Hasselt was founded in approximately the 7th century on the Helbeek, a tributary of the Demer river. The name Hasselt came from Hasaluth, which means hazel wood. During the Middle Ages, it became one of the free cities of the county of Loon (which had borders approximately the same as the current province of Limburg). Hasselt was first named in a document in 1165. In 1232 Arnold IV, Count of Loon gave the city the freedoms like those enjoyed in Liège. Even though the city of Borgloon was the original capital of Loon, Hasselt was to become the biggest city thanks to its favourable setting, and the proximity of the count’s castle and Herkenrode in Kuringen. In 1366 the county of Loon became part of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège and remained so until the annexation by France in 1794.
During the First French Empire, after the French revolution, the city of Maastricht became the capital of the area called the French Department of the Lower Meuse. This comprised not only the area of the modern province of Limburg in Belgium, but also the neighbouring province of the same name in the Netherlands. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, Belgium became part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. During this time, King William I confusingly named the area after the medieval Duchy of Limburg, which had been centered in Limbourg on the Vesdre river, (now in the Liège province of Belgium), which had never encompassed Hasselt or Maastricht. Belgium split from the Netherlands in 1830, but the status of Limburg was only resolved nine years later in 1839, with the division of Limburg into Belgian and Dutch parts. Hasselt became the provisional capital of the Belgian province of Limburg. In ecclesiastical terms Belgian Limburg became an independent entity from the Diocese of Liège in 1967, and Hasselt became the seat of the new Diocese of Hasselt.