Nijmegen is not only the oldest Roman city of the Netherlands, it also boasts the Kops Plateau, an archaeological site that has been called “the Night Watch of Dutch Archaeology”. The comparison to the most famous painting ever made by a Dutchman is a bit exaggerated -Dorestad did more to change our perception of the first millennium- but it’s only a minor exaggeration: the Kops Plateau is one of the most important Roman settlements north of the Alps. It’s the only place that has been identified as the HQs of an entire Roman army – not just a legion, but four of them, with their auxiliaries and allies. This is the place from which Drusus and Tiberius led the invasion of the country east of the Rhine.
On Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 August, this historical site is the scene of a great festival, in which all kinds of Roman activities are displayed. We witnessed a gladiatoral contest, a potter making ceramics, and an impressive demonstration of a Roman catapult. We also had some Roman food, and met the author of a recent book on ancient Nijmegen (Paul van der Heijden, Romeins Nijmegen), who gave us his autograph.
I cannot deny that I found the soldiers the most interesting part. The most spectacular activity was the reconstruction of a part of the original wall of the base, with replicas of the original tools, which have been excavated at the Kopse Hof. As I wrote a book on ancient warfare, I think I know something about legionaries, and I was impressed by the reenactors’ accuracy and love for detail. Several professional ancient historians might learn a thing or two about that (example).
Among the people demonstrating ancient crafts and armies were gladiators from Hungary, soldiers and citizens from several groups from Belgium and Holland (Corbvlo, XI Claudia, Chariovalda, Noviolocus), and legionaries, a writing tablet maker and cooks from Germany (Römercohorte Opladen). I am pretty sure I heard several reenactors speaking English, but I was unable to find out to which group they belonged. The men of X Gemina were at home: the historical legion with that name was stationed in Nijmegen (here‘s a little movie they made). It struck me that only twenty years ago, an international line-up like this would have been impossible, so perhaps the most impressive thing of the festival is that it’s a display of the successful European unification.
So, it was an exciting afternoon. I had prepared very well, even recharging the batteries of my camera. Being Jona Lendering, this of course meant that when I arrived, I discovered that -ahem- I had forgotten to put the batteries in the camera again. The photos I add to this article were made by my friend Jan Pieter van de Giessen, whom I would have met at the Kops Plateau if my travel companion Marco could have left a bit earlier. However, he had to go to a specialized dress shop first to buy his fiancée’s bridal gown. Of course that’s more important – though he might have considered taking part in the grand finale of today’s part of the festival: the Roman marriage ceremony.