Maastricht History

The Romans In Maastricht

Romans in Maastricht

Romans in Maastricht

Maastricht grew up around the crossing of the Maas known to the Romans as the Mosae Trajectum. The bridge at Maastricht formed a vital link in the Roman communication route from Gaul to Germany built under Emperor Augustus (27 B.C. -14 A.D.). As the power of the Roman Empire waned in the third century, Germanic tribes from the area east of the Rhine attacked more frequently and broke through the lines of defence to plunder and burn settlements in the hinterland. In response a number of important towns built fortifications to defend themselves. Control of the bridge at Maastricht was seen as crucial, so to protect this crossing the town was surrounded by a fort called the castellum.

Around the year 402, the Roman troops withdrew to Italy and Maastricht fell under the rule of the Franks. The Frankish king built a palace near the Vrijthof, the central town square, around 630. With the growth of the Carolingian Empire (Charlemagne 768 to 814) which was centred at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), Maastricht found itself in a favorable position close to the centre of power. The church and religious community of St. Servaas particularly benefited from this proximity and wealth flowed into church coffers. Charlemagne and his successors bestowed favors on the church and contributed to its growing wealth and influence. These developments took place outside the old Roman heart of the town, dominated by Onze Lieve Vrouwe.

The Bishops

Maastricht BishopsChristian bishop, St. Servaas, from Tongres, to seek refuge in Maastricht. He moved the seat of the bishops to Maastricht and established a Christian community within the castellum. The Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk grew up from this foundation. Around the year 384, Servaas died and was buried beside the Roman road not far from the river. On this site some 150 years later, Bishop Monulphus built a chapel which was to grow into the church and chapter of St. Servaas, the city’s second large church.

In 722, Bishop Hubertus moved the Bishop’s seat to Liège and Onze Lieve Vrouwe and the former Roman parts of the city then fell under the authority of the Prince Bishop of Liege who retained rights of taxation and jurisdiction over this part of Maastricht. The Carolingian part (the Vrijthof and St. Servaas) eventually passed to the Dukes of Brabant. In the 15th century, Brabant became swallowed up by the expanding Burgundian Empire. The marriage of Maria of Burgundy to Maximilian of Austria in 1477 finally brought this part of the city under Habsburg jurisdiction. With the liberation of the city from the Spanish in 1632, control passed to the Staten Generaal, a college of representatives of the provinces of the Dutch Republic. This dual authority over the city was to last until 1794 when the French revolutionary armies overran the city, sweeping away old traditions and incorporating the city into the “Département de la Meuse inférieure”. An attempt was made in the Alde Caerte of 1284 to lay down certain rules for jurisdiction in the city. This Charter specified that Maastricht citizens were to be divided between Liège and Brabant. The city council was to contain equal numbers of representatives from each side. Currency, walls and gates were to be jointly administered but the river was divided: upstream from the bridge the Prince Bishop of Liège had authority, downstream the Duke of Brabant. Rivalry between the Prince Bishop of Liege and the Duke of Brabant led to the decision in 1229 to build defensive walls around Maastricht. A new stone bridge was completed in 1298, and can be seen to this day.

The Fortified City Of Maastricht

After reaching a high point around 1530, Maastricht suffered a number of blows. International events were increasingly determine the fate of the city. The Reformation brought religious conflict, while the revolt of the Dutch provinces against Spanish domination brought war. In 1576 Maastricht rose against the Spanish but the rebellion was brutally crushed. There followed a brief truce between the rebellious provinces and the Spanish overlords and the occupying troops withdrew temporarily. But when Maastricht again went over to the side of the Staten Generaal the Spanish prepared to crush resistance once and for all. Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, was sent to make an example of the City.

In March 1579 the Spanish troops besieged Maastricht. The garrison and the civilian population held out for four months, hoping to be relieved by the armies of William of Orange, but on June 29, 1579, after heavy fighting around the Brusselsepoort, the city was overrun. Spanish troops rampaged through the streets, killing, raping, burning and plundering.

After 1632 the defences of Maastricht were radically altered. New rings of bastions and emplacements radiated out from the city. Each time international tension mounted and there was a threat of war, the fortifications were hastily repaired and modernised, but after each peace treaty they once again fell into disrepair.

Thus after the Peace of Munster in 1648, the defences were neglected, but in 1672 when a French invasion was imminent, building and renovation work was quickly undertaken. Maastricht was attacked the following year. During this siege, Louis XIV led his troops personally to prove himself a capable leader. It was while storming the horn work near the Tongersepoort that the musketeer d’Artagnan was killed. The French occupied Maastricht for six years but left in 1678, but returned again 70 years later during the War of Austrian Succession in 1748. The French Revolution of 1789 rocked the foundations of Europe. The shock waves soon reached Maastricht which fell in 1794 to the revolutionary army of General Kléber. The occupation brought a new ideology and style of government. Within a few years the French had swept away centuries of tradition, putting an end to the divided rule and closing down the numerous churches and monasteries. The wealth and property of the clergy was confiscated and many of the buildings turned over to secular or military purposes. Incorporated into the French state, Maastricht had to help finance the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. After the Napoleonic Wars, the allies set to work to redraw the map of Europe. The solution they came up with for the Netherlands was to build a new united state combining Belgium and Holland to form a strong buffer to the north of France. This union did not last long. In 1830 the Belgians rose against the monarch and government of the north and declared their independence. Geographically Maastricht should have become part of Belgium, but the garrison under General Dibbets remained loyal to the House of Orange and in 1839, to the disgruntlement of the Belgians, the province of Limburg was partitioned, Maastricht remaining within Holland.

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