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Large Roman fort built by Caligula discovered near Amsterdam | World news

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A large Roman fort believed to have played a key role in the successful invasion of Britain in AD 43 has been discovered on the Dutch coast.

A Roman legion of “several thousand” combat-ready soldiers was stationed at Velsen, 20 miles from Amsterdam, on the banks of the Oer-IJ, a tributary of the Rhine, according to research.

Dr Arjen Bosman, the archaeologist behind the finds, said the evidence pointed to Velsen, or Flévum in Latin, having been the northernmost of the empire castra (fortress) built to keep a Germanic tribe, known as the Chauci, at bay as invading Roman forces prepared to cross from Boulogne in France to the beaches of southern England.

The fortified camp appears to have been established by Emperor Caligula (AD12 to AD41) in preparation for his failed attempt to take Britannia circa AD40, but was subsequently developed and successfully exploited by his successor, Claudius, for his own invasion in AD43.

Bosman said: “We know for sure that Caligula was in the Netherlands because there are marks on wooden wine barrels with the Emperor’s initials burnt, suggesting that they were from the Imperial Court.

“What Caligula came to do was the preparations to invade England – to have the same kind of military achievement as Julius Caesar – but to invade and stay there. He couldn’t complete the job as he was killed in AD41 and Claudius picked up where he left off in AD43.

Large Roman fort built by Caligula discovered near Amsterdam |  World news

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It is believed that the Roman Emperor Caligula established the fort at Velsen. Photograph: Hulton Archives / Getty Images

“We found wooden planks under the watchtower, or the fort gate, and this is the phase just before the invasion of England. The plank of wood has been dated to the winter of 42/43 AD. It’s a beautiful date. I jumped in the air when I heard it.

Claudius’ invading forces, spared by the Germanic tribes, landed in Kent and by the summer of AD 43 the Emperor was confident enough to travel to Britain, entering Camulodunum (Colchester) in triumph to receive the submission of 12 leaders.

Within three years, the Romans had claimed all of Britain as part of their empire.

Bosman said: “The main force was coming from Boulogne and Calais, but the northern flank of this attack had to be covered and it was covered by Fort Velsen. The Germanic threat recurs several times in Roman literature.

“It was an early warning system for troops in France. It didn’t matter what the Germanic tribes put on the ground as there was a legion there.

The first evidence of a Roman fort in Velsen, North Holland, was discovered in 1945 by schoolchildren who found shards of pottery in an abandoned German anti-tank trench.

Research was undertaken in the 1950s during the construction of the Velsertunnel, under the Nordzeekanaal, and archaeological excavations took place in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1997, Bosman’s discovery of Roman ditches in three places, a wall and a gate was considered sufficient evidence for the area to become a state-protected archaeological site.

But at this point, the Velsen camp, identified as having been in use between AD39 and AD47, was considered small.

This theory was supplemented by the discovery in 1972 of an old fort, known as Velsen 1, which would have worked from AD15 to AD30. A thorough search of this site revealed that it had been abandoned following the uprising of the Frisians, the Germanic ethnic group indigenous to the coastal regions of the Netherlands. Archaeologists have discovered human remains in ancient wells, a tactic used by retreating Romans to poison the waters.

The existence of the two forts within a few hundred meters of each other had led researchers to believe for decades that they were probably just simple castellum, small military camps of only one or two hectares.

It was not until November, by reassembling elements of Fort Veslen later that were noted in the 1960s and 70s, but not recognized at the time as Roman, and taking into account his own archaeological finds during of the last quarter of a century, that a new understanding has been reached.

“It’s not one or two hectares like the first fort in Velsen, but at least 11 hectares,” Bosman said. “We always thought it was the same size, but that’s not true. It was a legionary fortress and that’s something completely different.

Bosman added: “Until this year I wondered about the number of finds in Velsen 2, a lot of military equipment, a lot of weapons, long daggers, javelins, much more than what we found on Velsen 1.

“And we know there was a battle at Velsen 1, and on a battlefield you find weapons. The number of weapons in Velsen 2 can only be explained in a legionary context. Several thousand men occupied this fort.

“At 11 hectares, it wouldn’t be a full fort for a full legion of 5,000 to 6,000 men, but we don’t know where it ends in the north so it could have been bigger.”

Fort Velsen 2 was abandoned in AD 47 after Claudius ordered all his troops to withdraw behind the Rhine. The Roman rule of Britain ended around 410 AD when the empire began to crumble in response to internal fighting and ever-increasing threats from the Germanic tribes.

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