Asse is a municipality located in the Belgian province of Flemish Brabant. The municipality comprises the towns of Asse proper, Bekkerzeel, Kobbegem, Mollem, Relegem and Zellik. On January 1 2006 Asse had a total population of 29,191. The total area is 49.64 km² which gives a population density of 588 inhabitants per km².
Asse (used to be spelt “Assche”) was probably inhabited by the Celtic tribe of the Nervii. The name itself probably comes from a pre-Celtic word meaning “water” (cf Esch-, Es- and Axe- prefixes elsewhere in Europe). It was probably inhabited from an early date; stone tools have been found in various locations. The fertility of the soil and the relief which rises above the wetter plains of present-day Flanders would also suggest that his would have been an early area of settlement.
From the middle of the first century a Roman military road connected it to the capital of the Roman province of Nervii in Bavay (Bagacum Nerviorum). The road continued northwards as far as the naval port at present-day Rumst with various side roads to the East and West. It is possible that there was a Roman military camp to the South East of the present town centre in what is now known as “borgstad” though its role has not been clearly proven.
What is sure is that Asse grew to be a substantial settlement or vicus at an, at least locally, important road junction. Though no Roman buildings are extant there have been frequent archaeological finds including in 2007 a pottery and in 2008 a section of a (perhaps intra-urban) Roman road. It is possible that there was local cult of Epona as a large number of clay horse figurines, presumably votive offerings, have been found.
It is presumed that the Germanic language, which evolved into present-day Dutch, was introduced during the Frankish invasions in the late forth and fifth centuries. Place name study would at least suggest that but there are no extant written sources.
During the Carolingian period Asse was part of the region (gouw) of Brabant. During the period of the Viking invasions it would seem that there was a relatively important fortified site (see the Vita Berlindis) in Asse. From 1085 or 1086 Asse was part of the Duchy of Brabant under the Dukes of Leuven. The local vassal of the Duke was known as the “Heer van Asse” (i.e. the Lord of Asse) who was the Duke’s hereditary standard bearer.
Asse was situated on the cross roads of both north-south as well as east-west trade routes, having a fertile, easily cultivated and well-drained soil. It therefore grew to be a regionally important centre and a relatively important military-strategic one. Asse has often been the subject of military campaigns and has been recorded as having been burnt down several times.
The St Martins church gained some local fame as a centre of pilgrimage revolving around a miracle connected with the miraculous blossoming of a tree in which a Host had been hidden and the equally miraculous appearance of a cross – the Miracles of the Holy Cross.
Lacking any mineral resources, being far from any navigable watercourses and being in close proximity to other larger centres such as Aalst, Dendermonde and Brussels, Asse never developed into an important commercial, political or industrial centre but remained a locally important market town. There was some brewing and marketing of the local hop production.
The Hopduvel (Hopdevil) represents the storm that often hit Asse-Ternat at the end of the month of August. The hop vine crop, which was almost ready for harvest, could be severely damaged if the hop vines were knocked to the ground. it is thought that the ' hopduvel ' was invented by the hop farmers to personify this danger and was institutionalised by the founder of the “Hopduvelfeesten” (Hop Devil Festival), Eugeen Van den Broeck. Every year the Hopduvelfeesten is organised after the hop harvest in order to have a good harvest in the following years. This is symbolically done by burning the effigies of hopduvels that have been assembled by the local farmers and for which a contest is organised to elect the best (ugliest) Hopduvel. This tradition is still continued even though there has been very little hop production in the area since the 1970's