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Fectio (Vechten)


Tombstone of a slave girl named Fledimella, from Vechten. Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden (Netherlands).
Tombstone of Fledimella, from Vechten. Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden.
Fectio: Roman fort, part of the limes, modern Vechten.

Fectio, modern Vechten, was a fort in the limes, the frontier zone of the Roman empire, situated at the site of the bifurcation of the rivers Rhine (which continued to the North Sea) and Vecht (to Lake Flevo and the Frisians). Numismatic evidence suggests that it was founded by the Roman general Tiberius (the future emperor) during the campaigns of 4/5 CE. It was probably used as a naval base during punitive raids.

The civil settlement of Fectio was probably to the east of the fort, but excavation is not easy because there is a nineteenth-century military settlement on the site (Fort Vechten; satellite photo). However, the ancient fort at Vechten itself is, together with Nijmegen, one of the best excavated sites in the Netherlands. Research started as early as 1828, and among the nineteenth-century finds are a piece of the road, a wooden bridge, and a palisade. Vechten was also the site of one of the first excavations of a Roman ship.

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Inscription from a wine barrel, mentioning G[aius] Cae[sar] Aug[ustus] Ger[manicus], found at Vechten. From H. Sarfatij e.a., In discussion with the past (1999).
Inscription from a wine barrel,
mentioning G[aius] Cae[sar]
Aug[ustus] Ger[manicus] (from  H. Sarfatij et al., In discussion with the past, 1999; ©!!!)

In 40, the emperor Caligula visited Fectio when he was travelling to Lugdunum. The remains of a wine barrel from his personal vinyard have been found. Some thirty years later, the fortress was destroyed during the Batavian Revolt and rebuilt as base of a cavalry squadron. The nearby Rhine had already started to silt up, and was later to change its course. Pottery from the kilns of the Twenty-second legion Primigenia at Xanten belongs to this period.

During the reign of Antoninus Pius (138-161) the fort was again rebuilt, this time from brick and natural stone. However, by 200, the river had become silted-up and Fectio was no longer accessible by water. Like many other military settlements, Fectio was destroyed in 275 and not reoccupied.

Cast of the tombstone of Gaius Julius Bio. Museum für antike Schifffahrt, Mainz (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
  Cast of a votive stone of Gaius Julius Bio. Museum für antike Schifffahrt, Mainz; the original is on display in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht.

Several funeral monuments from Fectio survive. The tombstone of Gaius Julius Bio is now in the Centraal Museum in nearby Utrecht.

Iovi  Optimo  Maximo  Votum
Solvit  Libens  Merito
Gaius  IVLIVS  BIO
TRIERARCHVS (more...)

To Jupiter, the best and greatest, this vow
was paid, willingly and deservedly,
by Gaius Julius Bio,
the captain.

Another very interesting discovery was the tombstone of a former slave girl named Fledimella. Remarkable is the inscription, which mentions the shrine of a goddess named Viradecdis, who was venerated by Tungri at Fectio. She was probably a Tungrian deity, because a similar shrine, dedicated by Tungri to the same goddess, is known from Hadrian's wall.

Tombstone of Valens, son of Bititrali. Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering.
Tombstone of Valens, son of Bititralis. Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden.

Valens, the son of Bititralis, served in Fectio during the second century and belonged to a unit that was called the First Thracian Cavalry. His tombstone shows the deceased with two servants: a very common motif.

Most finds are now in the Centraal Museum in Utrecht. One of the most remarkable ones is a pen; it is hollow and has small ink reservoir inside, so it is actually an ancient fountain pen!

Watchtower

The Fectio watchtower - photo below - was built in 2004 to remind visitors that Vechten once was an important military settlement. It was made out of wood and has three levels. The upper level probably served as armory; from the balcony, fire and smoke signals could be given to nearby forts (e.g., Traiectum in the northwest or Levefanum in the southeast). The middle level was used as a sleeping room and contained the entrance; and downstairs was a cellar.

These towers were situated on the southern bank of the Rhine; several have been identified west of Utrecht, at Utrecht-Leidse Rijn (formerly known as Vleuten). Similar constructions have been excavated in Germany (e.g., Rainau).

The site of Fectio, seen from the east. Photo Marco Prins. The site of Fectio, seen from the south. Photo Marco Prins. A fibula from Vechten. Allard Piersonmuseum, Amsterdam (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering.
The site of Fectio, seen from the east. The site of Fectio, seen from the south. A fibula. Allard Piersonmuseum, Amsterdam
Dagger and scabbard from Vechten; Centraal Museum, Utrecht (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering. An ancient fountain pen. Centraal Museum, Utrecht (Netherlands). Photo PUG-collection, Utrecht. Graffito of a warship (a liburne) from Vechten. Archeologisch & Bouwhistorisch Centrum, Utrecht (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering.
Dagger and scabbard (PUG-collection, Centraal Museum Utrecht) An ancient fountain pen (©PUG-collection, Centraal Museum Utrecht) Graffito of a warship (a liburna) from Vechten (PUG-collection, Centraal Museum Utrecht)
Modern reconstuction of an ancient Roman watch tower, Vechten. Photo Jona Lendering.
Watchtower

Getting there

The site of ancient Fectio can be reached from the N411 main road, which connects Utrecht and Bunnik. At Vechten village, you have to go south, pass the tunnel underneath the A12 motorway, and immediately turn to the right. This little lane, full of curves, is called Marsdijk. You will see the nineteenth-century fort on your right hand. When you see the reconstructed Roman watch tower (seen here from the air), you can recognize the ancient military settlement as a very, very low hill to the west of its successor.  

Literature

  • Wilfried Hessing e.a., Romeinen langs de snelweg. Bouwstenen voor Vechtens verleden (1997 Abcoude)
  • Robert Vermaat, Roman 'turris' at Fort Vechten
  • M.J.M. Zandstra en M. Polak (eds), De Romeinse versterkingen in Vechten-Fectio. Het archeologisch onderzoek in 1946-1947 (2012)

Thanks...

... to Joanneke Hees
© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2003
Revision: 10 August 2013
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