50 BC - 450 AD - 500 years of Roman rule in the Lower Rhine region
In the first century BC, the Celtic-Germanic Menapians settled in the swampy, forested lowlands of the Lower Rhine, the Niers, Maas, Nete, Schelde and Leie. To the south of them settled the Celtic or Celtic-Germanic tribe of the Eburones, to the north the Germanic tribe of the Batavians.
Around 55 BC, the Usipeters and Tenkterians, who lived on the right bank of the Rhine, left their traditional settlement area because they were being harassed by their eastern neighbours, the Suebi. They migrated to the mouth of the Rhine, a part turned west and moved up the Meuse. In the process, they also caused the Menapians to move further west. They abandoned their settlements on the right bank of the Rhine.
During this period, more precisely between 58 BC and 51 BC, Gaius Iulius Caesar conquered Gaul and the Germanic regions on the left bank of the Rhine. In the process, the Eburones, who proved to be a particularly stubborn opponent, were largely destroyed or taken away as slaves. On the Lower Rhine, the Romans also encountered the above-mentioned Germanic tribes of the Usipeters and Tenkterians, who were looking for a new settlement area. They asked the Romans to allow them to settle in the area around the mouth of the Maas and Waal rivers, but instead they were literally slaughtered. It is estimated that up to 200,000 people lost their lives. The survivors had to return to their original settlement areas on the right bank of the Rhine.1, 2, 3
The Menapians probably escaped annihilation, but in the course of the following years they were pushed further and further west until finally only an area west of the Scheldt remained to them.4
Caesar himself wrote the following about this tribe in his sixth book on the Gallic War (De Bello Gallico):
(6.5.4) »The borders of the Eburonian land were bordered by the territory of the Menapians, which was protected by endless swamps and woodlands. The Menapians were the only Gauls who had never sent envoys to Caesar asking for peace. Caesar knew that Ambiorix associated hospitality with them. He had also learned that he had concluded a treaty of friendship with the Teutons through the mediation of the Treverians. (5) He therefore believed that Ambiorix must first be cut off from these sources of help before war was started with him himself, so that he could not hide with the Menapians or, of necessity, enter into an alliance with the Germanic tribes on the right bank of the Rhine if his situation became desperate.
(6) After Caesar had developed this plan, he sent the detachment of the entire army to Labienus in the land of the Treverians and ordered two legions to march there. He himself set out against the Menapians with five [...] legions ready to fight. (7) The Menapians did not raise any troops, but relied on the protection offered by their land, so they fled into the forests and swamps and brought all their belongings there. (6,6.1) Caesar divided his troops with the legates C. Fabius and the Quaestor M. Crassus, quickly laid out truncheon routes and thus advanced in three groups. He set fire to homesteads and villages, capturing a large number of people and livestock. (2) This forced the Menapians to send envoys to him asking for peace. (3) He accepted their hostages, but stressed that he would treat them as enemies if they accepted Ambiorix or his envoys into their territory. (4) Hereupon he left the Atrebatean Commius with a detachment of horsemen as observers in their country and moved against the Treverians.«5
In order to fill the gaps in the settlement, Germanic tribes of the Ubians were settled under Augustus from 39/38 BC in the area of today's cities of Cologne, Bonn, Aachen and in the valley of the Ahr, originally on the right bank of the Rhine, and further west in the area of today's city of Liège Germanic tribes of the Tungerians.
From 16 BC onwards, Roman troops were stationed on the Rhine, and between 12 BC and 8 BC the Romans also subjugated numerous Germanic tribes on the right bank of the Rhine between the Rhine and the Elbe in four campaigns named after the military leader Drusus. The Romans set up several military camps along the Lippe in particular. The starting point for the military operations was the Vetera I fort near Birten, built in 13/12 BC.
