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» Nehallenia Archeologisch Duikteam » Het NEHALLENIA Verhaal

 
 
 
 
 
 Ons  verhaal van onderzoek.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 Het werkelijk verhaal uit 1970      
 
 
 
Zeevaarders sloten een reisverzekering bij de godin af:
Bij behouden vaart zou de godin een wijgeschenk krijgen in de vorm van een altaar,
een steen met inscriptie of een beeldje. Vermoedelijk werd ook ooft en mogelijk
andere producten geofferd. Ongetwijfeld was er al een Nehalenniacultus voordat
de Romeinen deze streken bezetten rond het begin van onze jaartelling.
De Romeinen waren gewend om de inheemse godsdienst niet te bestrijden,
maar in te voegen in hun eigen veelgodendom. Dat deden ze ook met de Godin Nehalennia.
Aan haar gewijde heiligdommen, zijn slechts teruggevonden in Zeeland bij Domburg en
 bij Colijnsplaat. Uit de aan haar gewijde altaren en tekststenen blijkt nochtans dat haar
aanbidders uit uiteenlopende streken van Noordwest-Europa kwamen, met name grote
steden langs de Rijn.

Op spectaculaire wijze kwam Nehalennia boven water in 1970. De visser K. Bout van de tholen 6
en z`n bemanning troffen in hun net een votiefsteen met inscripties.
Gelukkig hebben de vinders deskundigen ingeschakeld en sindsdien is er systematisch gezocht
naar de resten van wat eens een uitgebreid gewijd terrein moet zijn geweest.
 
De bemanning van de Tholen 6
 
 
Het schip Tholen 6

 
Altaarsteen in het sleepnet
 
 
Een klein stuk altaar
 

Niet alleen de professionele oudheidkundigen hebben veel materiaal verzameld.
Ook amateur-duikers hebben in de loop der jaren veel opgehaald.
Een deel daarvan is in particulier bezit gebleven.
De vele votiefstenen en restanten van de tempel zijn gevonden in een betrekkelijk klein afgebakend gebied.
De deskundigen hebben zich afgevraagd waarom deze voorwerpen niet veel verder verspreid zijn geraakt
 over een groter gebied.
De verklaring hiervoor is waarschijnlijk de ondermijning van de tempelomgeving door de stroming,
waarna de tempel letterlijk naar beneden is verdwenen en vervolgens is bedekt met aarde en slib.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Nehalennia


Statue of Nehalennia. Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden (Holland). Photo Jona Lendering.
Nehalennia (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden)
Nehalennia: ancient goddess, venerated in the Roman age at the mouth of the river Scheldt.

Nehalennia is known from more than 160 votive altars, which were almost all discovered in the Dutch province of Zeeland. (Two altars were discovered in Cologne, the capital of Germania Inferior.) All of them can be dated to the second and early third centuries CE. Most pieces show a young female figure, sitting on a throne in an apse between two columns, holding a basket of apples on her lap. Nearly always, there is a wolf dog at her side. In some cases, the fruit basket is replaced by something that looks like loaves of bread; in other cases, we can see the woman standing next to a ship or a prow.

Several inscriptions inform us that the votive altar was placed to show gratitude for a safe passage across the North Sea, and we may assume that other altars were dedicated for the same reason. (Of course, this does not mean that all pieces were erected after a safe passage.) An example of a typical inscription:

To the goddess Nehalennia,
on account of goods duly kept safe,
Marcus Secundinius Silvanus,
trader in pottery with Britain,
fulfilled his vow willingly and deservedly.
Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Satelite image of the Dutch province Zeeland with the two sites where Nehalennia shrines were discovered.

We happen to know that this Secundinius lived in Cologne, where several other inscriptions were found, all testifying to the existence of a wholesale trade in ceramics.

The Dutch altars were discovered at two places: in 1647 near Domburg on the island of Walcheren, and between 1970 and 1974 in sea north of Colijnsplaat (Noord-Beveland). Because of a fire in 1848, only three pieces remain of the Domburg group (in the Zeeuws museum in Middelburg and the Koninklijke musea voor kunst en geschiedenis in Brussels). The Colijnsplaat group contains 122 altars, which are now in Leiden.

Modern reconstruction of a Nehalennia shrine. Archeon, Alphen aan den Rijn (Netherlands). Photo Jona Lendering.
Reconstruction of a votive altar. They were all painted. (Archeon)

It may seem strange that the Colijnsplaat altars were discovered in the sea, but it must be noted that the Zeeland archipelago did not exist in the Roman age. In those days, the river Scheldt had its estuary north of Colijnsplaat, and modern archaeologists assume that the altars at Domburg and Colijnsplaat were part of two sanctuaries. Colijnsplaat was known as Ganuenta.

Only two altars can be dated exactly. The oldest mentions the consuls Lucius Marius Maximus Perpetuus Aurelianus and Lucius Roscius Aelianus Paculius Salvius Julianus (223 CE); the other was made during the consulate of Marcus Nummius Senecio Albinus and Marcus Laelius Maximus Aemilianus, four years later.

