The Batavi were an ancient Germanic tribe, originally part of the Chatti
The Chatti were an ancient Germanic tribe whose homeland was near the upper Weser. They settled in central and northern Hesse and southern Lower Saxony, along the upper reaches of the Weser River and in the valleys and mountains of the Eder, Fulda and Weser River regions, a district approximately...
, reported by Tacitus to have lived around the Rhine delta, in the area that is currently the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...
, "an uninhabited district on the extremity of the coast of Gaul, and also of a neighbouring island, surrounded by the ocean in front, and by the river Rhine in the rear and on either side" (Tacitus, Historiae iv). This led to the Latin name of insula Batavorum for the area. The same name is applied to several military units, originally raised among the Batavi. The tribal name, probably a derivation from batawjō ("good island", from Germanic
The Germanic languages constitute a sub-branch of the Indo-European language family. The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic , which was spoken in approximately the mid-1st millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe...
bat- "good, excellent" and awjō "island, land near water"), refers to the region's fertility, today known as the fruitbasket of the Netherlands (the Betuwe
The Betuwe is an area in the Netherlands in the province of Gelderland...
Finds of wooden tablets
A wax tablet is a tablet made of wood and covered with a layer of wax, often linked loosely to a cover tablet, as a "double-leaved" diptych. It was used as a reusable and portable writing surface in Antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages...
show that at least some were literate.
LocationThe Batavi were mentioned by Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....
in his commentary Commentarii de Bello Gallico
Commentarii de Bello Gallico
Commentarii de Bello Gallico is Julius Caesar's firsthand account of the Gallic Wars, written as a third-person narrative. In it Caesar describes the battles and intrigues that took place in the nine years he spent fighting local armies in Gaul that opposed Roman domination.The "Gaul" that Caesar...
, as living on an island formed by the Rhine River after it splits, one arm being the Waal the other the Lower Rhine
thumb|left|300px|Course of the NederrijnNederrijn is the name of the Dutch part of the River Rhine from the confluence at the town of Angeren of the cut-off Rhine bend of Oude Rijn and the Pannerdens Kanaal...
/Old Rhine. The strategic position, to wit the high bank of the Waal—which offered an unimpeded view far into Germania Transrhenana (Germania Beyond the Rhine)—was recognized first by Drusus
Nero Claudius Drusus
Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus , born Decimus Claudius Drusus also called Drusus, Drusus I, Nero Drusus, or Drusus the Elder was a Roman politician and military commander. He was a fully patrician Claudian on his father's side but his maternal grandmother was from a plebeian family...
, who built a massive fortress (castra) and a headquarters (praetorium) in imperial style. The latter was in use until the Batavian revolt.
Archeological evidence suggests they lived in small villages, composed of six to 12 houses in the very fertile lands between the rivers, and lived by agriculture and cattle-raising. Finds of horse skeletons in graves suggest a strong equestrian preoccupation. On the south bank of the Waal (in what is now Nijmegen) a Roman administrative center was built, called Oppidum Batavorum. An Oppidum
Oppidum is a Latin word meaning the main settlement in any administrative area of ancient Rome. The word is derived from the earlier Latin ob-pedum, "enclosed space," possibly from the Proto-Indo-European *pedóm-, "occupied space" or "footprint."Julius Caesar described the larger Celtic Iron Age...
was a fortified warehouse, where a tribe's treasures were stored and guarded. This centre was razed during the Batavian Revolt.
The Batavi (the name is believed to derive from a West Germanic root also present in "better" (possibly meaning "superior men")) moved into the Betuwe
The Betuwe is an area in the Netherlands in the province of Gelderland...
in the late 1st century BC. The previous inhabitants of the area were Celtic-speaking Gauls, as evidenced by the two Latinised Celtic names for their chief town: Batavodurum and Noviomagus (Nijmegen, Neth). It is unclear whether the existing inhabitants were simply subjugated with the Batavi forming a ruling elite, or the existing inhabitants simply displaced. For this reason it is also uncertain whether the Batavi remained Germanic-speaking or adopted the Belgic Gallic tongue of the indigenes.
The first Batavi commander we know of is named Chariovalda, who led a charge across the Visurgin (Weser) against the Cherusci
The Cherusci were a Germanic tribe that inhabited parts of the northern Rhine valley and the plains and forests of northwestern Germany, in the area between present-day Osnabrück and Hanover, during the 1st century BC and 1st century AD...
led by Arminius during the campaigns of Germanicus in Germania Transrhenana (Annales II, 11).
