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The battle of Teutoberg Forest

July 14, 2009

It’s always fascinating to come upon largely forgotten events of history that have ramifications for all history. The outcome of this battle (and the ‘Germanic Wars’ more generally), were pivotal in the preservation of Germanic, or “Aryan” bloodlines for millenia to come. The Romanized world was a polyglot of race and cultures, but that Rome never conquered Germania may have been a large factor in why the Aryans became such a fixture in Europe since those times. Ethnic Germans went on to colonize Scandinavia and eventually Britain as the “Anglo-Saxons”. And from here, accompanying the rise of Imperialism in Europe, the Aryan race was disbursed around the globe, to the New World, Australia, and beyond.

Ancient historians such as Dio Cassius and Tacitus chronicled the Germanic Wars but much is not known. For instance, Tacitus’ Annals gave only hints as to the actual battle site. Annals was written perhaps 200 years after the fact.

Historian Jonas Lendering has a huge collection of articles on the ancient world at Livius.org. Lendering describes how in 1806 “Teutoburger Bald” returned to the German national consciousness with Napoleon’s defeat of some western German states:

In the nineteenth century, the battle became a powerful national symbol. In 1806, the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte decisively beat the armies of the German states. The humiliation was too big for the Germans, who started to look to the battle in the Teutoburg Forest as their finest hour. As Napoleon spoke a romanic language and presented himself as a Roman emperor, it was easy for the Germans to remind each other that they had once before defeated the welschen Erbfeind – an untranslatable expression that refers to the Latin speaking archenemies of Germany. The Teutoburg Forest became the symbol of the eternal opposition between the overcivilised and decadent Latin and the creative and vital Germanic people, between old France and new Germany.

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Here’s a history of the Battle of Teutoberg Forest according to World Wizzy (a Wikipedia mirror) online Encyclopedia:

Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
Part of the Roman-Germanic wars
Image:Blick-über-den-Teutoburger-Wald1.jpg
Date September, AD 9
Location Lower Saxony
Result Decisive Germanic victory
Combatants
Germanic tribes (Cherusci, Marsi, Chatti, Bructeri and Chauci) Roman Empire
Commanders
Arminius Publius Quinctilius Varus
Strength
Unknown, but probably 18,000 3 Roman legions,
3 alae and
6 auxiliary cohorts, probably 24,000
Casualties
Unknown, maybe 7,000 About 23,000
Germanic Wars
NoreiaArausioAquae SextiaeVercellaeLupia RiverTeutoburg ForestWeser River

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (Schlacht im Teutoburger Wald, Varusschlacht, Hermannsschlacht) took place in the year 9 when an alliance of Germanic tribes led by Arminius (Irmin, since the 16th century known in German as Hermann), the son of Segimer of the Cherusci, ambushed and wiped out three Roman legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus.

The outcome of the battle established the Rhine as the boundary of the Roman Empire for the next few hundred years, until the decline of the Roman influence in the West. The Roman Empire never was able to conquer Germania, although many attempts were made.

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[edit] Background

The Roman force was led by Publius Quinctilius Varus, a noble from an old family, a diplomat who had been named the governor of the new province of Germania in 7.

His 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 expected to be an ally of Rome and behaved accordingly towards Varus. In secret, he forged an alliance of Germanic tribes that had traditionally been enemies (the Cherusci, Marsi, Chatti, and Bructeri), but which he was able to unite due to outrage over Varus’ arrogant style of governing the nascent province.

While Varus was on his way from his summer camp 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 unknown to the Romans. Arminius, who accompanied Varus, most likely directed him deliberately to a route that would facilitate an ambush. He then left under the pretext of contacting Roman allies, to meet his own troops who must have been waiting in the vicinity.

[edit] The Battle

Varus’s force was made up of three legions (Legio XVII, Legio XVIII, and Legio XIX), plus six cohorts and three squadrons of allied cavalry (alae).<ref>The three legion numbers were never used again by the Romans after this defeat, unlike other legions that were restructured.</ref>

The Roman force appears to have been poorly organised during the difficult march, and as they passed into a forest they found the track narrow and marshy; according to Dio Cassius a violent storm had also arisen. He also writes that Varus omitted to send out advance reconnaissance parties.

