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The Origins and History of the Batavian Tribe in the Netherlands

  • 04 Pages
  • Published On: 04-11-2023

Chapter 1

The Batavian tribe used to dwell on an island situated between the rivers, namely, Rhine and Waal Meuse. This region is presently within the Netherlands territory. Chattan tribe is considered to be the originating point of the Batavi peoples. They used to live alongside the east banks of the river Rhine. The Chattans are considered to inhabit the island during the reign of ruler Drusus.

Gradually they colonised that island and came to be known as the Batavian tribe. It is supposed that a civil rife in between the Chatti, who were in original a very powerful race amongst the German staying in the Hercynian woods, led to the expatriation of a part of the Chatti tribe. Those who have left the Chatti tribe and were in exile were looking for a new establishment for livelihood. They came along and settled in the scantily inhabited Rhine Island. The island then came to be known as Betauw which means good meadow. The Chattans who had settled there, hence started to introduce themselves as Batavi. Still date, one can find their names in Betauw, which is now known as Betuwe. After settling in Betauw, Noviomagus Batavodurum was made the capital of their island kingdom. At present, it is known as Nijmegen. (Roymans, 2012)


Till date the historians have not been able to ascertain satisfactorily regarding who were the original aboriginal inhabitants of the islands. The reason being no data or history can be obtained beyond the epoch of Caesar. Caesar, it can be ascertained that, had founded his territory on the west bank of the river Rhine and the area was mainly inhabited by the tribes belonging to the Celtic family. It is to mention that these people formed the majority of the population in the west bank of the river Rhine.

The Batavian Island was comparatively a kingdom that was suffering from poverty. As a result it was not been able to be exploited by the Romans in terms of financial matters. Hence, what Romans could get from the Batavian people was only men and the arms possessed by the men. The Batavian strength added to the Roman Empire eight additional infantry units. The cavalry was of one squadron as formed of the Batavians. The Batavians constitute the mounted bodyguard who were in charge of guarding of the emperor. It was only when Nero ended his life by suicide and after Galba became the ruler that the Batavians were dismissed of that coveted job. Later, however, during the rule of the emperor Trajan, the Batavians were again reinstated for the coveted job of the bodyguards. The Batavian unit of the cavalry got well known all along the empire and the republic. The Batavian troops were the blue-eyed troops under Caesar’s rule. There was also a valid reason for the same. It was because of their bravery which resulted in Caesar to be able to turn the equation of the war at Pharsalia, in his favour. For “Classis Germanica”, the island where the Batavians stayed also formed the operational base point in the battles that the Romans fought against Britain, Gaul and Germany.

However, there was no role played by the Batavian cavalry and army during the preparation as well as execution that led to Varian disaster which happened in AD 9. Augustus, when received the bad news of the defeat became suspicious of the Batavian troops and soon after he discharged his guard who belonged to the Batavian tribe. Not much time passed by, he came to know that his suspicion was baseless and it had no ground. Very soon the Batavian troop was reinstated again. A native Batavi was exclusively in charge of the Batavian troops till Vespasian took over as the Roman Emperor. (Derks, 2009) (Derks and Roymans, 2009)

The Batavians were not only considered to be the best swimmers and the best riders of the Roman army, but they were also considered the role model for being a perfect soldier. Also, the loyalty of the Batavians to the Roman empire were confirmed considerably by the fat payment that the Batavians received as bodyguards of the emperor in addition to the opportunity that the Batavian nobles got so as to serve in the Roman empire as officers. (, 2016)

Tacitus considered the Batavians to be the bravest and the noblest amongst the Germans. They were a part of the Chatti tribe, who were primarily a race more engaged in war. As per the historians, the Chattans often fought war than not and other tribes often fought battle than not. They possessed a strong physique and they had more fine minds as compared to that of other tribes. It has been studied that during the war, the young soldiers of the tribe would neither cut their beard not cut their hair until a foe had been slew. In between the massacre and pillage that would be done on the battlefield, they would show their faces first time ever. Those who lacked courage and did not have enough energy for going to war would only remain in the covers. As a symbol of laziness, those who were not at war would wore a ring made of iron on their necks. Once they had been at war and performed an act of valour, they would then throw away their iron rings. The Romans always respected the entire Batavian race and looked up to them. The Romans often called the Batavians their friend even though they defeated the Belgians and they made the Frisians who were free to pay salute by force. The island of the Batavians were never been invaded by the tax collector. Instead they were united to the Romans through noble alliances. (Tacitus, 1942) (Spiedel, 2002)

As per Cassius Dio, in “The History of Rome”, it is mentioned that those who were nomads thought that it would not be possible for the Romans to come across the Medway River without construction of bridge, hence, put up their camps on the other side of the river in a haywire manner. However, some Celts were sent across by Aulus Plautius since they were good swimmers even with arms and weapons across the strongest tide. The enemy was unexpected of that. (Cocceianus, 1917)

The most famous expertise of the Batavians was the procedure they would engage to swim across vast stretch of water in a group. During the campaign of Germanicus in Germany, they crossed the Ems in this manner. Similarly, during the time of civil wars that took place in A.D. 69, they crossed the Po in the same manner. Numerous foot soldiers alongside of a cavalry fighter with his horse would be swimming, supposedly having the weapons atop water and using the cavalry soldier’s horse like a mortal raft. This tactics had been confirmed to be used by Aulus Plautius while fighting the war of Medway that was fought in A.D. 43 and had also been used during the reign of G. Suetonius Paulinus, the governor. It is believed that the auxiliary battalion consisted of the Batavian soldiers that entered the island of Anglesey by crossing the straits of Menai and destroyed the stronghold of Druid. The historians believe that Plautius had eight units of Batavian soldiers and each unit having five hundred soldiers, in the Roman army. (Van Miert, 2011)

As per Cornelius Tacitus, the historian who researched and wrote regarding the Batavian tribe it is mentioned that the emperor as soon as he had his troops on the location, he would sent the best of his auxiliaries whom he considered to be familiar with the shallows. These auxiliaries could swim and keep control of their horses and arms at the same time. This would often spring a surprise for the barbarians who were flabbergasted because they would have expected a ship across the sea or a fleet but nothing like that happened. The oppositions believed that those who can approach like the way they had done there is nothing impossible for them in a war. (Tacitus, 1942)

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The Batavians considered Donar to be their chief God. Two temples were found near what we know at present as Nijmegen that was dedicated to Donar. Donar was often worshipped in the open and war songs were sung by the Batavians in his name. However, the Romans renamed Donar as Hercules Magusanus. Another God, the Batavians offered prayers to was Wodan. Mercurius Friausius would be His latin name. Mithras was also one of the Gods that the Batavians worshipped. But He was not considered a native God of the Batavian people. It is often believed that Mithras arrived via Persia from India to the Batavians. Mithras was worshipped and was considered very important to the Batavian soldiers because He was supposed to represent the success of the spirit over demise. Mithras was elevated as a supreme deity by the Romans. The Batavians prayed to lots of Goddesses as well. The “Matrones” were believed to be worshipped in the area near to Rhine. The “Matrones” were considered Goddesses who were in a group of three. They were believed to be Goddesses of war, justice and healing. (Baegon, 1992) (Kehoe, 2015) (Van Duivenvoorde, 2009)


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  • Kehoe, M.L., 2015. Dutch Batavia: Exposing the hierarchy of the Dutch colonial city. J of the Historians of Netherlandish Art, 7, pp.1-35.
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