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

8 Cult as indigenous tradition?

The overview of rural cult places and depositions gives insight into the variety of ritual customs within the area under discussion. However, it is important to explore who created these different expressions of cult. Finds and features from the rectangular and U-shaped structures bear strong similarities, suggesting that these cult places belong to (or were used by) a certain group of people. The wider occurrence of rectangular rural cult places provides a broader indigenous Roman context. The associated material may help to define the cultural background of those who brought the specific offerings.

The finds associated with the cult places consist mainly of hand-shaped pottery with occasional wheel-thrown wares, metal objects and bone material. In addition, fibulae occur in relatively large numbers. Apart from the latter, a comparable selection of objects is also found in the singular depositions discussed above, where there is no evidence of structural features related to cult activity.

All four rectangular and U-shaped cult places date well into the 2nd century AD. Roman wares were introduced into the indigenous Roman world from the late 1st century onwards, steadily replacing local wares during the second half of the 2nd century. It is remarkable in this perspective that the locally produced hand-shaped pottery comprises the majority of finds from the cult places, showing that the users of these sites deliberately selected these vessels as part of their rites. This is consistent with the dominance of local wares in offerings outside the study area (see for instance Slofstra & Van der Sanden 1987, 127-133 for Hoogeloon and Oss-Ussen). Like metal wares, the hand-shaped vessels were used for the preparation or consumption of food and drink during ritual meals or as containers for votive offerings of organic matter, such as fruits, cereals or liquids. They may also have served as a sacrifice themselves (Roymans 1987, 89). Complete or incomplete pots are regularly recovered from cult places outside the area under discussion, for instance in the civitas Menapiorum. The assemblage of hand-shaped vessels found in open air sanctuaries is comparable with the repertoire from nearby settlements. Furthermore, pits are found filled with large numbers of smaller versions of the same hand-shaped pots which are sometimes deliberately broken (personal communication W. De Clercq).

Aside from pottery, relative large numbers of fibulae have been found in the sanctuaries. The Leidschendam-Leeuwenbergh structure yielded thirteen fibulae, the Midden-Delfland 21.15 structure yielded six fibulae, and the Lozerlaan sanctuary three fibulae. Most are relatively simple wire fibulae, which were common among the rural society. These numbers do however stand out in comparison to the finds from the surrounding settlements. They appear in large numbers as offerings at several cult places outside the area under study (Slofstra & Van der Sanden 1987). Both the hand-shaped pottery and the fibulae resemble an indigenous tradition of offering at cult places.

Both the rectangular structures and the associated material culture dominated by hand-shaped pottery and fibulae are features of indigenous Roman cult. The question arises as to whether this should be conceived of as an expression of tradition or rather a local interpretation. Unfortunately we lack suitable data to determine whether this is a tradition that has more ancient indigenous antecedents. Our knowledge of Late Iron Age societies and their cult practices remains limited. Furthermore there exists no physical relationship between the Roman cult places and earlier prehistoric structures.

There is however evidence for such connections outside the area under study. Fontijn (2002) demonstrated a relationship between places of worship from the late prehistoric and Roman times and older funerary structures in the Nijmegen-Kops Plateau, making ancestor worship a plausible option. As the rectangular structures studied by Fontijn show strong resemblance to the cult places in the western Netherlands, there may be a similar relationship in this area. Finds of votive figurines in rural settlement sites indicate that ancestor worship was indeed a common practice among in the rural western Netherlands. These terracotta figurines mostly represent female deities, known as matres, or ancestral mothers (Derks 1998, 119-130; Bauchhenß/Neumann 1987). These goddesses were worshipped throughout the entire Roman empire, mostly by soldiers of non-Roman origin. Although the deities were originally non-Roman, depictions and naming of the matres became standardized under Roman influence. Conventionally, we see enthroned female deities sitting upright, often in groups of three possibly representing different generations. Their appearance resembles that of Roman goddesses such as Fortuna or Diana.

The originally indigenous deities are known by a great variety of names, showing that they were honoured by various indigenous tribes (Derks 1998, 119-120). The widespread variety also shows a strong relationship between a specific ancestral mother and a certain tribe, indicating the uniqueness of each deity. The matres Hiannanefatae, as known from an inscription found in Cologne (CIL XIII 8219), can thus be related to the Cananefates (Byvanck 1935, 382, 551; Galsterer & Galsterer 1975, no. 102). Although this inscription comes from outside the tribal homeland, the find of a ceramic votive (fig. 15) in a rural settlement at The Hague-Nikkelwerf (Van Veen & Waasdorp 2000, site 42) clearly shows that the ancestral mothers were important in the western Netherlands. Similar figurines representing Venus or an ancestral mother were found at The Hague-Uithofslaan and Schipluiden-Harnaschpolder (north) (Reigersman-Van Lidth de Jeude 2006, 146). At Wateringen-Juliahof there are three ceramic images, of which at least one could be identified as a female figure (Van der Meij & Reigersman-Van Lidth de Jeude 2009, 107-108). All four sites are indigenous settlements, indicating that the worship of ancestral mothers was practised in the rural communities of the Cananefates.


Figure 15 Terracotta figurine from The Hague-Nikkelwerf (photograph: P. van Oosterhout, The Hague).

The rectangular and U-shaped structures, the use of locally produced pottery and fibulae, as well as the potential existence of ancestor worship at rural settlements, all indicate that cult among the rural Cananefatian society was based on indigenous traditions. The question remains however, whether these traditions were fixed, perhaps even dogmatic, or if they were liberal and open to interpretation. The occasional deposition of Roman wheel-thrown pottery or metal ware suggests the latter. As there is no clear pattern of objects recognizable in these occasional depositions, the most likely conclusion would be that the choice depended on the availability of objects or that the actual objects or configuration of objects was not itself of primary significance, rather it was the act or process involved that was paramount. As Roman products became more and more the norm in the indigenous Roman world, the choice of these objects as offerings within a traditional cult may be understandable and should not necessarily mean the cult was liberal. The cult could still have kept its traditional rituals and it is important to note that we have very few physical traces and material objects left by the rites and it remains difficult to interpret the meaning of these practices.

On the other hand, the choice of materials could also be used to confirm a certain identity. A clear example is the deposition of militaria, presumably by those connected to the Roman army, such as soldiers or veterans. Numerous finds from the settlement site at Schiedam, like window glass and brick building materials, show that the occupants had somehow been connected to the army. The specific offerings brought to the offering site near the settlement reflect this connection and include numerous items of militaria, imported pottery and various metal objects. The ritual of offering is however not specifically related to the Roman army but rather widespread, making the chosen objects agents of cultural identification. The deposition of possible plate armour at the rural settlement of Poeldijk can be seen as another example of a common deposition with a Roman expression. Although no such structures have yet been convincingly demonstrated, the existence of Gallo-Roman temples at Empel (Roymans & Derks 1994), Elst (Van Enckevort 2007), Domburg (Hondius-Crone 1955) and Colijnsplaat (Stuart & Bogaers 2001) lead us to suspect that comparable structures stood in the civitas Cananefatium. Considering these structures and the Roman identity adopted by soldiers and veterans living among rural communities, it appears somewhat strange that these individuals continued to practice traditional depositions. There apparently somehow existed a need for traditional cult practices, although Roman culture became even more familiar. The same is also revealed by the fact that rural cult places still existed well into the 2nd century AD, at a time when the civitas was surely integrated into the Roman world.