Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
Part of the Roman-Germanic wars
Epitaph des Marcus Caelius.JPG
Cenotaph of Marcus Caelius, 1st centurion of XVIII, who "fell in the war of Varus" (bello Variano)
Reconstructed inscription: "To Marcus Caelius, son of Titus, of the Lemonian district, from Bologna, first centurion of the eighteenth legion. 53½ years old. He fell in the Varian War. His bones may be interred here. Publius Caelius, son of Titus, of the Lemonian district, his brother, erected (this monument)."[1]
Date September, 9 CE. Exact date unknowable.
Location Osnabrück County, Lower Saxony
Result Decisive Germanic victory
Roman Empire's strategic withdrawal from Magna Germania
Germanic tribes (Cherusci, Marsi, Chatti, Bructeri, Chauci and Sicambri). Roman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Arminius Publius Quinctilius Varus
Unknown, but estimates range from 12,000 - 32,000 20,000 - max. 36,000:
3 Roman legions (XVII, XVIII/XIIX, and XIX/XVIIII),
3 alae and
6 auxiliary cohorts
Casualties and losses
unknown 20,000 dead[2][3]
several enslaved

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (described as clades Variana, the Varian disaster by Roman historians) (German: Schlacht im Teutoburger Wald, Hermannsschlacht or Varusschlacht) took place in 9 CE, when an alliance of Germanic tribes led by Arminius of the Cherusci ambushed and annihilated three Roman legions, along with their auxiliaries, led by Publius Quinctilius Varus.

Despite numerous successful campaigns and raids by the Roman army over the Rhine in the years after the battle, the Romans were to make no more concerted attempts to conquer and permanently hold Germania beyond the river.



Invasions of Drusus I 12–8 BCE
Invasions of Tiberius and Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus ca. 3 BCE-6 CE

The Roman force was led by Publius Quinctilius Varus, a noble from a patrician family[4] related to the Imperial family[5] and an experienced administrative official, who was assigned to consolidate the new province of Germania in the autumn of 6 CE.[4] In early 6 CE, before Varus was commander on the Rhine, it was Legatus Gaius Sentius Saturninus[6][7] and Consul Legatus Marcus Aemilius Lepidus under Tiberius who led an army of 65,000 heavy infantry legionaries, 10,000–20,000 cavalrymen, archers, 10,000–20,000 civilians (13 legions & entourage, probably about 100,000+ men) and was planning a major attack on Maroboduus,[4][8] the king of the Marcomanni, a tribe of the Suebi who had fled the attacks of Drusus I in 9 BCE into the territory of the Boii, where they formed a powerful tribal alliance with the Hermunduri, Quadi, Semnones, Lugians, Zumi, Butones, Mugilones, Sibini and Langobards.[9]

In 4 CE, Tiberius entered Germania and subjugated the Cananefates in Germania Inferior, the Chatti near the upper Weser River, and the Bructeri south of the Teutoburg Forest and led his army across the Weser. But in 6 CE a major rebellion broke out in the province of Illyricum (later divided into Pannonia and Dalmatia). Led by Bato the Daesitiate,[10] Bato the Breucian,[11] Pinnes of Pannonia,[12] and elements of the Marcomanni[citation needed] and known as the Bellum Batonianum, it lasted nearly 4 years. Tiberius was forced to stop his campaign against Maroboduus and recognize him as king[13] and to send his eight legions (VIII Augustan, XV Apollonian, XX Victorious Valerian, XXI Predator, XIII Twin, XIV Twin, XVI Gallic and an unknown unit[14]) to crush the rebellion in the Balkans.

Nearly half of all Roman legions had to be pulled together to end the revolt, which was triggered by neglect, endemic food shortages (since 22 BCE, following a political crisis in 23 BCE[15] and riots in 22, 21 and 19 BCE,[16] ended after 8 CE[17]), high taxes and harsh behavior of the tax collectors. This campaign, led by Tiberius and Quaestor Legatus Germanicus under Emperor Augustus, was one of the hardest and most critical for the Roman Empire. During the start of the rebellion in the southern part of Illyricum, Varus was named Legatus Augusti pro praetore and had only three legions available.

Varus' name and deeds were well known beyond the borders of the empire because of his ruthlessness and crucifixion of insurgents. The people of the provinces feared his punishment and rumors of his arrival on the Rhine spread like wildfire.[according to whom?] While feared by the people, he was highly respected by the Roman senate. He was probably the fourth most important person of his time after Augustus, Tiberius and Germanicus. On the Rhine (probably camp castra Vetera near Xanten or castra Novaesium near Neuss) he was in command of the legions XVII, XVIII (also XIIX[18]) and XIX (also XVIIII[18]), previously led by General Gaius Sentius Saturninus, who was sent back to Rome and had been given an ornamenta triumphalia.[19] The other 2 legions in the winter-quarters of the army at castrum Moguntiacum[20] (I Germanica, V Larks ) were led by Varus' nephew Second consul Lucius Nonius Asprenas[14] and perhaps Second consul Lucius Arruntius.

