Wednesday 30 August 2017

Valkhof Museum, Nijmegen - Holland 2017

Nijmegen or as it was known to the Romans, Noviomagus is thought to have been established around 70 AD close to the earlier Roman fortress set up by General Drusus, Emperor Augustus' stepson, on the frontier with Germania in around 12 BC.

The first Roman presence in the area is dated to 19 BC which makes the founding of the city credited to the then Governor of Germania Inferior, Agrippa, Augustus' right hand man and 'fixer'.

The original fortress was 650 x 650 metres square and offered accommodation for two to three legions, and its strategic location atop the hill close by the modern city overlooking the crossing point over the River Waal, one of the divisions of the River Rhine before it enters the North Sea, an obvious location to base the army on the frontier.  

The Hunerberg Legionary Base 

Map indicating the location of the Hunerberg Camp to the modern day city and river

This amazingly preserved iron Roman helmet is one of several on display in the Valkhof Museum in Nijmegen and was discovered in the Roman fortress together with the remains of the shield it was buried with, with just the boss and bronze strip applied to the edge of the cross ply wooden shield having survived. This helmet belonged to one of the first Roman soldiers in the country.

This helmet would appear to be the next stage in Roman helmet development or Coolus pattern helmet of the 1st century AD that differed from the earlier 1st century BC models or Montefortino types in having wider cheek pieces and neck guard together with the reinforcing peak on the front of the helmet to ward of blows from that direction.

Samian ware pottery together with oil lamps are illustrative of the thriving community in and outside the fortress in the growing civilian town of Noviomagus.

Silver plated bronze broach with the name Gaius Aquillius Proculus, Centurion in the Eighth Legion

An officer named Aquillius is mentioned by Tacitus in his account of the Batavian Revolt in 69 AD leading the hard pressed Roman army against the rebels in the Eastern Betuwe or Batavian Island. The item above is thought to date from the time the Roman Fort was in operation on the Kops Plateau in Nijmegen, which was destroyed during the Batavian revolt.

The fortress at Noviomagus formed one of the key military bases from which first Drusus and then his brother Tiberius launched their campaigns of conquest into Germania with Drusus conquering the territory between the Rhine and the Wesser in the years 12, 11 and 10 BC  and after the young Roman prince died in an accident in 9 BC the task was completed by his brother Tiberius in 8 BC.

Map illustrating the campaigns of Drusus, 12 - 9 BC
By Cristiano64 - Lavoro proprio, self-made, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Monument to Emperor Tiberius (TIBR CSAR) seen here making a sacrificial offering
and being crowned victor by Victoria
 - Sacrifice

Tiberius returned to the army in Germania Inferior in 5 AD to begin the second phase of conquest, leading two campaigns that took him to the banks of the Elba, and with the lands conquered earlier by Drusus generating taxes for the Roman coffers, the project of turning Germania into another Imperial Province seemed well in hand.

Map illustrating the campaigns of Tiberius, Ahenobarbus, and Saturninus in Germania between 6 BC and 1 BC.
By Cristiano64 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Of course things weren't destined to turn out quite that way and when a certain chap called Arminius took Governor Varus and the XVII, XVIII and XVIIII Legions for a walk in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, the whole project of pacification and colonisation of Germania beyond the Rhine was in tatters.


Of course the loss of three legions, three Eagles and the crushing defeat inflicted on Roman arms could not go unanswered and Drusus' son Germanicus began a punitive campaign of restoration in 14 AD, restoring damaged Roman pride and restoring three lost Eagles to their previous owner until he was recalled by Tiberius in 16/17 AD with the Emperor content to leave the Germans to fight among themselves over the other side of the empire's frontier.


The four sides of the same monument pictured here are thought to have been created to commemorate these wars and it was discovered in 1980 in Kelfkenbos, Nijmegen and is thought to date from between 8 BC - 5 AD, being the oldest and largest monument in Holland.


The four sides commemorate Emperor Tiberius and are themed on each side to Sacrifice, Diana, Apollo and Ceres.

Bronze head of Emperor Trajan 98-117 AD from Xanten on the Rhine

The bronze head of Trajan would not have been a rarity in Roman times but it very uncommon now as many of these bronze images were often melted down for use in other objects and now many are only discovered as small fragments of the original, so to have this one almost complete is exceptional. Having seen this image reproduced in several of my books it was finally great to meet the real thing close up.

There is also an extensive collection of day to day items used within the town and fortress but I have chosen to represent them with these fine pieces of silver from a very high status residence.

A stunning Roman silver cup dated about 27 BC

A piece like this must have belonged to a very high status owner

Small silver saucepan
I was amazed by the extensive collection of early imperial Roman helmets, principally discovered in the local area.

The pictures got me delving into my copy of Adrian Goldsworthy's 'The Complete Roman Army' where he describes the method of producing these types of helmets and the development that saw them change over time reflecting battle experience and the need to provide better protection for the exposed head being a ready target for enemies using cutting blades to bring down on them.

These early Montefortino and Coolus helmets as described above are made from a single piece of metal to create the bowl and neck-guard. Some of these examples look like they are hybrid Montefortino types with added reinforcing peaks

A Montefortino type helmet with the reinforcing peak common to Coolus types. From Millingen on the Waal.

