A city in the making – Ename

Today, Ename is a village and suburb of the city of Oudenaarde.  However, in 965, the small rural settlement called villa Ehinham, donated to Godfrey of Verdun and his wife Mathilde Billung, was turned into an international trade settlement. At that time, a trade settlement was a new way to make money: as a landowner, you provide the infrastructure and the military protection to distribute and sell goods, and you receive 10 % of the price as a fee. Today, we know this system as VAT (value-added tax) but in the 10th century, it was a new way to generate income from property, besides agriculture.

The original course of the river Scheldt (blue), the river dune (yellow) and the presumed roads (red)

The centre of villa Ehinham was situated around the 9th-century Saint Vedastus church in what is today Nederename.  To create this trade settlement, a well-suited terrain was found along the river Scheldt, 1 km from the villa Ehinham. This terrain consists of an ancient river dune, with the river Scheldt going around the dune in an elongated loop, providing an excellent setting for a harbour and trade settlement. A stretch of the Roman road from Cologne to Boulogne, which still existed in the 10th century, connected Ename to Velzeke, while other Roman and early medieval roads allowed access to the hinterland of the trade settlement. The most important trade route was of course the river Scheldt, connecting to local and international suppliers.

In the previous blog post, we explained how Baldwin IV, the young count of Flanders (14 years old) reorganised the military organisation of the Flemish nobility at the end of 993, resulting in the count of Flanders building fortifications along the river Scheldt, in Ghent and Tournai. In between both strongholds, most probably a similar circular rampart was built in Oudenaarde in the area held by the lord of Petegem. Petegem was an existing Carolingian court and the lord of Petegem belonged to the inner circle of the count of Flanders.

Reconstruction drawing of the Carolingian court of Petegem with the church (left) and palace building (right)

This circular rampart was erected adjacent to a natural harbour, also located on a sand dune, next to already existing roads. This natural harbour provided the name of the place: “oude(n)aarde” or old (= existing) harbour. Probably, there was already some inhabitation at this harbour, as proven by recent excavations, so we assume that a church was founded in the circular rampart (we know from historical sources that this Saint Walburga church was founded between 994 and 1027). Most probably, this stronghold also contained wooden residential and official buildings (aula) and provided military protection of the harbour.

Oudenaarde: the original course of the Scheldt (blue), the presumed roads (red) with the harbour on a river dune (yellow) protected by a circular rampart (with aula and church)

On the other side of the river, a counter initiative did follow quickly.  In the summer of 994, the Ottonian emperor Otto III became 14 years, capable of ruling independently.  In 995 or shortly before, count Godfrey of Verdun, who was imprisoned, was released. We can assume that Godfrey started a significant building programme in Ename shortly after, containing a castrum with a stone keep, a palace building with a chapel within the castrum, a stone version of the existing Saint Salvator church in the trade settlement and a new Saint Laurentius church in the rural settlement. This building programme can be seen on the virtual reconstruction of Ename around 1015 below. We see the walled castrum (left) with the keep and the aula (with Our Lady chapel), the trade settlement (middle) around the Saint Salvator church and the rural settlement (right) around the Saint Laurentius church.

virtual reconstruction of Ename around 1015
Ename around 1015
Saint Salvator church (left) and Saint Laurentius church in the background (middle)
Market square at the Saint Salvator church

The implementation of this outstanding building programme also contained a full reorganisation of the parcel structure in a rectangular grid. Most of it was probably implemented by the son of Godfrey, Herman of Ename, from 998 onwards. Enjoy this flyover over Ename in 1015, showing the rural settlement around the Saint-Laurentius church, the trade settlement and harbour next to the Saint Salvator church and the castrum with keep and palace building.

Harbour (left), keep (middle) and Saint Salvator church (right)
Harbour and warehouses

The harbour is situated in the lower part of the terrain where the warehouses are raised to protect them from accidental flooding (as known from other contemporary harbours such as Tiel). Traders from far away (Frisia, England, Germany, …) or from the Scheldt valley are coming to the market to sell their goods, as can be seen in this video of a Frisian ship entering the harbour of Ename. For example, Pingsdorf ware has been excavated that originates from the region around Cologne. Ships transporting goods from the Cologne region need a reinforced bottom to withstand the rapids nearby Cologne (such as the early hulk also known as the Utrecht ship). Local transport over the river used boats such as the punt.

Approaching the harbour of Ename around 1015

The Saint Laurentius church was probably built as part of this building programme, starting around 995-998. There are reasons to assume that the church was not finished yet when Otto III died in January 1002. In the next blog post, we will focus on what we know about this Saint Laurentius church through the excavations and restoration that took place from September 1999 to November 2002.

The Saint Laurentius church in the rural settlement is surrounded by farms and a marketplace for local products at the church
The Saint Laurentius church around 1015 was plastered on the outside like on the inside

A city in the making – Velzeke

Rulers derive their power from the people below them. We should not see a ruler as one person, but as a closely knit group of people that support loyally a common leadership.  This is the case today, this always has been the case in history, this is a fundamental property of civilisation.  So when talking about historical places, it is obvious to look at the people involved, and how they are related to this place and to each other.

