Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 4-2 (April 2013)Laura I. Kooistra; Marieke van Dinter; Monica K. Dütting; Pauline van Rijn; Chiara Cavallo: Could the local population of the Lower Rhine delta supply the Roman army? Part 1: The archaeological and historical framework
4. The rural population in the Rhine delta

4.3 Arable farming and animal husbandry

It is generally accepted that farmers in the research area only produced food for their own use before the arrival of the Romans (Kooistra 1996; Groot et al. 2009). The larger granaries found from the Roman period and the change in composition of the livestock in the Batavian region (but also in the rural settlement Katwijk-Zanderij) suggest that the farmers to the south of the Rhine produced a surplus of agrarian products (Groot 2008; Groot et al. 2009; Groot & Kooistra 2009; Kooistra 2009). Although surplus production is assumed, there is no clear specialisation in arable farming or animal husbandry (Groot & Kooistra 2009; Kooistra 2009). The farmers grew barley, emmer wheat, oat and sometimes also millet. It is unclear whether Celtic bean and flax/linseed (Linum usitatissimum) were common products. Mediterranean kitchen herbs have been found at several rural settlements from the second and third centuries; they are assumed to have been grown locally (Livarda & Van der Veen 2008). There are no indications for orchards in the Batavian and Cananefatian regions. The only fruits and nuts of which remains have been found in agrarian settlements could have been collected in the surroundings of the sites (Groot & Kooistra 2009; Kooistra 2009).

As far as livestock is concerned, cattle remained the main meat provider in agrarian settlements during the entire Roman period. The cited quote from Tacitus (Germania, caput 5) indicates that the local cattle were small in size. The appearance of larger cattle in the Roman period was the result of the improvement of stock-breeding practices to obtain a higher production of beef and/or for traction and other agrarian purposes (Lauwerier 1988). In the first century, more sheep may have been kept for meat (Groot 2008). Horses were bred in the Batavian region, probably for the Roman army, but not for their meat (Luff 1982; Lauwerier 1988). In the river area, botanical research has provided indications for the location of pastures. Some were located on the alluvial ridges and perhaps on fallow fields, but most botanical finds point to grassland vegetation in marshy areas (Groot et al. 2009; Groot & Kooistra 2009; Kooistra 1996; Kooistra & Van Haaster 2001).

Although the agrarian population to the south of the Rhine was integrated in the Roman empire to a high degree, hardly any imported food plants have been found in the agrarian settlements. Based on these results, it is assumed that in the Roman period the rural population produced its own food and did not import food from elsewhere. When we consider the agrarian products in the limes zone, it is likely that, as far as vegetable food is concerned, the rural population produced a surplus of cereals. For animal products, besides breeding horses, the emphasis seems to have been on the improvement of stock-breeding practices in case of cattle, although extra sheep were perhaps bred temporarily.