A more obvious Montefortino type with a very shallow neck guard, from Pannerden, perhaps a cavalry model where
an infantry style guard would rick breaking the neck of a rider falling backwards on to it.

This model displays more of the features seen on the Coolus type with a formidable reinforcing peak,
found in Hedel

Like the helmet that is at the top of the post this is the classic Coolus type found at
 Kops Plateau Nijmegen

The following two examples look like Montefortino hybrids differing from the model above with the added reinforcing peak.

Of course my referencing types or model of helmet would have been irrelevant and unrecognisable to the Roman armourer of the day and it was very likely that the legions would have recycled older models of helmets and made their own field improvements hence these variations on a theme displayed here in the Valkhof Museum.

Alongside the various models of helmet the museum also hosts a great collection of other military items discovered in the area and I have grouped them in an infantry, cavalry, artillery arrangement to fit the way my brain tends to work.

The shield boss was with the brass edging applied to the rim a fundamental part of turning the defensive shield into another offensive weapon the legionary or auxiliary infantryman could use in close combat.

The former makes an ideal weapon to punch with in the push of a melee, whilst the latter crunched down on the bear foot of an unsuspecting warrior could give the advantage to allow a more deadly thrust from the sword or spear, not to mention its key role in preventing the shield from being split from a cut of an edged weapon.

The name of the boss would indicate 'This is my shield!'

Again the variation on a theme displayed with these shield boss examples gives doubt to the regimented appearance we often see of portrayals of Roman infantry.

I prefer to give my later period collections an "on campaign look" and in a period before mass production and uniformity of design that campaign look may well have been more pronounced in Roman armies than the artwork we are presented with suggests.

Various design and look of shield boss

Infantry belt and armour fittings

A Cornicen (right) with the Cornu. An example of the mouthpiece can be seen below

1. Bronze relief showing Jupiter holding double lightening, purpose unknown. 2. A bronze lion, possibly a field sign ? 3. Bronze mouth piece for a Cornu and 4. Bronze Phalera, military decoration
A Centurion displaying a typical arrangement of Phalarae as seen above

The first stage in the induction of a recruit into the Roman army would be the ‘probatio’ from where we derive a new starter being called a probationer. This would be when the new recruit would be inspected with a medical examination to ensure fitness to serve as well as confirming citizenship as only citizens could serve.

Field pots above and below with the owners name stencilled on them (name it or lose it)

Once accepted, they were then probably issued with their ‘signaculum’, an inscribed lead tablet worn around the neck in a leather pouch which served in the function very much like the modern day dog tag or identity disc.

I am always interested in seeing items that are personal to recognisable individuals from such an early period in history like these identity discs and pieces of personal kit inscribed with names to help prevent them being mislaid!


The picture below captures the principle weapon on closing to contact, the pilum on the left. This example has the iron socket designed to be attached over the end of the wooden shaft.

Alongside it the spear heads could be easily ones used by auxiliary infantry or the local tribesmen, together with but spikes for the end of the shaft which on occasion were also to be found on the pilum as well.

The business end of the pilum

Butt spikes

These three amazing examples of the classic Roman infantryman's side arm, the gladius all appear to be 'Mainz' types, with straight parallel edges, one with its scabbard and hanging loops described as silvered tin on wood.

It is not clear what is reconstructed from my notes but I am guessing the handles have been added.


A vast array of 'pugio' or dagger scabbards and blades, some displaying incredible complexity in design.

Pugio blades and scabbards

Artillery bolts and shot come in all shapes and sizes.

Artillery bolt heads 

Stone round shot

This being the home of the Batavian cavalry, it is not surprising to see classic examples of weaponry and other equipment peculiar to this arm and the Valkhof boasts a unique collection of cavalry helmets, with one in particular that is simply stunning.

There seems some debate as to whether these curious mask helmets were worn for ceremonial, or for protection in training or actually used in combat with all the issues of restricted vision such a helmet would cause.

What is not in doubt is the level of craftsmanship used to produce these somewhat disturbing helmets and the woven horse hair mock scalps applied to the top part.

The one above is a replica with the real thing in various forms of preservation, with I believe only about five such examples are around, so they are very rare.

The remains of the woven horse hair top can be seen in this example next to the reconstruction

The real thing has to be seen to appreciate its stunning appearance and another shot of it is at top of this post.

The Nijmegen cavalry helmet

Alongside the dramatic helmets, horses would also get the 'bling' treatment with many of the ornaments carrying a phallic design intended to protect the horse and rider by warding off ill luck.

Cavalry harness fittings

Finally,  the copy of a fragment of a tombstone, seen above, found in Rome is 2nd century. In the third line down can be seen the reference to ULPIA NOVIAMAGUS, the Roman name for Nijmegen. The tombstone was made for the grave of a chap called Aurelius who served in the Emperor's bodyguard.

The Valkhof Museum is a must visit venue for anyone visiting the area with an interest in the early imperial Roman era and the activities going on on this the Roman frontier of Germania.

Other sources used in this post:
The Complete Roman Army - Adrian Glodsworthy
Teutoburg Forest AD 9 - Michael McNally & Peter Denis, Osprey Campaign