Experts from Vrije Universiteit University of Amsterdam have found evidence that may prove that Julius Caesar – Rome’s most celebrated martial leader and politician – once led his legions into the Netherlands and fought with the Germanic peoples of the region now known as Brabant. At a battle site in the town of Kessel, skeletons, weapons and other implements have been found that indicate that a great slaughter took place there. Over the past three decades, spearheads, swords and even a helmet have also been found, but it is only until now that new technology can date the artifacts to the 1st century B.C.
According to archaeologist Nico Roymans of VU University, “It is the first time the presence of Caesar and his troops on Dutch soil has been explicitly shown.” Radiocarbon dating, along with geochemical analysis and further historical research have shown that the evidence does indeed date back to the century before Jesus Christ. Historical analysis long ago concluded that the battle took place in the spring of 55 B.C.
Many of the skeleton fragments showed signs of traumatic injuries caused by weapons such swords and spears
In his book, Commentarii de Bello Gallico, known in English as “The Gallic Wars,” Caesar wrote about the battle that he said claimed the lives of 400,000 members of the Tencteri and Usipetes tribes. These two Germanic peoples came from east of the Rhine who had fled another people called Suebi. When they begged Caesar for asylum, he instead order his eight legions and cavalry to slaughter them, according to a statement from the university. However, the university disputed Caesar’s claim about the number of his victims. It is likely that his victims reached no more than 200,000, and included men, women, and children. A cache of human bones attest to the violence of the genocide.
According to Caesar’s account, he offered terms to the Tencteri and Usipetes, telling them to settle with – the Ubii - another tribe that was also at war with the Suebi. When the two tribes asked for a three-day-long truce in order to consider the offer, Caesar ordered his men to destroy them. Sending his infantry and cavalry to pursue them, the Tencteri and Usipetes were soon surrounded. The Romans proceeded to slaughter the two tribes. After the infantry was done with them, Caesar sent his cavalry in behind them.
"Usipetes" means 'good riders,' while "Tencteri" means "faithful."
In his “Gallic Wars,” Book 4, 4-15, Caesar recounts, “The Germans heard screams behind them, and when they saw that their wives and children were slain, they threw down their weapons and ran headlong away from the camp.
The extent of Roman control at the time of Julius Caesar, 1st century B.C.
“When they had come to the point where the Meuse and Rhine rivers flow together, they saw no good in further flights.
“A large number of them were slain, and the rest fell into the river, where they died overwhelmed by anxiety, fatigue and strength of the current. Our men returned without a single fatal casualty.” — Caesar, De Bello Gallico, Book 4, 14-15
1st century B.C. female cranium showing penetration by a missile
Caesar and his legion crossed the Rhine, relentless pursuing the survivors who had fled for sheltered among the Sugambri, a third tribe. Caesar recorded that he stayed a few days in their territory, burning all their villages and reaping their crops.
When a fourth tribe, known as the Eburones, slew an entire Roman legion, Caesar pursued them to their eventual annihilation. In his book, Caesar described his intention to "overwhelm the Eburones with a huge force of men, and so wipe out that tribe and its very name, as a punishment for the great crime it had committed." Soon, he wrotes, "(e)very part of the territory of the Eburones was now being plundered." They then vanished from the historical record.
Carbon dating of the human remains dated them to the 1st century B.C, while strontium analysis indicated their origin from outside the immediate area
However, the stubborn Sugambri continued to fight, destroying another legion in 17 B.C. After a decade of merciless retaliations, Rome deported 40,000 surviving Sugambri west of the Rhine, setting another precedent. Fifty years later, during the Roman conquest of south Wales, Tacitus chronicled: "Conspicuous above all in stubborn resistance were the Silures, whose rage was fired by words rumoured to have been spoken by the Roman general, to the effect, that as the Sugambri had been formerly destroyed or transplanted into Gaul, so the name of the Silures ought to be blotted out." Only the death of that general saved the Silures from extinction.
Since 1975, iron swords, a helmet, spearheads, buckles and other metal artifacts dating to the Iron Age, as well as bones, have all been discovered at Brabant Kessel. It is only now that the site can be traced to the history of Caesar’s triumphs among the Gauls of his era. Also found at the site were the bones of men, women, and children that were broken and pierced. Analysis shows that they died from sword blows or other weapons such as spears.
Experts have dated the remains, based on radiocarbon analysis, to the Late Iron Age. Analysis of the tooth enamel found evidence of strontium that shows that the victims were not native to the Dutch river area.
Iron Age swords found at Kessel
Archaeologist Roymans said of the Roman leader, contradicting Caesar's own account, “Though Caesar did not explicitly intend […] to destroy Germanic tribes, he must have realized that his actions de facto resulted in at least the partial destruction of these ethnic groups.”
“This explains why Caesar in his war reports, without any shame, gives detailed descriptions of the use of mass violence against Gallic and Germanic peoples who resisted the Roman conquest.”