Historical story

Treasure of the Eburones

Last November a gold treasure was excavated in the Maastricht district of Amby that turned out to come from the Eburones, predecessors of the Batavians. This Celtic tribe lived in the 1st century BC. in the Dutch-Belgian border area, until he was massacred by the Romans. Or is it different? The discovery of the gold treasure supports an alternative history.

The treasure found in Maastricht consists of 39 gold and 70 silver coins. The silver money was probably minted in Hessen, Germany, on the height fortification of the Dürnberg. The gold coins came from the Maastricht area itself and are attributed to the Eburones. It was in particular the reference to the Eburones that made the find of scientific interest. Just before the arrival of the Romans, this tribe populated a large part of our regions:Dutch and Belgian Limburg, the Kempen, the middle and east of the Dutch river area and the region between Aachen and Cologne.

We know these people best from De Bello Gallico (On the Gallic War) by Julius Caesar. In it, Caesar described the Eburones as a tribe that maintained friendly ties with Germanic groups from the Rhineland. His mention is in line with the finding that the Maastricht treasure chest contains Rhineland coins. It is difficult to come up with more tangible proof that the Eburones indeed had contacts with the Rhine area.

At first the Eburones pretended to be friends with the Romans, but once they gained their trust, they ambushed them. In the winter of 54 BC. the Eburones managed to kill one and a half Roman legions. In revenge, Caesar spent almost the entire following war year exterminating the Eburones. If we De Bello Gallico believe, Caesar committed a genuine genocide. After that, another tribe, the Tungri, was allowed to take their place. Eburones leader Ambiorix managed to escape, but his colleague, fellow king Catuvolcus, was less fortunate. He saw no other way out than to commit suicide by drinking the poisonous sap of the yew.

Gaul war

No one knows how close this account of Caesar is to the truth. The account of his wars in Gaul was primarily intended for the home front in Rome. Caesar hoped to increase his prestige and build his political career. Objectivity was not his primary concern. This is regularly shown by the facts. Archaeologically we find very little of the Gallic war in our areas. According to Caesar, his troops roamed here for several years, regularly fighting, setting fire to villages and staying in winter camps. Such camps each consisted of several thousand soldiers plus probably just as many merchants, relatives and marketers. You would expect something like this to leave traces. This is also the case in the south of Gaul, but the more you travel to the north, you will find fewer and fewer remains.

It seems Caesar has exaggerated a tad. In our regions, archaeologists rely mainly on indirect clues to the Gallic Wars, such as the fact that a remarkable number of coin treasures from that period are found. Apparently the population experienced between 57 and 50 BC. an uncertain or dangerous period and for that reason anxious souls buried their wealth 70 cm deep in the ground. Afterwards, some treasures were never excavated, perhaps because their owners were killed or chased away.

The Maastricht coin treasure may also have ended up in the earth for that reason, but unfortunately the picture here is not too good. At first glance, the timing looks perfect:the gold coins were indeed minted during or around the Gallic War. On the other hand, the coins show visible signs of use. They were certainly no longer new when they disappeared into the ground, so that they were possibly hidden away for some unknown reason until years later - when the war with Caesar was long over.

Eburones against Batavians

The genocide of the Eburones as described by Caesar is also doubted. Archaeologically it seems that even after the Gallic war, the region remained fully inhabited. Even the typical Eburone coins continued to be used everywhere. The reality was probably more nuanced. After the war, the Eburones were forced to go into hiding, or at least stay out of sight of the Romans. In the Maastricht-Tongeren region, the Tungri took over their role as a leading tribe. They probably lived here longer, but they were subordinate to the Eburones and they might have to pay them a tax. After the defeat of the Eburones, they saw their chance and conspired with the Romans. (Today we would call such a thing 'collaborating', but that is of course an anachronism.) After a while, many Eburones also began to describe themselves as 'Tungri'. In this way, they were more easily absorbed into the new society and were less likely to be noticed by vengeful Romans.

In the north of their area, near the rivers in the central Netherlands, the remaining Eburones saw a group of newcomers moor:the Batavians. Perhaps the Eburones would rather have lost these newcomers than rich, but were not in a position to stop them. They had to accept the arrival of the Batavians, and gradually the Eburones mixed with the newcomers. Until after a few decades, the Eburones completely disappeared from view here too and officially only 'Batavi' remained.