The Canal of Drusus

31 January 2009
The Gelderse IJssel

The Gelderse IJssel

The Canal of Drusus is mentioned by Suetonius (Claudius, 1) and Tacitus (Annals, II.8); it appears that it was dug when the Roman general Drusus campaigned east and north of the Rhine in 12-9 BCE. There have been several theories about its location, one of them being that it is identical to the river Vecht, another stressing that both Suetonius and Tacitus use a plural, and that a second canal had to exist, which was localised between Lake Flevo (the modern IJsselmeer) and the Wadden Sea.

The consensus, however, was that the Canal of Drusus connected the Rhine to the IJssel, and was identical to the water course between modern Arnhem and Doesburg, now called Gelderse IJssel. The main argument was that a monument known as Drusus’ Mole can be found a bit east of this watercourse, at Herwen (ancient Carvium).

This hypothesis now turns out to be incorrect. In a recent article in the Netherlands Journal of Geosciences 87/4 (2008 ) by B. Makaske, G.J. Maas & D.G. van Smeerdijk, “The age and origin of the Gelderse IJssel“, radiocarbon data are mentioned that date the oldest part of the Gelderse IJssel to the tenth century. Of course, it remains possible that the Canal was between Arnhem and Doesburg, later changed its course, and that the samples were taken from this new meander.

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Monuments of Mainz

21 August 2008
The Drususstein

The Drususstein

If you are interested in ancient history, Mainz, ancient Mogontiacum, is one of the most interesting places to visit. It was founded by Drusus, who used it as his base to conquer the valley of the river Main; after his death, the soldiers erected a cenotaph for their former general (photo). For about a century, there were two, sometimes even three, legions in Mainz. Only in the second century, the garrison was reduced to one legion, XXII Primigenia, which was still in Mainz in the early fifth century.

Reconstruction of one of the piers of the bridge

Reconstruction of one of the piers of the bridge

While the fortress decreased in importance, the civil settlement expanded. Although the town has always been occupied and excavation is difficult, archaeologists have identified a bridge across the Rhine (photo), a Jupiter Column with an interesting inscription, a temple of Isis and Cybele, and a theater.

One of the Mainz Pedestals

One of the Mainz Pedestals

The most impressive monument is, in my view, the collection of ten reliefs that is known as the Mainz Pedestals (photo). It may not be what you have in mind when you think about classical art. And it is true, the human body has been rendered better by other sculptors: the heads, arms, and legs of the figures on the pedestals are not well-proportioned. However, this monument was certainly made by a great artist who compensated his lack of anatomical knowledge by something that, lacking a better expression, I call “power”. They are far more interesting than those nude statues you see in an Italian or Greek museum.

It comes as no surprise that Mainz has several museums dedicated to ancient history, more than any other city north of the Alps. More about Mainz’ museums tomorrow.