The Batavians lived on the river Rhine in what is now the Netherlands and the Romans recruited many cohorts (500 soldiers) of troops from this tribe. They were tall with red hair, renowned for horsemanship and the ability to cross rivers in perfect formation and lead in amphibious operations without ships. Eight cohorts of Batavians were stationed in Britain in 70 AD and some of these cohorts fought for Agricola. They were also present on the Antonine wall at Bar Hill and Old Kilpatrick as well as Castlecary. They were also stationed along Hadrian’s wall at Carvoran and Carrawburgh.
The Batavians were once a German tribe driven to the Rhine by war with other tribes and whose territories comprise a small part of the banks of the Rhine, but consist chiefly of an island within it. They chose to become part of the Roman empire and were exempt from taxes or other contributions. They were kept apart for military use alone for the purposes of war. They appear to have been quite famous in Roman times and their fighters were much valued and respected. They seem to have supplied many cohorts of troops both along the Rhine and in Britain.
In 69 AD during the Roman civil war when Vitellius and Vespasian vied to become emperor 6 cohorts of Batavians on their way from Britain to Germany mutinied near Bonn and asked to go home to rest. They had no wish to fight the armies of Rome. When attacked by superior numbers but inexperienced troops their long military experience saw them win the battle and then travel home unhindered. After many battles the troops loyal to Vespasian restored order.
In the “Roman Manuscripts from Carlisle: The Ink-Written Tablets” (Jstor login required – Britannia Vol. 29 (1998), pp. 31-84 (75 pages)) the Batavians around 93AD were 500 strong in horses and 669 bushels of barley and 267 bushels of wheat were ordered.
During the battle for Anglesey in 79 AD, the Batavians attacked the druids in full battle armour swimming the channel with their horses.
“A select body of auxiliaries, disencumbered of their baggage, who were well acquainted with the fords, and accustomed, after the manner of their country, to direct their horses and manage their arms while swimming, were ordered suddenly to plunge into the channel; by which movement, the enemy, who expected the arrival of a fleet, and a formal invasion by sea, were struck with terror and astonishment, conceiving nothing arduous or insuperable to troops who thus advanced to the attack. They were therefore induced to sue for peace, and make a surrender of the island; an event which threw lustre on the name of Agricola, who, on the very entrance upon his province, had employed in toils and dangers that time which is usually devoted to an ostentatious parade, and the compliments of office.” from THE LIFE OF CNAEUS JULIUS AGRICOLA., chapter 18.
- Image and self-image of the Batavians from Ethnic Identity and Imperial Power: The Batavians in the Early Roman Empire on JSTOR
- The Revolt of Civilis and the Batavi 70 AD from TACITUS THE HISTORIES Volume II
- The Batavi Tacitus Germany chapter 29
- Antonine Wall Legions & Auxiliary Units
- Roman Manuscripts from Carlisle: The Ink-Written Tablets (Jstor login required – Britannia Vol. 29 (1998), pp. 31-84 (75 pages))
- Batavi (Germanic tribe) on Wikipedia