Front cover image for The Roman Limes in the Netherlands: how a delta landscape determined the location of the military structures


The Roman Limes in the Netherlands: how a delta landscape determined the location of the military structures

From the 40s A.D. onwards a dense military system was established in the Lower Rhine delta in the Netherlands. Long since, it is questioned why this system was established in a wetland area and even turned into the northwest frontier of the Roman Empire, the Limes . A new detailed palaeogeographical map, based on a digital elevation model (LIDAR), soil maps and excavation results, was constructed. This reconstruction provides insight and understanding of the interactions between the natural environment in this part of the delta on the one hand and the establishment of this part of the Limes along the Old Rhine between Utrecht and Katwijk on the other. This study shows that the distinctive landscape of the western Rhine-Meuse delta, with an exceptionally large number of tributaries, determined the spatial pattern of the military structures. All forts (castella) were erected on the southern natural levees of the river Rhine, directly alongside the river, regardless of height and composition of the subsoil and alongside or opposite routes that provided natural access to the river. We conclude that their aim was to guard all waterways that gave access to the river Rhine from the Germanic residential areas further north and from/to the Meuse tributary further south in the delta. In addition, a system of small military structures, mostly watchtowers, was erected between the forts to watch over the river Rhine and its river traffic. Furthermore, at least two canals were established to create shorter and safely navigable transport routes to the river Meuse. At first, this integrated system of castella and watchtowers probably aimed to protect against Germanic invasions and to create a safe corridor for transport and built up of army supplies for the British invasion in 43 A.D. Only later on, probably by the end of the first century, this corridor turned into a frontier zone
Netherlands Journal of Geosciences - Geologie en Mijnbouw, 92, 201304, 11