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.
So, here it finally is: the cover of Edge of Empire. Rome’s Frontier on the Lower Rhine. The book is about the Roman occupation of the Low Countries – say Belgium, Netherlands and northern Germany – and contains every relevant literary text, the more interesting inscriptions, and a lot of archaeological information. Basically, my coauthor Arjen Bosman and I use the archaeological data to illustrate that all sources are prejudiced about the people living on the edge of the earth; at the same time, we try to show that you cannot interpret archaeological finds without a profound understanding of textual analysis.
The book has a history of its own. I wrote it in 1999 and it was published in 2000. The reviews were extremely favorable and it was recommended to university students. However, there was a quarrel within the publishing house, and the woman whose project it had been, went away. My book was sort of forgotten and disappeared from the bookshops. Still, I continued to keep notes and improve the text.
Two years ago, another publisher, Athenaeum, decided to reprint it. I asked my colleague Arjen Bosman, who is a professional archaeologist, to contribute, because he knows a lot about the ancient Frisians, a subject that needed more attention. The book was adapted, renamed, and republished with all kinds of illustrations. Again, good reviews and even an award.
And now, Karwansaray publishers makes it available in English. This is also the publisher of Ancient Warfare, which means that it will have the same superb illustrations by people like Johnny Shumate, José Antonio German, and Graham Sumner, and maps by Carlos Garcia.
Publication date is, probably, November 11; ISBN 9789490258054. And if you want to order a copy, you can do it here.
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”.
One of the greatest advantages of the internet is the possibility to help people (or receive help). I am a member of the Roman Army Talk discussion forum, and was approached, some time ago, by a fellow-member who knew something about recent excavations at Dormagen, a limes fort along the Lower Rhine. I have now updated the page.
He also pointed out that I had to rewrite my page about Kneblinghausen, a Roman camp far east of the Rhine. I had written that the type of gate (a “clavicula”) suggested a date late in the first century; the fort might have been built during the campaigns of Domitian. However, my German friend pointed out that there was now evidence for this type of gate from the beginning of our era.
So many changes on the site today, some small, some great. Thanks Siggi!
In 1981, Ramsay MacMullen published his Paganism in the Roman Empire, a great book on, well, paganism in the Roman Empire. What I have never forgotten, is how the American scholar tried to investigate which gods were really popular. He used the indices of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, counted the deities to which people had dedicated inscriptions, and discovered that people in, for example, North Africa venerated other gods than the people in Gaul and the German provinces.
This tedious labor must have taken lots of time. Today, we have digital archives and can do the same job in one evening, for example with this nice databank. I know this, because I checked some thirty deities, trying to zoom in a bit more than MacMullen has been able to. One of his categories was “Gaul & Germany”, and I needed to know whether there were differences between Germania Inferior and Gallia Belgica. I compared my results to Latium (minus Rome). Here are the results; the popularity of the deities is relative to Jupiter (=100).
I had expected that Jupiter and Mars would be the only gods to make it to the top-5 everywhere, but there were a few surprises. In the first place, the relative unpopularity of Isis, Minerva, and Neptune. In the second place, the popularity of Mercurius and Liber Pater in Belgica, who must be “romanized” local gods. In the third place, I had not expected that Silvanus -extremely popular in Italy- was also pretty well-known in the north. In the fourth place, I had expected Cybele to rank high in Germania Inferior and Belgica, because she is well-known from representations (statuettes can be seen in any museum); but this popularity is not matched in the epigraphical record.
Finally, the people of Latium were “wide” polytheists, venerating many gods, while the people of the north concentrated on a few deities. This was the greatest surprise – I had never realized that there might have been various degrees of polytheism.
And of course, what MacMullen already knew remains valid when we zoom in on smaller geographical units: that book on ancient mythology you have, you can throw it away. Those twelve Olympic Gods were completely irrelevant.
Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) is one of the most charming children’s historical novels I know. It tells the story of a young Roman officer, Marcus Aquila, who can no longer serve in the army because he is wounded, and decides to look for the eagle standard of the Ninth Legion Hispana. According to Sutcliff, this legion was destroyed in c.117 by Caledonian tribes in what is now Scotland – in 1954 a common hypothesis.
Indeed, there is no evidence that the Ninth was in Britain in the second century, but that does not mean that it was annihilated. It was almost certainly transferred to Nijmegen in Germania Inferior (on the Lower Rhine), where it was in the 120s. One of the finds that prove this, is a metal object found in Ewijk, a bit west of Nijmegen, now in the Valkhof Museum. The fact that we know the names of several high officers of the Ninth who can not have served earlier than 122 (e.g., Lucius Aemilius Karus, governor of Arabia in 142/143), is another indication that the legion was not destroyed but transferred.
It is also certain that this unit no longer existed during the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180), because it is not mentioned in a list of legions from that age. Perhaps, it had been destroyed by the Jews during the revolt of Bar Kochba (132-136); perhaps it is identical to the unit that was destroyed by the Parthians in 161 (Lucian, Alexander 27). We simply do not know. What we do know, however, is that a movie has been announced about Rosemary Sutcliffe’s lovely book – and to be honest, this time fiction is far better than facts.
- Duncan Campbell, “The fate of the Ninth“, in: Ancient Warfare 4.5 (2010) 48-53
- Jan Kees Haalebos, “Römische Truppen in Nijmegen”, in: Yann Le Bohec, Les légions de Rome sous le Haut-Empire (2000 Lyon) 465-489