Striking Back
batavian index

The Rhine

The Betuwe
Cologne in Roman times

News arrived that Cologne had liberated itself. Civilis wanted to suppress this rebellion, but found that the unit of Frisians and Chauci that he wanted to use, was murdered by the inhabitants of Cologne. Even worse, Cerialis' three legions -and perhaps units from the army at Mainz- advanced to the north at top speed. This forced the Batavian leader to return to the north, especially since he knew that the Fourteenth legion Gemina had boarded its ships in Britain and was on its way to the Continent. Civilis was afraid that they might land on the sandy coast of what is now Holland, and hurried back to the Island of the Batavians.
Here, he heard of one of the last successes of his men: the Cananefates had destroyed a large part of the Roman navy. However, it was too late: the Fourteenth legion had already landed at Boulogne and was marching through Belgica to Cologne.

The theater of war was now narrowed to the Lower Rhine, and for the time being, the Romans were content with it. The invasion of the Island of the Batavians, the Betuwe, had no priority. Pacification of the reconquered territories and strengthening the border along the Rhine - these were the things that really mattered. However, Civilis gathered an army and occupied Vetera. His forces were too strong to ignore, and Cerialis advanced against it with XXI Rapax, II Adiutrix, and the newly arrived VI Victrix, and XIV Gemina.
Neither commander was a sluggard, but they were separated by a vast expanse of swampy ground. This was its natural state, and Civilis had also built a dam at an angle into the Rhine to hold up the river and cause it to flood the adjacent soil. Such, then, was the terrain: a slippery, treacherous waste of inundated land. It told against us, for while the Roman legionary was laden with arms and frightened of swimming, the Batavians and their allies were familiar with rivers and could rely upon their height and the lightness of their loads to raise them above the level of the waters.
In answer to the Batavian challenge, therefore, those of our troops who were spoiling for battle threw themselves into the fight, but panicked when their arms and mounts sank into the dangerous depths of the morass. The Batavians knew where the shallows were, and galloped through them, usually avoiding our front-line and surrounding the flanks and rear. There was no question of a normal infantry battle at close quarters. It resembled nothing so much as a naval engagement, as the men floundered about everywhere in the flood waters or grappled hand and foot on any patch of firm ground where they could stand. Wounded and unwounded, swimmers and non-swimmers, they were locked in mutual destruction. However, despite the wild confusion, losses were comparatively light, for the Germans did not venture beyond the flooded ground and returned to their camp.

There is archaeological evidence for this battle: many military objects have been dredged from the Rhine, which has altered its course to the place where the battle field used to be. Next day, the struggle was renewed, and this time the Romans were able to defeat the Batavians and their allies, although they could not press their advantage because suddenly, rain started to fall down. However, the battle of Vetera clearly meant the end of the revolt of Julius Civilis, who was now pushed back to the Island of the Batavians. The monument that the Sixth legion Victrix erected to commemorate its victory, has been discovered.
Cerialis now continued to reconstruct of the border. The Fourteenth legion was sent to Mainz, where it joined the First legion Adiutrix; the Tenth legion Gemina, which had arrived from Spain immediately after the battle, took its place in Cerialis' four-legion army at Vetera. Two of the legions in the south were reconstituted: IIII Macedonica and XVI Gallica, which had disgraced themselves, received new names (IIII Flavia Felix and XVI Flavia Firma) and were sent to Dalmatia and Syria. The First legion Germanica, which was responsible for the murder of general Caius Dillius Vocula, was disbanded; it soldiers were added to VII Gemina in Pannonia. Vocula's own legion XXII Primigenia was rewarded. V Alaudae and XV Primigenia, which had been destroyed at Vetera, were never reconstituted.
Meanwhile, Civilis had retreated to the Island. He had razed the Batavian capital Novio Magus Batavodurum (Nijmegen) to the ground, and had destroyed the mole that had once been constructed by Drusus, the stepson of the emperor Augustus, in 13 BCE. To understand the importance of this move, we must take a brief look at the topography of the Dutch river area.