Around 8 BC, the Romans arrested a large number of men from the Sugambrian ruling class who had been sent to the Romans as negotiators, contrary to the applicable law, whereupon they took their own lives. As a result, the Sugambrian tribe bowed and a considerable part of about 40,000 people let themselves be resettled on the left side of the Rhine in Roman territory. In this way, the Romans tried to close the settlement gaps that had also arisen on the Lower Rhine due to the extensive destruction of the Eburones in the area between the present-day towns of Kleve and Krefeld.
The newly settled Sugambrian tribes merged with already settled Germanic tribes as well as with other resettlers from other tribes. The new tribe thus created was henceforth called the Cugernians. The part of the Sugambrians that remained on the right bank of the Rhine presumably merged with the Usipetians and Tenketians, who had regained their strength. It is also conceivable that they continued to exist as Gambrivians or Marsians.
Even after Drusus' death in 9 BC, further campaigns were undertaken to subjugate the Germanic tribes. The military leaders Tiberius, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus and Marcus Vinicius should be mentioned here. Once again, the military camp of Vetera I served as the starting point for the undertakings. While the Romans were still victorious in the Immensum Bellum, the massive war, between 1 AD and 5 AD, in 9 AD the Roman commander Publius Quinctilius Varus suffered a crushing defeat in the so-called Varus Battle near Kalkriese in the Teutoburg Forest against the Germanic tribes led by the Cheruscan prince Armin, which claimed the lives of half of the Roman army on the Rhine at the time.
As a result, Rome retreated to the Rhine border, the military presence on the Rhine was expanded, Vetera I became the largest permanent military camp in the Roman Empire with 11,000 legionaries and hundreds of inhabitants of an attached camp village.
In the years 14 to 16, Nero Claudius Germanicus undertook a number of campaigns in areas on the right bank of the Rhine at great expense in order to punish the rebellious Germanic tribes and gain supremacy in Germania.6
The Roman historian Tacitus mentions a Rhine bridge near Vetera in this context. The exact location is not known; besides a location in the immediate vicinity of the Vetera camp, it is also quite possible that it was located above the mouth of the Lippe. It was certainly not a stone bridge, but rather a wooden bridge or pontoon bridge, which the Roman army was able to build in quite a short time.9
After considerable Roman losses at the Battle of Idistaviso (near Bückeburg-Evesen in Lower Saxony), the campaign was broken off on the instructions of Emperor Tiberius. The legions were withdrawn to the Rhine line.6
With the retreat, the Rhine bridge was certainly also torn down again.9
The Roman military also laid out an extensive network of roads in the Lower Rhine region, consisting of long-distance and connecting roads, initially following existing trade routes from pre-Roman times. Under Emperor Claudius, there was probably a regular road-building programme for the Rhineland between 41 and 54 AD.7
Under Emperor Nero, the Limes was strengthened again between 54 and 68. The defences and main buildings of the forts, which until then had only been made of wood and earth, were now replaced by stone structures. The fort on the Steinacker near Büderich was also built during this period.
The name of the area Steinacker already indicates the presence of stone remains of buildings, and in the 19th century several finds were documented in the Bonner Jahrbücher and local history journals. In the 1930s, the Büderich pastor and local historian Theodor Bergmann carried out excavations, the results of which he wrote about in the newspaper Bote für Stadt und Land. He had to hand over his impressive collection to the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn in 1940.8
The camp at Steinacker was located on a flood-free hill in the floodplain terrace of the left bank of the Rhine. Due to the mouth of the Lippe on the opposite side of the Rhine, which was not near the present-day village of Flüren, but in the area between the present-day villages of Friedrichsfeld and Fusternberg, the Büderich camp was of strategic importance.
The camp was located on an area of about 250 m by 250 m, which was bordered to the north by the old course of the Reuterweg and later the Xantener Straße. Since the construction of the Büderich bypass, the road Am Sonnenaufgang, which follows the old course of the road, forms the northern border. To the east, the area is bordered by Perricher Weg and to the south by Gester Weg.
