Batavia (region)

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*Batawjō (reconstructed)
50nc ex leg copy.jpg
The Netherlands ca 50 AD. The river islands, one of which was Batavia, can be seen slightly below the center. The modern Betuwe region corresponds greatly with the thin island that stretches from the country's center to the German border, and has roughly a third of its western side brown (meaning fens) and two thirds of its eastern side green (meaning river valleys).
Alternate name Betuwe (modern region)
Location Netherlands
Region Gelderland
Type Historical tribal land
Part of Germania
Cultures Batavi
Satellite of Roman Empire (after 80 CE)
Events Batavian Revolt

Batavia was the name used by the Roman Empire for the land of the Batavians, a Germanic tribe. It was described as a large island between rivers in the Rhine-Meuse delta. Its modern equivalent is Betuwe.[1] The Batavians shared the island with the Canninefates, to their west near the coast. Their Roman city was Nijmegen.

The "Batavian island" in the Rhine river was mentioned by Julius Caesar in his commentary Commentarii de Bello Gallico. The island's easternmost point is at a split in the Rhine, one arm being the Waal and the other the Lower Rhine/Old Rhine (hence the Latin name Insula Batavorum, "Island of the Batavi").[2] Much later Tacitus wrote that they had originally been a tribe of the Chatti, a tribe in Germany never mentioned by Caesar, who were forced by internal dissension to move to their new home.[3]

Tacitus also reports that before their arrival the area had been "an uninhabited district on the extremity of the coast of Gaul, and also of a neighbouring island, surrounded by the ocean in front, and by the river Rhine in the rear and on either side".[4] In a more detailed description he writes:

"The island of the Batavi was the appointed rendezvous because of its easy landing-places, and its convenience for receiving the army and carrying the war across the river. For the Rhine after flowing continuously in a single channel or encircling merely insignificant islands, divides itself, so to say, where the Batavian territory begins, into two rivers, retaining its name and the rapidity of its course in the stream which washes Germany, till it mingles with the ocean. On the Gallic bank, its flow is broader and gentler; it is called by an altered name, the Vahal, by the inhabitants of its shore. Soon that name too is changed for the Mosa river, through whose vast mouth it empties itself into the same ocean."[5]

The name was also mentioned by Pliny the Elder, and it played a role in the account by Tacitus of the Germanic uprising of 68. He said that "In the Rhine itself, nearly 100 miles in length, Batavia is the most famous island of the Batavi and the Canninefates".[6]

Its later Roman history is attested by Ammianus Marcellinus and Zosimus, who described the migrations of the Frankish Salians over the Rhine and into the empire. They first crossed the Rhine during the Roman upheavals and subsequent Germanic breakthrough in 260 AD. After peace had returned, in 297 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantius Chlorus allowed the Salians to settle among the Batavians, where they soon came to dominate the Batavian island in the Rhine delta.

In the Renaissance, the Dutch wanted to rediscover their pre-medieval Batavi culture and history. This common history raised Batavi to the status of cultural ancestors to all Dutch people (see The Batavian Revival). They occasionally called themselves, or their things (Batavia), Batavians, resulting even in a short-lived Batavian Republic. The name Batavia was also taken to the colonies such as the Dutch East Indies, where they renamed the city of Jayakarta to become Batavia from 1619 until about 1942, when its name was changed to Djakarta (short for the former name Jayakarta, later respelt Jakarta; see: History of Jakarta). The name was also used in Suriname, where they founded Batavia, Suriname, and in the United States where the Holland Land Company founded the city and the town of Batavia, New York. This name spread further west in the United States to such places as Batavia, Illinois, near Chicago, and Batavia, Ohio.


  1. ^ Dirk van Miert (ed.), The Kaleidoscopic Scholarship of Hadrianus Junius (1511-1575): Northern Humanism at the Dawn of the Dutch Golden Age, essay by Nico de Glas, pp. 69–71, ISBN 900420914X, accessed at Google Books 2014-03-08
  2. ^ "C. Julius Caesar, Gallic War, Book 4, chapter 10". 
  3. ^ Cornelius Tacitus, Germany and its Tribes 1.29
  4. ^ Tacitus, Historiae iv.12
  5. ^ Tacitus, The Annals, II.6
  6. ^ Pliny the Elder, The Natural History IV.29.