Compte rendu par Ruurd Binnert Halbertsma, Leiden University
Nombre de mots : 1340 mots
Publié en ligne le 2017-02-21
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
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The small German town of Xanten was once a very important Roman settlement, second only to Colonia Agrippinensis (modern Cologne), the capital of the Provincia Germania Inferior, which comprised northern Germany and the southern parts of the Netherlands, with the river Rhine as the northern frontier. The first settlements in this area by isolated tribes can be dated around the year 2000 BC. Around 15 BC the Roman Castra Vetera was created on the Fürstenberg near modern-day Birten. It was intended as a base for the conquest of northern Germany and, until its destruction during the Revolt of the Batavi in 69-70 AD, it was occupied by 8.000 to 10.000 legionaries.
After the destruction of Vetera a second camp was established, which became the base camp of the Legio VI Victrix. A nearby created settlement, which was inhabited by 10.000 to 15.000 former legionaries and other settlers, was given the rights of a Colonia in 110 AD by the Roman emperor Traianus, who renamed the town Colonia Ulpia Traiana. The colonia was a completely new town with all the facilities of a Roman centre, like baths, a market place and a huge amphitheatre. For this town the old settlement was completely destroyed. The colonia became the second most important commercial post in the province of Germania Inferior. In 122 the second Vetera became the camp of the Legio XXX Ulpia Victrix, a legion raised by emperor Traianus in 105 for his campaigns against the Dacians. After the destruction of Vetera in 275 due to Germanic incursions, a new town was built in the centre of the devastated area, with the name Tricensimae (‘of the Thirtieth Legion’). In the 5th century also this settlement was abandoned.
In 363 a massacre of Roman soldiers, who were serving in the Theban Legion, took place, because of their refusal to sacrifice to the Roman gods. Their Christian faith was the reason for their refusal and subsequent execution. The soldiers were venerated as martyrs and their commanding officer named Victor became a saint in the catholic church. Over the tombs of the martyrs a small shrine was erected with the name Ad Sanctos, ‘near the saints’, which later grew into an imposing cathedral. The name of the shrine lives on in the name of Xanten.
The Roman presence in and around Xanten made the place a treasure trove for antiquaries, scholars and pillagers. The history of the rediscovery of Roman Xanten was the reason for the Roman open air museum (Römer Museum) to organise an exhibition with the title Schatzhäuser (‘treasuries’) during the months of September 2010 till January 2011. The catalogue, which was edited by the well-known archaeologists Hans-Joachim Schalles and Dirk Schmitz, offers a remarkable overview over more than five centuries of studying Xanten’s history and collecting its antiquities by professional scholars and interested amateurs. The word Schatzhaus in the title is derived from classical archaeology: in ancient Greece treasuries (thesauroi) were small buildings, which were erected mainly during the archaic and classical periods. They were built on the sacred premises of sanctuaries such as Delphi and Olympia, and contained precious votive offerings. They functioned as a kind of museum for the many visitors and contributed to the glory of the cities, whose gifts they contained. Also today hidden treasuries exist: private collections of antiquities, sometimes accumulated during a long period by various members of a family, or by individual collectors. It was the aim of the organizers of this exhibition to open up these hidden treasuries, show their contents to the public and provide insight in the history of collecting archaeological artefacts from Xanten and its surroundings. The response of collectors in the Xanten region was overwhelming and this resulted in a fascinating exhibition, of which the catalogue is a reference work, which will keep the memory of this event alive. Important collections from the past and the present are highlighted, for example the antiquities of the very important private collector Philipp Houben, who was active in the 19th century and welcomed visitors in his ‘Antiquarium’. The renown of his antiquities was so great, that after his death many museums throughout Europe managed to acquire objects from his collection. This of course meant the dispersal of archaeological material from Xanten, and it is no coincidence that the first chapter of this book (by Martin Müller) is dedicated to Philipp Houben and his enormous collection.
But Houben did not stand alone in studying and collecting archaeological material from Xanten and surroundings. Apart from the relatively well-known Houben, articles are dedicated to other scholars and collectors like Johann-Heinrich Bergerfurth, Hans Neske, Theo Eberling, Paul Kempkes, Hermann Schmitz and Gerhard Buckstegen. Case studies highlight (groups of) objects from these collections, like coins (by Hans-Joachim Schalles), finds from graves (by Dirk Schmitz), clothing pins (fibulae, by Martin Müller) or precious gemstones (by Gertrud Platz-Horster). A jump from daily life to imperial policies is offered by articles about a state visit to the emperor Nero by the Armenian king Tiridates in 66 AD (represented on a coin found in Xanten) and about a stunning bronze portrait (now kept in the Valkhof Museum in Nijmegen, but found near Xanten), which could represent the emperor Traianus or a high-ranking official, honouring the emperor by adopting his coiffure and facial characteristics. This richly illustrated catalogue, with its many chapters dedicated to the finds of Xanten, offers an attractive insight in all aspects of Roman life in the provinces, and in the history of collecting antiquities in this important Roman settlement on the Rhine.
Éditeurs : Lorenz E. Baumer, Université de Genève ; Pascal Griener, Université de Neuchâtel ; François Queyrel, École pratique des Hautes Études, Paris ; Roland Recht, Collège de France, Paris