Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other

Aardenburg (Rodanum?)


Remains of a tower of the fortress at Aardenburg. Photo Jona Lendering.
Remains of a tower and the ditch of the fort at Aardenburg
Aardenburg: coastal fortress in Germania Inferior. The ancient name may have been Rodanum.

In 173, the Chauci, a tribe living in what is now called Groningen and Ostfriesland and well-known for its sea-faring qualities, attacked what is now called Flanders. They had some success, but in the end, they were defeated by the governor of Gallia Belgica, Didius Julianus. The Roman government responded by building several forts along the coast of what is now Zuid-Holland, Zeeland and West-Vlaanderen.

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
The Scheldt estuary. Design Jona Lendering.
The Scheldt estuary in Antiquity


Aardenburg was one of them. Situated on the east bank of a small river, the Rudanna, it controlled the route to Maldegem and beyond. Its walls measured about 150x240 meters; they were built from natural stone  imported from Tournai and the Eifel Mountains. About a thousand soldiers may have lived over here, both infantry and cavalry. Roof tiles with the stamps CIIA and CIIS prove that the units were called Cohors Secunda A... and Cohors Secunda S...; we do not know where they were from, but the oldest pieces of Samian ware were produced in Rheinzabern, suggesting that the first garrison arrived from the land of the Rhine and Moselle.


Model of the Aardenburg fort. Photo Jona Lendering.
Model of the Aardenburg fort

The new settlement must have had serious consequences for the native population, the Menapians, who had until then continued their old life style, becoming Romans only very slowly. Now, all of a sudden, they had to produce food and other products for the garrison, and received coins in return. The presence of native ceramics, fish, cockles, and mussels, within the fort proves that they managed to produce what was needed. In return, they suddenly had trade contacts with the valley of the Scheldt, with Britain, Gaul, and even Spain. Archaeologists have found Samian ware and pieces of wall painting - a luxury the Menapians can never have seen before.

Remains of the Aardenburg temple; Archeologisch museum Aardenburg (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering.
Remains of the Aardenburg temple (Archeologisch museum Aardenburg)

It is possible that after 225, the Romans concentrated their forces in nearby Oudenburg. The military settlement at Aardenburg may have been taken over by citizens. In any case, a temple was added, which is unusual inside a fort.

After 260, the fort was refortified by the rulers of the Gallic Empire, but it was eventually evacuated in c.274, probably after an attack by Saxonian pirates, who appeared on the Flemish coast after the collapse of the Gallic Empire, which had been reunited with the "real" Roman Empire by Aurelian. A skeleton found at Aardenburg may belong to one of the attackers, as it is inhumated, not cremated. A second reason to abandon the site may have been a change in the environment. The sea was increasingly dangerous, and the land along the little Rudanna was vulnerable.

Skeleton, perhaps a Germanic raider. Archeologisch museum, Aardenburg (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering. Sandals. Archeologisch museum, Aardenburg (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering. Head of Bacchus. Archeologisch museum, Aardenburg (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering. Terracotta head. Archeologisch museum, Aardenburg (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering.
Skeleton, perhaps a Germanic raider (Archeologisch museum Aardenburg) Sandals (Archeologisch museum Aardenburg) Head of Bacchus (Archeologisch museum Aardenburg) Terracotta head (Archeologisch museum Aardenburg)
Statuette of Bacchus. Archeologisch museum, Aardenburg (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering. Piece of wall painting. Archeologisch museum, Aardenburg (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering. Jar. Archeologisch museum, Aardenburg (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering. Samian ware. Archeologisch museum, Aardenburg (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering.
Statuette of Bacchus (Archeologisch museum Aardenburg) Piece of wall painting (Archeologisch museum Aardenburg) Jar (Archeologisch museum Aardenburg) Samian ware (Archeologisch museum Aardenburg)
Votive offering. Archeologisch museum, Aardenburg (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering.
Votive offering (Archeologisch museum, Aardenburg)
The walls were destroyed by the last garrison, to make sure that it would not become a castle of the Saxons. The temple was destroyed by fire, but not necessarily on this occasion..

The site lay abandoned for centuries, until monks from Ghent's Saint Bavo's Abbey settled over there, trying to develop the area in the face of Viking attacks. When peace returned in the early tenth century, they dedicated a church to Saint Bavo inside the ancient fort, reusing many natural stones that had once been part of the fort. The new town was called after the Roman fort: Rodanburg, which means something like "fort Rodanum". The current name, Aardenburg, is by metathesis derived from this medieval name.

Ancient stones, reused in the medieval church. Photo Jona Lendering.
Ancient stones, reused in the medieval church

A satellite photo showing the remains of the excavated gate can be seen here.

Literature

  • J.A. Trimpe Burger, Romeins Aardenburg (1992)
  • "Romeins erfgoed", special issue of Zeeuws tijdschrift 58 (2008)
  • "Aardenburg"
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2010
Revision: 20 April 2010
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other