The Netherlands in the Roman era
Romans came to the Netherlands around the first century AD. They came to expand their empire northwards, halting first at the Elbe river and later at the Rhine. The Rhine became the natural border of the Roman Empire in Northwestern Europe, and many Roman settlements and forts were built along its banks.
The Romans came to the Low Countries to guard the borders of their kingdom, rather than to settle permanently, so it was mainly soldiers and military commanders who left traces in the soil. The Roman Netherlands galleries open a window on the Roman armies and their impressive weaponry. A bronze horseman's mask, one of the few ever found in the Netherlands, was excavated in Leiden. The fine details of the curls in the hair are especially noteworthy. In 1910 a peat cutter in De Peel (a region of North Brabant) chanced upon a gilt helmet, one of the greatest finds in Dutch archaeology. A marble head, found in Nijmegen, came from a statue of one of the best-known Romans of all time, Julius Caesar. Although it is heavily damaged, there is no mistaking the features of the great commander.
Altars to Nehalennia and a sarcophagus
In the centuries following the occupation, the inhabitants of the Netherlands were gradually drawn into the Roman sphere of influence. Their established customs and rituals mingled with those of the Romans, as is vividly illustrated by the altars to the goddess Nehalennia in the museum's collection. Sea captains and merchants dedicated hundreds of altars in the Roman style to her, in thanks for a safe voyage. In 1930, a magnificent sarcophagus was found in the village of Simpelveld in the south of Limburg. This treasure had been commissioned by a wealthy woman around AD 200, entirely in the Roman style. The inside of the case is decorated with beautiful reliefs, one of which depicts the patroness lying on a couch in the interior of a Roman villa.
Luxuries from Heerlen
Many objects from the Roman era have been found in the former locations of forts and settlements, for instance in Leiden, Woerden, Nijmegen, and Maastricht. Exceptional artefacts have also been discovered in the town of Heerlen in Limburg, where the graves of wealthy individuals were filled with luxury items made of precious materials, such as an amber statuette of Amor, the god of love. Amber, fossilized tree resin, was a prized material in the ancient world. In another grave in Heerlen, a tiny perfume flask was found, made in the 2nd century AD. The entirety of this exceptionally elegant glass bottle is decorated with delicate threads and grains of gold. It is almost impossible to imagine a finer example of the wealth and prosperity that the Romans brought to the Netherlands.
Reserve a tour online
You can reserve a tour of the Netherlands Roman era galleries (for up to 25 people) online or by calling +31 (0)71 516 3163.
Arrange a group visit online
You can arrange a group visit to the Netherlands Roman era galleries (for at least ten people, excluding visitors with a Museumkaart) online or by calling +31 (0)71 516 3163
Archaeology of the Netherlands: prehistory and the Middle Ages
The permanent Archaeology of the Netherlands exhibition recently underwent a thorough renovation and reopened to the public in January 2011. It offers a survey of 300,000 years of Dutch archaeological history, with a special emphasis on the prehistoric and medieval collections.