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

4 Current views on cult and religion in the civitas Canafatium

In comparison to habitation in the Cananefatian area, little is known about cult and religion within this region. Only a few traces of temples, shrines or sanctuaries are known from the study area and the identification of certain sites remains uncertain. For example, in the mid-19th century traces of buildings which may be interpreted as belonging to a temple structure were found at Forum Hadriani (De Jonge et al. 2006). However, the data provide us with very few details, making any interpretation difficult. Other hypothetical temple remains are equally unconvincing. Van Giffen unearthed a square stone foundation in the castellum near Valkenburg in the mid-20th century, which he thought could have belonged to a small temple. Later research by the archaeological service of the Province of South Holland in 1991 expressed doubt on this conclusion. The structure was more likely part of a bathhouse than a temple complex (De Hingh & Vos 2005, 163).

Another presumed religious structure from Valkenburg has been documented in the vicus at Marktveld. A cemetery was found next to numerous farmsteads and outbuildings. Ten metres to the west of this cemetery a structure was documented, interpreted by the excavators as a possible sanctuary (Hallewas & Van Dierendonck 1993, 27-28). The building measured 7.2 by 4.9 m and was east-west oriented. The walls and inner framework consisted of posts. Two entrances opposite each other were situated in the long side walls, 1.6 m. from the eastern short side wall. The building was surrounded on three sides by a horseshoe-shaped ditch, c. 1 metre wide. The structure was dated to the second half of the 2nd century AD. The site’s location near the opening of the surrounding ditch towards the cemetery formed the basis for an interpretation as a sanctuary. However, this interpretation is problematic, especially when it comes to the inner building. Numerous farmsteads excavated in recent years show a strong likeness with the Marktveld structure (Kodde 2007, type 5A, 32-33). An interpretation as a farmstead is furthermore emphasized by the structure’s location in the southeast corner of the habitation zone, incorporated within the enclosing ditch system. The lack of finds supporting a cult function also points to a farmstead. Finally, the horseshoe-shaped ditch can very well have functioned as a border or drain surrounding any type of building.

Another uncertainty applies to the site of Rijswijk-de Bult. The publication of this rural settlement mentions the remains of two temples after a Gallo-Roman model (Bloemers 1978, II, 189-191). The temples would have succeeded each other and have been dated to the end of the 2nd and the first half of the 3rd century. A similar structure was recently excavated in the Harnaschpolder near Schipluiden (Bakx & Jongma 2009). In his study of cult buildings Derks (1998, 152-153, ref. 96.) rejects the interpretation of these structures as temples, as does Goossens (2006) in his excavation report. Recently Heeren (2009, 215) proved the structures to be horrea (granaries) instead. The recently discovered structure in the Harnaschpolder is likewise seen as a horreum.

The presence of temples is more certain outside the study area. Not far south, near Domburg and Colijnsplaat, there are remains of sanctuaries dedicated to the indigenous goddess Nehalennia. Dozens of altar stones representing Nehalennia and two large stone sculptures representing the Roman goddess Victory were found in 1647 in the dunes near Domburg (Hondius-Crone 1955). These finds point to the presence of a sanctuary in the vicinity although no in situ traces of any kind of settlement are known. Even more votive altar stones were collected to the north of Colijnsplaat (fig. 3), where over 300 altar stones and a small number of sculptures representing Nehalennia were found (Stuart & Bogaers 2001; Stuart 2003). Again, no in situ traces of a settlement are preserved[1], yet the sheer number of votives indicates that a temple complex once stood at the southern bank of the river Scheldt. A study of the votive inscriptions has shown that Nehalennia played an important role in overseas trade (Stuart 2003). These conclusions are also supported by the coastal setting of the sites. One may imagine that Nehalennia also played a role in the coastal Cananefatian region to the north.


Figure 3 Votive altar dedicated to Nehalennia by Marcus Exgingius Agricola (i 1970/12.1; photograph: National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden).

Evidence from Domburg and Colijnsplaat shows that objects such as (fragments of) altars or statuettes of gods and goddesses, may be considered as evidence for the presence of a sanctuary even in the absence of actual structures. In the vici of Valkenburg-Marktveld and The Hague-Scheveningseweg several terracotta and even bronze statuettes, especially of goddesses, were found. The relative large numbers, respectively eleven terracotta figurines at Valkenburg (Van Boekel 1990) and twenty at The Hague (Van Boekel 1989), are a clear indication that a shrine of some sort must have stood nearby. As most of the figurines resemble matres, or mother goddesses, we may assume that the votives belonged to a lararium or household shrine. Also interesting are several fragments of a sandstone altar from the rural settlement of The Hague-Uithofslaan (De Hingh & Van Ginkel 2009, 102) (fig. 4). The fragments were unearthed among an exceptional quantity of ceramic and stone rubble, suggesting that the altar fragments had been brought to the spot together with this material. The excavated section of the site revealed no clear evidence for any stone construction, which leaves the question of what the original function of the material could have been. The possibilities include virtually all types of buildings constructed of stone and brick, among which would be a temple complex.


Figure 4 Fragments of a sandstone altar found at The Hague-Uithofslaan (photograph: O. Odé, Amsterdam).

It can be concluded that the existing views on cult and religion in the study area are based on marginal evidence. In essence, a few finds point at the existence of some sort of shrine, but virtually no evidence exists actual (part) stone temples or shrines in the Cananefatian area. However, since this was a rural society it is reasonable to expect that traces of rural cult places do exist, albeit in another form. In order to gain more insight into the existence of rural sanctuaries, an examination of such structures outside the study area is necessary.