At Vechten, in the
province of Utrecht - where the Roman castellum Fectio once
was situated (fig.1: B) - the Rhine splits into the Oude Rijn and
the Vecht. In the Roman period, the Vecht represented the northwesternmost
branch of the Rhine, streaming northwards and having its outlet to the
Sea (fig.1:9) via the so-called Oer-IJ (fig.1: 10). Velsen 1
was situated at the southern shore of this Oer-IJ, surrounded by an area
inhabited by the local population, the Friesians (fig.1: 11).
That the feelings between Romans and natives were not always of the friendliest, is indicated by the above-mentioned Friesian revolt of AD 28 and the temporary abandonment of the Velsen area by the Romans, probably connected with it.
It was otherwise with Velsen 2. It seems to have been founded at the same time as Valkenburg 1 in circa AD 40. Together with Valkenburg and Vechten, Velsen 2 formed part of a strategically strong `triangle'. The Roman finds from the surrounding region, point towards a somewhat closer contact with the local population, although the Roman finds are limited.
The scarce finds from Velsen
2 which continue through AD 50/55, would seem to indicate that Velsen was
considered of strategic importance for even some time after the establishment
of the Rhine Limes by Claudius in AD 48.
From 1973 to 1991, extensive excavations have taken place every year, with the exception of 1983-1984. As a result of the close teamwork between the AWN-amateurs and the Instituut voor Prae- en Protohistorie (IPP) of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), an area of over 6 ha in size has been totally laid bare.
The major difficulty encountered
during the excavations, was the severe erosion, which has removed over
2 m from the original Roman surface, leaving only the deepest features.
A slight consolation was the fact that the site remained undeveloped following
the Roman occupation.
Period 1a is dated to AD
In Period 1b, a more permanent fort, similar in shape, replaced the `construction camp' (see fig.3 ). The new defences followed almost exactly the course of the previous one (: verloop verdediging per. 1a, in red). The earthen defensive walls now were replaced by a box-rampart, a so-called Holz-Erdemauer, which consisted of two parallel wooden revetment walls, set into a foundation trench, with vertical posts at approximately 1.3 m intervals set slightly deeper (fig.3: houtaarde muur). The 3 m wide space between the timber revetments, was filled with spoil from the single ditch in front of it. The Holz-Erdemauer was provided with simple wooden towers (fig.3: toren) and probably one (or more) simple gates, of which the ground plan was not distinguishable from that of the towers. The eastern riverside section was also provided with a, somewhat narrower, Holz-Erdemauer. In this period, extensive harbour works were constructed, consisting of three moles (fig.3: westpier, noordpier and oostpier) and a single shipshed (fig.3: scheepshuis).
Period 1b is dated to AD
only a couple of years, erosion caused by the river running alongside the
fort (see fig.12 below), necessitated
modifications to the harbour works in Period 1c (see fig.4).
The partially washed away shipshed also had to be replaced by a similar
construction of almost exactly the same dimensions. It seems that the fort
itself remained unchanged, possibly with the exception of some repairs
or minor modifications, for instance, at the north-western end of the defences.
There a part of the former ditch from period 1b was `widened' by the above-mentioned
erosion and provided with a protective revetment, thus forming a substantial
harbour basin (fig.4: insteekhaven).
To the west of the fort, the slight remains of a single ditch, running parallel to the rivershore seems to indicate a defended working area outside the fort itself.
An interesting feature, is a small, defended `camp' opposite the main fort, provided with a small basin. Here ships could moor relatively safe in `hostile' Friesian territory. Such small `Bruckenköpfe', but from a later period, are known from Roman forts along The Rhine and Donau, permitting the romans to unload military personel in the german territories. The possibility remains, that this Bruckenköpf dates from, or was still in use in period 2
Period 1c is dated to approximately
Period 2a is dated to approximately
2b, the fort got its final trapezoidal shape (see fig.6).
To the east, the defences followed directly those from Period 2a, but westward
they were extended up to the line of the period 1b/c western Holz-Erdemauer.
The new defences consisted of an earthen wall with wooden towers and (at
least) one double wooden gate in the west (fig.6:
The defences were now encircled by three ditches, which stopped shortly
before the so-called
insteekhaven from period 1c.
The total river shore within the defences now remained undefended. In the harbour, open jetties replaced most of the massive moles from period 1, with an extra jetty outside the eastern defences (fig.6: vierde steiger). This new jetty, outside the defences, was controlled by a sturdy platform, added to the eastern end of the defensive wall (fig.6verdedigings-platform).
To the west (and possibly also to the south and east) of the fort, a new defensive single ditch was dug, thus providing a bigger defended working area, for instance, for ship repair, `dirty' activities and so on. It also incorporated the so-called vierde steiger and a new, this time double, shipshed, since the shipshed from period 1c, if still usable, obstructed the new double gate.
