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Associated Press

Ancient Roman tower found
From correspondents in de Meern, Netherlands
January 2nd, 2002

Dutch archaeologists have discovered the foundations of a wooden watchtower, built by Roman soldiers on the banks of the Rhine almost 2000 years ago.
They say the watchtower was part of a chain of observation posts guarding the river, which marked the border of the Roman empire at its greatest extent.
Chief archaeologist on the project, Erik Graafstal, believes the towers were used to monitor shipping on the river and to sound the alarm if hostile Germanic tribes threatened to attack.
While most wooden structures crumble with time, the watchtower's foundation survived in part because it was buried under a Roman road built about a century later.
With the discovery of the well-preserved tower foundation about 35km southeast of Amsterdam, other fragmentary remains can now also definitely be said to have been watchtowers, Graafstal said.
The towers were built at intervals of 500 to 1500 metres, close enough that guards would have been able to signal each other and alert soldiers stationed at nearby bases to any trouble on the river.
Graafstal said the find rivals in importance the wreck of a fully loaded Roman freight ship that was found in the same area in 1997, which will be excavated this spring.
"The discovery of the watchtower is at least as nice, because due to its exemplary preservation, we can get a lot of new insights into the appearance of this kind of building and the functioning of the border," Graafstal said.
The archaeologists date the tower possibly as early as AD 50, in the reign of the Emperor Claudius.

In 'Leidsche Rijn' the remains of a Roman watchtower of the first century AD were revealed Thursday the seventh. It is considered an unique find, not only because the wooden foundation poles are conserved in the ground, but also because it is one of the earliest Roman watchtowers that we know off. It is the first time that a watchtower is found as a part off the Roman borderline in The Netherlands. Based on this find two other sites in 'Leidsche Rijn' are identified as watchtower locations. The watchtower was besides the Roman road and to the south of the former course of the Rhine, in the west part of the new housing estate 'Leidsche Rijn' in the city of Utrecht.

Erik Graafstal, archaeologist of the city of Utrecht: "The main barrier of the Roman border - the Romans said limes - always was the river Rhine, but a more former outmarking originated quick in the form of a military causeway on the southbank, which connected the successive armycamps or castella - we know in the Dutch bordersector all in all 18. There is long sought after the Roman road, until he was discovered in 'Leidsche Rijn' five years ago. It was breaking news, that day in September 1997, because on that same day a perfect conservated Roman cargo ship was found nearby - it will be excavated next spring. The find of the watchtower is nearly as good, because trough the excellent conservation there can be found new insights over the appearance of these kinds of buildings en the functioning of the borderline. This was much closer guarded then suspected till now, and had a more physique form with al these towers, which standed in view of each other.
The first building stage dates from the middle of the 1st century and probably we have with that the oldest watchtower of Northwest-Europe! There are of the second building stage also remains of the towerfoundation. On ground of several already excavated traces we can reconstruct the whole layout of matching defensive works like ditches and stockades. Last but not least: abroad in general there are little connected finds with watchtowers. Here, in the wet Dutch soil, everything is kept: not only broken pottery, but also the kitchen waste, witch contains fish waste, pits and seeds - at last we can tell more about how the live was on such a tower. With this the Romans come a lot closer: they had shifts, from nearby castella, on the most deserted places to guard over our landscape."


Archaeology is often a thankless task in the Netherlands, where the rain and a scarcity of stone for building mean most traces of ancient life have washed away. So the discovery of the foundations of a wooden watchtower, built by Roman soldiers on the banks of the Rhine almost 2,000 years ago, has Dutch archeologists beside themselves with excitement. They say the watchtower was part of a chain of observation posts guarding the river, which marked the border of the Roman empire at its greatest extent.
Chief archaeologist on the project, Erik Graafstal, believes the towers were used to monitor shipping on the river and to sound the alarm if hostile Germanic tribes threatened to attack.
While most wooden structures crumble with time, the watchtower's foundation survived in part because it was buried under a Roman road built about a century later.
With the discovery of the well-preserved tower foundation about 35 kilometers (22 miles) southeast of Amsterdam, other fragmentary remains can now also definitely be said to have been watchtowers, Graafstal said.
The towers were built at intervals of 500 to 1,500 meters (500 yards to a mile) close enough that guards would have been able to signal each other and alert soldiers stationed at nearby bases to any trouble on the river.
Graafstal said the find rivals in importance the wreck of a fully loaded Roman freight ship that was found in the same area in 1997, which will be excavated this spring.
"The discovery of the watchtower is at least as nice, because due to its exemplary preservation, we can get a lot of new insights into the appearance of this kind of building and the functioning of the border," Graafstal said.
The archeologists date the tower possibly as early as A.D. 50, in the reign of the Emperor Claudius.
Based on the size of the remaining corner poles, the tower would have been square, 3 meters (10 feet) on each side and about 5 meters (16 feet) high. It was ringed by a low wall, a moat and sharpened wooden stakes.
Detachments of three or four soldiers would have been sent to the tower from the nearby army base, traces of which have also survived. Near the tower, archaeologists found bones and other remains of food the soldiers ate and such objects as a spearpoint, a coin, an ax, a sickle and an ancient pen.
Professor William Harris of Columbia University, a historian not associated with the Dutch dig, said the discovery fits well with the broader background of Roman history. He said soldiers manning the towers would likely have been a mix of Roman legionaries and auxiliary troops recruited from other frontier regions of the empire.
"The Romans first arrived in this general area in the times of Caesar," around 53 B.C., he said. "The Roman occupation was not heavy, but sufficient to keep order. ... They used very functional wooden forts which were put up and taken down according to need."
By Claudius's reign, A.D. 41-54, some stone structures similar to the Dutch tower were built along the German Rhine, Harris said. But only during the reign of Nero, in 54-68, did the Rhine become firmly fixed as the empire's northern border.
"It's not that they didn't think about pushing forward, but while Nero was in power, if you were a local governor you didn't wage war because the emperor got jealous," Harris said. "If you were defeated that was certainly bad, but victory was also bad."
The river was used for trading by both Romans and local Germanic tribes, known to the Romans as the "Batavi," and the observation posts may have played a role in ensuring that taxes were levied on passing boats.
The Dutch archeologists believe the tower was destroyed sometime in the late 60s, and then rebuilt. Such a time frame would put the destruction during a revolt of the Batavi recorded by the Roman historian Tacitus.
Tacitus describes a clash between the Romans and Batavi in the Dutch countryside as wet and marshy then as it is now as "more a naval contest than a land battle."
"The Batavi leapt lightly through the shallows," wrote Tacitus, while the Romans, "struggling among the waters, exerting every limb where they found some firm footing, whether they could swim or not, were subject to one common destruction."

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