Land Use and the Agrarian Economy in the Roman Dutch River Area

Maaike Groot1 and Laura I. Kooistra2

1. VU University Amsterdam
2. BIAX-Consult Email:

Cite this as: Groot, M. and Kooistra, L. 2009 Land Use and the Agrarian Economy in the Roman Dutch River Area, Internet Archaeology 27.


This article aims to reconstruct agrarian land use for a rural community in the Roman frontier zone in the Netherlands. The Dutch River Area was characterised by a dynamic landscape. Rivers regularly flooded the surrounding low-lying land. Only the higher streamridges provided suitable places for habitation and arable agriculture. The limitations of the landscape dictated to a large extent both the types and quantities of crops and animals that could be produced.

An interactive map of the micro-region of Tiel-Passewaaij shows how the land was used for agrarian production and sourced for other products. These symbols link to short texts that discuss the archaeological evidence for aspects such as growing cereals, raising livestock and the exploitation of wood and wild animals. The complex and dynamic geological situation of the Dutch River Area is also explained, and the consequences for agriculture discussed.

We address three main research questions. How were the different elements of the riverine landscape used by rural inhabitants? How were arable agriculture and animal husbandry organised spatially, both within the settlement and in its immediate surroundings? Which natural resources were used and managed? Our research is mainly based on one large and well-excavated settlement complex (Tiel-Passewaaij), but we will use complementary data from several other settlements in the region.

Our results show that the river landscape offered plenty of opportunities for agriculture. The interaction between arable and pastoral farming was essential, with livestock providing manure and agricultural labour, and the fields offering fodder and additional grazing (after harvest or during fallow years). The location of large enclosure ditches suggest that even minor differences in height, caused by older streamridges, may have made arable farming possible in the flood basin.

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