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Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
Part of the Roman-Germanic wars
Epitaph des Marcus Caelius.JPG
Cenotaph of Marcus Caelius, who "fell in the war of Varus" (bello Variano)
Date September 11, AD 9
Location Osnabrück County, Lower Saxony
Result Decisive Germanic victory.
Roman Empire's strategic withdrawal from Magna Germania.
Belligerents
Germanic tribes (Cherusci, Marsi, Chatti, Bructeri, Chauci and Sicambri). Roman Empire
Commanders
Arminius Publius Quinctilius Varus
Strength
unknown, probably between 10,000 and 15,000 3 Roman legions (XVII, XVIII, and XIX),
3 alae and
6 auxiliary cohorts, probably 20,000 - 25,000
Casualties and losses
Unknown, but far less than Roman losses over 20,000

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (described as clades Variana, the Varian disaster by Roman historians) took place in A.D. 9 when an alliance of Germanic tribes led by Arminius (also known as "Hermann"), the son of Segimer of the Cherusci, ambushed and destroyed three Roman legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus.

The battle began a seven-year war which established the Rhine as the boundary of the Roman Empire for the next four hundred years, until the decline of the Roman influence in the West. The Roman Empire made no further concerted attempts to conquer Germania beyond the Rhine.

Contents

Background

The Roman force was led by Publius Quinctilius Varus, a noble from an old family and related to the Imperial family, an experienced administrative official who was assigned to consolidate the new province of Germania in 7 AD.

Varus' opponent, Arminius, had lived in Rome as a hostage in his youth, where he had received a military education and had even been given the rank of Equestrian. After his return, he was a trusted advisor to Varus.[1] In secret, he forged an alliance of Germanic tribes that had traditionally been enemies (the Cherusci, Marsi, Chatti, Bructeri, Chauci and Sicambri), but which he was able to unite due to outrage over Varus' measures.

While Varus was on his way from his summer camp somewhere west of the Weser river (despite recent finds indicating a Roman presence near the modern city of Minden, its location remains disputed;[1] other sites near Minden or Rinteln have been suggested by the historian Delbrück and the military writer Pastenaci, respectively) to the winter headquarters near the Rhine, he heard reports of a local rebellion, fabricated by Arminius. Varus decided to quell this uprising immediately and take a detour through territory unfamiliar to the Romans. Arminius, who accompanied Varus, probably directed him along a route that would facilitate an ambush. Another Cheruscan nobleman, Segestes, father of Arminius' wife, and opposed to the marriage, warned Varus the night before the departure of the Roman forces, allegedly even suggesting that Varus apprehend Arminius along with several other Germanic leaders whom he identified as covert participants in the planned uprising. But his warning was dismissed as the result of a personal feud. Arminius then left under the pretext of drumming up Germanic forces to support the Roman campaign, but instead led his troops, who must have been waiting in the vicinity, in attacks on surrounding Roman garrisons. Recent archaeological finds place the battle at Kalkriese Hill in Osnabrück County, Lower Saxony. On the basis of Roman accounts, the Romans must at this time have been marching northwestward from the area that is now the city of Detmold, passing east of Osnabrück; they must then have camped in this area prior to being attacked.

The battle

Varus's forces included three legions (Legio XVII, Legio XVIII, and Legio XIX), six cohorts of auxiliary troops (non-Roman allies) and three squadrons of cavalry (alae), most of which lacked combat experience with Germanic fighters under local conditions. The Roman forces were not marching in combat formation, and were interspersed with large numbers of camp-followers. As they entered the forest (probably just northeast of Osnabrück 52°24′38″N 8°07′46″E / 52.41056°N 8.12944°E / 52.41056; 8.12944), they found the track narrow and muddy; according to Dio Cassius a violent storm had also arisen. He also writes that Varus neglected to send out advance reconnaissance parties.

The line of march was now stretched out perilously long — estimates are that it surpassed 15 km (9 miles), and was perhaps as long as 20 km (12 miles).[1] It was then suddenly attacked by Germanic warriors. Arminius, who grew up in Rome as a citizen, where he became a Roman soldier, knew Roman tactics very well and could direct his troops to counter them effectively, using locally superior numbers against the spread-out Roman legions. The Romans managed to set up a fortified night camp, and the next morning broke out into the open country north of the Wiehen Hills, near the modern town of Ostercappeln. The break-out cost them heavy losses, as did a further attempt to escape by marching through another forested area, with the torrential rains continuing. The rain prevented them from using their bows because sinew strings become slack when wet, and rendered them virtually defenseless as their shields also became waterlogged.