Tacitus (De origine et situ Germanorum XXIX) described the Batavi as the bravest of the tribes of the area, hardened in the Germanic wars, with cohorts under their own commanders transferred to Britannia
Britannia is an ancient term for Great Britain, and also a female personification of the island. The name is Latin, and derives from the Greek form Prettanike or Brettaniai, which originally designated a collection of islands with individual names, including Albion or Great Britain. However, by the...
. They retained the honour of the ancient association with the Romans, not required to pay tribute or taxes and used by the Romans only for war: "They furnished to the Empire nothing but men and arms", Tacitus remarked. Well regarded for their skills in horsemanship and swimming—for men and horses could cross the Rhine without losing formation, according to Tacitus. Dio Cassius
Lucius Cassius Dio Cocceianus , known in English as Cassius Dio, Dio Cassius, or Dio was a Roman consul and a noted historian writing in Greek...
describes this surprise tactic employed by Aulus Plautius
Aulus Plautius was a Roman politician and general of the mid-1st century. He began the Roman conquest of Britain in 43, and became the first governor of the new province, serving from 43 to 47.-Career:...
against the "barbarians"—the British Celts— at the battle of the River Medway
Battle of the Medway
The Battle of the Medway took place in 43 AD on the River Medway in the lands of the Iron Age tribe of the Cantiaci, now the English county of Kent...
- The barbarians thought that Romans would not be able to cross it without a bridge, and consequently bivouacked in rather careless fashion on the opposite bank; but he sent across a detachment of Germanic tribesmen, who were accustomed to swim easily in full armour across the most turbulent streams. [...] Thence the Britons retired to the river Thames at a point near where it empties into the ocean and at flood-tide forms a lake. This they easily crossed because they knew where the firm ground and the easy passages in this region were to be found; but the Romans in attempting to follow them were not so successful. However, the Germans swam across again and some others got over by a bridge a little way up-stream, after which they assailed the barbarians from several sides at once and cut down many of them. (Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 60:20)
It is uncertain how they were able to accomplish this feat. The late 4th century writer on Roman military affairs Vegetius mentions soldiers using reed rafts, drawn by leather leads, to transport equipment across rivers. But the sources suggest the Batavi were able to swim across rivers actually wearing full armour and weapons. This would only have been possible by the use of some kind of buoyancy device: Ammianus Marcellinus
Ammianus Marcellinus was a fourth-century Roman historian. He wrote the penultimate major historical account surviving from Antiquity...
mentions that the Cornuti
The Cornuti was an auxilia palatina unit of the Late Roman army, active in the 4th and 5th century. It was probably related to the Cornuti seniores and the Cornuti iuniores.- History :...
regiment swam across a river floating on their shields "as on a canoe" (357). Since the shields were wooden, they may have provided sufficient buoyancy
The Batavi also provided a contingent for the Emperor's Horse Guard
Equites singulares Augusti
The equites singulares Augusti during the Principate period of imperial Rome. Based in Rome, they escorted the Roman emperor whenever he left the City on campaign or on tours of the provinces.The regiment was reconstituted in the late 1st century AD as a milliary ala, under the command of a...
Numerous altars and tombstones of the cohorts of Batavi, dating to the 2nd century and 3rd century, have been found along Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall was a defensive fortification in Roman Britain. Begun in AD 122, during the rule of emperor Hadrian, it was the first of two fortifications built across Great Britain, the second being the Antonine Wall, lesser known of the two because its physical remains are less evident today.The...
, notably at Castlecary
Castlecary is a small village on the border between the North Lanarkshire and Falkirk council areas in Scotland. It is close to the new town of Cumbernauld....
Carrawburgh is a settlement in Northumberland. In Roman times, it was the site of a 3½ acre auxiliary fort on Hadrian's Wall called Brocolitia, Procolita, or Brocolita This name is probably based on the Celtic name for the place, and one possible translation put forward is 'badger holes'...
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...
Yugoslavia refers to three political entities that existed successively on the western part of the Balkans during most of the 20th century....
Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...
