Commanding officer’s house (praetorium) at the Kops Plateau fort in Nijmegen
The reconstructions that Kees Peterse made of the praetorium (commanding officer’s house) in Nijmegen show how here the living comfort of senior officers in the Roman army was as much in keeping as possible with that of the elite living in Italy. In the expansive building, the commander‘s spacious private quarters lining an inner court are separated from the work areas and utility rooms.
Left: schematic map of the fort at Kops Plateau in Nijmegen, showing the commanding officer’s house (1) and the presumed headquarters (2).
Right: map of the north-eastern part of the fort, with the road network in grey and the area of the commanding officer's house marked by blue.
In a Roman fortress or fort, the unit commander had spacious quarters (praetorium) usually close to the headquarters (principia). In addition to living space for himself and his wife and children, it also included work areas and reception areas. The oldest examples of praetoria date from the fortresses the Romans built in the north around the beginning of the Common Era during the Augustan German Wars. Although made of wood, these residences had all the fashionable features of their luxurious masonry domestic counterparts found in Italy around the same time.
Excavated traces and remains of the commanding officer's house during the excavation in 1990. Left (lower section): atrium with water basin (9). Photos from Rijksdienst voor het Oudheidkundig Bodemonderzoek (currently the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands).
Sketch of the longitudinal section (east-west, view to the south) through the commanding officer’s house in the revised reconstruction. Drawing by Kees Peterse.
On commission by Museum Het Valkhof in Nijmegen, in 1997 and 1998 Kees Peterse made a reconstruction of the praetorium, which the museum has displayed as a scale model and a series of still renderings (2D reconstructions). In 2008 he revised parts of the reconstruction; the revised version is presented in the form of a new series of still renderings and a computer animation.
Like all other buildings in the fort, the commanding officer’s house was a timber-framed structure with walls built of heavy timbers, about 20cm thick, and with infill of wattle and daub (latticework panels covered in loam). A layer of lime plaster was applied over the entire surface so that the timber framing was no longer visible. The floors and roof tiles were also made of wood.
Left: reconstructed floor plan of the commanding officer's house with all rooms and spaces numbered. Drawing by Marla Smith.
The building measures 32.7 by 61.9 meters and has nearly 50 rooms and spaces divided over two wings on either side of an inner court, which is enclosed on three sides by a colonnade (35). In the floor plan of the west wing, three spatially separate units, which likely also differed functionally, are recognisable. The largest unit is formed by rooms 1 to 24. A narrow corridor (25) separates it from two smaller units, 27 to 31 and 32 to 34, which also have a narrow corridor (26) between them. The east wing forms a fourth, independent unit in the building (36 to 49).
The floor plan features two central spaces characteristic of a capacious Roman residence.
* First there was the almost square atrium (9) in the west wing, with four columns around a shallow basin for the collection of rainwater that fell through an opening in the inwardly sloping roof. In the traditional Roman house, the atrium formed the reception area adjacent to the entrance, from which all other rooms were accessible.
* Then there was the peristyle (35) situated between two wings. In a dwelling, a peristyle was an inner court with garden surrounded by a continuous porch formed by a row of columns. The peristyle was part of the private space of the main residents. The most beautiful living areas of the house often opened onto this colonnaded garden.
Front and back of the commanding officer's house in the reconstruction from 1998. Still renderings by Marla Smith.
Kees Peterse interpreted the unit around the atrium (1 to 24) as being the official part of the commanding officer’s house, with the entrance in the front façade (1), followed by mainly offices and utility rooms. The large room at the back (24), which opened to the colonnade along the back of the residence and provided a view over the plain of the Waal and Rhine, was intended for official receptions and dinners.
Kees Peterse also interpreted the small group of rooms 32 to 34 to be utility rooms. In the two remaining units of the building, Peterse assumed these to be the living quarters of the camp prefect (27 to 31) and of other high-ranking guests, especially the highest ranking commander (36 to 49).
The two living quarters each contain a large room with two rows of three columns along the long walls and an approximately 1 meter deep cellar in the middle (27 and 42). Their location along the peristyle, among other features, make these comparable to the luxury living quarters in Roman villas and urban houses in the centre of the Roman Empire. Characteristic is the greater distance between the columns of the peristyle in front of these rooms, allowing an unobstructed view of the court and the garden laid out there. These living quarters were often combined with a dining room, recognisable here in rooms 31 and 40, which also looked out on the peristyle. A similar arrangement of rooms can also be found in the villa of Mook-Plasmolen, for example.
View into the peristyle in the reconstructions of 1998 (left) and 2008 (right). Still renderings by Marla Smith (left) and Gerard Jonker (right).
In the reconstruction of the upstanding structures, the height of the wooden columns in the atrium and peristyle and therefore of the lowest eaves was set at 3 meters. In his first reconstruction, Kees Peterse allowed the separation between the four architectural units, recognisable in the floor plan, to be seen as well in the roof plan. The ridge height of the projected pitched roofs is 7.5 meters. The main rooms 24, 27 and 42 are accentuated in the exterior view with a pitched roof in the longitudinal direction, at right angles to the pitched roof above the rest of the rooms with which they form a unit.
View of the commanding officer's house from the east in the reconstruction from 1998. Still rendering by Marla Smith.
The roof plan has been simplified in the revised reconstruction. The east wing has been given a hip roof, and a U-shaped hip roof has been projected above the west wing, enclosing the lower roof above the atrium and the adjoining rooms along the sides. Only room 24 still has a pitched roof in the middle of the north façade of the west wing with accompanying gable, at right angles to the ridge of the hip roof. Rooms 27 and 42 still have a similar accent, but now at a lower level in the monopitch roof of the colonnade.
At the same time, the building has acquired a more imposing appearance in the new reconstruction. Firstly, both wings are now higher, with a ridge height of approximately 9 meters (30 Roman feet). Windows are now also included at a higher level along the exterior wall surface, which is more uniform, while a cordon, which extends all around the outer walls, suggests a second level. All entrance doors are framed and a pediment has been included above the main entrance.
View of the commanding officer's house from the west in the reconstruction from 2008. Still rendering by Gerard Jonker.
View of the back of the commanding officer's house in the reconstruction from 2008. Still rendering by Gerard Jonker.
To learn more
A. Koster, K. Peterse & L. Swinkels 2002, Romeins Nijmegen boven het maaiveld. Reconstructies van verdwenen architectuur, Nijmegen, 8-19.
H. van Enckevort, & K. Peterse, Kaiserlicher Luxus im Militärlager, Archäologie in Deutschland 2004, nr. 2, 58-63.
K. Peterse, Luxury living in the praetorium on the Kops Plateau in Nijmegen: Quotations of mediterranean principles in Roman provincial architecture, BABesch 80, 2005, 163-198. [PDF]
K. Peterse, Romeinse architectuur, in: W. Willems e.a. (red.), Nijmegen. Geschiedenis van de oudste stad van Nederland, 1, Prehistorie en oudheid, Wormer 2005, 258-270 (here: 260-262).
K. Peterse, Roman architecture, in: W.J.H. Willems & H. van Enckevort (eds.), Ulpia Noviomagus. The Batavian capital at the imperial frontier, Portsmouth, Rhode Island 2009 (Journal of Roman Archaeology, Supplementary Series 73), 172-178 (here: 173-174).