Continuity of occupation of the westernmost part of the Rhine limes during the third century AD and the military context of Forum Hadriani in the Civitas Cananefatium


Antony Kropff


(Updated summary in English of two contributions: Kropff, A., 2008. De militaire context van Forum Hadriani. Westerheem 57, 2-15 and Kropff, A., 2010. Forum Hadriani. Een geslaagde ‘mislukte’ stad. Westerheem 59, 220-227).



Forum Hadriani, a Roman settlement near The Hague in present day The Netherlands has long been interpreted as a ‘typical’ Roman provincial town, the municipium of the Civitas Cananefatium, a town without any military functions. The present contribution however sets out to demonstrate that during the third century, Forum Hadriani was an important element in the new military-strategic concept of the westernmost part of the Lower Rhine limes to safeguard continuity of occupation in this area. The arguments are presented. I will discuss Forum Hadriani itself (‘Within the walls’) and the military importance of the beach barrier area on which the town was situated (‘Outside the walls’).


1. Inside the walls


Four topics will be discussed here: the stone wall itself, the harbour, the graffiti on terra sigillata, the military brick stamps and the militaria.


Stone town wall


At the end of the second century or the beginning of the third century, a stone town wall was built. I argue that during this period, town walls were built when it became a necessity from a military and strategic point of view. A protection of civilians was of secondary importance[1]. Small towns were walled to protect surrounding infrastructure and lines of communication[2]. A walled town should therefore always be considered as an element in the defence system of a province[3].




During the 2007 / 2008 excavation, a harbour was discovered in the south-eastern part of the site of Forum Hadriani [4]. The harbour was used amongst others for transport of heavy building material, as can be concluded from the part of a large pillar that was found in the harbour. This type of heavy transport was one of the tasks of the Lower Rhine navy, the Classis Germanica Pia Fidelis[4a]. The location close to the limes, the heavy construction of the quay-wall[4b] and the large amount of C.G.P.F brick stamps produced for use by this navy found in Forum Hadriani all suggest that the harbour was in fact a military installation.

Graffiti on terra sigillata


Civilians did not write their name on terra sigillata. There simply was no need in a household environment. Soldiers living in barracks or camps with their colleagues marked their cups and dishes to safeguard against theft or use by mistake by others of one’s gear. All this becomes clear when civilian and military sites are compared. The Vetera castellum over a period of use of two decades yielded 76 graffiti on terra sigillata while the well-researched Colonia Ulpia Traiana (Xanten) produced only 18 pieces of graffiti over a period of two centuries. The castra of Bonna (Bonn) produced 197 pieces of graffiti, Cologne (Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium) only ten, and Trier only two[5]. In the eastern part of the Dutch river area only very few terra sigillata -graffiti have been found outside a military context[6].

Forum Hadriani has 22 readable name graffiti to show for and also Ockenburgh and the Scheveningseweg-site produced name graffiti, Ockenburgh no less than seventeen examples. The military context of the latter two sites has been ascertained, and the graffiti is in conformity with this context. Graffiti found at Forum Hadriani indicates a military context.


Military brick stamps


Many stamped bricks were found on the site of Forum Hadriani. We know now a total of 232 military brick stamps[7], 167 (72%) with the stamp of the Exercitus Germanicus Inferior (EX GER INF, fig. 1) or the Vexilarii Exercitus Germanicus Inferior (amongst others stamp VEX EX GER F). These stamps are relatively late: the stamps EX GER INF were used between 175 and 260 AD; the stamps of the vexilarii were used between 140 and 260 AD[8].



Fig 1. Brick stamp of the Exercitus Germanicus Inferior


The total percentage of late (VEX) EX GER INF stamps from Forum Hadriani (72%) nearly equals the percentage of (VEX) EX GER INF stamps from Alphen aan den Rijn (Albaniana): nearly 75% of the brick stamps from this castellum belong to this group. In relation to the brick stamps of Albaniana it can be noted that the castellum was rebuilt in stone during the second half of the second century. This building activity could have been carried out under Septimius Severus (193-211 AD.)[9]. During this emperor’s reign a (re)building program can be noted on the Lower Rhine limes in connection with Severus’ military campaign in Britain.

