L’impérialisme romain et la formation du peuple militaire des Bataves

Prof. Nico Roymans (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

Dernière modification : 18 septembre 2016

Jeudi 5 février 2015 à 17h30, salle F (escalier D, 1er étage) , École normale supérieure, 45, rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris


Affiche de la conférence de M. Nico Roymans
Affiche de la conférence de M. Nico Roymans


The Batavians rank among the best studied frontier peoples of the Roman empire. This favourite situation is the result of a combination of factors. First, the Batavians are relatively well documented in the written sources, especially in Tacitus’ writings. Second, they are well represented in the epigraphic record : 62 individuals of Batavian origin are known from grave or votive inscriptions. Third, our knowledge of the Batavians has profited from the exceptional increase of archaelogical research in their former homeland during the past decades ; this concerns regional surveys of habitation patterns, large-scale excavations of settlements and cemeteries, as well as studies of mobile material culture and of zoölogical and botanical remains. Finally there is the accidental circumstance that a major part of the writing tablets discovered in the Roman fort of Vindolanda can be related to a phase in which a Batavian auxiliary unit was stationed there.
This rich combination of evidence enables us to develop powerful models of the Roman-Batavian interaction and – more specifically – of the cultural identities, both projected and adopted, of the Batavians in the Lower Rhine frontier zone. First, however, it is necessary to emphasise the major political factor underlying the construction of Batavian identity in the context of the Roman empire, namely the Romano-Batavian alliance. This alliance lay at the heart of the massive ethnic recruitment of auxiliaries among the Batavians, guaranteeing that one or more sons from almost every family lived the life of a professional soldier. As a consequence, Batavian society developed into a military community par exellence of a scale unprecedented in pre-Roman society.
The written sources give us an idea of how the Romans saw or wished to see the Batavians. In terms of the ethnic classification system of the Roman empire, Batavians were Germans and hence barbarians. They were regarded as culturally inferior and completely marginal in terms of Roman civilisation. The image of the Batavians chrystallised in the early imperial era and can be characterised by the following catchwords : Germanic, barbarian, manly, large in stature, warlike, brave, and loyal to the emperor.
How did the Batavians responded to the impact of Rome ? It is clear that the intense interaction with the Roman military community led to a complex refashioning of identities in the Batavian region. Batavians seem to have confirmed or even cultivated some of the stereotypes imposed on them by the Romans (particularly their reputation as a military nation producing high-quality soldiers), while rejecting others, especially their status as barbarians. There is evidence that (except in situations of crisis) both the elite and lower social groups had developed a strong sense of ‘double ethnicity’ and interpreted Batavian identity as an inclusive Roman identy.
The Batavians seem to have assumed a dual ethnicity in the 1st century AD, but it is important to emphasise that their notion of ‘being Roman’ differed strongly from that of most other provincial groups. In the Batavian homeland we are confronted with a specific trajectory of becoming Roman, one that was deeply influenced by the interaction with the Roman military community and hence the military variant of Roman culture. This led to a unique mix of cultural expressions in the Dutch river area, which are visible in the archaeological record and which correspond with a Batavian way of feeling Roman.

Organismes partenaires :

AOrOc - UMR 8546-CNRS/ENS CNRS-Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique ENS-Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris. Investissement d’avenir - ANR LabEx TransferS PSL - Paris Sciences Lettres - Université Paris