Reconstruction of the improvised fortifications prepared by the Germanic tribes for the final phase of the Varus battle near Kalkriese

The Romans then undertook a night march to escape, but marched straight into another trap that Arminius had set, at the foot of Kalkriese Hill (near Osnabrück). There, the sandy, open strip on which the Romans could march easily was constricted by the hill, so that there was a gap of only about 100 m between the woods and the swampland at the edge of the Great Bog. Moreover, the road was blocked by a trench, and, towards the forest, an earthen wall had been built along the roadside, permitting the Germanic tribesmen to attack the Romans from cover. The Romans made a desperate attempt to storm the wall, but failed, and the highest-ranking officer next to Varus, Numonius Vala, abandoned the troops by riding off with the cavalry; however, he too was overtaken by the Germanic cavalry and killed, according to Velleius Paterculus. The Germanic warriors then stormed the field and slaughtered the disintegrating Roman forces; Varus committed suicide.[1] Velleius reports that one commander, Ceionus, "shamefully" surrendered, while his colleague Eggius "heroically" died leading his doomed troops.

Around 15,000–20,000 Roman soldiers must have died; not only Varus, but also many of his officers are said to have taken their own lives by falling on their swords in the approved manner.[1] Tacitus wrote that many officers were sacrificed by the Germanic forces as part of their indigenous religious ceremonies, cooked in pots and their bones used for rituals. However, others were ransomed, and the common soldiers appear to have been enslaved.

All Roman accounts stress the completeness of the Roman defeat, the extremely heavy Roman casualties, and the minimal Germanic losses. That account is confirmed by the finds at Kalkriese, where, along with 6,000 pieces (largely scraps) of Roman equipment, there is only one single item — part of a spur — that is clearly Germanic. Even allowing for the fact that several thousand Germanic soldiers were deserting militiamen who wore Roman armour (which would thus show up as "Roman" in the archaeological digs), and for the fact that the Germanic tribes wore less metal and more perishable organic material, this indicates surprisingly slight Germanic losses. However, the Germanic practice of burying dead Germanic warriors' battle gear with them may have contributed to the lack of Germanic relics, given the victors' ability to gather such at their leisure.

The victory over the legions was followed by a clean sweep of all Roman forts, garrisons and cities — of which there were at least two — east of the Rhine; the remaining two Roman legions, commanded by Varus' nephew Lucius Nonius Asprenas, were content to try to hold that river. One fort (or possibly city), Aliso, fended off the Germanic tribes for many weeks, perhaps a few months, before the garrison, which included survivors of the Teutoburg Forest, successfully broke out under their commander Lucius Caedicius and reached the Rhine.

Aftermath

Upon hearing of the defeat, the Emperor Augustus, according to the Roman historian Suetonius in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, was so shaken by the news that he stood butting his head against the walls of his palace, repeatedly shouting Quintili Vare, legiones redde! ('Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!').

The three legion numbers were never used again by the Romans after this defeat, unlike other legions that were restructured - a case unique in Roman history.

The battle abruptly ended the period of triumphant and exuberant Roman expansion that had followed the end of the Civil Wars 40 years earlier. Augustus' stepson Tiberius took effective control, and prepared for the continuation of the war.

The Germanic tribes, on the other hand, profited greatly from the plunder of their victory, and gradually began to move to a higher stage of development, although they were still a long way from political unification. This was apparently the goal of Arminius, who immediately sent Varus' severed head to Marbod, king of the Marcomanni, the other most powerful Germanic ruler, with the offer of an anti-Roman alliance. Marbod declined the offer, sent the head on to Rome for burial, and remained neutral throughout the ensuing war. Only thereafter did a brief, inconclusive war break out between the two Germanic leaders.

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Roman retaliation

Germanicus' campaign against the Germans

Though the shock at the slaughter was enormous, the Romans immediately began a slow, systematic process of preparing for the reconquest of the country. In AD 14, just after Augustus' death and the accession of his heir and stepson Tiberius, a massive raid was conducted by the new emperor's nephew Germanicus, followed the next year by two major campaigns with a large army estimated at 70,000 men, backed by naval forces. He was able to devastate large areas and eliminate any form of active resistance, but the majority of the Germanic tribespeople fled at the sight of the Roman army into remote forests. The raids were considered a success since the major goal of destroying any rebel alliance networks was completed. After initial successes, including the capture of Arminius' wife Thusnelda, the army visited the site of the first battle. According to Tacitus, they found heaps of bleached bones and severed skulls nailed to trees, which they buried, "looking on all as kinsfolk and of their own blood". (Burial pits with remains fitting this description have been found at Kalkriese Hill).

