Shameless self-advertising

28 July 2013

Cover

Some time ago, my friend and colleague Arjen Bosman and I could proudly announce that Edge of Empire, our book about the Romans in the Low Countries, had been translated into English. However, it took some time until it reached the bookshops, but now the award-winning book ought to be available easily. You can also order it on Amazon or buy it directly at the website of the publisher. If you live in Holland, this webpage is the place to go.

Why you should buy this book? To read it, in the first place. Without false modesty: this is a nice book about a subject that deserves more attention than it usually gets. An English review of the original Dutch version is here.


The Eburones

24 April 2013
Model of the Eburonian village at Hambach-Niederzier (Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn)

Model of the Eburonian village at Hambach-Niederzier (Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn)

In 57 BCE, Julius Caesar conquered the valley of the Upper- and Middle- Meuse, which, he said, was inhabited by Belgian tribes. Among the members of the Belgic confederation were the Eburones. In his campaign notes, the Roman general mentions them together with three other tribes, adding that they were called Germanic (Gallic War, 2.4). This may indeed mean that they were of Germanic descent, but the four Eburonian names we know are perfectly  comprehensible in Celtic (Eburones is related to the word for yew; Aduatuca means “place of the soothsayer”; Ambiorix means “ruler-king”; and Catuvolcus means “hero”).

Caesar explains that the heartland of the Eburones was between the Meuse and Rhine (Gallic War, 5.24), which probably is more or less identical to the Belgian and Dutch provinces called Limburg, and the western part of Nordrhein-Westphalen. In any case, it was north of the Ardennes. South of these old mountains lived the Treverans, of whom the Eburones were a client-tribe, which was protected by the mightier tribe (Gallic War, 4.6).

Caesar tells his most important story about the Eburones in Gallic War 5.24-37. In the winter of 54/53 BCE, the Fourteenth Legion had its winter quarters on a place called Aduatuca or Atuatuca, when the Eburones attacked the Romans. Its commanders, Sabinus and Cotta, trusted the Eburonian king Ambiorix, who appeared to be trustworthy, even when he could not control his men. However, when the legionaries left their camp and started to march in the direction indicated by the Eburonian leader, they were unexpectedly attacked. After returning to Atuatuca, the Roman soldiers committed suicide.

This story is problematic. In the first place, we do not know where it happened. It is tempting to identify the Atuatuca of the Eburones with the later Roman city with the same name, modern Tongeren. However, there are no Roman finds that confirm the presence of the legion: it seems that the Roman city of Atuatuca was built on virgin soil. The objection that “absence of evidence is no evidence of absence” does not apply, because Tongeren has been investigated on many places.

The second problem is that the Eburones were a very small tribe. Caesar mentions them as being able to raise 40,000 soldiers together with three other tribes. Even if we assume that the Eburones were the largest of these four, it is impossible that they could raise sufficient warriors to annihilate a well-trained, heavily-armed legion.

Perhaps we will have more certainty about the campaign once Atuatuca has been identified. It must have been close to modern Tongeren, because the name was transferred from the camp of the Fourteenth to the later city. Two treasures from the mid-first century, found at Heers (2000) and Maastricht-Amby (2008), also suggest military activity in the neighborhood. A possible location is Caestert, where a Late Iron Age-hillfort has been identified; its excavator, Heli Roosens, has mentioned mass cremations, but has never published them, and it is not known where he has found it.

Caesar’s revenge was terrible. In the Spring of 53, he invited everyone who wanted to join him, to help massacre the Eburones. Ambiorix managed to escape (Livy, Periochae, 107) and his fellow-leader Catuvolcus committed suicide. Nothing more was heard of the Eburones. About three hundred days after they had defeated a Roman legion, they no longer existed as a political entity. Later, a tribe called the Tungri was living in the area.

However, it remains to be seen whether the Eburones were all wiped out, as Caesar claims. The ancient armies could hardly exterminate complete nations. On the other hand, from pollen findings in the area of Jülich (north of Aix-la-Chapelle), it appears that the number of pastures and cornfields fell from the mid-first century BCE and that forests were again growing there. On this land at least, there were no farmers any more. However, it is not clear if this is representative of the whole country of the Eburones, so this remains an open question.

Literature

  • Toorians, L., “Aduatuca, ‘place of the prophet’. The names of the Eburones as representatives of a Celtic language, with an excursus on Tungri”, in: Creemers, G. (ed.), Archaeological contributions to materials and immateriality, Atvatvca 4 (2013) 108-121.

Dutch History

23 April 2013
Liberty of Conscience crushing Tyranny. One of the windows in the church of St John, Gouda.

Liberty of Conscience crushing Tyranny. One of the windows in the church of St John, Gouda.

Fourteen years ago, I published a small Dutch book, Hollands glorie, which offered a history of the Dutch consensus culture, from its very beginnings to the latest developments, covering more or less the millennium that was, in 1999, coming to an end. Reprinted several times, it was completely revised and republished in 2005, this time called Polderdenken.

The text, which I have decided to call Consensus and Crises, has been translated by my friends Marie Smit-Ryan and Bill Thayer, and I have made a web version, which you can find here. Parts of it have been adapted, because I cannot reasonably expect foreigners to know Dutch topography. Most illustrations are from Amsterdam – I’m an Amsterdammer after all, and proud to be one – but I hope to add photos from other towns as well.