Varus' opponent, Arminius, was handed over to the Romans along with his brother Flavus,[21][22] as tribute by his father and chieftain of the noblest house in the tribe of the Cherusci, Segimerus[23] the Conqueror,[24] as result of the attacks of Drusus I in 11–9 BCE. Arminius had lived in Rome as a hostage in his youth, where he had received a military education, and even been given the rank of Equestrian.

During his absence Segimerus was declared a coward by other Germanic chieftains because he had bowed down to Roman rule[citation needed] – a crime punishable by death under Germanic law. Between 11 BCE and 4 CE the hostility and suspicion between the Germanic tribes deepened. Trade and politics between the Germanic warlords deteriorated. According to German philologist Maximilian Ihm (1863–1909), Tacitus writes that the Chatti were hostile and subjugated the Cherusci but were "pacified" between 4 and 6 CE.[25] According to Encyclopædia Britannica, the Cherusci were defeated by the Chatti but this also gives no date.[26] Velleius Paterculus reported that in the years 1–4 CE there was unrest in Germania (immensum bellum, immense war).[27]

After his return from Rome Arminius became a trusted advisor to Varus.[28] But in secret he forged an alliance of Germanic tribes that had traditionally been enemies (the Cherusci,[4] Marsi,[4] Chatti,[4] Bructeri,[4] Chauci, Sicambri, and remaining elements of the Suebi, who had been defeated by Caesar in the Battle of Vosges), but whom he was able to unite due to outrage over Varus' tyrannous insolence and wanton cruelty to the conquered[20] and who had hitherto submitted in sullen hatred to the Roman dominion.[29]

The Teutoburg Forest on a foggy and rainy day.

"... 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 somewhere west of the Weser river to the winter headquarters near the Rhine, he heard reports of a local rebellion, fabricated by Arminius.[8] (Despite recent finds indicating a Roman presence near the modern city of Minden, its location remains disputed;[28] other sites near Minden or Rinteln have been suggested by the historian Hans Delbrück (1848–1929) and the military writer Kurt Pastenaci (1894–1961), respectively.)

"... 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

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.[8] Another Cheruscan nobleman, Segestes, brother of Segimerus, father of Arminius' wife,[24][30] 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.[4] 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.


Germanic warriors storm the field, Varusschlacht, 1909

Varus' forces included three legions (Legio XVII, Legio XVIII, and Legio XIX), six cohorts of auxiliary troops (non-citizens or allied troops) 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 (9.3 mi), and was perhaps as long as 20 km (12 mi).[28] It was then suddenly attacked by Germanic warriors armed with light swords, large lances and narrow-bladed short spears called fremae. The Germanic warriors surrounded the entire Roman army and rained down javelins on the intruders.[31] Arminius, who had grown up in Rome as a citizen and become a Roman soldier, understood Roman tactics very well and could direct his troops to counter them effectively, using locally superior numbers against the dispersed 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.

View from Hermannsdenkmal to northwest, saltus Teutoburgiensis

The Romans then undertook a night march to escape, but marched 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, Legatus 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.[28] Velleius reports that one commander, Praefectus Ceionius, shamefully surrendered and later took his own life,[32] while his colleague Praefectus 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.[28] 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.[33] However, others were ransomed, and some of the common soldiers appear to have been enslaved.

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

All Roman accounts stress the completeness of the Roman defeat. 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 would seem to indicate minimal Germanic losses. However it must be taken into account that the Germanic victors would have removed the bodies of their fallen, and their practice of burying their own dead warriors' battle gear with them must have contributed to the lack of Germanic relics. Additionally, several thousand Germanic soldiers were deserting militiamen who wore Roman armour (which would thus show up as "Roman" in the archaeological digs); and in fact the Germanic tribes wore less metal and more perishable organic material.

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.


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 except for the XXII Deiotariana legion, which may have been disbanded after heavy losses against the Jewish rebels in the Bar Kokba revolt (132–136) in Israel.

The battle abruptly 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. Legio II Augusta, XX Valeria Victrix, and XIII Gemina were sent to the Rhine to replace the lost legions.