Most of the military brick stamps from Forum Hadriani are relatively late, and so are the naval stamps from the settlement, as all datable CGPF stamps are from the second half of the second century and the first half of the third century[10].


The significance of military brick stamps on a site has been much discussed. Did the stamps indicate a military context[11] or can stamped bricks be expected in any context, be it military or civilian because the army sold building material?[12]. During the last decade, most of the published studies on the subject tend to the former of the two views. Military brick stamps are stamps of authority and ownership, meant to prevent theft and unauthorized use of the bricks by a third party. The army would not have sold military building material to civilians systematically and on a large scale[13]. Secondary use by civilians would of course have been possible.

After a recent excavation campaign  the proportion of stamped material to unstamped material could be calculated. Forum Hadriani gave a proportion of 1:410, while rural sites showed ratios far above 1:1.000 while a military site like the castellum and vicus of Laurium  gave a ratio of 1:238.

From this figures the conclusion should be drawn that the brick stamps support a military context of Forum Hadriani.




An indication for a possible military role of a settlement is the presence of militaria. Holwerda, who excavated parts of  Forum Hadriani at the beginning of the past century, found very little militaria: some horse gear fittings and a number of spear fragments[14]. This has long been thought to support the purely civilian function of the settlement. But we will have to remember that Holwerda dug trenches and worked with one layer only. Moreover, we know from other excavations which were followed up or controlled that Holwerda was rather careless with find material and missed many parts of military equipment. From Ockenburgh (also in the vicinity of The Hague) he reported hardly any parts of military equipment, while decades later the site yielded many militaria: spear heads, fibulae of a ‘military type’, bronze scabbard chapes, scabbard slides, clasps en parts of bronze horse gear fittings[15]. We have to add, that Ockenburgh is now identified as a military site[16]. The Hague-Scheveningseweg, a site in a military context, also yielded quite a lot of military equipment[17]: a large fragment of a ring mail armour, sword guards, sword grips, many fibulae of a military type, and twelve scabbard chapes, the largest collection even to be found on a Dutch site. From a casting mould it became clear that scabbard slides were produced on site.


Because of town development projects on the site we are unable to control Holwerda’s excavation of Forum Hadriani, but a new survey in 2005 on an adjacent spot indicates that Holwerda would have missed parts of the military equipment here too, just as he did at Ockenburgh. Using metal detectors, fibulae of the military types were found and a considerable amount of bronze horse gear fittings. Also, parts of military personal equipment were found[18].

To sum up, on the bases of the militaria alone, the Civitas Cananefatium seems to have been militarized and Forum Hadriani is no exception in this respect.


2. Outside the walls


I now will discuss the infrastructure of the beach barrier area: settlements, roads and waterway. The limescastella in or near the beach barrier area will be reviewed: what was the relation between castella and beach barrier from a military-strategic point of view?

The Rhine and the Helinium formed the northern and southern borders of the Civitas Cananefatium and were connected by the partly dug, partly natural Fossa Corbulonis, a connecting waterway built for military purposes. As far as the most important roads are concerned: the limes road is a given, even if the whole of the exact route is not yet known. A road east of and parallel to the Fossa, assumed in the past, was found recently[19]. More to the west a road connecting the settlements of Ockenburgh and Scheveningseweg seems to be plausible, while interconnecting routes between the two roads have been suggested. The roads which were found, projected or proposed are shown in fig. 2.


 Wegenverloop Civitas Cananefatium

Fig. 2. Map of the roads in the Civitas Cananefatium


The whole infrastructure facilitated the guarding and defence of the beach barrier area, a land passage between Rhine and Helinium which became strategically important when the lower parts of the area including the limescastella were burdened by a rise of the water table, as will be discussed in the paragraph ‘wet conditions’ below. The rivers and the Fossa Corbulonis formed a field of operation of the Classis Germanica Pia Fidelis. The Civitas Cananefatium was also of consequence as an area for recruiting valued auxiliary units[20].


