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Aardenburg

Aardenburg: coastal fortress in Germania Inferior. The ancient name may have been Rodanum.

Tower of the Aardenburg fort
Tower of the Aardenburg fort
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.

Map of the ancient Lower Scheldt area
Map of the ancient Lower Scheldt area
Aardenburg was one of them. Situated on the east bank of a small river, the Rudanna, it controlled the route to Maledegem 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 Roman fort
Model of the Roman 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
Remains of the Aardenburg temple
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.

Votive offering
Votive offering
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.

Ancient stones in the Medieval church of Aardenburg
Ancient stones in the Medieval church of Aardenburg
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.

Literature

This page was created in 2010; last modified on 24 September 2014.