Despite the doubts of his uncle, Emperor Tiberius, Germanicus marched another army, along with allied Germanic auxiliaries, and invaded Germania again in 16 AD. He forced a crossing of the Weser near modern Minden, suffering some losses, and forced Arminius' army to stand in open battle at Idistaviso, near modern Rinteln, in an engagement often called the Battle of the Weser River.

Germanicus's leadership and command qualities were fully displayed at the battle as his superior tactics and better trained and equipped legions inflicted huge casualties on the Germanic armies while sustaining only minor losses. One final battle was fought at the Angivarian Wall west of modern Hanover, repeating the pattern of high Germanic fatalities, which forced them to flee. With his main objectives reached and winter approaching, Germanicus ordered his army back to their winter camps, with the fleet incurring some damage from a storm in the North Sea. Although only a small number of soldiers died, it was still a bad ending for a brilliantly fought campaign. After a few more raids across the Rhine, which resulted in the recovery of two of the three legions' eagles lost in AD 9 [2], Germanicus was recalled to Rome and informed by Tiberius that he would be given a triumph and reassigned to a new command.[3][4]

Despite the successes enjoyed by the Roman army, Tiberius ordered Roman forces to halt and withdraw across the Rhine. Germanicus' campaign had been taken to avenge the Teutoburg slaughter and also partially in reaction to indications of mutinous intent amongst his troops. In addition, Arminius, who had been instrumental in the Teutoburg ambush, and who had been considered a very real threat to stability by Rome, was now defeated. Once his allied Germanic coalition had been broken and honour avenged, the huge cost and risk of keeping the Roman army operating beyond the Rhine was simply not worth any likely benefit to be gained. Furthermore, in leading his troops across the Rhine and continuing to operate there, without proper recourse to Tiberius, Germanicus flouted the instructions of Augustus to keep that river as the boundary of the empire. Coupled with the defeat of Arminius and the military expenditure, Tiberius had reason enough to recall his nephew from further activity against the Germans.[1]

Later campaigns

The third legionary standard was recovered in AD 41 by Publius Gabinius from the Chauci during the reign of Claudius, brother to Germanicus, according to Cassius Dio in Roman History Book LX {Book 60} Chapter 8. Possibly the recovered aquilae were placed within the Temple of the Avenging Mars, (Tempio di Mars Ultor), the ruins of which stand today in the Forum of Augustus by the Via dei Fori Imperiali in Rome.

The last chapter of this story is recounted by the historian Tacitus. Around AD 50, bands of Chatti invaded Roman territory in Germania Superior, possibly an area in Hesse east of the Rhine which the Romans appear to have still held, and began to plunder. The Roman commander, Publius Pomponius Secundus, along with a legionary force supported by Roman cavalry, recruited auxiliaries from the Vangiones and Nemetes. They attacked the Chatti from both sides and defeated them, and joyfully found and liberated Roman prisoners, including some from Varus' legions who had been held by the Chatti for 40 years.[5]

Impact on Roman expansion

However, more recently, scholars have begun to question this interpretation and pointed out reasons why the Rhine was a much more practical boundary for the Roman Empire than any river in Germania. Logistically, armies on the Rhine could be supplied from the Mediterranean via the Rhône and Mosel, with a brief stretch of portage. Armies on the Elbe, on the other hand, would have to have been supplied either by extensive overland routes or ships travelling the hazardous Atlantic seas. Economically, the Rhine was already supporting towns and sizeable villages at the time of the Gallic conquest. Northern Germania, however, was far less developed, possessed few villages, and had little food surplus. Thus the Rhine was both significantly more accessible from Rome and better equipped to supply sizeable garrisons than the regions beyond.[6]

Site of the battle

For almost 2,000 years, the site of the battle was unidentified. The main clue to its location was an allusion to the saltus Teutoburgiensis in section i.60-62 of Tacitus's Annals, an area "not far" from the land between the upper reaches of the Lippe and Ems Rivers in central Westphalia.

During the 19th century, theories as to the true site of the battle abounded, and the followers of one theory successfully argued for the area of a long wooded ridge called the Osning, around Bielefeld. This was then renamed the Teutoburg Forest, and became the site of the Detmold Memorial.