The settlements on the beach barrier area: the evidence of the coins


Ockenburgh is a vicus near a military installation: a small fortress or mini-castellum. The site The Hague-Scheveningseweg is probably also a vicus, although the actual military installation was not found. Naaldwijk (which is not discussed in this contribution) is situated on the sand barrier on the northern bank of the Helinium and it is now supposed to be connected to a (not yet located) base for the lower Rhine navy fleet, the Classis Germanica Pia Fidelis.

As all settlements on the beach barrier area mentioned here had a military context, the main question is why the army en navy were deployed in the area. The level of military activity on the beach barrier area is interrelated with the occupation and use of the four limescastella in the Civitas Cananefatium (Albaniana, Matilo, Praetorium Agrippinae and Lugdunum).


The histograms of the coin finds from the limescastella illustrate this relation. First of all, the coin histograms need to be introduced in more detail. The adapted histogram method was proposed by Casey and Reece[21]. The number of coins for every rule or cluster of rules is divided by the number of years covered by that period. The outcome is multiplied by a factor of 1000 and then divided by the total number of coins the site yielded. This correction standardizes all sites to an equal size, by computing the yearly loss to a thousand coins. The calculated figures are presented in a bar chart, the histogram.


The periods used in the histograms are explained in table 1.


 Table 1. periods used in the histograms




No. of years



211 BC- 28 AD



Augustan (Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula) 

27 B.C.-41 AD



Claudian (Claudius, Nero, Civil war)




Flavian I (Vespasian, Titus)




Flavian II (Domitian)












Antoninian I (Ant. Pius)




Antoninian II (M.Aurelius)




Antoninian III (Commodus)




Severan I  (Septimius Severus, Geta, Caracalla)




Severan II (Elagabalus)




Severan III (Severus Alexander)




Post-Severan I (Maximinus I)




Post-Severan II (Gordian III)




Post-Severan III (Philip I)




Post-Severan IV (Decius, Gallus)




Post-SeveranV (Valerian I, Gallienus joint reign)




Gallic Empire (Postumus, Victorinus, Tetrici, Gallienus, Claudius II)




Pannonian-Illyric (Aurelian - Diocletian)




Tetrarchic (Diocletian, Maximian, Constantius, Galerius, Constantine I)




Constantinian I (Constantine I, Licinius)




Constantinian II (Constantine I, Constantine II, Constans, Constantius II)




Constantinian III (Constantius II, Magnentius, Julian)




Valentinian (Valentinianus I, Valens, Gratianus)




Theodosian I (Gratian, Theodosius I, Magnus Maximus)




Theodosian II (Theodosius I, Honorius, Arcadius)




Table 2 gives the total number of coins for each site and the source of the data used. Numis stands for the database of the Dutch Money Museum at Utrecht. All other sources can be found in the list of literature below.


Table 2. Source material of the histograms


Total number of coins

Source of data



Numis, Baart 1990

Matilo with vicus


Numis, Baart 1990, ROB vicus 1996

Praetorium Agrippinae



Katwijk- Sluizen



Forum Hadriani


Van der Vin and Buijtendorp 2006; Bink and Franzen 2009; Driessen and Besselsen


Den Haag- Ockenburgh


Numis, Holwerda 1938, Baart 1990, Waasdorp 1988, inventory collections Noorda and Pabon (now in Dutch Money Museum)

Den Haag- Scheveningseweg


Waasdorp 1999

Banks of the Helinium


Numis, Baart 1990


Below, the histograms can be found of Albaniana (fig. 3), Matilo (fig. 4), Praetorium Agrippinae (fig. 5), the site of Katwijk- Sluizen, fig. 6), the vicus of Lugdunum, of which the castellum was lost.


Hist Albaniana

Fig. 3. Coin histogram of Albaniana


The coin series of Albaniana and Matilo break off around 240 AD, in Praetorium Agrippinae even two decades earlier. Judging from the coins of the vicus, Lugdunum may have been occupied until the beginning of the fourth century.


Histo Matillo

Fig. 4. Coin histogram of Matilo


Histo Praetorium Agrippinae

Fig. 5. Coin histogram of Praetorium Agrippinae


Histo Katwijk-Sluizen

Fig. 6. Coin histogram of Katwijk-Sluizen


The lack of continuity of the three other castella in the coastal area contrasts with the continuity until the end of the third century and later of castella and settlements in the eastern Dutch river area, as is shown by the histograms of for instance Grave, Maurik, Rossum, Cuijk, Nijmegen, Maastricht en Heerlen, discussed in the contribution ‘Coins and continuity in the Dutch river area at the end of the third century’[22], also on this website.


