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Forum Hadriani (Voorburg)

Detail of map of Germania Inferior. Design Jona Lendering.
The location of Forum Hadriani
(number 50)
Forum Hadriani: small town in the Roman province of Germania Inferior, modern Voorburg near The Hague in Holland.

Description Photos

The Roman town, which may have been founded immediately after the Batavian revolt of 69-70, was originally called Municipium Cananefatium, 'the town of the Cananefates'. This name can be found, for example, on the milestones discovered at Den Haag. The town was the capital of this tribe, which was probably related to the Batavians and lived in what is now the Dutch province of Zuid-Holland.

The town was founded exactly at the watershed between the river basins of Meuse and Rhine. It is possible that it originally was the site where ships were hauled from one little brook to another. After 47, a canal was dug by the Roman general Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo.

Edge of Empire. The book Arjen Bosman and I wrote about Rome's Lower Rhine Frontier.
Edge of Empire. The book Arjen Bosman and I wrote about Rome's Lower Rhine Frontier (order; review)

In the second century, the town of the Cananefates received the title of Forum Hadriani. Too much has been made of this new name, which simply means 'market of Hadrian'. It was not uncommon for towns to change their name to honor a ruler. Several archaeologists have claimed that the emperor Hadrian (117-138) awarded the right to organize markets to the town, which can therefore, in their view, best be typified as a market town. However, we know enough of Roman Law to understand that as a municipal capital, Voorburg did already have this prerogative. The fact that the old name was still in use during the reign of the emperor Decius (249-251), should have been sufficient warning against this theory. (This misunderstanding is one of the examples of the regrettable lack of cooperation between Dutch archaeologists and historians.)

Model of ancient Voorburg, from Museum Swaensteyn, Voorburg (Holland). Photo Jona Lendering.
Model of ancient Voorburg,
from Museum Swaensteyn

The only thing we know for certain is that the town changed its name. It is tempting to link this to several well-documented building activities in the region during the reign of Hadrian (e.g., repairs of the Canal of Corbulo, which connected Voorburg with the Rhine at Leiden in the north and the estuary of the Meuse in the south).

Remains of the Roman town have been excavated in park Arentsburg in modern Voorburg. It seems that the ancient settlement was, in spite of its small size (about 1000 inhabitants), a regular city with the common Roman gridiron lay-out. Several houses had shops in front and gardens in the back. Parts of the river port were identified in 2007.

Reconstruction of a house from ancient Forum Hadriani. Archeon, Alphen aan den Rijn (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering.
Reconstruction of a house from ancient Voorburg (Archeon)

Archaeologists have established that the inhabitants left the town after c.270. This is more or less at the time of the disaster that befell Germania Inferior in 274, when the Roman emperor Aurelian reconquered northwestern Europe, which had become independent in 260 and had succeeded in defending itself against the Germanic Franks and Alamanni. The collapse of this Gallic Empire meant the end of both the Rhine frontier and Roman Voorburg. The countryside suffered as well; the farm at Rijswijk - De Bult was abandoned too. When the frontier was restored by Constantius I Chlorus at the beginning of the fourth century, Forum Hadriani was not rebuilt.

C.J.C. Reuvens at the excavations of Voorburg.
Caspar Reuvens at the 
excavations of Voorburg (**)

The site was excavated for the first time in 1827-1834 by Caspar Reuvens, the world's first professor of archaeology. At that time, the name Forum Hadriani was already known from the Peutinger map, and Reuvens was not certain about the interpretation of his discoveries. He can not be blamed. After Pompeii and Herculaneum, it was the first systematic scientific excavation of a Roman civil settlement, and the results are even more impressive when we take into account that Reuvens' budget was cut back in 1830 because of war circumstances. It was only in the 1960's that J.E. Bogaers understood this important site.

Reconstruction of a kiln. Archeon, Alphen aan den Rijn (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering.
Reconstruction of a kiln (Archeon)

Today, a beautiful model of the ancient town can be admired in the small but nice Museum Swaensteyn in Voorburg. One of the houses of Forum Hadriani has been reconstructed at the Archeon archaeological park at Alphen aan den Rijn, together with a kiln.

The remains of the ancient town are not visible; the modern park Arentsburg, near the Mariannelaan, occupies the site.

Description Photos
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2003
Revision: 30 Nov. 2010
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other