The text is about 35,000 words and tries to explain why the Dutch political system is currently in crisis, but this precise theme has not prevented me from digressing on things I found interesting.

Again, you can find it here. I hope you will enjoy it.


Velsen

28 October 2012

There’s no particular reason to put online this drawing by Graham Sumner, except for the best reason of all: that I like it. What you see is the Roman naval base at Velsen, just west of Amsterdam, which was in use during the reign of the emperor Tiberius. It is almost certainly identical to the fort named Flevum mentioned by Tacitus. You can read more about it here, or in Edge of Empire.

You can order Edge of Empire here.


Scaldis (Scheldt)

13 May 2012

The Eastern Scheldt

The river Scheldt flows from northern France through Belgium and empties itself, though two estuaries, into the North Sea in the Netherlands. It is not Antiquity’s most famous river, but I like the plains of Flanders and the vast stretches of brackish water of the Western and Easter Scheldt. Here were two sanctuaries of Nehalennia, a goddess who is, in spite of the fact that more than a hundred altars have been found in the sea, something of a mystery to us.

Some photos are here; a map will be added later this week.


Death of a Museum

16 December 2011

Today, the authorities of the Dutch province of Gelderland decided to terminate their support of Orientalis near Nijmegen, a beautiful, century-old museum park, dedicated to the cradle of monotheism. To renovate the park and make it ready for another century, 14 million euro were necessary and had been agreed upon: 2 million from private donations, 6 million from provincial funds, and 6 million from state funds. The Dutch government, which is trying to save on museum expenditure, had already decided to stop paying, while the province cannot pay an additional 6 million.

The end of one the most lovely “living history” parks in the world does not come as a surprise; still, it is a shock. Of course, a state monument is just a monument and 6 million is a lot of money. They could throw away only a few billions to bail-out our banks. Below, you can find an article I wrote in happier days.

****

Synagogue, reconstructed

Sometimes, the history of a museum is as interesting as its collection. The Dutch Museum Orientalis near Nijmegen was founded almost a century ago -in 1911 to be precise- and was meant to offer a taste of the Holy Land to Christians who were unable to travel to the Levant.

It was unique. Of course, there were other living history parks, like the Pompejanum (1848), the Saalburg (1897), the Kerylos villa (1902), but these were inspired by Greece and Rome. The Holy Land Foundation, as the Dutch museum park was originally called, concentrated on Palestine. In an age in which Catholic art was inspired by the Neogothic architecture and the Beuron Art School, it was revolutionary to show Christ as a human being living in Palestine.

My parents took me to the Holy Land Foundation in the early 1970’s. You could see a Jewish village with a synagogue (photo above), reconstructions of the Sanhedrin and the Palace of Pilate, Golgotha and the empty tomb. In the late afternoon, we attended a passion play. Although I was six or seven, I thought it was too pious, too devote.

Roman street

It must have been one of the last passion plays to be performed over there, because at that moment, the original museum park was already changing. It had been intended to bring people closer to Christ, and give them more love in their heart. There is nothing wrong with that. But the old kind of devotion was no longer popular. Instead, the museum started to stress the Jewish-Roman environment in which Jesus lived. For example, a nice street in Roman style was added (second photo), with expositions in the houses. From a visit in the 1990’s I remember beautiful models of Deir el-Medina, the Athenian Acropolis and Jerusalem.

The Temple, model from Orientalis

Nowadays, the museum park is meant as a meeting place, where people can learn about the three main monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. You can see some multimedia presentations about, for instance, religious dress, food, and habits, and about more serious themes like religious hatred and religion as source for peace. The oriental landscape serves, as the museum says, as background for a “meeting of minds”.

Reenactors

Some time ago, I was in Nijmegen and made a walk though the park. It must have been my fourth or fifth visit. I was amazed by the high quality of the earliest reconstructions. The men who designed it, had travelled widely through the Middle East, and their Jewish village is an exact copy of a Palestine town.

Of course, we can now see that their orientalist philosophy was wrong: they believed that modern Palestine could help us understand the life of Christ, which implied that they thought that nothing had really changed over there – a rather unkind vision on the creativity and originality of the people living in Palestine. Still, their idea to put that Jew of Nazareth back in his original context, instead of reducing him to a European, artistic icon, is worth consideration, and I am glad that the old buildings are now on the Monument List.


Edge of Empire

6 December 2011

Yesterday, the Bryn Mawr Classical Review published a very kind review of De rand van het Rijk, the book about Germania Inferior that I published with archaeologist Arjen Bosman. What I like very much about this piece is that the reviewer, Birgitta Hoffmann, stresses an aspect that I also consider to be very important:

… the rise of the Frankish kingdoms as very much influenced by and the direct result of the history of Germania Inferior and Gallia Belgica from the third century onwards, rather than as a separate historical phase distinct from the preceding Roman empire.

The review was a complete surprise, because I did not know that my publisher had sent a copy of this Dutch book to a foreign journal. Even better, the article appeared just one day before I met the director of my English publisher, Karwansaray.

Today, we discussed the translation. For example, there will be some changes, because the Dutch version assumes knowledge of the topography of Holland and Belgium. Some photos need to be replaced, we need to take into account some new finds (like this one), we can benefit from other maps, we will add a long list of nice museums in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

The project will start in January, and I think it’s not unreasonable to expect that the book will be in the shops in the Spring of 2013. The book already won an award and now has a very good review. As we say in Holland, this will be “an unrelenting bestseller”.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 327 other followers