Location of Caesar’s genocidal slaughter announced

Overview of human skeletal material from the Late Iron Age. © Copyright VU University Amsterdam

Overview of human skeletal material from the Late Iron Age. © Copyright VU University Amsterdam

Archaeologist Nico Roymans from VU University Amsterdam, announced the probable location where Julius Caesar in 55 BC annihilated two Germanic tribes. Caesar wrote at length in Book IV of his De Bello Gallico of the events surrounding the slaughter. The conclusions reached by the archaeologists are based on a combination of historical, archaeological and geochemical data.

Geographic map with the reconstruction of the campaign of Caesar in 55 BC. and location (cross) of the mass slaughter of the Tencteri and Usipetes at Kessel. © Copyright VU University Amsterdam

Geographic map with the reconstruction of the campaign of Caesar in 55 BC. and location (cross) of the mass slaughter of the Tencteri and Usipetes at Kessel. © Copyright VU University Amsterdam

The Tencteri and Usipetes were two Germanic tribes who came from an area east of the Rhine. Their request for asylum in new territory was refused, and Caesar with his full force of eight legions and cavalry went to war against them. After the conquest the fleeing remaining population was pursued by Roman troops. At the confluence of the Muese and Rhine circa 120 km off the coast, they were surrounded and slaughtered en masse. Caesar mentions proudly that virtually the entire population including women and children was destroyed, probably between 150,000 – 200,000 people.

Archaeological remains of a battle at Brabant Kessel

At Brabant Kessel, between 1975 and 1995 amateur archaeologists found large numbers of metal artefacts from the late Iron Age indicating the presence of a battlefield. Iron swords, spearheads, a helmet and Germanic belt buckles made up the bulk of the material dating to the early 1st century BC.

Some sword fragments from the Late Iron Age, from Kessel. © Copyright VU University Amsterdam

Some sword fragments from the Late Iron Age, from Kessel. © Copyright VU University Amsterdam

A great number of human skeletal remains were also found, especially men, but also women and children. Some of the bones show clear traces of ancient injuries caused by spears and swords. Based on radiocarbon dating it is confirmed that the remains also date to the Late Iron Age. Strontium analysis of the tooth enamel of three individuals showed that they were not native to the Dutch river area.

After the slaughter it seems that the bodies and weaponry were collected and deposited in a mass grave. Interestingly some of the swords were deliberately folded or bent indicating ritual activity may have been carried out.