Team für historische Simulationen
Team for historical Simulations ________________________________________

home                                                         05/2012

The Batavian Revolt
Bemelerberg AD 70

Course of the Batavian uprising

In the second half of the first century AD, Rome had occupied and secured all areas west of the river Rhine. German and Celtic tribes within these boundaries had to pay taxes and supply auxiliary troops for the Roman army. High taxes, the draft-system and possibly bad harvests as well as political turmoil in Rome itself let to unrest in the province of Germania Inferior, spreading to the much larger and important province Gallia Belgica. German auxiliary troops built the core of the uprising adding Germanic and Gallic tribes to their troops. Lead by Civilis, a Batavian nobel and leader of a roman cohort and further inspired by the Bructian prophetess Veleda the rebels aimed at not less than an independent German-Belgium federation. The revolt started in 69 AD quite promising as the rebels captures several important roman forts along the lower Rhine and winning several victories against weak roman forces. Thus adding even more support from the local tribes. Due to the unstable situation in Rome in 69 AD, the Year of the Four Emperors, Rome was unable to muster sufficient Legions in the North to put down the rebellion resorting to a kind of guerrilla-warfare instead. One of these operations headed by Claudius Labeo, a former brother in arms and now enemy to Civilis let to the battle at Bemelerberg in 70 AD. Although Civilis won the battle, the uprising slowly lost its drive. Meanwhile the Emperor Vespasian had secured his position and was able to meet the uprising with nearly 30 Legions. His general Cerialis led a successful campaign against the rebels beating their forces in a series of battles and driving them further and further up north into their homeland. Finally the rebels had to surrender, but it is said, that Cerials offered quite favourable terms making sure that the Batavians would supply a valuable auxiliary troops for the Roman Army in future which in fact they did.


Germanic and Celtic tribes involved in the uprising

Bructeri - germanic tribe settling in modern days Germany (Westphalia)
Aduatuci, Menapi, Nervii, Tungri, Treveri - celtic tribes of the Belgae confederation settling in modern days Belgium
Batavi, Baetasii, Canninefates or Cananefates, Frisii, Usipetes - germanic tribes settling in modern day Netherlands mainly west of the river Rhine
Ubii - germano-celtic tribe settling in modern days Germany on the banks of the lower course of the river Rhine

Roman trained military units provides by northern Celts and Germans west of the river Rhine

Infantry - Cohors I-VI Nervana Germanorum (Nervii) and Cohors I Tungrorum (Tungri)
Cavalry - Ala Nerviorum (Nervi), Ala Canninefatium (Canninefates/Cananefates) and Ala Treverorum (Treveri)
Mixed infantry and cavalry units - Cohors I Ubiorum equitata (Ubii), Cohors I-VIII Batavorum equitata quingenaria (Batavi) and Cohors II Tungrorum miliaria eqiutata (Tungri)
Archers - Sagittarii Nervii and Sagittarii Tungri
Roman auxila infantry
Roman auxila archers
Roman auxila cavalry

Opposing forces at the Bemelerberg

Celtic warband
Celtic camp-followers
German cavalry
The composition of troops on both sides at Bemelerberg was rather unusual considering a match between Romans and Barbarians.
Labeos troops, fighting for the Imperium Romanum consisted of 1/3rd German Baetasii and 1/3rd each of Celtic Nervii and Tungri.
Civils rebels consisted of Germanic and foreign troops, most of them being more or less equipped as Roman auxilia, with the Batavi cavalry specially mentioned by Tactius.

Celtic and German armies includes for the most part warbands on foot devided by clans supported to the front by skirmishers. The later being younger warriors equipped with javelin, bow or sling. The warbands would be inspired by their unarmed women stationed to the rear.. Cavalry secured the flanks.
Celts preferred the sling, while Germans are assumed preferring bows for shooting. Celts also fielded light cavalry and sometimes even chariots, but not in this battle. Also there is no mentioning of fanatics fighting in this battle. But Celts as well as Germans still practised head-hunting during this period. Leaders of both sides were always accompanied by their personal bodyguard.

Roman auxilia from diferent units intermixed with German allies
giving an impression of a unit fghting at the Bemelerberg

Although not mentioned, Labeo must have had at least a nucleus of roman trained troops at his disposal. This might have been auxilia infantry and archers. Nervii and Tungri could be supposed to have taken over the role as they provided auxiliary infantry, cavalry as well as archers for the Roman army.
As a counterpart we added the cohors I sagittarii hamiorum, archers from Syria to the Batavian rebels. It is not attested but represents the roman troops from foreign country stationed along the river Rhine who joined the rebellion.

The battlefield

The road climbing up the Mettenberg
View from Bemelerberg down to the Maas valley
Total view of Bemelerberg

The battlefield has been located at the small village of Bemelen just east of Maastricht. There the otherwise straight romano-celtic road snakes its way from the Maas-valley up to the plateau of Margraten. The road is flanked to the north by the Bemelerberg and to the south by the Mettenberg. Both consist of limestone and rise cliff-like about 40 to 50 meters from the Maas-valley. Following the Bemelerberg to the north the cliff-like structure changes into a gentle slope, opening the possibility for the mentioned Batavian flanking movement mentioned by Tacitus where as the Mettenberg is not suitable for a flanking movement. Nowadays part of the area is a nature reserve and can be easily explored via several foot-paths. Using a map is recommended, otherwise you may end up on private properties. A suitable wandelkaart Zuid Limburg can be obtained at the VVV in Maastricht. You will need to go to Bemelen by car. There is a small parking place near the church at the Oude Ackerstraat from where to start your tour. Special equipment besides good shoes will not be needed.