In Roman times, at least two branches of the imperial road Cologne-Xanten led from Vetera to the Steinacker fort. From there, the road apparently continued to a ford opposite the mouth of the Lippe River, as well as a little to the east of the later Geldern-Wesel country road to Drüpt, where it again met the imperial road Cologne-Xanten.
The medieval roads Reuterweg (i.e. Reiterweg) and Grindweg (meaning gravel road) probably follow the old Roman roads to a large extent.
It is not yet clear which troops were stationed here. The findings so far indicate that they were 500 to 1000 foot soldiers of Germanic origin, so-called cohors or a mixed unit (cohors equitata), which usually consisted of 3/4 infantry and 1/4 cavalry, while at the Lower Germanic Limes usually mounted auxiliary troops, so-called alae, were stationed.9
As early as the first century AD, the Büderich Rhine bend was probably largely free of forest. On the one hand, the Romans needed wood for the construction of the Vetera and Büdericher Steinacker camps, for the construction of ships and harbour facilities and as firewood. On the other hand, arable and pasture land had to be created to supply the military camps, so that presumably only the lower-lying, marshy quarry areas were still covered with hazels, alders and willows.
On the fertile alluvial soils of the Büderich Rhine bend, native grains such as spelt, emmer, barley, oats, millet and rye were cultivated, as well as legumes, fruit and vegetables, flax and linen. Above all, however, cattle breeding was practised. Cattle served as draught and slaughter animals. Sheep and goats, on the other hand, provided milk.10
Furthermore, it is reasonable to assume that trade with Germanic tribes on the right bank of the Rhine was conducted from here due to the favourable location and the existing paths.
In 68 AD, unrest broke out in the Roman Empire, Nero committed suicide and several contenders fought to succeed him as emperor. Among them was Vitellius, commander-in-chief of the Lower Germanic Empire, who after a short reign was defeated by his rival Vespasian, who prevailed at the end of the power struggle.
But since Vitellius had withdrawn troops from the Rhine for his struggle for power, the border was largely unsecured. As a result, the Batavians under Iulius Civilis rose up; their revolt was initially very successful. In addition to Vetera I, all other camps on the Rhine were destroyed, certainly including the fort at Büdericher Steinacker. The Germanic auxiliary troops stationed here presumably joined the uprising, as they did elsewhere, and perhaps they destroyed their camp themselves. The Roman legionaries of the Vetera I camp, who had laid down their arms and had been promised free withdrawal, were nevertheless massacred.
In July of the year 70, the decisive battle between the Romans and the rebellious Batavians took place east of the destroyed Vetera camp, in which the Romans were ultimately victorious.8, 10
The exact location of the battle is not known, but there is evidence to suggest that the battle took place west of Werrich in the area of Bislicher Insel. For example, two skulls and a bronze helmet of presumably Roman origin were found in a gravel excavation north of the Willichshof in 1959. In Roman times, the current course of the Old Rhine near Birten was not the main riverbed of the Rhine, but rather the area of the current course of the Rhine.10 Nevertheless, the area will have been quite swampy, so that the description of the Roman historian Tacitus can be well aligned with the area:
Tacitus Historiae V: (14) »A wide swampy meadow separated the two armies. Civilis had built a dam diagonally into the Rhine, which dammed up the river in order to submerge the lowland. This created treacherous shallows, disadvantageous for the Romans, who were heavily armed and ignorant of swimming, while the Teutons were used to water, easily armed and favoured by their height.
(15) When the Batavians defied this, the most daring of our people began the fight. But soon confusion arose when foot and horse sank in the deep swamp. The Teutons jumped over the shoals they knew, avoided our front, bypassed us in flank and rear.