Wet conditions and the rise of the water table


The break in continuity of occupation of Albaniana, Matilo and Praetorium Agrippinae might well have been caused by the bogged and wet conditions prevailing in the western part of the Dutch river area. A temporary rise of the sea level at the beginning of the third century was followed by setting and oxidation of the peat lands beginning later that century, which caused a rise of the water table and the silting up of creeks followed by drainage problems of the hinterland.


The limescastella show the effects. The ground level of Valkenburg- De Woerd was raised[23]. Albaniana also was elevated, but was flooded nonetheless[24]. In the peat- and clay areas behind the beach barrier area wet conditions and the rise of the water table caused problems. The hearth-plates of Schiedam-Kethel were raised again and again; Rijswijk-de Bult had an extensive ditch-system. The hypocaustum of the main house was never actually used, probably as a result of the wet conditions[25]. The abandonment of the settlements in mid- Delfland would also have been caused by the prevailing wet conditions[26].


Even Forum Hadriani (although for the most part built on the dry eastern beach barrier) had flooding problems in the lower part of the town, near the Fossa Corbulonis. The normally V-formed dry moat was dug out in a bowl form. A sharp form was probably not feasible because of the high water level[27]. During a survey in 2007/2008 the harbour I already discussed was discovered. Also, a layer of clay from the Roman period was found, and we may assume that this part of the Forum Hadriani site must have been very wet indeed, if not inhabitable.

We may assume that the flooding of the limes area near the coast hindered the static and laniary limes defence from the middle of the third century onwards and probably caused the break in the coin series.

Signs of a violent end of Albaniana, Matilo and are lacking while traces of flooding are everywhere. I have reason to believe that the Roman authorities developed a new strategic-military concept to replace the traditional linear limes defence for the beach barrier area behind this part of the limes in the Civitas Cananefatium.


The coin histograms of the beach barrier area


We take a look below at the coin histograms of Forum Hadriani (fig.7 ), Den Haag-Ockenburgh (fig.8), Den Haag- Scheveningseweg (fig. 9)  and the histogram summarizing the banks of the Helinium[28] (fig. 10). The histograms indicate that these settlements were in use even after the permanent occupation of the three limescastella had probably ended, judging by their coin histograms. The histogram formations differ between the sites: Forum Hadriani has a strong Hadrianic-Antonine accent; Ockenburgh and Scheveningseweg show a Severan peak in coin loss. Coins from period 19, the Gallic Empire are present on all four sites, and the peak for this period is very noticeable peak in the histogram relating to the banks of the Helinium. The settlements on the banks of the Helinium are lost to us as a result of erosion. Some of the settlements probably had a military context: castella or other points of support for the army and the Classis Germanica Pia Fidelis, the navy of the lower Rhine, as has been suggested in the past on the basis of other dredging finds[29]. The histograms of Forum Hadriani and the banks of the Helinium show a small coin loss of coins from periods after period 19.


Histo FH klein

 Fig. 7. Coin Histogram of Forum Hadriani

Histo Ockenburg

Fig. 8. Coin histogram of Ockenburgh

Histo Scheveningseweg

Fig. 9. Coin histogram of The Hague-Scheveningseweg

Histo Heliniumoevers

Fig 10. Coin histogram of settlements on the banks of the Helinium

Roman coins entered circulation mainly in the form of soldier’s pay and other expenditure by the army[30]. The fact that after 249 AD no new coins reached the limescastella in the west (with a possible exception for Lugdunum) while new coins did reach the settlements on the beach barrier area and on the banks of the Helinium indicates military presence. The coin circulation seems to suggest that the beach barrier area witnessed a change from a passive linearly limes defence to an active defence in depth strategy beginning at the end of the second century, with an extra effort from ca. 240 AD onwards.

New coins could have penetrated the beach barrier area through Lugdunum as the other limescastella were no longer intensively used at the time. Coin supply through Forum Hadriani seems more likely however.