A most interesting feature, was a huge well, 3 x 3 m in plan. From this well, a wooden aqueduct transported fresh, clean water to ships in the western insteekhaven. This might seem illogical, but the activities of the Romans must have polluted the harbour area. Water from the river itself (possibly also somewhat brackish) could not be used any more as drinking water.
Period 2b is dated to approximately
the end of period 2b, in AD 28, the fort was attacked by the Friesians,
as mentioned by Tacitus (see above General dating of Velsen 1).
It is probable that the attackers did not take the fort itself, but that
the defended working area outside the fort was overwhelmed, as is shown
by the distribution of lead shots. Even if the fort itself remained undamaged,
the `loss' of the working area represented a problem. It was there that
the double shipshed and the most important well were situated.
It is clear, that the Romans did not immediately abandon Velsen 1, but they had to find a solution to encounter the problems with the weak defences of the working area. This was done by replacing them by a defence, comparable to those of the main fort (see fig.7) and connected with it. This consisted of an earthen wall, but now only encircled by two, quite deep, ditches. The wall was provided with the `normal' towers (set wider apart than those of the defences from period 2b) and two narrow gates, one to the east - close to the fort defences - and one to the west. Dendrochronological dating of posts from one of the `new' towers suggests a building date slightly later than AD 28.
How long the occupation of Velsen 1 lasted is unclear. Velsen seems to have been abandoned for at least some time. Velsen 2 (mentioned above), situated 1 km to the west, was build around AD 40, It is possible that the Romans first (re)occupied Velsen 1 as a temporary base, from which Velsen 2 was build.
It is possible that along
the easternmost mole, defended by the eastern riverside defences, non-Roman
(Friesian?) ships could unload. The central platform with its moles and
the undefended western riverside section that gave access to the shipshed,
were undoubtedly only accessible for use by Roman ships.
1c, the harbour was modified. This was necessary, due to scouring at
the west side of the platform (see fig.12:
rendered in blue) and silting in between the platform-moles and at the
east side of the platform (fig.12: rendered
in yellow). It is obvious, that the moles will have contributed to a partial
stagnation of the Oer-IJ current. The scouring also weakened the revetments
of the moles.
A wooden revetment was constructed along the western river shore, to counter further scouring. The quays of the platform were extended outwards, because of accretion of silt deposits, and additional reinforcements were built along the westernmost mole. A short, open jetty replaced the curving head of the central mole (fig.12: rendered in red). This open construction was considered to improve the water flow to some extent, in an attempt to prevent further silting.
2b, the appearance of the harbour was changed, since the alterations
of the harbour constructions in period 1c must have appeared unsatisfactory
(see fig.6). Open jetties, consisting of
three rows of heavy posts (see fig.13
and fig.14), replaced most of the moles.
A jetty was added to the western mole, at an angle to it and running parallel
to the river shore, thus enclosing the `inner harbour'-basin. The central
mole, together with the added short jetty, was entirely replaced by a long
open jetty, while the eastern jetty was extended into the river. Since
the river shore within the defences now was totally open, the fort became
dangerously exposed to an eventual attack from the riverside. To counter
this weakness somewhat, a new jetty was build outside of, and to the east
of, the defences of the fort for use by non-Roman ships, as was the case
with the eastern (defended) mole from period 1.
the middle of the 1980s, shipsheds have been known from Haltern-Hofestatt
and from Velsen 1, they constitute the only remains of roman shipsheds
so far known. The most extensive is that of Haltern, with dimensions of
56 x 32 m, and consisting of eight slipways (fig.18,
below). These slipways, approximately 6 m wide, could contain galleys over
30 m long.
In Period 1b, the first shipshed was built in the western part of the fort, at a short distance from the shore (see fig.18, above). The dimensions, 6.1 x 22.1 m, point towards a small galley. It lay so close to the river, that the above-mentioned scouring overwhelmed, or washed away, part of it.
In Period 1c, the shipshed was moved some 30 m southwards. Shape and dimensions, 6.4 x 20.5 m, where very similar to the first shipshed (fig.18, second from above).
In Period 2b, a completely new shipshed was built (fig.18, third from above), this time double and with dimensions of 29.7 x 12.2 m.
This text is partially based on J.-M.A.W.Morel, De vroeg-Romeinse versterking te Velsen 1. Fort en haven (diss.), Amsterdam 1988. and J.-M.A.W.Morel, The early roman harbours. Velsen, in: R.W.Brandt, W.Groenman-van Waateringe & S.E.van der Leeuw (eds.), Assendelver Polder Papers 1, Amsterdam 1987, pags. 169-175.