Nor was the battle fought as usual on land, in an orderly line of battle in the vicinity, but as in a sea battle, surging back and forth between the waves, or where there was solid ground, pushing with all their might, dragging the wounded and the unwounded, swimmers and those who did not know how to swim, down into mutual ruin. And yet, despite the tumult, the bloodshed was not great, for the Teutons did not emerge from the swamp and then returned to their camp. The outcome of this encounter encouraged both commanders in different ways to hasten the decisive blow, - Civilis to pursue his fortune, Cerialis to wipe out the disgrace. The Teutons defied their successes, the Romans were spurred on by shame. The night passed with the barbarians in song and noise, with ours in rage and threats.
(16) On the following morning Cerialis reinforced his advance with cavalry and auxiliary cohorts and ordered the legions of the second encounter. The commander kept a select band in reserve for special cases. Civilis did not form his army in a long battle line, but in wedge heaps. The Batavians and the Gugernians were on the right, and on the left and closer to the river were the Rhinelanders. The exhortation of the army commanders was not in the manner of an address to the whole, but as they reached the battle heaps of their own. Cerialis spoke of the ancient glory of the Roman name, of earlier and more recent victories, - the faithless, cowardly and defeated enemy they should now destroy for ever. Revenge was more necessary than battle. The other day they had been outnumbered and fought against superior numbers, and yet they had beaten the Germans, and indeed their main force. Now only those were left who were already thinking of fleeing, carrying their wounds on their backs. He used special means to stimulate the ambition of the legions by calling the 14th legion the tamers of Britain, the 6th legion had raised Galba to the rank of prince by its decision, the 2nd legion was to inaugurate its new insignia, the new eagle, in this battle. Then, riding on, he turned to the Germanic auxiliary troops and showed with outstretched hands their own shore land, their own camp they were to buy again with the blood of the enemy. Lively shouts answered him from all who either desired battle after a long peace, or who, tired of war, hoped for peace, reward and future tranquillity.
(17) Nor did Civilis silently order his army and call the battlefield as a witness to their valour. Here on the footsteps of their glory stood Teutons and Batavians, above the ashes and bones of the legions. Wherever the Roman turned his fine eye, he would see his captivity, his defeat and every horror. May the changeable outcome of the Treverian battle not frighten them. Their own victory had harmed the Teutons there, when they laid down their arms and weighed down their hands with booty. But soon everything was happy and turned to the enemy's destruction: What could only be achieved by skill and cunning on the part of the leaders had been planned, wet fields, swamps known to them, ruinous to the enemy. The Rhine and the Germanic gods stood before their eyes. Under their care they were to go into battle, mindful of their wives, their parents, their fatherland. This day would either be the most glorious of all former days or a day of disgrace for all descendants.
When they agreed, with clashing of arms and stamping, as is their custom, the battle was opened with stones, bullets and other projectiles, without our soldiers going into the swamp, although the Teutons tried to lure them in by hostilities.
(18) When the projectiles were spent and the battle broke out, the enemy rushed in more wildly. With his mighty bodies and long spears he pierced the surging and wavering warriors from afar. At the same time a wedge heap of Bructerians came swimming across the stream from the area of the dam, which, as was said earlier, had been built into the Rhine. Here confusion arose, the battle line of the covenant cohorts was pushed back, then the legionary reserve took up the battle to dampen the fury of the enemy and to establish the balance. Meanwhile, a Batavian defector came to Cerialis and promised to lead him into the enemy's rear if cavalry were sent around the end of the swamp. There, he said, was solid ground, and the Gugernians, who were charged with guarding it, would not be on their guard. Two squadrons were sent with the defector and flew over the careless enemy. As soon as this was noticed by the shouting, the legions advanced in front, and the defeated Teutons hurried fleeing towards the Rhine. The war would have ended that day if the Roman fleet had followed quickly. The cavalry did not follow up either, because a downpour came and night fell.«11, 12
Subsequently, the destroyed forts were rebuilt. The Vetera camp near Birten was rebuilt a little further east of the original site near the Rhine and is generally called Vetera II today. It was smaller than the original Vetera I camp and had space for about 5400 legionaries, i.e. for only one legion.
