Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-2 (November 2009)Maaike Groot: Searching for patterns among special animal deposits in the Dutch river area during the Roman period

2 Archaeological background

The Dutch river area covers the eastern-central part of the modern Netherlands and coincides with the Roman civitas Batavorum (fig. 1). The main developments in the Dutch river area from the Late Iron Age onwards are a result of the incorporation of this region in the Roman Empire. The presence of military camps and urban markets caused an agrarian transformation from self-sufficiency to market production. The agrarian economy formed the backbone of the rural communities and consisted of mixed farming, with a system suited to the dynamic river landscape comprised of different environmental components (Groot & Kooistra in press). Barley and emmer wheat were the most important cereals and the pastoral side of farming was based on cattle, sheep, horse and pig. Farmers in the Roman period produced both for their own needs and for the Roman urban and military markets. Taxation may also have played a role in the production of an agrarian surplus.

Rural communities in the Dutch river area maintained strong ties with the Roman army. In the 1st century taxation was in kind, with the Batavians being obliged to supply a certain number of soldiers for the Roman army. Not only did many men serve in the army for a period of 25 years – returning home for occasional visits and in some cases permanently after their discharge – but the rural settlements were part of an economic network that supplied the army’s needs. Returned veterans probably played an important role in rural communities, mediating between their fellow farmers and the army over agrarian production and introducing new building styles (Groot in prep.; Vos 2009, 243-251).

Elements of Roman culture and religion were adopted by the rural communities. At least some rural people were able to read and write and finds from settlements show that typical Roman artefacts, such as toiletry items, keys, weights and seal boxes were used, although perhaps not in the way intended (Derks & Roymans 2002; Heeren 2009, 166). Evidence for Roman religion in the Dutch river area is found in the form of Gallo-Roman temples at Empel, Elst and Kessel. Bronze statuettes and terracotta images of Roman gods have been found in rural settlements (fig. 2). Altar stones and votive inscriptions refer to Roman or Romanised gods, such as Hercules Magusanus (Roymans & Derks 1994, 26).


Fig. 2 Terracotta head of Minerva and bronze statuettes of Mars and Mercury from Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg (photo: ACVU).