Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 3-1 (November 2011)R.J. van Zoolingen: Rural cult places in the civitas Cananefatium

3 Rural habitation in the civitas Cananefatium

Occupation in the western Netherlands starts in the Neolithic and has always been highly influenced by a dynamic landscape. Not only did the landscape offer and constrain particular opportunities for existence, its dynamics also changed or even destroyed traces left by occupants. Although it is likely that the area was (however scarcely) populated during the transition from the Late Iron Age to Early Roman times, the archaeological evidence for this assumption is extremely scant and difficult to interpret. Historical sources mention an ala Caninefas taking part in a military campaign against the Frisii as early as AD 28 (Tacitus, Annales 4.73). This shows that the Cananefates already existed in the first half of the 1st century as recruitment among this tribe clearly had been possible. It is likely that the western Netherlands were primarily part of the tribal area, although the precise geographical location of the tribe is not mentioned. It may be expected that the majority of early Cananefatian settlements were situated in the dune area as the inland tidal area only became suitable for habitation during the 1st century AD.

Numerous traces dating from the second half of the 1st century AD prove that the area between the Rhine and Meuse estuaries became intensively inhabited in this period. The vast majority of these sites were located in the clay area, but there is also some evidence for habitation in the dune zone. This lower number is not indicative of the total number of settlements that would have existed in this area, but is more a result of the archaeological (in)visibility in this landscape.

The excavated settlements of the 1st century show that Cananefatian society was a rural community. The fertile clay deposits around the (former) tidal channels were intensively occupied in Roman times. This occupation was mainly situated at the levees of former tidal channels. The highest parts of these levees were used as arable land, while the lower areas were suitable as grassland for livestock. The various sites show the area enjoyed a certain economic prosperity during the 2nd century due to the presence of the Roman army and the provincial town of Forum Hadriani. The army was mainly encamped in castella along the Rhine and, from the late 2nd century onwards, also along the North Sea coast (fig. 2). Smaller military installations were present in the hinterland. Forum Hadriani was located near present day Voorburg (fig. 1). The town functioned as an official marketplace and capital for the civitas Cananefatium from at least the beginning of the 2nd century AD. Both the army and the town were dependent for many products on the production of the hinterland to provide numerous products. Roads and a channel connected the town and the castella with each other and with the settlements in the hinterland.

The construction of several ditch systems from the middle 2nd century AD indicates that the inhabitants started managing the water. This is particularly evident in the settlements of The Hague-Hoge Veld, Midden-Delfland and Schipluiden-Harnaschpolder (Siemons & Lanzing 2009; Van Londen 2006; Flamman & Goossens 2006). The (former) tidal channels were integrated into these systems and served as drains. The ditches formed part of an administrative system focussed on land division and tax collection. In his study, Vos recognized a system based on Roman measurement in the rural villages in the Batavian area, indicating that a (local?) government initiated the process (Vos 2009, 109-116; 257-259). The presence of a comparable system based on parcelling may be expected in the Cananefatian lands (Van Londen 2006).

At the same time as they started to manage water and divide the land, the inhabitants also started build their farmsteads on higher parts of the landscape, instead of exploiting these areas as arable land. It has been suggested for sites such as Schipluiden-Harnaschpolder and The Hague-Hoge Veld that from the moment the lower parts of the landscape were drained by ditches, such areas became suitable for cultivation (Siemons & Lanzing 2009, 352, with reference to Kooistra 2006).

Archaeological evidence from the beginning of the 3rd century AD suggests that the population of the area decreased dramatically (De Bruin 2005). Only a few settlements remained occupied into the 4th century AD. One (local) explanation for the exodus of habitants is water logging, but unfavourable economic or socio-political circumstances may have played a broader important role.