Before AD 850
During the second last ice age, between 180.000 and 130.000 years ago, glaciers from Scandinavia shifted all the way to the area now known as the Netherlands. Masses of ice more than 200 meters thick pushed up the ground and created lateral moraines; large ridges in the landscape which could be more than a 100 meters high. Fig. 1 One of these ice-pushed ridges is situated in and near Nijmegen, with the historical site ’Het Valkhof’. The majority of the city Nijmegen is not located on the actual ridge but on a fan-shaped deposit of sand and gravel, the result of ice water flowing down the ridge.1 Fig. 2
On the north side of the ridge flows the river Waal. This river, the broadest branch of the Rhine delta, originated during the final phase of the last ice age. Ice water from the German region pushed its way towards the North Sea and a broad, flat plain between Arnhem and Nijmegen with numerous waterways was the result. This river system changed over time to a system with the meandering rivers Rijn and Waal with calmer currents. The Waal river has a bend in front of the Valkhof site, from where one has a grand view over a large part of the river.2
The elevated position of the site made it the perfect place for political and military settlements, while the river Waal provided the infrastructure necessary for trade and governance.
Prehistoric populations settled both on the north and on the south side of the river Waal. The first farmers appeared around 3700 BC.3 Fig. 3 On the Valkhof site, a burial site that dates back to the late Bronze Age was found. Two graves and an urn have been found in front of the St Nicolas chapel. 4 A few hundred meters from the Valkhof, a burial site from the Iron Age has been uncovered. Around 400 BC a local warlord was buried here with his chariot.5 Fig. 4
Around 19 BC Roman soldiers arrived and remained in our region for four centuries. Army camps and fortifications were constructed all over Nijmegen, the largest being the camp on the Hunnerberg.6 Fig. 5, point 1 The Romans also built the settlement Oppidum Batavorum. This ‘town of the Batavi’ was situated on and around the Valkhof site. Fig. 5, point 9 The people living in the town were immigrants, officials, merchants and artisans. They quickly adjusted themselves to Roman habits. Fig. 7 In AD 69 and 70 the Batavi revolted against the Romans and set fire to Oppidum Batavorum. The town was not rebuilt. A new town was founded a mile west of the old location. Fig. 6, point 5 Around the turn of the 1st century AD the Emperor Marcus Ulpius Traianus granted this new town privileges and it was named after him: Ulpia Noviomagus.
Around 270 BC the inhabitants abandoned the city following Germanic incursions and moved back to the Valkhof hill. A fortification was built here, where citizens could find refuge in times of danger.7 Fig. 8, point 1
Halfway into the 5th century, power was taken over by the Merovingians who saw themselves as the rightful successors to the Roman emperors. Thus, they took over the fortification on the Valkhof and the settlement on the banks of the river Waal. Fig. 9 The vast royal lands around Nijmegen will have been ruled from there.8 9 The elevated position of the Valkhof was the perfect power centre for the Frankish rulers. Thus, Charlemagne built a palace on the site of the Roman fortification.
1 Verhoeven, T. H. G. (ed.), A concise history of Nijmegen, Nijmegen 2011, chapter 1 ‘Ice and water‘ http://www.huisvandenijmeegsegeschiedenis.nl/info/Concise_history_of_Nijmegen
2 Willems, Willem J. H. and van Enckevort, Harry, ‘Ulpia Noviomagus, Roman Nijmegen, The Batavian capital at the imperial frontier‘, Journal of Roman archaeology, supplementary series number seventy-three, Portsmouth Rhode Island, 2009, pp. 13-16
3 Verhoeven, T. H. G. (ed.), A concise history of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, 2011, chapter 2 ‘The earliest occupants‘
4 Van Enckevort, Harry and Thijssen, Jan, Graven met beleid, Gemeentelijk archeologisch onderzoek in Nijmegen 1989-1995, Abcoude/Nijmegen, 1996, pp. 41-42
5 Verhoeven, T. H. G. (ed.), A concise history of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, 2011, chapter 3 ‘A local warlord‘
6 Verhoeven, T.H.G. (ed.), A concise history of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, 2011, chapter 4 ‘Roman soldiers‘ http://www.huisvandenijmeegsegeschiedenis.nl/info/Concise_history_of_Nijmegen
7 Verhoeven, T. H. G. (ed.), A concise history of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, 2011, chapter 5 ‘Roman towns‘
8 Willems, Willem J. H. and van Enckevort, Harry, ‘Ulpia Noviomagus, Roman Nijmegen, The Batavian capital at the imperial frontier‘, Journal of Roman archaeology, supplementary series number seventy-three, Portsmouth Rhode Island, 2009, pp. 102-104
9 Verhoeven, T. H. G. (ed.), A concise history of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, 2011, chapter 6 ‘A Meriovingian elite‘