Only a part of the cult can be reconstructed. During a tempest, the goddess was invoked by sailors, who promised her a votive altar when she would save them. After the rescue, the captain bought an expensive piece of imported natural stone (the Low Countries have no stone quarries), ordered a mason to cut out the prescribed formula and erected the monument near the sanctuary.


Bronze statuette of Nehalennia. Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Köln (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
Bronze statuette (Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne)

It looks as if the sailors made some sort of bargain with the goddess ('I give this to you if you give that to me', or, in juridical Latin, do ut des), but that is too easy a conclusion. Because the votive stones are our only evidence, we simply do not know if and what kind of sacrifices were prescribed, whether processions were necessary, what sort of behavior was expected from the saved. We do not and can not know what these altars meant in the whole of cultic practices. (If you find 160 statues of the Virgin Mary, you do not know anything about Catholicism.)

The interpretation of the reliefs is extremely difficult, but one thing is almost certain. Since the woman is depicted in an apse, a place that was normally reserved to the gods, we may assume that she is the goddess (and not a priestess or a mermaid). However, it is not possible to establish whether she protects or tramples the ship near her foot, and we are therefore left with the question whether she caused the tempest or its silencing. (The fact that the sculptors depicted ships not wrecks suggests the latter, but we can not force this argument.) The meaning of the fruits is a mystery too: are we to think of the 'apple country' Avalon that is known from Celtic sources as some sort of heaven, or is it a reference to the transience of life? And what to think of the dog? Is it a protective animal, or is it one of the threatening 'dogs of the sea' mentioned in the description of the North Sea by the Roman author Albinovanus Pedo? Again, we do and can not know.
 


Perhaps it is possible to make a link to the Matronae or Matres, a group of three female figures -perhaps goddesses, perhaps fairies- that was commonly venerated in the Rhineland. An even closer parallel is the iconography of the death goddess Herecura, whose cult spread from the Adriatic Sea to Germania Superior. Representations of these deities resemble Nehalennia, but on the other hand: a similar image is not a similar goddess (cf. Saint George and Saint Demetrius, who are iconographically identical but completely different saints). It is also tempting to link the votive altars from Zeeland to a remark by the Roman author Tacitus (Germania 9) that a part of the Germanic tribe of the Suebians venerated a goddess like Isis, who was depicted with a ship's prow. However, the Frisiavones were no Suebians.

One remarkable aspect is that the texts are written in Latin, on stones that had to be imported. The native population, however, appears to have spoken a native, pre-Celtic and pre-Germanic language that had become germanized. It is possible that they had learned themselves Latin; it is also possible that she was worshipped by non-natives; and it is possible that Nehallenia's devotees were natives who, for this occasion, wanted to make a good impression and used Latin.

Altar of Nehalennia. Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden (Holland). Photo Jona Lendering. Altar of Nehalennia. Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden (Holland). Photo Jona Lendering. Altar of Nehalennia. Zeeuws Museum, Middelburg (Zeeland). Photo Jona Lendering. Altar of Nehalennia. Zeeuws Museum, Middelburg (Zeeland). Photo Jona Lendering.
Altar of Nehalennia (Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden) Altar of Nehalennia (Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden) Altar of Nehalennia from Domburg (Zeeuws Museum, Middelburg) Altar of Nehalennia from Domburg (Zeeuws Museum, Middelburg)
Altar of Nehalennia. Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden (Holland). Photo Jona Lendering. Altar of Nehalennia. Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden (Holland). Photo Jona Lendering. Bronze statuette of Nehalennia. Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Köln (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering. Altar of Nehalennia from Domburg. Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis, Brussel (Belgium). Photo Jona Lendering.
Altar of Nehalennia (Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden) Altar of Nehalennia (Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden) Nehalennia (Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne) Altar of Nehalennia from Domburg (Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis, Brussel)
Modern reconstruction of the temple of Nehalennia, in modern Colijnsplaat. Photo Jona Lendering.
Modern reconstruction of the temple of Nehalennia, in modern Colijnsplaat. There is, actually, no evidence whatsoever for the shape of the sanctuary, but most temples in the Low Countries looked like this.


The cult of Nehalennia came to an end in the third century, when the sea destroyed the sanctuary.

Literature

  • A. Hondius-Crone, The temple of Nehalennia at Domburg, 1955 Amsterdam 
  • Jona Lendering & Arjen Bosman, De rand van het Rijk. De Romeinen en de Lage Landen (2010 Amsterdam)
  • L.P. Louwe Kooymans, Deae Nehalenniae. Gids bij de tentoonstelling, 1971 Leiden
  • P. Stuart and J.E. Bogaers, Nehalennia. Römische Steindenkmäler aus der Oosterschelde bei Colijnsplaat, 2001 Leiden

Museums

Votive altars can be seen in the Zeeuws Museum (in Middelburg, Netherlands) and the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (Rapenburg 28 in Leiden, Netherlands). The altars in Cologne were destroyed during the Second World War.
 
 
 

 
Nehallenia Archeologisch Duikteam
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