The Netherlands is often considered to include inland areas with strong links, such as Luxembourg today, and historically, parts of the German Rhineland. Most of the Low Countries are coastal regions bounded by the North Sea or the English Channel. Historically, the regions without access to the sea have linked themselves politically and economically to those with access to form various unions of ports and hinterland. Within the European Union the region's political grouping is still referred to as the Benelux.
During the Roman empire the region contained a militarized frontier and contact point between Rome and Germany. With the collapse of the empire, the Low Countries were the scene of the early independent trading centres, that marked the reawakening of Europe in the 12th century. In that period, they rivaled northern Italy as one of the most densely populated regions of Western 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.
Historically, the term Low Countries arose at the Court of the Dukes of Burgundy, who used the term les pays de par deçà (roughly, "the lands over here") for the Low Countries as opposed to les pays de par delà (roughly, "the lands over there") for the Duchy of Burgundy and the Free County of Burgundy, which were part of their realm but geographically disconnected from the Low Countries. Governor Mary of Hungary used both the expressions les pays de par deça and Pays d'Embas (roughly, the "lands down here"), which evolved to Pays-Bas or Low Countries. Today the term is typically fitted to modern political boundaries and used in the same way as the term Benelux, which also includes Luxembourg.
The name of the modern country the Netherlands has the same meaning and origin as the term "low countries" due to "nether" meaning "lower". The same name of these countries can be found in other European languages, for example German Niederlande, French, les Pays-Bas, and so on, which all literally mean "the Low Countries". In the Dutch language itself (known in Dutch as Nederlands, meaning "Netherlandish") no plural is used for the name of the modern country. So Nederland (singular) is used for the modern nation and de Nederlanden (plural) for the 16th century domains of Charles V. (However, in official use the name of the Dutch kingdom is still Kingdom of the Netherlands (Koninkrijk der Nederlanden), a name deriving from the 19th-century origins of the kingdom which originally included present-day Belgium.)