2.2 Archaeological background

Before the arrival of the Romans, societies in north-western Europe had strongly autonomous tribal structures (Roymans 1987, 17-45). Farming was mixed and focused on self-sufficiency (Roymans 1996, 44). Barley (Hordeum vulgare), emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccon) and to a lesser degree millet (Panicum miliaceum) and spelt wheat (Triticum spelta) dominated the cereal spectrum (Kooistra in press). Animal husbandry depended on cattle, sheep and pigs (Roymans 1996, 49). Cattle and horses were also used in exchange systems (Roymans 1996, 45).

When they arrived in the Dutch River Area, the Romans encountered a small-scale agrarian cultivated landscape. The pleistocene area to the north and south of the Dutch River Area was also cultivated. The western coastal zone, consisting of widespread peat areas, still had a natural landscape and was nearly inaccessible, except by river.

The first building activities of the Roman army in the Netherlands date from the time of the Augustan military campaigns, when between 19 and 16 BC an army camp, large enough to house two legions, was built near Nijmegen. Around 12 BC, this camp was abandoned (Driessen 2007; Kemmers 2005). It was not until about twenty years later that the Roman army established itself again with three army camps: Vechten, Meinerswijk and Velsen. However, most of the fortifications in the Rhine delta date to the early 40s AD. Located in the coastal zone and the adjoining peat area and covering a distance of c. 60km, a chain of at least ten small fortifications appeared on the southern banks of the Rhine (Polak 2008). It is nowadays assumed that the forts built during the early 40s served to protect shipping on the Rhine (Polak 2008; Graafstal 2008). It is not until the Flavian period (after AD 70) that the forts gained another function, which consisted of the protection of the northern border of the Roman province of Germania inferior.

The presence of the Roman army affected the agrarian communities in the later 1st century BC and the 1st century AD, since the originally self-supporting agrarian population was faced with an increasing demand for food during this period (Groot et al. in press; Kooistra in press). The greatest changes to the agrarian economy, however, did not take place until the end of the 1st century AD, when the Dutch River Area was incorporated into the Roman Empire. In the southern part of the province Germania inferior, in the loess area of the south-eastern Netherlands and the German Rhineland, far-reaching specialisation in large-scale arable agriculture took place. Farmers in the Dutch River Area also turned to specialisation, but they maintained a mixed farming regime (Groot 2008a; 2008b; Groot et al. in press). Although surplus production is not the topic of this article, it does have an effect on land use and even more on the intensity of land use. A discussion on surplus production in the Roman Dutch River Area can be found in Kooistra (1996), Groot (2008b), Groot et al. (in press) and Vossen and Groot (2009).


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Last updated: Tue Nov 10 2009