frankish and excavation show that it was inhabited in pre-Roman times. It was inhabited in that time by the Eburones, a Belgic tribe based on north-eastern Gaul in the 1st century BC. Julius Caesar described them as being of Germanic origin. They are believed to have lived between the Meuse and Rhine rivers.
The first written proof of Wessem’s existence found, according to Baron Louis de Crassier in his Dictionnaire is in a Charter of 946, when Emperor Otto I confirmed to the abbey of Gembloux, the possession in Wessem of a mill and a brewery.
There was also a relationship with the abbey of St. Pantaleon in Cologne since bishop Bruno left all his assets, rights and possessions in the “hof Wessem” to the abbey in his last will and testament in 946.
In 946 Wessem acquired the right to make their own coins, collect taxes and to choose a guardian and a mayor. In the 12th century BC, Wessem received full city rights and from then on suffered the same fate as so many small communities in Limburg. Through marriages, agreements, war and inheritancies and legacies, Wessem was owned by one noble family after another.
Situated strategically on the banks of the busy river Meuse and on most main roads in Limburg, Wessem’s economy boomed in the 17th century. It was an important centre for trade and shipping. Relics from that time can still be seen in the form of big warehouses and storage-barns. The old city centre is well preserved and show Wessem’s riches in those days.
The arrival of the French in 1790 preluded a harsh time for Wessem. The government and jurisdiction were changed at the will of the new rulers. The community had a love-hate relationship with the French Empire and flourished until in the years after the downfall of Emperor Napoleon I, Wessem became a part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, a status it still has nowadays with a short interval in the years 1830-1839, when it chose the side of the Belgians in their independence struggle against the deceitful Dutch. The Dutch occupied Wessem because of its strategic importance and Wessem became a part of the Netherlands.
Wessem was a separate municipality until 1991, when it was merged with Heel.