Universiteit Leiden

nl en


Rural communities in the civitas Cananefatium 50-300 AD

This dissertation investigates the rural communities of the Cananefates in the period of 50 to 300 AD.

Jasper de Bruin
21 November 2017
The publication in Open Access

A diverse background

The civitas Cananefatium was the homeland of the Cananefates, a rural community that lived in the most northwestern, continental part of the Roman Empire during the period 50-300 AD. Archaeological data, collected in this area, were used to explore how the identity of this community was formed, how it changed over time and what role the Roman state played in the process of identity formation of the Cananefates. On the basis of archaeological evidence, the civitas Cananefatium was populated by immigrant groups between 50 and 100 AD, while the earliest Roman forts along the Rhine were constructed in 39/40 AD. Apparently, the immigrants settled in the area more or less at the same time as, or with the permission of, the Roman army. The distribution of certain categories of material culture suggests that these immigrant groups had a diverse background, although they mainly came from the western coast of the Netherlands, with a focus on the area north of the Rhine.

Uniform material culture

Soon after the founding of the first settlements, a uniform material culture develops. This can be seen as the archaeological record of a set of symbols, that the Cananefatian community used to shape their group identity. The reason for the creation of this unified community may lie in the fact that it was deemed necessary by the presence of another, external and dominant factor (like the Roman army), that accelerated the articulation of a specific, communal group identity. Around the middle of the second century the Roman government invested in the area. These measures take place in the context of an administrative reorganization and a (deliberate?) attempt at a further integration of rural communities in the Roman Empire. These actions lead to significant changes in the countryside. The short period in which these changes occur and the fact that they occur on all rural settlements in the area, points to a strongly connected community. Thus, in the communal response to these changes, the community of the Cananefates remains clearly recognizable. In the beginning of the third century there are indications of a growing empowerment of the rural communities, forming an identity that transcends the civitas Cananefatium. Never the less, in AD 250 milestones in The Hague and Rijswijk are erected in the name of the Cananefates. These milestones indicate that within the larger provincial identity, the articulation of a local, Cananefatian identity was still important.

'Marginal border areas'

Remarkably, existing scientific models used to study rural communities along Rome’s frontiers, could not be applied to the Cananefatian case study. This, however, can be assumed for other border regions of the Roman Empire as well: they all followed their own development and therefore should be studied individually. Furthermore, researching these ‘marginal border areas’, based on carefully collected archaeological data, can eventually provide the building blocks to actually understand the functioning of Roman society in frontier areas.

This website uses cookies.  More information.