The archeological site at Kalkriese hill

Late 20th-century research and excavations were sparked by finds by British amateur archaeologist Major Tony Clunn, who was casually prospecting at Kalkriese Hill (52°26′29″N 8°08′26″E / 52.44139°N 8.14056°E / 52.44139; 8.14056) with a metal detector in hopes of finding "the odd Roman coin". He discovered coins from the reign of Augustus (and none minted later), and some ovoid leaden Roman sling shot. Kalkriese is a village administratively part of the city of Bramsche, on the north slope fringes of the Wiehengebirge, a ridge-like range of hills in Lower Saxony, north of Osnabrück. The site, some 70 km from Detmold, was first suggested by 19th-century historian Theodor Mommsen, one of the "founding fathers" of modern research into ancient history.

The initial systematic excavations were done by the archaeological team of the Kulturhistorisches Museum Osnabrück under the direction of Prof. Wolfgang Schlüter from 1987 onward. Once the dimensions of the project had become apparent, a foundation was created to organise future excavations. It was also charged with building and operating a new museum on the site, and to centralise publicity work and documentation. Since 1990 the excavations have been directed by Susanne Wilbers-Rost.

The Roman ceremonial face mask found at Kalkriese

Excavations have revealed battle debris along a corridor almost 15 miles from east to west and little more than a mile wide. A long zig-zagging wall constructed of peat turves and packed sand apparently had been constructed beforehand: concentrations of battle debris before it, and a dearth of finds behind it, testify to the Romans' inability to breach the Germans' strong defense. Human remains found here appear to corroborate Tacitus' account of their later burial.[7] Coins minted with the countermark VAR, distributed by Varus, also support the identification of the site. As a result, Kalkriese is now perceived to be the actual site of part of the battle, probably its conclusive phase.

The Varusschlacht Museum and Park Kalkriese includes a large outdoor area with trails leading to a re-creation of part of the earthen wall from the battle, and other outdoor exhibits. An observation tower, which also holds most of the indoor exhibits, allows visitors to get an overview of the battle site. A second building includes the ticket center, museum store and a restaurant. The museum houses a large number of artifacts found at the site, which include fragments of studded sandals legionaries lost, spearheads, and a Roman officer's ceremonial face-mask, which was originally silver-plated.

Alternate theories on the battle's location

Although the majority of evidence has the 3-day battle taking place in the area east and north of Osnabrück and end at Kalkriese Hill, some scholars and others adhere to older theories. Moreover, there is controversy among "Kalkriese-adherents" as to the details.

The German historians Peter Kehne and Reinhard Wolters believe that the battle was probably in the Detmold area after all, and that Kalkriese is the site of one of the battles in 15 AD. This theory is, however, in serious contradiction to Tacitus' account.

A very large body of opinion, including the scholars at the Kalkriese Museum (Susanne Wilbers-Rost, Günther Moosbauer; also Historian Ralf Jahn and British author Adrian Murdoch, see below), believe that the Roman army did not approach Kalkriese from the south of the Wiehen Mountains (i.e., from Detmold), but rather from roughly due east, from Minden, Westphalia. This would have involved a march along the northern edge of the Wiehen mountains, and would have passed through flat, open country, devoid of the dense forests and ravines described by Cassius Dio. Historians such as Gustav-Adolf Lehmann and Boris Dreyer counter that the description is too detailed and differentiated to be thus dismissed.

Tony Clunn (see below), the discoverer of the battlefield, and a “southern-approach” proponent, believes that the battered Roman Army regrouped north of Ostercappeln, where Varus committed suicide, and that the remnants were finally overcome at the Kalkriese Gap.

Peter Oppitz argues for a site in Paderborn. Based on a reinterpretation of Tacitus, Paterculus and Florus' writings, together with a new analysis of Dio Cassius' writings, he proposes that an ambush took place in Varus' summer camp during a peaceful meeting between the Roman commanders and the Germans.[8]

Ancient sources

The following is a list of all known references to the battle from the literary sources of classical antiquity. Though the account provided in the Roman History is the most detailed of these, Dio Cassius' almost two century removal from the time of the event, as well as his use of detail mentioned by no earlier author, render it much more likely to be a literary re-imagining of the battle than a reliable historical record.

Portrayal in fiction

The battle and its aftermath are featured in both the novel and television series I, Claudius. In the novel, Cassius Chaerea is portrayed as being one of the few Roman survivors of the battle.

