Maastricht in the Golden Middle Ages

It is noteworthy that after the Roman period, Maastricht didn’t experience decline, but instead a golden age. During the Merovingian period (450 - 750 AD), Maastricht was an important economic centre in the middle-Maas area between the Belgian-French border and Maaseik. Bishop and historian Gregory of Tours mentions Maastricht by name for the first time: urbs treiectinsis.

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Central city

The city appears to have been in the hands of the Merovingian kings. The king, bishop, aristocrats, merchants and artisans met there for so-called tournaments of value. St. Servatius played a central role in these tournaments. Legend has it that the first known bishop of the Tongeren-Maastricht diocese died and was buried in Maastricht during the second half of the fourth century. His grave became the focal point of a long tradition of church buildings and burials. Both the presence of a bishop’s seat and the Merovingian kings’ possessions ensured that Maastricht was the place to be during that period.


Religious centre

It may be assumed that a Merovingian structure lies under the present-day Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek (the Basilica of Our Lady). Even though this has not yet been archaeologically proven, it is reasonable to expect that the first episcopal church was built at this location. These churches were normally situated intra muros, or under the protection of late-Roman city walls.

The Sint-Martinuskerk (St. Martin’s Church) on the east bank of the Maas probably also had a Merovingian predecessor. The patronage of Martin, the mention of Merovingian tombs and the discovery of intact pottery from that period all seem to point in that direction.

Artisanal centre

The number of recently discovered early medieval sites is impressive. Remnants of Merovingian artisanal activities have been discovered at several locations. Similar finds have been made in recent decades at other sites in the mid-Maas region, such as Namur and Huy in Belgium. These artisanal activities include minting gold coins, pottery production, glass manufacturing, the working of amber, iron and copper metallurgy, the tooling of deer antlers and finally, textile production. All these finds indicate a settlement continuity between the Late Antiquity period and the early Middle Ages in the city.


Trade centre

It has been discovered that there was an important market for all those locally produced items. Just consider the thousands of burials from the Merovingian period that have been discovered in Maastricht, for a start. It was customary at the time to bury gifts with the dead, such as beaded necklaces, bracelets, mantle brooches, belt buckles, weapons, combs and amulets made of deer antlers, pottery and glass.

Of note is that evidence of similar artisanal activities has also been found in other Maas towns, such as Namur and Huy. It is not yet clear whether artisans moved around or whether trades were practised in all these places at the same time. With a total of twelve mint masters who minted triecto fit coins, Maastricht scored high in this trade.