In passing through the forests, the Roman forces had to give up their usual formations, and the line of march stretched out perilously long, probably over 20 kilometers. The Germanic tribesmen attacked repeatedly over two or three days (although some scholars suggest the battle took only a few hours). Arminius knew Roman tactics very well and could direct his troops to counter them effectively, using local superior numbers against the spread-out Roman legions. The remaining Romans stood their ground and managed to erect two fortified night camps, but as the rains continued in the ensuing assault they were slaughtered almost to the last man, according to Velleius Paterculus. The torrential rain prevented them from using using their bows (and arrows), rendering them virtually defenceless. Tacitus wrote that the legionaries not killed in the battle were burnt to death in wicker cages.

Around 20,000 Roman soldiers died; Varus and his officers are said to have taken their own lives by falling on their swords in the approved manner.

[edit] Aftermath

Upon hearing of the defeat, the emperor Augustus, according to Roman author and historian Suetonius in his book Lives of the Twelve Caesars, shouted “Quintili Vare, legiones redde!” (‘Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!’) Some authors misquote this as “give me back my eagles”; see I Claudius, by Robert Graves.

Though the shock of the slaughter was enormous, the Romans did not give up their plans to subdue the Germanic tribes during the next years. In 14, they sent in a large army (estimated at 50,000 men), backed up by vast naval forces under the command of Germanicus, to what is now northern Germany. However, they failed to break up the Germanic coalition. <ref>Whether or not this battle alone caused Augustus to give up his plans for the conquest of Germany remains a classical issue. The orders actually given to Germanicus are not known and the statement by Tacitus on the subject in Annales 1.3 is less than decisive. Tacitus says that Germanicus was there more to punish the Germans rather than extend the empire. </ref> Tacitus says that a Roman detachment under Germanicus was the first to reconnoiter the site of the 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”.

In 16, Emperor Tiberius decided to stop all operations against the Germanic tribes mainly due to the enormous costs.

Nevertheless the battle was an important milestone in the Roman attempt of taking Germania which seriously started in 14 BC by Drusus. This had long term historical consequences as it set the boundary between Romance languages and Germanic languages.

Due to the actual nature of the battle, and the scarcity of Roman survivors, it has long been realised that contemporary reports are almost all hearsay.

[edit] Roman retaliation

Germanicus was appointed commander of the Roman forces in Germania in 14 AD, and defeated an alliance of Germanic tribes commanded by Arminius in the Battle of the Weser River in 16 AD. In the process, two eagle standards of the legions that were annihilated seven years earlier were recovered by Germanicus-his subordinate Lucius Stertinius recovered the Legio XIX Eagle from the Bructeri in 15 AD; the hiding place of the second eagle was told to Germanicus from the captured leader of the Marsi {Tacitus: Annals: Book 2 {Chapter 32 in this version}after the Battle of the Weser River in 16 AD.

The third standard was recovered in 42 AD by Publius Gabinius from the Chauci during the reign of Germanicus brother Claudius, 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{Mars Ultor}), the ruins of which stand today in the Forum of Augustus by the Via dei Fori Imperiali in Rome.

The last punctuation mark on the story of the battle was placed by the historian, Tacitus, in Annales (xii.27). In about the year 50, bands of Chatti crossed the Rhine into the territory of the Ubii in Germania Superior, which they began to plunder. Alerted, the Roman commander, Lucius Pomponius, raised a force from the Vangiones and Nemetes supported by Roman cavalry. They fell upon the open camps of the sleeping Chatti by night, slaughtered them, and joyfully found that they were liberating some of the men of Varus’ legions, who had been held in slavery for 40 years. Whether one believes the story or not, there is no other evidence.

[edit] The Detmold memorial

Main article: Hermannsdenkmal.

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 a of Pan Germanism. In 1808 the German Heinrich von Kleist‘s play Die Hermannsschlacht aroused anti-Napoleonic sentiment, even though it could not be performed under occupation.

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; similar statues also exist outside of Germany in German-founded communities including one in New Ulm, Minnesota.