A movie named Die Hermannsschlacht / The Hermann Battle was released between 1993 and 1995. The first public screening of this work took place in Düsseldorf in May 1995. In 1996 it was honoured by an international jury in Kiel, where it was presented during an archaeological film festival. The Hermann Battle was successfully shown in arthouse-cinemas throughout Germany. The actors speak German and Latin, with German subtitles. Famous English artist Tony Cragg has a brief role as a Roman citizen in the palace of Augustus.

The Battle of Teutoburg Forest is also a historical battle that can be played in the video game Rome: Total War. However, it is not an entirely accurate depiction of the historical battle. The scenario is difficult because the Roman troops are heavily outnumbered, not due to the superior position of Germanic Forces.

A 1955 novel, The Lost Eagles, written by Ralph Graves, gave a fictitious account of a Varus relation, Severus Varus, working to recover the lost eagles of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, as well as the family's honor. The story follows the historical recovery of the Eagles in the campaigns of Germanicus.

The 1992 detective novel (with a 2007 radio play adaptation), The Iron Hand of Mars by English historical novelist Lindsey Davis, uses the battle and its aftermath as extensive backstory to her character, Marcus Didius Falco's adventures on the Limes Germanicus in AD71. The battle, its consequences to Rome and to the local tribes and the ongoing local trade in "memorabilia" from the disaster are all used as plot devices.

The 2009 novel Give Me Back My Legions! by Harry Turtledove covers the battle as well as the events leading up to it.

In the same year - naturally - another historico-fictional novel, 'Arminius; a German romance', was published by English historic novelist Lorna Pearson. This covers events from the approach to the battle until Arminius's death twelve years later, using subsequent German myth from Siegfried to the Thousand Year Reich as a filter.

German nationalism

The legacy of the Germanic victory was resurrected with the recovery of the histories of Tacitus in the 15th century, when the figure of Arminius, rechristened "Hermann" by Martin Luther, became a nationalistic symbol of Pan-Germanism. From the time of the rediscovery of Roman sources in the 15th Century, the Battle of Teutoburg Forest has been seen as a pivotal clash which ended Roman expansion into northern Europe. This notion became especially prevalent in the 19th Century, where it formed an integral part of the mythology of German nationalism.

In 1808 the German Heinrich von Kleist's play Die Hermannsschlacht aroused anti-Napoleonic sentiment, even though it could not be performed under occupation. In 1847, Josef Viktor von Scheffel wrote a lengthy song, "Als die Römer frech geworden" ("When the Romans got cheeky"), relating the tale of the battle with somewhat gloating humour. Copies of the text are still found on many souvenirs available at the Detmold monument.

The battle (called Varusschlacht, Schlacht im Teutoburger Wald or Hermannsschlacht in German) had a profound effect on 19th century German nationalism along with the histories of Tacitus; the Germans, at that time still divided into many German states, identified with the Germanic tribes as shared ancestors of one "German people" and came to associate the imperialistic Napoleonic French and Austro-Hungarian forces with the morally bankrupt Romans who were destined for defeat.

As a symbol of unified Romantic nationalism, the Hermannsdenkmal (Hermann's monument), a statue in Detmold paid for largely out of private funds, was completed in 1875 to commemorate the battle. The monument remained unfinished for decades, until after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 unified the country. The completed monument was then a symbol of conservative German nationalism. The battle and the Hermannsdenkmal monument are also commemorated by the similar Hermann Heights Monument in New Ulm, Minnesota, USA. Hermann, Missouri, USA, claims Hermann (Arminius) as its namesake and a statue of Hermann was dedicated in a ceremony September 24, 2009, celebrating the 2,000th anniversary of the battle in the Teutoburg Forest.

Modern literature

  • Ancient Warfare special "The Varian Disaster", June 2009 (essays by various authors, including Clunn and Murdoch)
  • Fergus M. Bordewich, "The ambush that changed history" in Smithsonian Magazine, September 2005, pp. 74–81. [2]
  • Tony Clunn, The Quest for the Lost Roman Legions, Savas Beatie LLC, Spellmount, 2005, 371 pp. ISBN 978-0-9544190-0-4 Combination of the account of the discovery and his theory about the course of the battle, recounted in fictional style.
  • Adrian Goldsworthy, In The Name of Rome: The Men Who Won The Roman Empire. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2004.
  • Adrian Murdoch, Rome's Greatest Defeat: Massacre in the Teutoburg Forest, Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 2006, ISBN 0-7509-4015-8 (review)Account of the battle, "eastern approach" to Kalkriese
  • Paweł Rochala. Las Teutoburski 9 rok n.e. Bellona, Warszawa, 2005.
  • Michael Sommer, Die Arminiusschlacht. Spurensuche im Teutoburger Wald, Stuttgart 2009.
  • Peter S. Wells, The Battle That Stopped Rome. Emperor Augustus, Arminius, and the slaughter of the legions in the Teutoburg Forest, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, NY 2003, ISBN 0-393-02028-2 Strong on archaeology,; controversial "Florus"-based theory
  • Peter Oppitz, "Das Geheimnis der Varusschlacht", Zadara-Verlag, 2006, ISBN 3-00-019973-X : Paderborn would have been the site of the battle.

