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Roman emperor ruled from Dutch town

In the second century AD, the Netherlands had not one but two important Roman cities. The first was Noviomagus, nowadays known as Nijmegen in the south-east of the country. But research has revealed that Forum Hadriani – near where the town of Voorburg is today (close to The Hague) - was vitally important to the Roman ruler.

Forum Hadriani took its name in the year 121 from the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who had the Germanic settlement completely rebuilt in Roman style. In the year 150, the next emperor, Antonius Pius, gave the settlement town rights. Hadrian even ruled his empire from Forum Hadriani for a short time – which temporarily made it the Roman capital.

Tom Buijtendorp is an archaeologist who has researched material discovered in the 19th and 20th centuries. His research has thrown light onto the town, which up to now had been thought to be just an obscure village. His findings are compiled in his PhD thesis which will be presented next month at the Free University in Amsterdam. 

Paved streets
Forum Hadriani was located on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, so did it have strategic importance? Tom Buijtendorp:

“Partly, it was first and foremost an ordinary town, but it was important town for maintaining the army. The northern border of the Roman Empire ran right across the Netherlands, and had the River Rhine running through it. It was paramount that the army was fed well, and Forum Hadriani played a vital role.”

Around 1000 people lived in the town; which is average for the time. The streets were laid in a grid and houses were built next to each other in streets. There was a bath house, an inn and shops. The roofs of the houses had the same typical flat tiles that you see elsewhere in the Roman Empire; the streets were paved and had gutters. 

Clever politics
The reason why Forum Hadriani was the government seat of the Roman Empire for a while was down to clever politics.

“Hadrian was an exceptional  emperor. He introduced a new strategy. He said, ‘The empire is too big to rule from Rome.’ So he decided to travel. On his first trip, he came through Voorburg, and he brought his government with him. That was a couple of thousand men. As a result, when he stayed for a longer period somewhere, it became the temporary seat of government.”

So that means Forum Hadriani was strategically important. It had been given town rights by the Roman emperor and was a real Roman town in all kinds of ways. Mr Buijtendorp thinks it is time to start rewriting the history books.

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This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011 Dutch government’s decided to cut funding and shift RNW in 2013 from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW’s current activities can be found at http://www.rnw.org/about-rnw