3.4 Upstream from Rijswijk / Levefanum
To date, no Early Medieval farming settlements have been excavated upstream from Rijswijk/Levefanum. However, some cemeteries in the area attest to a fourth- and fifth-century Frankish phase, followed by Merovingian and (early) Carolingian phases. The principal cemeteries are those of Rhenen, Wageningen and Elst, all located on the northern bank of the Rhine. Rhenen and Wageningen are at strategic locations where land routes from Free Germanic territory crossed the river (Rhenen: Ypey 1972; Wageningen: Van Es 1964; Hulst & Van Es 2007; Elst: Verwers & Van Tent in prep.). South of the Rhine, continuous development from Roman into Merovingian and Carolingian times may be expected at several sites, such as the castellum at Meinerswijk. Yet such developments did not occur without a hitch and problems are encountered in the fifth century. Just north of the Lower Rhine, the farming settlement at Bennekom in Free Germany but with close links to the neighbouring Roman province, was deserted (or at any rate vanishes from sight archaeologically) (Van Es et al. 1985). In the cemetery of Rhenen we see a shift, though not a break, in the abandonment of the old Frankish part (Van Es & Wagner 2000). Such changes are not a local phenomenon but occur throughout the sandy regions of the north-eastern Netherlands and adjacent Westphalia, where settlements ‘disappear’ (relocated) and funerary rites are altered.
No definite explanation has yet been proposed but there might be a link with the early stirrings of Merovingian ascendancy. The Franks from the eastern part of the Rhine corridor were trying their luck elsewhere, supporting Childeric and Clovis and their campaigns in northern Gaul. In the sixth century the Merovingian elite remembered the importance of the Lower Rhine and moved in from Ripuarian Cologne to put things straight here. From c. 530 until the early seventh century are represented in the cemetery of Rhenen by three generations of rich graves, probably belonging to a single family (Wagner 1994). Putting things straight meant that the (family) estates along the Lower Rhine were newly laid out, staffed and in some cases (temporarily?) reoccupied by their owners. After a dip in the fifth century, this may be what started the development of the agricultural estates which in later written sources appear as villae. In the eastern part of the river delta, many, but not necessarily all of these, might have had a Late Roman and fifth-century origin. Indeed, at De Geer some gold finds date to the sixth century.
At the same time, the Frisian newcomers in the western Rhine delta behaved in a similar fashion. They too set about organising their newly acquired estates. Ambitious leaders gained political power. Gradually the two power blocks came to oppose each other as Franks and Frisians started to vie for the Rhine delta. These power politics provided the backdrop against which we see the emergence of Dorestad in the mid-seventh century.