Thursday, July 12, 2018
Caesar in the Low Countries
The world-renowned general Julius Caesar may have been rather less heroic than we imagine, in terms of victories as well as physique. Caesar was largely bald and had a deformed skull, resulting from difficulties during his birth.
As for military campaigns, he suffered his greatest defeat in the Low Countries, possibly near the Dutch city of Maastricht, according to new research suggesting that he fought a substantial proportion of the Gallic Wars in the northern part of Gaul.
These findings emerged from the research conducted by the archaeologist and author Tom Buijtendorp on Caesar’s activities in the Low Countries, in response to the mounting pile of clues for his presence here. Buijtendorp’s research was recently published in the book Caesar in de Lage Landen (Caesar in the Low Countries)
Caesar’s own statistics on killed Roman soldiers, suggest that roughly half of these deaths took place in the north, in Gallia Belgica. In this harsh northern region Caesar encountered his largest defeat ever, and faced a second defeat at the same place the year after. The northern military effort was so burdensome that Caesar had to limit his British ambition. Caesar’s idea of the Rhine as natural border, would impact the strategy of the Roman Empire for a long time.
Buijtendorp’s research for his book ‘Caesar in de Lage Landen’ (Caesar in the Low Countries) was based in part on recently-excavated Caesarian camps, an analysis of indigenous gold coins, geographical analyses, and a renewed assessment of Caesar’s own statistics. The findings for example suggests that a hilltop stronghold near Maastricht may have served in 54 and 53 BC as the camp and logistics centre of Caesar’s army, site of his largest loss. This is indicated, for instance, by a detailed analysis of gold coins and the camp’s size, which was recently established. Caesars description of the battle site fits quite well with the environment.
In addition, the site becomes a logical choice when looking at the reconstruction of Caesars northern campaign. And new insights in the possible location of other camps, also provide a possible match. Like in more cases, this new perspective generates a working hypothesis that may help to actually discovery archaeological remains and protect sites. The recently recognized unique shape of the hobnails in the boots of Caesar’s soldiers, since 2010 enabled researchers to link three northern camps to Caesar.
New discoveries may follow, for which the book – which is written in the manner of a travel guide – identifies several possible sites. This remains challenging for marching camps. A large excavation at Limburg-Eschhofen only revealed three hobnails, while at Hermeskeil a gate probably used for several months was a special hobnail find spot. Mauchamp with clear old traces of Caesars’ large camp, did not provide related finds lacking sizeable modern excavations.