It was destroyed by a change in the course of the Rhine in the 4th century, and even today the area is largely covered by the Birtener Altrhein.
The Steinacker camp near Büderich was rebuilt within the above-mentioned area. The Roman bricks of the XXII Legion Primigenia found here also date from this period.
Around 90, the two provinces Germania Superior (Upper Germania) with its capital in Mainz and Germania Inferior (Lower Germania) with its capital in Cologne were formed, which until then had been army districts that administratively belonged to Gaul.
Around 100, Emperor Trajan elevated the Cugernian settlement north of the military camp of Vetera, which possibly bore the name Cugernorum or also Cibernodurum, to the city of Colonia Ulpia Traiana. This was, like every Roman city, a smaller image of Rome and grew to become the third largest Roman city north of the Alps after Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (Cologne) and Augusta Treverorum (Trier). Veterans, including those of the legionaries previously stationed in Vetera, were given plots of land here, settled and formed a wealthy class of inhabitants. But also Cugernians lived here as Roman citizens.
The city, which was enormous for its time, probably had a strong impact on the surrounding area and thus in a special way on the Büderich Rhine bend. In the meantime, about ten settlement sites with traces of Roman buildings have been discovered in this fertile area. These were country estates (villae rusticae) that helped supply the nearby Roman town and military camps.
All in all, the Roman Empire experienced a rather peaceful period of prosperity in the 2nd century, from which the province of Lower Germania also benefited. Thus, the vast majority of Roman settlement finds in the Büderich/Ginderich area also date from the 2nd century and the beginning of the 3rd century.9
According to current knowledge, which is based on the archaeological finds and here especially on the terra sigillata, the camp at Steinacker was abandoned around 170 ±20 years ago.13 Presumably, however, the fort was merely relocated; after all, it was a place of strategic importance. Ursula Maier-Weber thinks it is conceivable that the fort was moved even closer to the Rhine, possibly in connection with a landing stage. In her opinion, the area of Alt-Büderich could be considered.
An altar to Jupiter found in 1788 by Abels, a citizen of Büderich, during fieldwork near Alt-Büderich could have originally stood in the camp at Steinacker or at a still unknown successor camp, since the bottom line of the inscription L(oco) MVNITO indicates a fortified site. The 60 cm high limestone was donated by a Cl(audius) Nero.8
During the reign of Emperor Commodus, Germanic tribes on the right bank of the Rhine invaded the Lower Germanic province, but could still be easily repelled.
During the third century, however, tribes on the right bank of the Rhine joined together to form larger alliances that would later go down in history as the Franks, meaning the brave, the bold. These tribal alliances broke into the Roman Empire several times from the second half of the 3rd century onwards, for the first time in 256/257 and to a greater extent in 276 when they destroyed many places, including parts of the largest city on the Lower Rhine, Colonia Ulpia Traiana, as well as the legionary camp of Vetera II.
It is not yet known to what extent the estates in the Büderich/Ginderich area were affected by the raids. However, considerably fewer Roman finds have been made from the late Roman period.10
For a few years, the rebellious emperors of the Gallic Special Kingdom under Postumus and his successors, which existed from 260 to 274, were able to repel or push back the Germanic tribes to a large extent. In 274, Emperor Aurelian succeeded in defeating Tetricus, the last ruler of the already diminished Gallic Special Kingdom, and reunified the empire.
The city of Colonia Ulpia Traiana was rebuilt around 285 in a reduced form with the integration of part of the XXX. Legion under the name Tricensimae.10
Under Diocletian (284-305) the administration was reorganised, and the province of Germania Inferior became the province of Germania Secunda and belonged to the diocese of Gaul.
Under Constantine (306-337) and Valentinian I (364-375), the limes was reinforced again and new forts were also built. As a result, there were also years and decades of relative calm in the 4th century. Overall, however, the situation on the Lower Rhine remained unstable and there were repeated armed conflicts with the Franks.