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f "The Ambush That Changed History". Fergus M. Bordewich, Smithsonian Magazine. 2005-09. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/ambush.html. Retrieved 2008-10-17.  
  2. ^ One Legion Eagle was recovered from the Marsi in AD 14; the Legion XIX Eagle was recovered from the Bructeri in AD 15
  3. ^ An image of a coin of Germanicus with a recovered standard can be seen at http://www.livius.org/le-lh/legio/xvii.html
  4. ^ Tacitus: [1] Annals: Book 2 {Chapter 32}
  5. ^ Tacitus, Annales (xii.27)
  6. ^ Heather, Peter (2006). The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians.  
  7. ^ Smithsonian, p 81.
  8. ^ Das Geheimnis der Varuschlacht, Kelkheim, Germany: Zagara-Verlag, 2006

External links

Coordinates: 52°24′29″N 8°07′46″E / 52.40806°N 8.12944°E / 52.40806; 8.12944


Simple English

File:Blick-ü
The Teutoburg Forest

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest was a military battle that took place in the year 9 AD. In the battle, an alliance of Germanic tribes won a major victory over three Roman legions. The Germanic tribes were led by Arminius; the Roman legions by Publius Quinctilius Varus.

This was more than a victory, it was the complete destruction of three Roman legions and all their commanders; the few men who survived were made slaves.[1] It was the greatest disaster in Roman military history. Apart from occasional raids and campaigns, the Romans never again held the Germanic land across the Rhine.

The battle began a seven-year war which ended with the Rhine as the boundary of the Roman Empire for the next four hundred years, until the decline of the Western Roman Empire.

Contents

The leaders

The Roman commander, Varus, was about the fourth most important man in Rome.[2] He was known and feared because of his ruthless actions and his crucifixion of defeated enemies. It is certain this was known to the Germans, and may have helped the tribes come together to resist him.

The German commander was Arminius, who had been given a Roman military education. He had spent his youth in Rome as a hostage. Therefore he knew Roman military methods: this knowledge was to be crucial.

Later, Arminius returned to Germania with Varus, and became his trusted advisor.[1] In secret, he forged an alliance of Germanic tribes that had traditionally been enemies.[3] He was helped to do this by the anger over Varus' insolence and cruelty to the people he defeated.[4][5]

"...Stratagem was, therefore, indispensable; and it was necessary to blind Varus to their schemes until a favorable opportunity should arrive for striking a decisive blow..." British historian Edward Shepherd Creasy (1812–1878)

While Varus was on his way from his summer camp, west of the Weser river, to the winter headquarters near the Rhine, he heard reports of a local rebellion. This was faked by Arminius.[6]

"...This was represented to Varus as an occasion which required his prompt attendance at the spot; but he was kept in studied ignorance of its being part of a concerted national rising; and he still looked on Arminius as his submissive vassal..." Edward Shepherd Creasy

Recent archaeological finds place the battle at Kalkriese Hill in Osnabrück County, Lower Saxony.[3] The Romans must at this time have been marching northwestward from the area that is now the city of Detmold, passing east of Osnabrück; they must then have camped in this area before being attacked.

Battle

Varus's forces included three legions, six cohorts of auxiliary troops (non-citizens or allied troops) and three squadrons of cavalry. Many of them had little combat experience with Germanic fighters under local conditions.

The Roman forces were not marching in combat formation, and there were also large numbers of camp-followers. As they entered the forest they found the track narrow and muddy; according to Dio Cassius a violent storm had also arisen. He also writes that Varus neglected to send out advance reconnaissance parties.

The line of march was dangerously stretched out — estimates are that it was more than 15 km (9 miles), and was perhaps as long as 20 km (12 miles).[1] It was then suddenly attacked by Germanic warriors who were carrying some light swords, large lances and spears that came with short and narrow blades, so sharp and warrior friendly that they could be used as required. The Germanic warriors surrounded the entire Roman army and rained down javelins on the intruders.[7]

The Romans were able to set up a fortified night camp, and the next morning broke out into open country, near the modern town of Ostercappeln. The break-out cost them heavy losses, as did a further attempt to escape by marching through another forest area, with heavy rains continuing. The rain stopped them from using their bows because sinew strings become slack when wet, and left them virtually defenseless as their shields also became waterlogged.

