The town in Voorburg probably started
life in the mid-first century AD as a small population centre beside
Canal. After the formation of the civitates (administrative regions) in
province of Germania Inferior between AD 82 and 90, the town was
civitas capital. Somewhere between AD 120 and 151 it was granted a city
charter, which meant it could call itself a ‘municipium’. From that
its new name was Municipium Aelium Cananefat(i)um (abbreviated to MAC).
not clear whether the name Forum Hadriani predates MAC. Indeed it is
possible that both names were used simultaneously. We do however know
name Forum Hadriani was used for longer. It appears on a Late-Roman
and was eventually handed down to us via a Medieval copy of this map.
A settlement beside the canal
There are several phases to the Roman town in Voorburg, best known by the name Forum Hadriani. First, a small population centre was built on the site of an indigenous settlement, quite possibly because of its position beside Corbulo’s Canal. Traces of this early phase are very rare. In fact the history of the town can only really be properly traced from the end of the first century.
The town grows
During the reign of Domitianus (c. AD 80-90) the core of the town probably lay at the site of the later bath house. A building made completely or partially of stone probably stood here, indicating that it had a special function. The orientation of buildings and streets would later change. The small town stood on a main road that had recently been laid, transecting the traces of the old indigenous settlement. The early town straddled both sides of the road. Three adjacent rectangular houses from this phase have been found. The plots were an average of around six metres wide and fifteen metres deep, with their short side to the street. Behind the houses was a yard containing a well. The inhabitants also buried their waste behind their homes, as evidenced by a number of waste pits. The exact size of the early town is not known, as only sporadic traces from this period have been found. However, finds from the site suggest that it grew in importance during this period. Since the town lay beside Corbulo’s Canal, it might also have housed a small base for the Roman fleet. If there was a harbour, however, it cannot have lasted long. Recent research has shown that Corbulo’s Canal had silted up by AD 200, making navigation impossible.
Blocks of houses in a large town
town did not really begin to
flourish until after it had been granted a city charter (somewhere
120 and 151). It had a classic rectangular grid pattern, the hallmark
of a true
Roman town. For a long time, archaeologists thought they had found a
site. The town consisted of blocks of houses (insulae) and a number of
buildings. One of the blocks has been almost completely excavated. Long
houses stood on two sides. The houses were adjacent to each other, with
short side facing the street. An arcade
running in front of all the houses gave the appearance of a single
façade. Behind the houses were yards surrounded by fencing,
which met at the
back. At the end of the yards, against the fencing, many waste pits
found. Recent excavations have also revealed wells in the back yards.
them used an old wine barrel as facing, but in one of the wells the
made of parts of a recycled dugout canoe. In some streets remains of a
road surface that must have been laid around the mid-second century
In the second half of the second century the town was surrounded by a stone wall. About a century later, around AD 270, the town appears to have been almost entirely abandoned.
Phases at Forum Hadriani – Voorburg
To c. AD 47
c. AD 47
Corbulo’s Canal dug. Construction of a (small?) population centre beside the canal at the site of the later town
c. AD 90
Voorburg becomes the official civitas capital of the Cananefates
from c. AD 121/122
Final layout with rectangular grid pattern and blocks of housing. At initiative of emperor Hadrian?
between AD 121 and 151
City charter granted: new name Municipium Aelium Cananefatium. Also known as Forum Hadriani
Major construction work
c. AD 275
We currently have too little
information for an extensive discussion of the public buildings in
We do however know about the bath house and the town wall.
Throughout the Roman period, the main material used for building in the Netherlands was wood. Walls consisted of wattle covered with daub. Buildings in town were often rectangular, with their short side facing the street. The same type of houses are also found in smaller rural towns. Traces found in Forum Hadriani show a row of rectangular wooden houses and their internal layout. There were wells in the yards behind the houses. Along the front of the houses ran an arcade forming a single roof.
The use of stone for building really only took off in the second century. Natural stone had to be imported from far away, as there was no stone suitable for building in the Netherlands. Wooden houses were only gradually replaced by stone structures, so wooden and stone buildings would have stood alongside each other.
Houses of the rich
There will most probably have been larger houses in Forum Hadriani. Unfortunately, we do not know what they looked like, as the traces found give us too little information.
Bazelmans, J.G.A. en D.H. de Jager, 2006, Forum Hadriani. De Verloren stadVan Romeinse stad tot monument. Utrecht
Buijtendorp, T., 1982, Een Romeinse stad bij Voorburg-Arentsburg. Een interpretatie. Westerheem 31, 142-163
Buijtendorp, T., 1984, Nieuw onderzoek naar Forum Hadriani. Westerheem 33, 1984, p. 116-124
Buijtendorp, T., 1987, Periodisering van Romeins Voorburg. Westerheem 37, 1988, 107-117
B. Colenbrander (red), 2005, Limes Atlas. Rotterdam.
Waasdorp, J.A. 2003, IIII M. P. naar M. A. C. Romeinse mijlpalen en wegen. (Haagse oudheidkundige publicaties nr. 8) Den Haag.