Emperor Constantine allowed Christians to practise their religion freely. It is possible that the first congregations were founded on the Lower Rhine at this time.
In 395, the Roman Empire was divided into a western and an eastern half, each headed by an emperor.
In the 5th century, Roman rule in the Lower Rhine region came to an end. At the beginning of the century, the remaining troops were withdrawn to defend Italy. From then on, Frankish settlers settled in the province of Germania Secunda. Since they could no longer be stopped by military means, alliances were made with them. As so-called foederati, they were to take over the defence against further advancing Germanic tribes.
In many places, however, despite the settlement of Frankish tribes, a Romanised way of life survived until the middle of the 5th century. In our area there are no finds from this transitional phase.
The Franks formed monarchical structures and founded petty kingdoms. Among the first known Frankish petty kings were the Salian Franks Chlodio and Merowech, whose descent from the Merovingian dynasty was invoked by the Frankish kings.
In 451, the Franks, together with the Romans and Visigoths, fought victoriously against the Huns on the Catalaunian Fields. However, the victory over the Huns also marked the end of Roman rule in Germania.9
A few years later, in 476, the Western Roman Empire ended with the deposition of Romulus Augustus (also known as Romulus Augustulus) by Odoacer, a Western Roman officer of Germanic origin.
The following chapter deals with the rise of the Franks in the early Middle Ages.
- Gaius Iulius Caesar: Commentarii de bello Gallico (Aufzeichnungen zum Gallischen Krieg), Buch 4
- Werner Böcking: Der Niederrhein zur römischen Zeit. Archäologische Ausgrabungen in Xanten; Kleve, 1987, ISBN 3-924637-08-3
- Annika Domainko: Caesars Genozid an der Maas, Spektrum der Wissenschaft, 13. Januar 2016
- Wikipedia: Manapier
- Gaius Iulius Caesar: Commentarii de bello Gallico (Aufzeichnungen zum Gallischen Krieg), Buch 6
- Wikipedia: Germanicus-Feldzüge
- Detlef von Detten: Die Rheinaue Borth-Wallach. Genese einer Kulturlandschaft IN: Das Erbenbuch der Deichschau Borth-Wallach. Eine Landschaftsaufnahme von 1580, Selbstverlag des Kreisarchivs Wesel, 1994
- Ursula Maier-Weber: Ein römisches Militärlager bei Wesel-Büderich, IN: Jahrbuch Kreis Wesel 1993, Boss-Druck und Verlag Kleve, 1992, ISBN 3-89413-053-9, S. 197-202
- Ursula Maier-Weber, Claus Weber: Urgeschichte und römische Zeit, IN: Wesel. Kleine Stadtgeschichte, Selbstverlag des Stadtarchiv Wesels, 2017, ISBN 978-3-924380-33-5, S. 27-35
- Clive Bridger: Römerzeit und Frühmittelalter auf Gindericher Gebiet, IN: Römer, Wallfahrt, Landwirtschaft. Zwei Jahrtausende Gindericher Geschichte, Selbstverlag des Stadtarchiv Wesels, 2000, ISBN 3-924380-18-X
- Publius Cornelius Tacitus: Historiae (Historien) – Geschichte des römischen Reiches von Galba (69) bis Domitian (96)
- Georg von Veith: Vetera Castra mit seinen Umgebungen als Stützpunkt der römisch-germanischenKriege im 1. Jahrhundert v. u. n. Chr., Berlin, 1881
- Clive Bridger: Näheres zur Datierung des Auxiliarlagers von Wesel-Büderich, Kreis Wesel, unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Terra sigillata, IN: Perspektiven der Limesforschung. 5.Kolloquium der deutschen Limeskommission. Beiträge zum Welterbe Limes, Stuttgart, 2010, ISBN 978-3-8062-2465-8, S. 49-53