Ancient sanctuary used by Roman soldiers nearly 2,000 years ago found in the Netherlands

One of the most extensive ancient Roman temple complexes in northern Europe, which includes sacrificial altars used by soldiers on a far frontier of the Roman Empire, has been unearthed in the Netherlands.

The first century A.D. site — known as a temple sanctuary — was located near the fork of the Rhine and Waal rivers and a short walk from Roman forts along the Lower German Limes, which was then the northernmost border of the empire. It now lies near the Dutch city of Zevenaar in the eastern Gelderland region, near the border with Germany.

The sanctuary consisted of at least three large temples and many smaller altars dedicated to particular Roman gods and goddesses, and would mainly have been used for sacred vows by Roman soldiers stationed at the nearby forts, project leader Eric Norde, an archaeologist at the Dutch archaeology agency RAAP, told Live Science.

Hundreds of artifacts have been found at the site, including coins and jewelry; while the tips of spears and lances, and the remains of armor and horse harnesses, emphasize its military nature, he said.

The discoveries give a glimpse of the lives of soldiers stationed on the frontiers of the empire, far from the Roman heartlands.

“It’s the best-preserved Roman sanctuary in the Netherlands, and perhaps in a much larger area,” Norde said. “It’s quite extraordinary.”

The central government of the Netherlands and the provincial Gelderland government have contracted RAAP to excavate the site, which was first unearthed during commercial clay extraction works in 2021, according to a statement by the Dutch cultural ministry (opens in new tab). The clay extraction has been stopped for the excavations but is continuing nearby, and so the archaeological site is closed to the public for now.

Votive altars …

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