Revolt of the BataviDespite the alliance, one of the high-ranking Batavi, Julius Paullus, to give him his Roman name, was executed by Fonteius Capito on a false charge of rebellion. His kinsman Gaius Julius Civilis
Gaius Julius Civilis
Gaius Julius Civilis was the leader of the Batavian rebellion against the Romans in 69. By his nomen, it can be told that he was made a Roman citizen by either Augustus or Caligula....
was paraded in chains in Rome before Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....
; though he was acquitted by Galba
Galba , was Roman Emperor for seven months from 68 to 69. Galba was the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, and made a bid for the throne during the rebellion of Julius Vindex...
, he was retained at Rome, and when he returned to his kin in the year of upheaval in the Roman Empire, 69, he headed a Batavian rebellion. He managed to capture Castra Vetera, the Romans lost two legions while two others (I Germanica and XVI Gallica) were controlled by the rebels. The rebellion became a real threat to the Empire when the conflict escalated to northern Gaul and Germania. The Roman army retaliated and invaded the insula Batavorum. A bridge was built over the river Nabalia
Nabalia is an ancient river in the Netherlands that has been mentioned once by the Roman historian Tacitus, in his book Historiae .The river must have had some local, strategic or religious meaning, for in 70 AD Julius Civilis, leader of the Batavian rebellion against the Romans, choose this...
, where the warring parties approached each other on both sides to negotiate peace. The narrative was told in great detail in Tacitus' History, book iv, although, unfortunately, the narrative breaks off abruptly at the climax. Following the uprising, Legio X Gemina
Legio X Gemina
Legio decima Gemina , was one of the four legions used by Julius Caesar in 58 BC, for his invasion of Gaul. There are still records of the X Gemina in Vienna in the beginning of the 5th century. The legion symbol was a bull...
was housed in a stone castra to keep an eye on the Batavians.
Fate of the BataviThe Batavi were still mentioned in 355 during the reign of Constantius II
Constantius II , was Roman Emperor from 337 to 361. The second son of Constantine I and Fausta, he ascended to the throne with his brothers Constantine II and Constans upon their father's death....
(317 - 361), when their island was already dominated by the Salii
The Salian Franks or Salii were a subgroup of the early Franks who originally had been living north of the limes in the area above the Rhine. The Merovingian kings responsible for the conquest of Gaul were Salians. From the 3rd century on, the Salian Franks appear in the historical records as...
, a Frankish tribe that had sought Roman protection there in 297 after having been expelled from their own country by the Saxons.
Flavius Claudius Constantius Gallus , commonly known as Constantius Gallus, was a member of the Constantinian dynasty and Caesar of the Roman Empire . Gallus was consul three years, from 352 to 354.- Family :...
added inhabitants of Batavia to his legions, "of whose discipline we still make use." It has been assumed they merged with the Salii shortly before or after and, after having been expelled by another tribe (it has been proposed this was the Chamavi
The Chamavi were a Germanic tribe of Late Antiquity and the European Dark Age. They first appear under that name in the 1st century AD Germania of Tacitus as a Germanic tribe that, for most of their history, existed along the North bank of the Lower Rhine in the region today called Hamaland after...
), shared their subsequent migration to Toxandria
Toxandria is the classical name for a region between the Meuse and the Scheldt rivers in the Netherlands and Belgium. The name is also spelled Taxandria...
. In the Late Roman army
Late Roman army
The Late Roman army is the term used to denote the military forces of the Roman Empire from the accession of Emperor Diocletian in 284 until the Empire's definitive division into Eastern and Western halves in 395. A few decades afterwards, the Western army disintegrated as the Western empire...
there was a unit called Batavi
Batavi (military unit)
The Batavi was an auxilia palatina unit of the Late Roman army, active between the 4th and the 5th century. It was composed by 500 soldiers and was the heir of those ethnic groups that were initially used as auxiliary units of the Roman army and later integrated in the Roman Empire after the...
The name of the Bavarian town of Passau
Passau is a town in Lower Bavaria, Germany. It is also known as the Dreiflüssestadt or "City of Three Rivers," because the Danube is joined at Passau by the Inn from the south and the Ilz from the north....
descends from the Roman Batavis, which was named after the Batavi. The town's name is old as it shows the typical effects of the High German consonant shift
High German consonant shift
In historical linguistics, the High German consonant shift or second Germanic consonant shift is a phonological development that took place in the southern parts of the West Germanic dialect continuum in several phases, probably beginning between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD, and was almost...