The histograms of Forum Hadriani, Ockenburgh and The Hague-Scheveningseweg share a substantial coin loss for period 12 and 13 (Severan II, resp. III, 217-235 AD) not seen so markedly in the other histograms. This formation in these three histograms and the late brick stamps in Forum support a theory of militarisation of the beach barrier area during this period. New coins came to Forum Hadriani in the period after the reign of Severus Alexander, while coin supply to the limescastella stopped[31].  





From the end of the second century AD onward, an adapted military-strategic concept was developed for the beach barrier area of the Civitas Cananefatium. The wet and bogged conditions of the banks of the last part of the Lower Rhine hindered the linear-static defence based on permanently garrisoned castella. The beach barrier area was of great strategic importance: in the impassable marshy hinterland it formed a dry land bridge between the mouths of the Rhine and the Helinium, important routes for transport and trade. The beach barrier was well guarded, as is witnessed by the military posts of Ockenburgh and The Hague-Scheveningseweg.

Forum Hadriani is located on a position of strategic importance: right on the Fossa Corbulonis and guarding the parallel road connecting Rhine and Helinium. The stone wall from the end of the second or beginning of the third century was more than just a city defence: walling the town was a reaction on the military situation in the area and aimed at defending and protecting the infrastructure and lines of communication.


Find material from the town: the coins, militaria, graffiti on terra sigillata, military and naval brick stamps and the harbour support the hypothesis that Forum Hadriani had been militarized and fulfilled not only civil, but also logistical and military functions.


[1] Webster 1983, p. 119.

[2] Webster 1975.

[3] Webster 1983, p. 119; Hobley 1983, p. 78.

[4] Driessen and Besselsen 2012, p.

[4a] Beunder 1987, p.210.

[4b] Graafstal 2002, p. 10.

[5]  Bakker and Galsterer- Kröll 1975, p. 7-8, 31, 55-56.

[6] Willems 1981, p. 192.

[7] Bink en Franzen 2009, p. 228; Holwerda 1923, p. 5, 139-140.

[8] Holwerda en Braat 1946, p. 18; Bink en Franzen 2009, p. 228.

[9] Haalebos, Franzen e.a. 2000, p. 121-123; Hessing 1995, p. 93.

[10] Beunder 1987, p. 207-209.

[11] For a review see Kurmann 2006, p. 232-237; Willems 1986, p. 186; Rüger 1968, 56-59.

[12]  Bogaers 1971, p. 131-132; Kurmann 2006, p. 232-237; Willems 1986, p. 186: Horster 2001, p. 118-120.

[13] Kurzmann 2006, p.21, p. 238, p. 240-241.

[14] Holwerda 1923, p. 149.

[15]Waasdorp en Zee 1988, p. 26-28.

[16]Waasdorp 1997, p. 400-401.

[17] Waasdorp 1999.

[18] Bink 2006.

[19] Waasdorp 2003.

[20] Bloemers 1978, p. 81-82; compare Willems 1984, p. 270: ‘Perhaps it is not inappropriate to say that the Dutch river area remained a kind of reserve for breeding soldiers throughout its entire history as part of the Roman empire’.

[21]Casey 1988:41, 45; Casey 1986:88-90; Reece 1979:175-176; Kropff en van der Vin 2003, p. 60-61.

[22] Kropff en van der Vin 2003, p. 70-75, 79.

[23] Bloemers 1978, p. 96; Bloemers 1980, p. 166.

[24]  Polak, Kloosterman en Niemeijer 2004.

[25]Bloemers 1978, p. 96, 187-188.

[26]Van Londen 2006, p. 137.

[27]Holwerda 1923, p. 10, 15-16.

[28] Coins from the following dredging locations: Rozenburg, Oude Maas, Nieuwe Waterweg, Botlek, Rijnmond, Beneluxhaven, Europoort en Maasvlakte.

[29]Bogaers 1974, p. 70-78; Haalebos 1974, p. 78-80.

[30]Crawford 1970, p. 46; Hopkins 1980, p. 112; Casey 1986, p. 82; Aarts 2000, p. 41, 209.

[31] Kropff 2008, p. 11-12; Kemmers 2008, p. 98-99.



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