In the Netherlands, Volunteer Archaeologists Find Roman Temple Complex

The site was likely used by soldiers near the Roman Empire’s northern border

Archaeologists continue to dig around the Roman well that was discovered as part of a temple and military complex in the Netherlands.
Archaeologists continue to dig around the Roman temple complex in the Netherlands. ©RAAP

Archaeologists have discovered a roughly 2,000-year-old Roman temple complex in the Netherlands, Dutch officials announced this month. The site is located not far from the Roman Limes in Germany, which once marked a northern boundary of the Roman Empire.

The complex was found at a site used for clay extraction, reports Deutsche Welle’s Rebecca Staudenmaier. Volunteer archaeologists had first discovered artifacts there in 2021 and contacted authorities, who began a full excavation. 

Since then, researchers have found remnants of at least two temples that date to between the first and fourth centuries C.E. The first is a Gallo-Roman structure with colorful painted frescoes and a tiled roof. Located several feet away is a second, smaller temple, also boasting frescoes. 

The archaeologists also uncovered spears, lances, military armor and horse harnesses nearby, leading them to conclude that the site was used primarily by soldiers, per Deutsche Welle. (In addition, the roof tiles found at the site were typically made by the military at the time.)

Also at the site: several dozen altars—dedicated to the gods Hercules Magusanus, Jupiter-Serapis and Mercury—that high-ranking soldiers once used to thank the gods, according to a statement from the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency. Fire pits found at the site may have once been used for large sacrificial fires.  

At the altars, Roman officers would “give thanks to a god or goddess for fulfilling their wishes,” per the agency. “These did not always relate to winning battles.”

Life so far north could be tough, the agency adds. “Simply surviving a stay in these northern regions, sometimes far from home, was often reason enough to give thanks.”

The site’s location offers interesting insight into Roman military strategy. The soldiers there were likely Romans defending the border against Germanic tribes, reports ARTnews’ Alex Greenberger. 

Ultimately, the Dutch team plans to continue work on the site to see what else they can learn. Already, though, the find is unusual on several fronts. While other similar Roman structures have been uncovered in the Netherlands, this site is the first discovered on the Roman Empire’s northern border, according to the statement.

“Never before has such a complete complex been found in the Netherlands, including a temple building, votive stones and fire pits with the remains of sacrifices,” writes the agency. “The site must have been in use for centuries and such a long period of use is exceptional.”