(b > p, t > ss).
The Batavian mythIn the 16th-century invention of a suitably antique origin myth for the Dutch people
The Dutch people are an ethnic group native to the Netherlands. They share a common culture and speak the Dutch language. Dutch people and their descendants are found in migrant communities worldwide, notably in Suriname, Chile, Brazil, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and the United...
that would be expressive of their self-identification as separate from their neighbors in the national struggle with Spain of the Eighty Years War for Dutch independence, the Batavians came to be regarded as their eponymous ancestors. The mix of fancy and fact in the Cronyke van Hollandt, Zeelandt ende Vriesland (called the Divisiekronike), first published in 1517, brought the spare remarks in Tacitus' newly-rediscovered Germania to a popular public; it was being reprinted as late as 1802. Contemporary Dutch virtues of independence, fortitude and industry were rendered fully recognizable among the Batavians in more scholarly history represented in Hugo Grotius
Hugo Grotius , also known as Huig de Groot, Hugo Grocio or Hugo de Groot, was a jurist in the Dutch Republic. With Francisco de Vitoria and Alberico Gentili he laid the foundations for international law, based on natural law...
' Liber de Antiquitate Republicae Batavicorum (1610). The myth was perpetuated by Romeyn de Hooghe's Spiegel van Staat der Vereenigden Nederlanden ("Mirror of the State of the United Netherlands", 1706), which also ran to many editions, and it was revived in the atmosphere of Romantic nationalism
Romantic nationalism is the form of nationalism in which the state derives its political legitimacy as an organic consequence of the unity of those it governs...
in the late eighteenth-century reforms that saw a short-lived Batavian Republic
The Batavian Republic was the successor of the Republic of the United Netherlands. It was proclaimed on January 19, 1795, and ended on June 5, 1806, with the accession of Louis Bonaparte to the throne of the Kingdom of Holland....
and, in the colony of the Dutch East Indies
Dutch East Indies
The Dutch East Indies was a Dutch colony that became modern Indonesia following World War II. It was formed from the nationalised colonies of the Dutch East India Company, which came under the administration of the Netherlands government in 1800....
, a capital (now Jakarta
Jakarta is the capital and largest city of Indonesia. Officially known as the Special Capital Territory of Jakarta, it is located on the northwest coast of Java, has an area of , and a population of 9,580,000. Jakarta is the country's economic, cultural and political centre...
) that was named Batavia. The success of this legend of origins was partly due to theories in anthropology, which were based on a tribal paradigm. Being politically and geographically inclusive and leaving at the same time space for diversity, this historical vision filled the needs of Dutch nation-building and integration in the 1890-1914 era. However, the disadvantages of this historical interpretation soon became apparent. It suggested there were no strong external borders, while allowing for the fairly clear-cut internal borders that were emerging as the society pillarized into three parts. The origins myth appeared, especially during the Second World War, allow the dangers of regional separatism and annexation to Germany. After 1945 the tribal paradigm lost its grip on anthropology; the "three-tribes-theme" was also fundamentally questioned and slowly faded away.
Modern variants of the Batavian founding myth
A national myth is an inspiring narrative or anecdote about a nation's past. Such myths often serve as an important national symbol and affirm a set of national values. A national myth may sometimes take the form of a national epic...
are made more credible by pointing out that the Batavians were only part of the ancestry of the Dutch people, together with the Frisians
The Frisians are a Germanic ethnic group native to the coastal parts of the Netherlands and Germany. They are concentrated in the Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen and, in Germany, East Frisia and North Frisia, that was a part of Denmark until 1864. They inhabit an area known as Frisia...
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...
The Saxons were a confederation of Germanic tribes originating on the North German plain. The Saxons earliest known area of settlement is Northern Albingia, an area approximately that of modern Holstein...
, and by tracing patterns of DNA. Echoes of this supposed cultural continuity may still be found in popularisations of the history that follows.
- Tacitus, Histories, Book iv
- A map of the Roman province Germania InferiorGermania InferiorGermania Inferior was a Roman province located on the left bank of the Rhine, in today's Luxembourg, southern Netherlands, parts of Belgium, and North Rhine-Westphalia left of the Rhine....
and neighbouring tribes.
- Cohors Primae Batavorum