Finds of wooden tablets show they were literate.
The Batavians were mentioned by Julius Caesar in his commentary Commentarii de Bello Gallico, as living on an island formed by the Rhine River after it splits, one arm being the Waal the other the Lower Rhine/Old Rhine. The strategic position, to wit the high bank of the Waal-- which offered an unimpeded view far into Germania Transrhenanum (Germania Beyond the Rhine)--was recognized first by Drusus, who built a massive fortress (castra) and a headquarters (praetorium) in imperial style. The latter was in use until the Batavian revolt.
Archeological evidence suggests they lived in small villages, composed of 6 to 12 houses in the very fertile lands between the rivers, and lived by agriculture and cattle-raising . Finds of horse skeletons in graves suggest a strong equestrian preoccupation. On the south bank of the Waal (in what is now Nijmegen) a Roman administrative center was built, called Oppidum Batavorum. An Oppidum was a fortified warehouse, where a tribe's treasures were stored and guarded. This centre was razed during the Batavian Revolt.
The Batavi (the name is believed to derive from West Germanic beter (="better", i.e. "superior men") moved into the Betuwe in the late 1st century BC. The previous inhabitants of the area were Celtic-speaking Gauls, as evidenced by the two Latinised Celtic names for their chief town: Batavodurum and Noviomagus (Nijmegen, Neth). It is unclear whether the existing inhabitants were simply subjugated with the Batavi forming a ruling elite, or the existing inhabitants simply displaced. For this reason it is also uncertain whether the Batavi remained Germanic-speaking or adopted the Belgic Gallic tongue of the indigenes.
The first Batavian commander we know of is named Chariovalda, who led a charge across the Visurgin (Weser) against the Cherusci led by Arminius during the campaigns of Germanicus in Germania Transrhenanum (Annales II, 11).
Tacitus (De origine et situ Germanorum XXIX) described the Batavians as the bravest of the tribes of the area, hardened in the Germanic wars, with cohorts under their own commanders transferred to Britannia. They retained the honour of the ancient association with the Romans, not required to pay tribute or taxes and used by the Romans only for war: "They furnished to the Empire nothing but men and arms", Tacitus remarked. Well-regarded for their skills in horsemanship and swimming—for men and horses could cross the Rhine without losing formation, according to Tacitus. Dio Cassius describes this surprise tactic employed by Aulus Plautius against the "barbarians"—the British Celts— at the battle of the River Medway, 43:
The Batavians also provided a contingent for the Emperor's Horse Guard.
Numerous altars and tombstones of the Batavian cohors, dating to the 2nd century and 3rd century, have been found along Hadrian's Wall, notably at Castlecary and Carrawburgh, Germany, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania and Austria.
Despite the alliance, one of the high-ranking Batavi, Julius Paullus, to give him his Roman name, was executed by Fonteius Capito on a false charge of rebellion. His kinsman Gaius Julius Civilis was paraded in chains in Rome before Nero; though he was acquitted by Galba, he was retained at Rome, and when he returned to his kin in the year of upheaval in the Roman Empire, 69, he headed a Batavian rebellion. He managed to capture Castra Vetera, the Romans lost two legions while two others (I Germanica and XVI Gallica) were controlled by the rebels. The rebellion became a real threat to the Empire when the conflict escalated to northern Gaul and Germania. The Roman army retaliated and invaded Batavia. A bridge was built over the river Nabalia, where the warring parties approached each other on both sides to negotiate peace. The narrative was told in great detail in Tacitus' History, book iv, although, unfortunately, the narrative breaks off abruptly at the climax. Following the uprising, Legio X Gemina was housed in a stone castra to keep an eye on the Batavians.
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