Nijmegen and the Roman Limes

Large-scale archaeological excavations have been taking place in Nijmegen since the 1950s. Archaeologists at the time quickly discovered that Nijmegen was hiding an extraordinary soil archive, unlike anything that had ever been found before in the Netherlands. Excavations on and around the Valkhof, the Hunnerberg and the Kops Plateau revealed more and more about the military character of the origins of Roman Nijmegen.

Finds such as the gods pillar of Emperor Tiberius from the soils of Kelfkensbos, ornate face masks of Roman horsemen, remnants of military encampments and many other references to the presence of Roman soldiers, revealed the importance of this place in the Roman advance to conquer the northern part of Europe. However, their attempt was not completely successful, and in the end the Roman emperors chose to keep the river Rhine as their northernmost limes – or border – and to defend it from a large network of watchtowers and fortresses (castella).

Roman Limes

At the river Rhine, the Roman legions encountered numerous instances of resistance from Germanic barbarians, as the Roman historian Tacitus described the native, indigenous tribes in this books during the first century AD. At Nijmegen, the Roman generals found a suitable and strategic spot to serve as a base. From here, they would gradually expand the Roman border of the empire beyond the Rhine.

Although the Nijmegen Romans did not reside directly on the border, the location of what later would become Nijmegen was indispensable in the conquest of areas in the Netherlands and Germany, thanks to its high, strategic location on the river. From time to time, famous generals lived here and they may have even received important imperial visitors. The Nijmegen army camps grew into an important military centre and attracted locals and many traders and craftsmen from all over the known world.

Valkhofpark - (and Hunnerpark)

The Valkhof is one of the most extraordinary places in Nijmegen. Located high on a steep hill, the park has a history dating back over two thousand years. People have come here since prehistoric times and traces of the Roman past lie safely hidden within the soil. Two of the oldest stone structures in the Netherlands can be found in the park. These buildings, the Nicolaas chapel and the Barbarossa ruins, are tangible remnants of the twelfth century fortress. The fortress was built on the foundations of a late Roman fortress and a Carolingian Palatinate.

The grounds of the Valkhof, where in the first century the settlement of Oppidum Batavorum, or ‘fortified city of the Batavians’ could be found, were later also converted into a castellum, where soldiers camped out. Their families would settle around the fortress and a lively scene with craftsmen and merchants would arise. The first Roman ‘city’, including ramparts and canals, where 2,000 years later Museum Het Valkhof would find its place, showing the archaeological collection of the municipality.

Heydays alternated with unrest. Did the Batavian Revolt really take place around the Valkhof, where fire marks signal the foundations of buildings from that time? In any case, the residents fled from the area, but did not leave without a fight. West of the city as it is today, a new city was erected: bigger, more Roman and more prosperous than ever before: Ulpia Noviomagus.

Hunnerberg & Kops Plateau

Roman generals chose the strategic hill of the Hunnerberg and the Kops Plateau as their base and safe haven. A castra (an army camp) had been built on the Hunnerberg and many people flocked there. A kind of village arose, with a forum (market), an inn and an amphitheatre (outdoor theatre). The castra itself, large barracks, housed two Roman legions and measured about 42 hectares. One thing we know for sure, is that the Tenth Legion (nicknamed Gemini) resided here for a while. This legion not only had to defend the Lower Germanic limes and keep the peace in the area, but also played an important role in the construction of roads and large, monumental public buildings in Nijmegen.

The Kops Plateau was set up for the cavalry of the Roman army. Never before seen in the Netherlands was the enormous and exceptionally luxurious commander’s residence (praetorium) on the Kops Plateau. The walls were plastered, there were colonnades and an ornamental garden. Perhaps the heir to the Imperial throne Germanicus, who earned his nickname from the alleged conquest of Germania, resided here?

Aqueduct

A great deal of effort was put into resurrecting a real Roman aqueduct, the only one in the Netherlands. This build was to provide the legion from fresh water from the wells of Berg en Dal. A technical tour de force, of which we still have trouble grasping how the Romans pulled of this engineering feat. Even above ground, traces of the aqueduct can still be seen, once you discover where to look.

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Who were the Romans and Batavians?

The Romans were the first people to write texts about the Netherlands. This is remarkable and marks the turning point between prehistory (before written times) and protohistory (where local populations do not yet write themselves) for the Netherlands. The Romans who came to Nijmegen as soldiers are known to have come from various parts of the vast Roman Empire, from Britannia to the Middle East, from North Africa to the present Rhineland. A highly mixed, multicultural group settled here.

Before the Romans came to the Netherlands, people had been living around Nijmegen for a long time. The Romans called them Batavians. The Batavians were living a good life, living in large houses and raising horses and cattle. The land was fertile for agriculture and people lacked nothing. The arrival of the Romans meant that they could exchange their produce for things like jewellery from distant lands. Of course, it also meant that they had to comply with the Romans’ wishes, which sometimes led to confrontations.

In addition, the Batavians could – voluntarily – be incorporated by the Roman army. The Batavians were sought after warriors, because they knew how to handle horses. To them, it was an opportunity for a great career that allowed them to discover the world. Moreover, after 25 years of service, you could retire. Many Batavian Romans then returned home and proudly had a house built in Roman style.

An unambiguous answer to who the Romans and the Batavians were, is not easy to find. Because in the end, the Batavians and people from all over Europe, gradually adopted more and more of the Roman customs and traditions. The Roman limes should therefore, not just be regarded as a border for defence, but also as a connecting element between various groups of people.

Discover the history of Nijmegen - Read the stories or take a walk

What is UNESCO World Heritage?

The Great Wall of China, the Amsterdam canals, the pyramids of Egypt. But also the Grand Canyon in the United States and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia: they can all be found on the UNESCO World Heritage List. But what exactly is that World Heritage List?

Established in 1945 as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO is committed to combating poverty, promoting sustainable development and promoting intercultural dialogue.

One of its components is the World Heritage Programme, which started in 1972 and resulted in the World Heritage List. That list now includes more than 1,000 monuments that enjoy exceptional, universal status because of their cultural, historical or scientific significance. The heritage can be both cultural and natural and has in common that it is considered irreplaceable and property of the entire world.

A place does not just appear on this list: it needs to be nominated by one of the countries affiliated to UNESCO, and a special committee decides on the admission. You can safely speak of an elite group.

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