Otto I

Otto I and a king subjecting to him

So, when the Frankish king Otto I is proclaimed emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by pope Johannes XII in 962, he tries to get a better grip on his vast empire.  One zone of interest is the border zone along the river Scheldt that he assigns to count Godfrey of Verdun, a very loyal member of his family, who has both Carolingian and Ottonian roots. In 963, Godfrey marries Mathilda of Saxony, daughter of Herman of Billung, duke of Saxony and right hand of Otto I. As a wedding gift, Mathilda most probably receives from Otto I properties in this border zone.  Two of these properties were Ename and Velzeke. Although Mathilda originates from Saxony, 600 km to the north-east, she knows Flanders as she was married for about one year to Baldwin III, the count of Flanders, who died of smallpox in 962, at the age of 22.

Godfried en Mathilde

The roots of Godfrey of Verdun and Mathilde of Billung

The zone we are focusing on is the county Biest (comitatus Biest), which was one of the four counties in the pagus Bracbatensis, and extends from the row of hills in the city of Ronse in the south to cities of Ghent and Dendermonde in the north. Velzeke, at 15 km of Ename, was a Roman vicus from the first to the fourth century AD and probably the capital of the comitatus Biest from the end of the 9th century.

Kaart Biest

Map of the county Biest and the pagus Bracbatensis

Although the archaeological excavations provide us information only for the zone of the church, we can assume that Godfrey and Mathilda built a fortified residence at Velzeke around 965, containing a church and some residential buildings. The church, which is partially still standing, has been extensively researched by the archaeological team of the Gallo-Roman museum in Velzeke.

Saint Martinus church of Velzeke

Saint Martinus church of Velzeke

excavations Saint Martinus church Velzeke

Excavations at the Saint Martinus church of Velzeke

This research has resulted in a new 3D reconstruction of this Saint Martinus church, the first stone church of Velzeke, probably built between 965 and 970.  Based on several older graves in this church, archaeologists suspect that this church has been proceeded by a Carolingian wooden church, although no direct traces of this building have been found yet.

reconstructed Saint Martinus church

Reconstructed Saint Martinus church from the west (by Visual Dimension bvba)


Reconstructed Saint Martinus church from the east (by Visual Dimension bvba)

Through several excavations, the archaeological team at Velzeke found parts of a double ditch around this church.


Schematic indication of the double ditch around the Saint Martinus church

There are indications that the structure continues on the top of the hill, on the east side of the church, where other buildings are presumed.  Geophysical scanning (in 2003) shows indeed that there is a continuation of the double ditch in the direction of the east.


Geophysical scanning at the east side of the Velzeke church

So Velzeke, which had already regional importance at that time, is supposed to have been one of the residences of the noble family of Verdun.  More details can be found in this publication by Dirk Callebaut.

The church was a single-nave double-choir church with an extended east choir. The latter suggests that local secular canons were present. Typically such canons would not only take care of the religious aspects (celebrating the mass) but would also deal with the administration of the court.  About 12 people could sit in the blind niches of this so-called priest choir, which is perfectly preserved today.

extended east choir

The extended east choir of the Saint Martinus church (by Visual Dimension bvba)

Today, the west choir is only visible by the location of the side doors but has been replaced by a bell tower in the 13th century. The west choir is supposed to have two floors, as indicated by the reconstruction below.  We are not sure what the function of the west choir was, it could have been used as a kind of chapel to celebrate the mass for a small group of people (such as the noble people at the site) but it could also have a more symbolic meaning and have a throne inside.

west choir

Virtual reconstruction of the double west choir (by Visual Dimension bvba)

Normally, such a settlement would have been the nucleus of a new city.  But local politics interfered with this destiny.  When Baldwin IV gets 14 years old, he becomes the count of Flanders in person in 993 (he had already the title of count from 987 as boy of 8 years old).  He re-organises his position and gives large military powers to the local lords in Ghent and Tournai, both at the river Scheldt.  This forces the Ottonian trade settlement of Ename (see next blog post) at the river to improve its military capacity. Ename was founded by Godfrey and Mathilda around 965 as a trade settlement at the river Scheldt.

Tension builds up and in 1006, the count of Flanders attacks Valenciennes. Counterattacks by the Ottonian emperor follow in 1007 and 1020. All this shifts the focus and the function of local capital to Ename, making Velzeke disappear to the second plan.

Ename 965-1045

This blog is about the history of Ename around the year 1000. Ename is today a village in the Flemish part of Belgium, but shortly before the year 1000, it transformed in a short time from a rural domain into an important trade settlement and military stronghold. But this early city did not live long, from 1063 onwards it turned into a Benedictine abbey.

Ename today

Ename today (archaeological park, heritage centre, village and forest)

Today, it is a major heritage project project in Flanders, realised by the Province of East-Flanders. For the exhibition The legacy of Charlemagne in the new Heritage Centre of Ename, we realised the virtual reconstruction of Ename in the year 1020 and other multimedia.

Ename 1020

Virtual reconstruction of Ename in 1020

To have an idea of what this blog will bring, please have a look at the video of a Frisian ship entering the harbour of Ename in 1020.


Frisian ship entering Ename in 1020