Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 2-1 (May 2010)W.A. van Es; W.J.H. Verwers: Early Medieval settlements along the Rhine: precursors and contemporaries of Dorestad
2 Settlements in the Dorestad micro-region

2.2 Rijswijk and Leut near Wijk bij Duurstede

2.2.1 The castellum Levefanum

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It had long been assumed that the name Levefanum on the Peutinger Map referred to a Roman frontier castellum in the vicinity of Rijswijk (province of Gelderland). This hypothesis was corroborated in 1979, when dredging in the floodplain of the Lower Rhine at Rijswijk brought up large numbers of Roman finds among the sand and gravel. In conjunction with our excavations at Dorestad, archaeologists aboard the dredgers over a period of about six months collected samples of these finds. However voluminous, the gathered material represents just a fraction of what must have been dredged up in the way of artefacts (Van Es 1984). The vast majority were lost and others were dispersed in poorly accessible private collections. Our findings relating to Levefanum are largely based on the material from the sample. This consists mainly of potsherds but also includes parts of Roman military equipment, especially fragments of helmets, which demonstrate the military character of the site. Moreover, the composition of the ceramic assemblage points to a fully Roman rather than a Batavian settlement (Table 2).

Thanks to the dredging finds, the castellum Levefanum has now been approximately located. In all probability, the actual fort was eroded away by the Rhine as the finds came from a deep sandy deposit covered by three metres of clay. The strategic location of Levefanum, where the rivers Lek and Rhine diverge, is comparable to that of Vechten and Utrecht, the next frontier forts downstream which guarded the forking of the Kromme Rijn and Vecht. On this basis we may assume that Levefanum covered about the same area as these two castella, between 1 and 2 hectares. The history of Levefanum will in the main have matched that of the other forts in the Dutch frontier zone. Hence this castellum would also have been rebuilt in brick and stone during the third century. The defensive wall and the (main) buildings within are likely to have been kept in a more or less serviceable state right into the early fifth century.

A standard feature of every frontier fort was the vicus, the ‘civilian’ service settlement adjoining the fort on two or three sides and covering an area at least equal to it. The name Levefanum has been emended by Stolte to ‘Haevae Fanum’, the sanctuary of the otherwise unknown and possibly regional goddess Haeva (Stolte 1963). If this is correct, her temple may have stood within the vicus of the castellum or in its immediate vicinity. In that case, this area was of more than local significance, maybe even from before the arrival of the Romans. The dredged-up helmets may have belonged to a deposit of votive gifts.

The third century must have also resulted in great changes at Levefanum. Our Roman dredging finds mainly date to the Middle Roman period. Late Roman finds are absent from our collection. We are unaware of any fourth-century potsherds or other finds, such as coins, in private collections.

Given the conditions under which the archaeological documentation of Levefanum took place, a lack of certain finds does not justify the conclusion that the site was deserted. Hence it remains an open question whether the castellum Levefanum cum annexis ever accommodated a Late Roman or Frankish settlement, like those so clearly evident at De Geer and arguably present at the nearby castellum of Traiectum (Utrecht) (Van Lith de Jeude 1993).

There are no other dredging finds for subsequent periods until the Merovingian period. It is difficult to tell exactly when, but in the course of the seventh century at the latest there definitely was habitation at the site of Levefanum and sherds indicate that this occupation phase continued beyond the days of Dorestad.[2] A comparison with the pottery excavated at Dorestad suggests that the castellum site was reoccupied before the middle of the seventh century. Whether the site was unoccupied throughout the intervening centuries remains a moot point because of the scarcity of the available evidence. The name Levefanum at any rate was lost, as at the end of the seventh century the written sources speak of ‘castrum Dorestad’, which must refer to the former Roman frontier fort.


Table 2. Rijswijk/Levefanum: sample of Roman pottery (dredging finds 1979); after Van Es 1984.

2.2.2 Rijswijk / villa Risuuic

In a List of Landed Property of the diocese of Utrecht, Rijswijk features as ‘villa Risuuic’ (Henderikx 1987, especially 95, 122). This list was compiled in the late ninth and first half of the tenth century in an attempt to reclaim lost possessions of the Chapter of St Martin’s, and hence reflects an earlier situation. It relates to the Utrecht diocese’s landed property acquired between the first quarter of the eighth century and the years of Viking domination (c. 860-885). At Rijswijk this included part of a villa, comprising a church with its land and three other mansa. The list tells us nothing about the full size and the layout of the settlement. The presence of a church suggests a fair-sized habitation, which we might envisage as an ordered complex of farms, comparable to that of De Geer, but with a church. If we presume that the latter stood at roughly the same spot as the present-day village church of Rijswijk, the villa would have been at a distance of no more than a few hundred metres from the castellum. Maybe it was even located within the vicus. We might indeed speculate that the first (wooden?) church Christianised the old pagan cult site of Haeva. Such a (private) chapel is unlikely to have been founded before the late eighth century. The founder is unknown. It is generally assumed that the territories of the Roman castella became royal estates. Might the villa have been part of this?

There are two main possibilities for the origins of the villa. Either it was a new foundation in Merovingian times or it developed from an older habitation, going back to at least the Late Roman period. In the latter case, it may have evolved from the Roman vicus, possibly with a connecting Frankish phase. The parallels to De Geer would in that case be very strong, but without further evidence this must remain mere conjecture. Nor do we have any indication as regards the donor’s identity.

2.2.3 Leut / Lote villa

Archaeologically nothing is known about the Lote villa. Not a single find can be attributed to it with certainty.[3] Even the location of Leut has never been pinpointed as it ceased to exist as a separate settlement when it was incorporated into the town of Wijk bij Duurstede. It is believed to have occupied the opposite (right-hand) bank of the Kromme Rijn but survives only in the field name ‘Leuterveld’ (Dekker 1983). There is no doubt about its existence as a contemporary of Dorestad as it is mentioned in the Utrecht List of Landed Property. Therefore it merits consideration as one of the possible roots of Dorestad. At the Lote villa, the chapter of St Martins possessed a church with its land and seven other mansa, but not the royal tithe (Henderikx 1987, especially 96, 122).[4] Much of what was said about Risuuic may also apply to Lote. In any case, the presumably private chapel also points to high-ranking donors.