Trajectum ad Mosam (Maastricht) - village near the place where the main pre roman road between Bagacum Nerviorum (Bavay), the capital of the Nervii, Aduatuca Tungorum (Tongeren) the capital of the Tungri, and Oppidum Ubiorum / Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (Cologne), the capital of the Ubians and the roman province Germania Inferior crossed the Mosa (Maas). The Latin name means 'ford in the Maas'. By the time of the Batavian revolt a bridge had already been built by the Romans, may be a wooden bridge resembling that of Caesar's bridge across the river Rhine, a predecessor of an attested solid bridge with stone foundations. The road can be assumed to be in a status of repair and pavement during the Batavian revolt. Remains of the bridge are nowadays no longer present, but a pillar with a lion on top marks the spot, where it ended on the western bank. This can be located at Het Bat south of the Sint-Servaasbrug.

The course of the battle
according to Tacitus Histories 4.66

All quite at the celtic village
Roman deserters moving to the front
Labeos center
Disembarkment of the rebels flanking force

... Claudius Labeo, former commander of an Batavian cavalry unit that had decided a battle in favor of Civilis but had been sent to Frisia. He escaped from exile and contacted the Roman general Gaius Dillius Vocula, who had helped him to form a small army that attacked the Batavian and Cananefractian homelands from the south. Civilis reacted quickly and marched his army across the bridge of Trajectum ad Mosam, Maastricht to meet Labeos who blocked the road with his his irregular body of Baetasii, Tungrians and Nervians. The battle was fought in the narrow space (the gap between Bemelerberg and Mettenberg) undecided until the Batavians swam the river and took Labeos forces in the rear. Meantime Civilis rode up to the Tungrian lines and shouted: We did not declared war to allow the Batavians and Trevirans to rule over their fellow-tribes. We have do not wish to do so. Let us be allies. I am coming over to your side, whether you want me as leader or follower. Promtly the opposing warriors laid down their arms and the two leading Tungrian nobles, Campanus and Juvenalis, offered surrender. Labeo managed to get away and Civilis added the Baetasii and Nervians to his rebel-force. Due to the outcome of the battle even more tribes rose up against Roman supremacy.

The game

The game has been specially designed for Landmachtdagen 2012 at the Steveninck barracks Oirschot, Eindhoven in May 2012.
The condition was to present a battle with dutch troops on dutch soil. We met these conditions by choosing the rather unknown historical engagement at the Bemelerberg near Maastricht matching loyal roman troops and allies (foederati) against Gallic and Germanic rebels and clans.
Special feature are the bridgehead and the Roman flat-bottomed boots. The game is designed as a participation-game Warhammer Ancient Battles (WHAB) and is suitable for beginners.
The size of the game is 1,50 by 2,00 metres featuring about 300 miniatures.
Miniatures are 25-28mm metal and plastics produced by various British and Italian manufacturers and collected and painted over a very long period by members of our team. Buildings and terrain-features are again from various manufacturers as well as scratchbuilt by the team. The flat-bottomed boats are scratchbuilt and based on archaeological finds from the lower Rhine area and the Netherlands. Terrain pieces are (as you will surely guess by now) scratchbuilt 50 by 50 cm pieces of 8 mm strong plywood.
Please note that we had to take some liberties with the geography of the battlefield. For instance the river in reality is not that close to the battlefield and there is no evidence for a Celtic settlement on the eastern bank of the river. For the bridge we used a simple version rather than a model of the standard roman bridge. We also assume that paving the road up to roman standard was just in the beginning, which we represent by adding just a small section next to the bridge.

Selected media and sources

specialized books (non fiction)
Die Römische Armee, Peter Conolly,Testloff Verlag, Hamburg 1976
Roman Auxilia Cavalryman AD 14-193, Nic Fields, Osprey Publishing 2006
De Bataven: verhalen van een verdwenen volk, exhibition catalogue, L. J. F. Swinkels, ed., Museum Het Valkhof Amsterdam and Nijmegen 2004

Archäologie in Deutschland (AiD) 4/2010,Theis Verlag

De Opstand der Bataven, Rob van Eijck 1974
Auguria, Peter Nuyten, Sylvester Strips, 2010

Die Bataver, Felix Dahn, Europäischer Geschichtsverlag 2011

Pax Romana in the Netherlands
Projekt Brukterer in Germany

Batavian auxilia by kind permission of Adrian Wink COHORS I BATAVORUM

usefull internet-links

exhibitions and museums
Nijmegen - Museum Het Valkhof
Xanten - Archäologischer Park und Römermuseum
Cologne - Römisch-Germanisches Museum
Mainz - Museum für Antike Schiffahrt and Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum
Rheinbrohl - Limes-Museum / Römerwelt (recommended for kids)
Tongeren - Gallo Romeins Museum

Opstand Der Bataven, Heidevolk, Napalm Records 2008