On the Ermelosche Heide lies the only example of a Late Roman marching camp in The Netherlands. I grew up quite near this site, but it took a long time before I actually visited it being 'aware' of it. I mean, I crossed the site many times before - by car, walking the dog, on a bike trip, but never really looked at it. As a young boy, I was told about the 'Roman Camp' on the Ermelosche Heide (Ermelo Heath) and, as boys do, I fantasised about high ramparts and all kinds of remains which were bound to be found if you would just dig a small hole. The plain field must have been disappointing, because I never went back for about fifteen years. I mean, the site is unimpressive to the casual visitor and most difficult to find if you have no clue about it; when I went to look for it in 2000 I completely missed it, even took shots of other bumps in the heather! But when you know what to look for, however, and come with a bit of knowledge about Roman remains, the site is still impressive, in the way that you can still see it where all Roman stone buildings have been long gone. I mean, it's the single Roman structure in these parts still visible without any human interference, and that when it was meant to be a temporary structure!
is the only known example of a Late Roman marching camp.
There will of course have been others, but these have as
yet eluded discovery and excavation.
Why was this camp built here, on the northern fringes of the Veluwe, which was until the 19th century a very poor area, and largely empty during Roman times? The spot itself may be telling, because it sits right on top of a ridge which separates the east coast of the Flevomeer (Lake Flevo, a Roman name) from a low valley to the east. A 19th-c. map (Click the image to enlarge) shows that, contrary to today's conditions, the area may have been bare, with views for miles all around. The map shows the Ermelo heath (Ermelosche Heide), south of a sandy area which was even more bare (Ermelosche Zand). It also shows the tops of nearby hills, showing the strategic ridge, which was probably an ancient road as well. Marches and forests in the valleys may have made this a kind of natural ridgeway. The shortest distance to the Rhine is two days' march (36 kilometres, 22 miles) , and one day again to the Flevo, which was much smaller back then. The fort, not alluded to Romans but still to pagans (Heidensch Kamp), clearly controls several routes, crossing a line of hills (five names with -berg), thus showing why this spot was chosen.
Origins of the camp
reason for building this camp we can but guess. Erected
in a very short time, it probably housed a large force of
Roman soldiers up to several thousand strong. It may not
seem much when compared to the 56 ha. of Xanten or the 42
ha. of the Nijmegen castra, but one should not forget
that these garrisons were built for two legions and their
auxiliaries. For a temporary camp it's certainly big
enough to accommodate a Legion. Since the best candidate,
the Legio X Gemina from Noviomagus/Nijmegen
was removed in 105 AD, maybe we should look to Legio
IX Hispana, which disappeared from Britain after 120
AD. The Ninth, or at least a detachment, undertook
repairs at Nijmegen during this period. Maybe there was
no legion present at Nijmegen, which would mean that the Legio
XXX Ulpia Victrix, present at Xanten from 120 AD,
would be the best candidate. Another possibility would be
the XXII from Mainz (see below). However, this
is by no means sure as there is no corroborating evidence
from a written source about a campaign in this area.
attempt to reconstruct a bit of history. After the death
of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD) the area seems to have
been gone up in flames. The Historia Augusta
tells us that Didius Julianus (Emperor for two short
months in 193 AD) had been a praetor before
commanding the XXII Primigenia at Mogontiacum/Mainz
and becoming ruler of the Belgian provinces. It is told
that he resisted with hastily levied auxiliaries the
Chauci , who had apparently raided the coast (they lived
around the Elbe), but who also managed to do severe
damage to cities such as Doornik, Arras, Thérouanne and
Bavay, which had to be rebuilt in the last quarter of the
2nd century. A camp of these auxiliaries has been found
at Maldegem, constructed around 173 AD and accommodated a
troop of Tungrian horse. It has been supposed that the
Ermelo camp represents a thrust in the back of the Chauci
to prevent or stop the raiding, with a move across land
to their area.
Whatever the reason for the this camp, which we can but guess at, it certainly shows that the area had an aggressive commander such as Didius Julianus, whose campaign into 'Free Germany' may have succeeded or failed, but left us this beautiful camp on the Ermelo Heath.
the map to enlarge) The camp lies
south of the Flevoweg (N302). Coming from the east
(Apeldoorn or A1), you can easily park at the parking
lot, but remember that if you come from the west
(Harderwijk, A 28) you aren't allowed to turn: best turn
at the nearest intersection. There's a lot of traffic,
usually going fast - take care.
At this point you can easily see the bank and ditch running south, as they are clearly cut by the cyclepath. The bank and ditch are very well defined here, and run south to the treeline.
Follow the ditch in a straight line to the first tank track, a wide lane of sand. You may have lost track of the ditch already, but if you walk in a straight line, you should arrive at the SW corner of the fort. When I visited, there was a large pole stuck in the ground which marked this spot (probably as an aid to the drivers of the armoured vehicles), as can be seen in the spread above.
Now follow the ditch back to the road. It may seem like an ordinary track, but when you know what you're looking at are the bank and ditch, it can be easily followed back to the road. Bank & ditch are lost from view when they enter the forest.
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