Maastricht in Roman times

After their arrival in the area, the Romans built possibly the most important element in Maastricht’s history: a bridge over the Maas. A small settlement then developed on either side of the bridge. The Roman name for this settlement is still unknown; the first mention of its name only dates from the sixth century AD: ad Treiectinsem.

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Strategic bridgehead

Ad Treiectinsem is a reference to the essence of the settlement: an ideal place, since the bridge was an important link in the Roman road from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rhine near Cologne. The small stream, the Jeker, which connected Maastricht to Tongeren, also flows into the Maas here, forming a strategic bridgehead.

Maastricht’s history did not exist in isolation of course. Located on an important road from Boulogne-sur-Mer to Cologne, via Tongeren, Maastricht, Valkenburg, Voerendaal, Heerlen and Landgraaf, the settlement played an important role in this link. The Roman name of this road is not known, much like Maastricht’s name during this period.

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Peace and stability

Sandwiched between the key cities of Tongeren and Heerlen, Maastricht actually remained rather small during Roman times. Trade and manufacturing nonetheless flourished during the first two centuries when the Roman Empire brought peace and stability to the area. This is well-reflected in the many objects that have been found.

A Roman temple hadn’t been discovered yet in Maastricht, but a possible walled sanctuary under the current Hotel Derlon was found. Traces of Roman rituals and rich mythology are clearly visible in the many objects. The rise of a new religion that would eventually prevail was not missing, however: Christianity.


Roman funerary culture

The many grave finds in particular shed light on Roman life and customs. Cemeteries in Roman times were always located outside the settlement and often along the arterial roads since there had to be a strict separation between the world of the dead and the living. 

The Romans viewed graves as new homes where the dead could continue living in the hereafter. This is the reason objects are often found in these graves, intact. Food and drinks were sometimes buried with the dead, along with an oil lamp for some light in the eternal darkness. Not all Romans gave these items to their dearly departed. It depended on local customs and how wealthy the deceased person had been.

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Maastricht became a fortress

Starting in the third century AD, cracks began to appear in the Roman peace, and pressure on the external borders increased. The Romans decided to let the border guard, the Limes, go and reinforced key locations inland. Maastricht became a fortress for the very first time. The Roman fort guarded the important bridge and the valuable supplies stored here.