In 1847, Josef Viktor von Scheffel wrote a lengthy song, “Als die Römer frech geworden” (“When the Romans started to misbehave”), 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.

[edit] Site of the battle

For almost 2,000 years, no one knew for certain where the battle took place. The main hint as to its location was an allusion to the saltus Teutoburgiensis in section i.60-62 of Tacitus’s Annals.

During the 19th century, theories about the true site of the battle abounded, and the followers of a particular popular theory even managed to have the region around their chosen site south of Osnabrück in the state of Lower Saxony renamed Teutoburg Forest in popular usage; the monument was erected there, at Detmold.

However, late 20th-century research and excavations, among them freshly-minted coins no later than the reign of Augustus, and the discovery of some ovoid leaden Roman sling shot by a British amateur archaeologist, off-duty Major Tony Clunn, who was casually prospecting with a metal detector in hopes of finding “the odd Roman coin”, led to the discovery of what is now perceived to be the actual site of the battle. It is located at Kalkriese (part of the city Bramsche), at the fringes of the Wiehengebirge hills north of Osnabrück, some 50 km from Detmold, the site preferred by 19th-century historian Theodor Mommsen.

While the initial excavations were done by the archaeological team of the Kulturhistorisches Museum Osnabrück under the direction of Prof. Wolfgang Schlüter, after the dimensions of the project became apparent, a new foundation was created to organize future excavations, erect and run a new museum on the site, and centralise publicity work and documentation. Since 1990 the excavations have been directed by Susanne Wilbers-Rost.

The Varusschlacht Museum (“Varus’ Battle Museum”) and Park Kalkriese include 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 allows visitors to get an overview of the battle site. Most of the indoor exhibits are housed in the tower. 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 in flight, spearheads, a Roman equestrian’s ceremonial silver face-mask. Coins minted with the legend VAR, distributed by Varus, clinch the identification of the site. 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 scale the defense. Human remains found here appear to corroborate Tacitus’ account of their later burial. (Smithsonian, p 81)

[edit] 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, makes much more likely as a literary re-imagining of the battle than as a reliable historical record.

[edit] Portrayal in fiction

The battle and its aftermath are featured in both the novel and miniseries, I, Claudius.

A movie, named: “Die Hermannsschlacht” / “The Hermann Battle” (Hermann is the popular German name of Arminius) was realized between 1993 and 1995. The first public screening of this work took place in Düsseldorf in May 1995. In 1996 the opus was honoured by an international jury in Kiel, where it was presented during an archeological film-festival. “The Hermann Battle” was successfully shown in arthouse-cinemas in the whole of Germany. Since 2005 a DVD with bonus tracks and recently filmed documetary footage is also available. The actors speak German and Latin, with German subtitles. Famous British 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 accurate depiction of the historical battle. The scenario is difficult due to the fact that the Roman troops are heavily outnumbered, not due to the superior Germanic strategy.

[edit] Notes

<references/>

[edit] References

  • Adrian Murdoch, Rome’s Greatest Defeat: Massacre in the Teutoburg Forest, Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 2006, ISBN 0-7509-4015-8 (review)
  • 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, but extremely weak on the ancient sources)
  • Fergus M. Bordewich, “The ambush that changed history” in Smithsonian Magazine, September 2005, pp. 74–81.

[edit] External links

<span id=”de” style=”display:none;” /> <span id=”ca” style=”display:none;” />

ca:Batalla del bosc de Teutoburg cs:Bitva v Teutoburském lese da:Varusslaget de:Varusschlacht es:Batalla del bosque de Teutoburgo eo:Batalo de Varus fr:Bataille de Teutoburg gl:Batalla da fraga de Teutoburgo hr:Bitka kod Teutoburške šume io:Teutoburg-batalio it:Battaglia della foresta di Teutoburgo he:קרב יער טאוטובורג nl:Slag bij het Teutoburgerwoud ja:トイトブルクの戦い pl:Bitwa w Lesie Teutoburskim pt:Batalha da Floresta de Teutoburgo sk:Bitka v Teutoburskom lese fi:Teutoburgin taistelu sv:Slaget vid Teutoburger Wald

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