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Roman city wall at Atuatuca Tungrorum, modern Tongeren in Belgium

Atuatuca (or Aduatuca) was the name of one or more fortified settlements in the region between the Scheldt and Rhine rivers, during the "Gallic wars" of Julius Caesar. The word itself possibly meant "fortress".[1] The pronunciation "Atuatuca" with a "t" is considered to be the original, despite many Latin documents using a "d".[2] The modern city of Tongeren, referred to as Aduatuca Tungrorum in later Roman imperial times, is at least one of these places, and if there were more places with this same name they were all in the same general region to the north of the Ardennes, and in or near eastern Belgium. At the time, this region was inhabited mainly by the Eburones.

Discussion about possible Atuatucas that are not Tongeren

Apart from later mentions of this placename which clearly refer to Tongeren, Caesar's commentaries on his wars in Gaul are the only surviving source of information. His first mention of "Aduatuca" by name, during discussion of his suppression of an Eburone rebellion, and subsequent involvement by Sigambri from Germany, says that it "is the name of a fort. [Id castelli nomen est. This could also mean it is the name for a fort.] This is nearly in the middle of the Eburones, where Titurius and Aurunculeius had been quartered for the purpose of wintering."[3] He was referring to earlier sections of the commentaries where Q. Titurius Sabinus and L. Aurunculeius Cotta where slain during the start of this rebellion of the Eburones.[4] These two lieutenants of Caesar had been ordered to winter amongst the Eburones after a drought year, which was a cause of the rebellion, although Aduatuca had not been named in the earlier discussion.[5]

Unfortunately, although Caesar says the fort was in the middle of the territory of the Eburones, there is no consensus on the boundaries of the Eburone territory. At one point Caesar says that the chief part of the territory of the Eburones was between the Mosa (Maas or Meuse) and the Rhine.[6] But it is generally agreed that the Eburone territory also included land between the Scheldt and the Maas, including all or most of the low-lying "Campine".[7]

Caesar described the surrounding area as a place where the Eburones were able to disperse dangerously; some, including the Eburone leader Ambiorix, apparently into remote parts of the Ardennes, and others towards tidal islands in the Ocean.[8] There was "no regular army, nor a town, nor a garrison which could defend itself by arms; but the people were scattered in all directions. Where either a hidden valley, or a woody spot, or a difficult morass furnished any hope of protection or of security to any one, there he had fixed himself".[9]

Several arguments have been given for interpreting the name Atuatuca to mean fortress, and not to be the same as Tongeren.

  • Caesar's remark mentioned above, id castelli nomen est, can be interpreted not only to mean "that is the name of a fort", but also alternatively "this is the name for a fort".
  • A neighbouring tribe, whose settlements are not named, are called the Atuatuci, and had settled and defended themselves from a strongly fortified settlement (which is not named by Caesar). Their name, "Aduatuci" has therefore been interpreted as "fortress people".[1]
  • The site of Tongeren, the later Atuatuca of the region, has given no strong archaeological evidence of having been occupied before the Romans established it along their important military route between Bavay and Cologne.[10]
  • The geography of Tongeren, while hilly, is not as hilly as Caesar seems to describe. What he describes appears to be more typical of regions to the south of Tongeren, towards the Ardennes in modern Wallonia. Wightman remarks that the "only topographical detail" concerning the Atuatuca of the Eburones was a "narrow defile suitable for ambush" not too far to the west.[3] But this "is too common a feature of the Ardennes landscape to be of assistance".[11]

Apart from Tongeren, proposals concerning the location of this earlier Atuatuca of the Eburones include Spa (at a place called Balmoral) and Caestert at the place Kanne, just south of Maastricht, and reasonably close to Tongeren.[10][11][12]Dendrochronological evidence was once thought to count against this proposal, but more recent review of the evidence has reinvigorated the idea.[13]

Other proposed sites in the nearby Liège province include Battice, Limbourg, Dolembreux, northeast of Esneux and Chaudfontaine; as well as Thuin, in Hainaut province.[14][15] In Germany, Atsch in Stolberg, near Aachen, as well as the Ichenberg hill near Eschweiler have also been proposed.[16]

The plateau of Caestert, just south of Maastricht, north of Visé at the point where Wallonia, Flanders and the Netherlands meet. It has today been split by the modern Albert Canal. Stretching to the north, on the right, the part of the plateau in the Netherlands is also referred to as Mount Saint Peter.


  1. ^ a b Wightman (1985:30)
  2. ^ Gysseling, Maurits (1960), Toponymisch Woordenboek van België, Nederland, Luxemburg, Noord-Frankrijk en West-Duitsland
  3. ^ a b "Gallic War" VI.32.
  4. ^ "Gallic War" VI.32, and VI.37
  5. ^ "Gallic War" V.24, V.27.
  6. ^ "Gallic War" V.24
  7. ^ Wightman (1985:31)
  8. ^ "Gallic War" VI.33
  9. ^ "Gallic War" VI.34
  10. ^ a b Vanderhoeven & Vanderhoeven (2004)
  11. ^ a b Wightman (1985:40)
  12. ^ Vanvinckenroye (2001)
  13. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-27. Retrieved .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ 1981 "L' Atuatuca césarienne au Fort de Chaudfontaine?", Antiquité Classique 50, 367-381.
  15. ^ Janssens (2007)
  16. ^ Geschichts-Verein, Aachener (1978). "Zeitschrift des Aachener Geschichtsvereins".


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