Archaeologists claim to have proved that Julius Caesar set foot on what is now Dutch soil, destroying two Germanic tribes in a battle that left 150,000 people dead.
The tribes were massacred in the fighting with the Roman general in 55BC, on a battle site now known to be in Kessel, in the southern province of Brabant.
Skeletons, spearheads, swords and a helmet have been unearthed at the site over the past three decades – but until now it has not been linked to Caesar’s battle.
Now, carbon dating as well as other historical and geochemical analysis have proved the items dated to the 1st century, the VU University in Amsterdam.
“This is the first time the presence of Caesar and his troops on Dutch soil has been explicitly shown”, said Nico Roymans, an archaeologist at the institution.
The two tribes, the Tencteri and the Usipetes, came from an area east of the Rhine and had asked Caesar for asylum.
But the Roman commander refused and ordered his eight legions and cavalry to destroy them, the university said.
“Today, we qualify such action as genocide,” the team said.
Remarkably, in the then Roman political culture no moral objections existed for mass murder on a defeated enemy, especially when it came to barbarian.
This explains why Caesar in his war reports, without any shame, gives detailed descriptions of the use of mass violence against Gallic and Germanic peoples who resisted the Roman conquest.
Caesar wrote about the battle in his account of the Gallic wars, Commentarii de Bello Gallico but the exact location had until now remained a mystery.
“From the basis of the combination of the various types of data it can be concluded that we have in Kessel the archaeological remains of the Caesar described as mass slaughter of the Tencteri and Usipetes of 55 BC,” the team wrote.
It seems that after expiration of the massacre the bodies of the dead and weaponry were collected and deposited in an old Maas Bedding.
Interestingly, some swords were deliberately folded or bent. This may indicate that the deposit of the battlefield remnants at the time was accompanied by rituals.
Of great importance is the presence of large numbers of Kessel human skeletal remains, especially men, but also women and children.
Some bones show clear traces of ancient injuries caused by spears and swords. Radiocarbon dating has determined that the skeletal material from Kessel indeed comes from the Late Iron Age.
“Also in the laboratory the tooth enamel of three individuals was studied geochemically at isotopes,” the team said.
On the basis of the values of the strontium can be determined that in all three cases concerns persons who were not native in Dutch river area but came from elsewhere.
In Book IV of his De Bello Gallico Caesar describes his extremely violent crackdown against two Germanic tribes, the Tencteri and Usipetes, in the spring of 55 BC.
Caesar with his full force of eight legions and cavalry against the Germans went to war.
After the conquest of the Germanic camp the fleeing population was pursued by Caesar’s troops.
At the confluence of Meuse and Rhine 120 km off the coast, they were surrounded and slaughtered.
Caesar mentions proudly that virtually the entire population including women and children was destroyed. In total would amount to 430 000 people, but this number is undoubtedly vastly exaggerated.
A number between 150,000 and 200,000 seems to be more realistic.