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Exploring Roman Netherlands

From around 55 BC to around 410 AD the southern area of what is today the Netherlands lay within the Roman Empire. First in Gallia Belgica, then, following Emperor Domitian’s acquiring new lands along the Rhine in the early 80s AD, the area was in the province of Germania Inferior. The empire’s boundary here was the Rhine River, this stretch of the frontier being the oldest section of the Roman Limes. While that part of the Netherlands to the north of the river did not fall under Roman rule, it was certainly not beyond the empire’s influence.

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Roman Sites & Ruins in the Netherlands

Castellum Hoge Woerd

The Roman Fort in the present-day town of De Meern was a relatively small fort along the Lower Germanic Limes. The site was excavated in 1940, and besides the fort evidence of a small civilian settlement was also uncovered. The outer walls and towers of the fort have been reconstructed, and museum built within the castellum. One of the highlights of the Hoge Woerd Museum is a 25 m long river barge from the 2nd century AD, recovered by archaeologists in 1997.

De Spees Roman Watchtower

Not far from a WWII fort is a faithful replica of a Roman Watchtower. Although this spot is on what was the Roman frontier, there is no evidence this was the site of a watch tower. The site is a popular resting stop for hikers and cyclists, and during spring and summer months, tea and coffee, with homemade cakes are on offer. The upper level has great views over this section of the Rhine River.

Fectio Roman Fort

On the outskirts of Utrecht, and within walking distance of the 19th century Dutch Fort Vechten is the Roman castellum Fectio. The fort was built in either 4 or 5 AD, and later, under Emperor Claudius it became part of the Limes Germanicus. The outline of the fort and its principia have been reconstructed, but archaeological excavations also produced evidence for a port, a necropolis, as well as a civilian settlement. Embedded in the reconstructions are artefacts and tactile information panels.

Matilo Roman Fort

Matilo Park, known before as Kastell Leiden-Roomburg, is a public recreational area that was built directly on the remains of a Roman castellum. An earthen walled topped with a row of conifers follow the course of what was a wooden palisade and then later a stone wall. The inner surface is grass with only the course of main camp roads marked. A the first phase of the castrum dates to around 47 AD when the Romans arrived in the area to man the Lower Germanic Limes. The fort was rebuilt in stone during the second century AD.

Meinerswijk Roman Fort

All that remains of the castellum found near Meinerswijk in 1979 are the walls of the principia. These have been enhanced with rock-filled metal cages to give visitors an idea of the building’s dimensions. Archaeological evidence suggests the fort was first built between 10 and 20 AD, while a thick layer of ash covering the site  suggests the site was destroyed during the Batavian revolt in 70 AD. Little is known about the fort, and some believe it is Castra Herculis, named on the Tabula Peutingeriana.

Temple of Nehalennia

Opened to the public in 2005, this structure in the Zeeland village of Colijnsplaat is a modern reconstruction of an ancient Roman temple. The original was excavated at nearby Ganuenta, which in the second century AD was a regional centre for trade on the fringes of the Roman Empire. The temple was originally dedicated to the local goddess Nehalennia; it is unclear whether this divinity was of linguistically Germanic or Celtic origin, but it appears likely that she attracted worship from speakers of both language groups.

Thermenmuseum

With the exposed remains of a public bath house, the museum tells the story of the Romans in south Limburg. In particular, Roman Heerlen or Coriovallum. This well preserved site covers an area of around 2500 m2 with some 500 m of walls. It is not only the best preserved Roman bath house in the Netherlands, it is the oldest stone building in that country. A suspended walkway allows you to get up close, and innovative display methods give 400 years of ancient bathing history.

Map of Roman Sites & Museums in the Netherlands


Roman Netherlands

Museums with Roman Exhibitions & Collections in the Netherlands

Allard Pierson Museum

Focusing on the great civilisations of the ancient world, the Allard Pierson is the archaeological museum of the University of Amsterdam. Among its collections is much material from ancient Egypt, the Near East, and the Mediterranean, including a noted selection of classical Greek pottery and Roman sarcophagi. Also at the museum are a selection of rare books, cartographic material, and one of Europe’s largest Jewish collections.
The museum takes its name from a 19th-century clergyman who served as the university’s first professor of classical archaeology.

Archaeological Museum Haarlem

The Archaeological Museum Haarlem occupies the cellar of the Vleeshal, a 17th-century building on the Grote Markt where the city’s residents once bought their fresh meat. The museum explores the archaeology of Haarlem and of the Kennemerland region more broadly, covering the area’s prehistoric inhabitants through to the urban developments of the Middle Ages. Temporary exhibits supplement the main display collection. The Frans Hals Museum is located in the same building and hosts an exhibit of modern and contemporary art.

Archeon

Archeon is an open air-museum devoted to the rich heritage of the Netherlands. With examples from prehistory to the late Middle Ages, you will see 43 reconstructed buildings ‘inhabited’ by re-enactors in period dress demonstrating traditional crafts and skills through the ages. Dugout canoes and replicas of the Gokstad Viking Ship. From gladiatorial contests in the Roman arena, Viking festivals to medieval jousting, there is plenty to experience.

Prehistoric Village, Eindhoven

The Prehistoric Village (preHistorisch Dorp) in Eindhoven, North Brabant helps to bring the ancient world to life. Despite its name, the open-air museum covers not only the Iron Age but also the Roman and medieval periods too. Reconstructed buildings created using archaeological data help set the scene, while interpreters dressed in period costume engage with visitors and showcase historic handicrafts as well as everyday activities like bread making and weaving. The open-air site is part of the Eindhoven Museum.

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden

With artefacts collected from around the ancient world, the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden is an essential stop for anyone interested in archaeology. The museum houses many objects from the Roman period of Dutch history, including a large collection of votive altars depicting the local goddess Nehalennia. Another of the museum’s highlights is the Temple of Taffeh, an original 2,000 year old Egyptian temple gifted to the museum by the Egyptian government, as well as a collection of classical sculpture from Greece, Etruria, and Rome.

Valkhof Museum

Opened in 1999, the art and archaeology museum was built next to the Valkhof Park, the site of a Roman army camp and then a citadel built by Charlemagne. On display are local Roman artefacts and modern art. One of the highlights is the s-called Nijmegen Calvary helmet dating to the second half of the 2nd century AD, and made of iron, bronze, silver and gold. The museum (photographed) is currently undergoing refurbishment. The collection is on temporary display at Keizer Karelplein 33 (click on the map for this location).