The Romans then began a night march to escape, but marched into another trap that Arminius had set, at the foot of a kill near Osnabrück. There, the sandy, open strip on which the Romans could march easily narrowed at the bottom of the hill. There was a gap of only about 100 m between the woods and the swampland at the edge of the Great Bog. The road was blocked by a trench, and, towards the forest, an earthen wall had been built along the roadside. This let the tribesmen to attack the Romans from cover.

The Romans made a desperate attempt to storm the wall, but failed. The Germanic warriors then stormed the field and slaughtered the Romans; Varus committed suicide.[1]

Around 15,000–20,000 Roman soldiers must have died; not only Varus, but also many of his officers are said to have taken their own lives by falling on their swords in the approved manner.[1] Tacitus wrote that many officers were sacrificed by the Germans as part of their indigenous religious ceremonies, cooked in pots and their bones used for rituals.[8] However, others were ransomed, and some of the common soldiers were enslaved.

The victory over the legions was followed by a clean sweep of all Roman forts, garrisons and cities — of which there were at least two — east of the Rhine. The remaining two Roman legions in Germany were stationed in a fort at Mainz, and commanded by Varus' nephew. They were content to try to hold the Rhine.

Varus's mistakes

  1. Segestes, father of Arminius' wife and opposed to the marriage, warned Varus about Arminius. The night before the Roman forces left, he suggested Varus arrest Arminius and several other Germanic leaders. He must have known they were plotting an uprising. Varus dismissed the advice as motivated by a personal feud.
    Arminius then left saying he would drum up Germanic forces to support the Roman campaign. Instead he led his troops, who must have been waiting close by, in attacks on surrounding Roman garrisons.
  2. Even without this warning, Varus, as a matter of policy, should have been less trusting of Arminius, who turned out to be a double agent.
  3. The choice of a march through the forest was against normal Roman military methods, because both vision and defence are limited in a forest. The march was not done in combat formation.
    Obviously, this route was chosen as a 'short cut', but Varus had no proof that such urgency was really necessary. This was doubly so as the forest caused the line to stretch so far that one part could not support another.
  4. The lack of scouts ('reconnaissance parties') was almost criminal, and would probably have had Varus executed had he not taken his life.
  5. The bad weather was another good reason for caution when going into the forest. The forest was unknown ground to Varus. New routes should always be scouted.

Though we can never know why Varus made these mistakes, his reputation for arrogance and over-confidence suggests he under-estimated the Germans. But all Rome's previous experience, from Caesar onwards, had shown the Germanic tribes as strong in war.

Aftermath

Upon hearing of the defeat, the Emperor Augustus, according to the Roman historian Suetonius in his work De vita Caesarum (On the Life of the Caesars), was so shaken by the news that he stood butting his head against the walls of his palace, repeatedly shouting:

Quintili Vare, legiones redde!“ ('Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!')

The three legion numbers were never used again by the Romans after this defeat, unlike other legions that were restructured - a case unique in Roman history.

The battle ended the period of triumphant Roman expansion that had followed the end of the Civil Wars 40 years earlier. Augustus' stepson Tiberius took effective control, and prepared for the continuation of the war. Three legions were sent to the Rhine to replace the lost legions.

Roman retaliation

[[File:|thumb|140px|The Roman commander Germanicus was the opponent of Arminius in 14–16 AD]] Though their shock at the slaughter was great, the Romans immediately began a slow, systematic process of preparing to reconquer the country. In 14 AD, just after Augustus' death, and the accession of his heir and stepson Tiberius, a huge raid was led by the new emperor's nephew Germanicus.

On a starry night he massacred the Marsi and ravaged their villages with fire and sword. That night the Germans had celebrated; drunk and asleep, they were surprised by Germanicus. The temple of their deity was destroyed.

Several other tribes were roused by this slaughter and ambushed Germanicus on the way to his winter-quarters, but were defeated with heavy losses.[9][10]

The next year was marked by two major campaigns and several smaller battles with a large army estimated at 55,000-70,000 men, backed by naval forces. In spring 15 AD, the legate Caecina Severus invaded the Marsi a second time with 25,000-30,000 men, causing great havoc.

