II Adiutrix’ base in Nijmegen found

16 February 2011

Detail of the Peutinger Map: Noviomagus

In 19 BC, the Romans founded a legionary base on the Hunerberg, east of Batavodorum (modern Nijmegen, Netherlands), the capital of the Batavians. Even when the legions were transferred and the soldiers’ expenditure disappeared as a source of income, this civil settlement continued to flourish.

As is well known, the Batavians revolted during the Year of the Four Emperors. Tacitus writes that when the Roman general Cerialis arrived to restore order in 70, the rebels set fire to Batavodurum (Histories 5.19). The Roman historian also says that the site was occupied by the Second Legion Adiutrix (5.20). Archaeologists had already established that the civil settlement, Noviomagus, was rebuilt a bit more to the west.

Recently, Dutch archaeologist Harry van Enckevort has identified the remains of a praetorium and a ditch of a hitherto unknown fortress. The absence of objects from the Flavian period suggests that it was built immediately after the revolt had been suppressed, which can only mean that its inhabitants were soldiers of II Adiutrix. Built on the ash layer of Batavodurum, the fortress controlled a new civil settlement.

The stone foundations of the praetorium prove that II Adiutrix was supposed to stay in Nijmegen. Eventually, however, it followed Cerialis to Britain and was replaced by X Gemina, which reoccupied the Hunerberg.

[Also published in Ancient Warfare; thanks to Harry van Enckevort]


Seventeen pages on Roman Nijmegen

25 December 2008
Nijmegen on the Peutinger Map.

Nijmegen on the Peutinger Map.

Nijmegen was not the largest or most important city north of the Alps, and because there is a major city on top of it (Nijmegen is Holland’s tenth city), excavating it is a pretty complex and frustratingly slow process. Still, the cluster of six settlements is one of the most fascinating archaeological projects I know, and fortunately, the Valkhof Museum is up to its task in explaining it to the larger audience.

Milestone along the road to Xanten.

Milestone along the road to Xanten.

Briefly summarized, the Romans arrived in 19 BCE, and founded a military base that was called Hunerberg; next to it were the HQs of the army of the Rhine, which have been identified on the Kops Plateau. To the west was the town where romanized Batavians lived: Batavodurum. In its center was a monument, dedicated to Tiberius. As long as Rome tried to conquer the land east of the Rhine, this was the situation. Later, the Hunerberg was abandoned, and when the limes was created, the Kops Plateau was converted into a cavalry camp.

In 69, the Batavians revolted (one of the subjects of TacitusHistories), and although they achieved some remarkable successes, Rome returned. The Hunerberg became a legionary base again: X Gemina stayed there for about thirty years, and was later replaced by troops from Britain (including a part of VIIII Hispana), and a subunit of XXX Ulpia Victrix. It was a luxurious base, with an aqueduct that was identified only recently.

A glass vase; Valkhof Museum.

A glass vase; Valkhof Museum.

The civil settlement Batavodurum had been destroyed during the Batavian Revolt, and a new city was built in the west, called Noviomagus. There was a bridge across the river Waal, two or three temples have been identified, the baths, the walls, and several splendid tombs.There were important satellite settlements, like the pottery at De Holdeurn, the Batavian sanctuary at Elst, and the bridge at Cuijk, which was vital for reaching Nijmegen.

In the fourth century, the situation had changed. The garrison was now concentrated on the Valkhof hill, and the civil settlement was along the river. It was still called Noviomagus, which became “Niomagus” after the Frankish take-over. The Valkhof remained an important castle, which was used by important rulers like Charlemagne and Frederick Barbarossa.

The Waal and its bridge.

The Waal and its bridge.

The castle was demolished in the eighteenth century, but if you go there, you can still see why this could become a city of some significance: you have a splendid view on the bridge that was so important a target for the Allies during the Second World War. Nijmegen will always be the place of one of the most important river crossings in the Low Countries.

I devoted seventeen pages to ancient Nijmegen, with some ninety photos. And if you prefer to read only about the history, this is your starting page. Enjoy!

[Update: page #18: three maps.]