Power and Politics

Welcome to the Power and Politics exhibition from the Maastricht Collection. As you will see in our artefacts, power and politics are a common dyad in human history. From the earliest civilisations to the modern era, the struggle for influence and control remains universal. Since power and politics can take several forms, we will showcase our objects in two sub-themes: War and Governance & Status.

Due to its strategic geographical position–Maastricht shares borders with both Germany and Belgium–the city has seen numerous armed conflicts throughout the ages. Accordingly, the War sub-theme will give insights into three key wars by connecting them to three different objects: a Roman cavalry pendant, the fortification keys of Maastricht, and a twentieth century rifle.

Political highlights in Modern Maastricht

Of course, power and politics are not only exerted through war but also through governance and the influence of high status individuals. For this reason, the second sub-theme of Governance & Status will present four objects from different time periods that were considered symbols of power and wealth throughout Maastricht’s history: a pre-historic axe, a Roman arm purse, a Roman cup, and a torture device.

We are very happy to be able to introduce you to the history of Maastricht through our selected objects. While exploring our theme page, we also invite you to consider its relevance in the present day; the past and the present often inform each other. The journey starts now!

2000 – 800 BCE

27 BCE – 476 CE

1 – 300 CE

 1600 – 1850 CE

1869 – 1880 CE


There were many wars in Maastricht throughout the ages, ranging from the Roman period up until the mid-twentieth century. As society and technology evolved, so too did the objects associated with military life. Thanks to archaeology, we can trace this development through historical objects. 

Let’s start our journey in the Roman period. During the winter months of CE 358-359, Roman Emperor Julianus Apostata sent his soldiers to uproot six hundred Franks who had dug in along the embankments of the Maas River (Cillekens & Dijkman, 2006). Roman cavalry soldiers rode into battle wearing armour and carrying advanced weapons like long javelins. Their horses were also well dressed, adorned with a variety of both functional and decorative items. For example, many soldiers decorated their horses with pendants fashioned from metal symbolising religious or agricultural themes (Bishop, 1988). In the heat of battle, many pendants were surely knocked to the ground only to be found hundreds of years later.

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The rifle shown here is an M1871 Beaumont. Together with the painting it represents the departure of 70,000 Dutch soldiers to the colonies of Indonesia (krollermuller.nl)
One of the many keys used for the fortifications of Maastricht in case of attack. The chosen painting reflects the siege of Maastricht in 1673 (www.reddit.com/r/BattlePaintings)
A pendant of the Roman Cavalry which were attached to the soldiers’ horses as a decorative object (wikipedia.org)
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3D model of the Fortifications Key

Fast forward to the year 1673. In the midst of the Dutch-Franco War, the French moved to seize the city of Maastricht in order to secure power over the Maas River crossing. For almost a month the city was under siege; eventually, French forces prevailed (Field, 2017). The city fortifications were unlocked one by one using heavy keys and French troops entered Maastricht the next day (Field, 2017). Literary fans may be familiar with the name d’Artagnan. A famous character from the book The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, d’Artagnan died in Maastricht alongside other French military officers during this very battle in 1673 (Rush, 2017). A statue in his honour can be found in the Aldenhofpark

Leaving behind the swashbuckling days of the Dutch-Franco War, we move on to the year 1871. Dutch armies were looking to modernise their service rifles and tried out various designs before landing on the M1871 Beaumont. Designed by Belgian engineer Edouard de Beaumont, the M1871 was a bolt-action rifle with a metallic cartridge (M1871 Beaumont, 2023). The rifle and its variants were produced in a factory in Maastricht before being shipped off to the Dutch East Indies where Dutch soldiers used the rifles while fighting in colonial wars up until the early 1900s (Beaumont Rifle, 2014). The rifle can also be seen in a classic painting by Dutch artist Isaac Israels called Transport of Colonial Soldiers (Israels, 1883-1884). 


Governance & Status

If you look at society today and compare it with the objects presented here, you might think they are extremely different from each other. This may be true on a technological level, but objects of governance and status played a similar societal role in the past as they do today. In societies of the past, it may not have been about fast cars and custom suits but instead the materiality of objects themselves. It made a huge difference if an object was made out of metals rather than just leather and wood. For example, an expensive car today might be the equivalent of a metal axe in prehistoric times. Both objects display the social status of the owner. High status individuals often influence the government or even seek political power themselves, though it may take place behind the scenes. Maastricht has seen its fair share of governments and authorities throughout the ages and this journey will take us from 2000 BCE to the eighteenth century CE.

3D model of the Roman-British Cup with a hunting scene engraving
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A Roman arm purse which was often carried by tax collectors and represents the basis for state power (outdooractive.com)
An iron thumbscrew (torture device) brought to Maastricht by the French during the Napoleonic Wars (pixabay.com)
A prehistoric bronze axe head that was considered a status object due to the rarity of the material (thetimes.co.uk)
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Prehistoric societies were structured differently than society today. They were organised into “small and medium-sized chiefdoms,” which were based on social networks and powerful families rather than formal institutions (University of Gothenburg, 2009). Thus, belonging to a powerful family was a legitimate qualification to lead the community. Influential community members had the privilege of owning the most advanced tools amongst the group; for example, tools that were difficult to produce or made from rare materials (Turkteki, 2018). While wood and stone were common materials, different types of metal were rare up until the middle of the Bronze Age (Britannica, 2023). A metal socketed axe was not just a tool, but also a symbol of elite status in the community.

Centuries later, while some metals lost their value in contrast to prehistoric times, bronze was still a symbol of wealth. And while pottery was commonly used, certain pieces were engraved with scenes of elite lifestyles and thus also acted as status symbols (Geerts, 2014). It was also the time when coin purses found their way into society, but they were used more frequently to collect taxes imposed by the government rather than for personal wealth (Centre Ceramique, 2017). 

Although one role of the government was to peacefully collect taxes from citizens, not all government activities were so calm. During the Renaissance, the French occupied Maastricht. And with the advent of the Napoleonic wars, the French governing style was introduced all over Europe (Britannica, 2022). With that also came torture devices that were used to get confessions from inmates. While there were many different torture devices used by the French government, the thumbscrew is one of the most recognizable and was used to squeeze the thumbs of prisoners (Ruhling, 2007).