Meanwhile, Germanicus' troops had built a fort on Mount Taunus from where he marched with 30 to 35,000 men against the Chatti (probably a region of villages) and slaughtered children, women and the elderly. The able-bodied men fled across a river and hid themselves in the forests. After this blow Germanicus marched on Mattium and burned the city down.[11][12]

In summer 15 AD, the army visited the site of the first battle. According to Tacitus, they found heaps of bones, and skulls nailed to trees, which they buried, "...looking on all as kinsfolk and of their own blood...". Burial pits with remains fitting this description have been found at Kalkriese Hill.

Under Germanicus, the Romans marched another army, along with allied Germanic soldiers, into Germania again in 16 AD. He was able to fight his way across the Weser near modern Minden, suffering some losses. He forced Arminius' army to stand in open battle at the Weser River. Germanicus's legions inflicted huge casualties on the Germanic armies while sustaining only minor losses.

One final battle was fought at the Angivarian Wall west of modern Hanover, and again many Germanic soldiers were killed, which forced them to flee. In summer 16 AD, Caius Silius marched against the Chatti with 33,000 men. Germanicus invaded the Marsi for a third time and devastated their land.[13]

With his main goals reached and winter coming, Germanicus ordered his army back to their winter camps, with the fleet incurring some damage from a storm in the North Sea. After a few more raids across the Rhine, which resulted in the recovery of two of the three Roman legions' eagles lost in 9 AD, Tiberius ordered the Roman forces to halt and withdraw across the Rhine. Germanicus was recalled to Rome and informed by Tiberius that he would be given a Triumph and be given a new command.[14][15][16]

Germanicus' campaign had been to revenge the defeat at Teutoburg, and also partly in reaction to signs of mutiny amongst his troops.

Arminius, who had been considered a real threat to stability by Rome, was now defeated. Once his allied Germanic coalition had been broken and honour avenged, the huge cost and risk of keeping the Roman army operating beyond the Rhine was simply not worth any likely benefit to be gained.[1]

The last chapter of this story is told by the historian Tacitus. Around 50 AD, bands of Chatti invaded Roman territory and began to plunder (take everthing of value). The Roman commander, with a legionary force supported by Roman cavalry and auxiliaries, attacked the Chatti from both sides and defeated them. Great was the joy when they found Roman prisoners, including some from Varus' legions who had been held by the Chatti for 40 years.[17]

Later German nationalism

The battle,[18] and the histories of Tacitus, had a big effect on 19th century German nationalism. In the 19th century the Germans were still divided into many German states, but they linked themselves with the Germanic tribes as shared ancestors of one "German people".

In 1808, the German author Heinrich von Kleist's play Die Hermannsschlacht aroused anti-Napoleonic sentiment, even though it could not be performed under French occupation.

Later, the figure of Arminius was used to represent the ideals of freedom and unification — as supported by German liberals, and opposed by reactionary rulers. A memorial — the Hermannsdenkmal — was begun during this period, and Arminius became a symbol of Pan-Germanism. The monument remained unfinished for decades, until after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 unified the country. The completed monument was then a symbol of conservative German nationalism.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Fergus M. Bordewich 2005. "The ambush that changed history" in Smithsonian Magazine, September 2005, pp. 74–81. [1]
  2. after Augustus, Tiberius and Germanicus.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Publius Quinctilius Varus (46 BC--9 AD)". www.livius.org. 2010-09. http://www.livius.org/q/quinctilius/varus.html. 
  4. Ancient Library: Drusus [2]
  5. "Germans under Arminius revolt against Rome". Edward Shepherd Creasy, The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol. 2. 1905. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Great_Events_by_Famous_Historians,_Vol._2/Germans_under_Arminius_revolt_against_Rome. 
  6. Livius: Legio XVII [3]
  7. Spilsbury, Julian Great Military Disasters UK: Quercus ISBN 9781848660397 
  8. Tacitus, Annals, I.61
  9. Tacitus, Annals, I.50
  10. Tacitus, Annals, I.51
  11. Matthew Bunson: A Dictionary of the Roman Empire. Oxford University Press US 1995, ISBN 0195102339, p83
  12. Tacitus, Annals, I.56
  13. Tacitus, Annals, II.25
  14. Tacitus, Annals, II.26
  15. An image of a coin of Germanicus with a recovered standard can be seen at http://www.livius.org/le-lh/legio/xvii.html
  16. Tacitus: [4] Annals: Book 2 {Chapter 32}
  17. Tacitus, Annals, XII.27
  18. which is called Schlacht im Teutoburger Wald, Varusschlacht or Hermannsschlacht in German
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