Arminius immediately sent Varus' severed head to Maroboduus, king of the Marcomanni, the other most powerful Germanic ruler with the offer of an anti-Roman alliance. Maroboduus declined the offer, sending 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.[34]

Roman retaliation

Germanicus' campaign against the Germans

The Roman commander Germanicus was the opponent of Arminius in 14–16 CE

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 14 CE, 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. He attacked the Marsi in a surprise attack. The Bructeri, Tubanti, and Usipeti were roused by the attack and ambushed Germanicus on the way to the winter-quarters, but were defeated with heavy losses.[35][36]

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 CE, Legatus Caecina Severus invaded the Marsi a second time with about 25,000–30,000 men, causing great havoc. Meanwhile, Germanicus' troops had built a fort on Mount Taunus from where he marched with about 30,000–35,000 men against the Chatti. Many of the men fled across a river and dispersed themselves in the forests. Germanicus next marched on Mattium and burned the city down.[37][38] After initial successful skirmishes in summer 15 CE, including the capture of Arminius' wife Thusnelda,[39] 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...".

Under Germanicus, the Romans marched another army, along with allied Germanic auxiliaries, into Germania again in 16 CE. He forced a crossing of the Weser near modern Minden, suffering some losses to a Germanic skirmishing force, and forced Arminius' army to stand in open battle at Idistaviso in the Battle of the Weser River. Germanicus' legions inflicted huge casualties on the allied 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. In summer 16 CE, Caius Silius marched against the Chatti with 33,000 men. Germanicus invaded the Marsi the third time and devastated their land.[40]

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. After a few more raids across the Rhine, which resulted in the recovery of two of the three legions' eagles lost in 9 CE,[41] 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 reassigned to a new command.[42][43][44]

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.[28]

Later campaigns

The third legionary standard was recovered in 41 CE 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 Mars Ultor ("Mars the Avenger"), 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 50 CE, 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.[45]

Impact on Roman expansion

Germanic situation c. 50 CE

From the time of the rediscovery of Roman sources in the 15th century, the Battle of the 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.

However, more recently, scholars have begun to question this interpretation and have pointed out reasons why the Rhine was a much more practical boundary for the Roman Empire than any other river in Germania.[46] Logistically, armies on the Rhine could be supplied from the Mediterranean via the Rhone 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 fewer 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, and there were practical reasons to fall back from the limits of Augustus' expansionism in this region.

After Arminius was finally defeated and dead, Rome would try to control Germania east of the Rhine and north of the Danube indirectly, by appointing client kings. So Italicus, a nephew of Arminius, was appointed king of the Cherusci; Vangio and Sido became vassal princes of the powerful Suebi, and so on.[47] [48]

Site of the battle

Lower Saxony Bergland
The archeological site at Kalkriese hill
Schleuderblei (Sling ammo) found by Major Tony Clunn in Summer 1988, sparked new excavations[49]
The Roman ceremonial face mask found at Kalkriese

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' 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, a name that remains today despite later discoveries proving its inappropriateness, and became the site of the Detmold Memorial.

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.

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.[50] 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 CE. This theory is, however, in contradiction to Tacitus' account.

A 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.[51]

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.

The battle, or more specifically, a Jewish student's report about the battle, is a central aspect of Die Geschwister Oppermann (The Oppermanns), a 1933 novel by Lion Feuchtwanger.

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 71 CE. 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 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' death twelve years later, using subsequent German myth from Siegfried to the Thousand Year Reich as a filter.

German nationalism

The Hermannsdenkmal ca. 1900

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, now known as "Hermann" (a mistranslation of the name "Armin" which has often been incorrectly attributed to 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, when 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 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 invading Romans who were destined for defeat.

As a symbol of unified Romantic nationalism, the Hermannsdenkmal (Hermann's monument), a statue was erected in a forested area near Detmold which was believed at that time to be the site of the battle. Paid for largely out of private funds, the monument remained unfinished for decades and was not completed until 1875, 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, which was erected by the Sons of Hermann, a support organization for German immigrants to the United States. Hermann, Missouri, USA, claims Hermann (Arminius) as its namesake and a third statue of Hermann was dedicated there in a ceremony on 24 September 24 2009, celebrating the 2,000th anniversary of the battle in the Teutoburg Forest.

However, in Germany itself, where since the end of World War II there has been a strong aversion to celebrating the country's militaristic past, widespread celebration of the battle's 2,000th anniversary was avoided.[52]

Paintings of the 19th century


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.

21st century

  • 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]
  • Wilm Brepohl, Neue Überlegungen zur Varusschlacht. Aschendorff, Münster 2004, ISBN 3-402-03502-2 (German) (Reconsidering the Varus Battle.)
  • 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.
  • Boris Dreyer, Arminius und der Untergang des Varus. Warum die Germanen keine Römer wurden. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-608-94510-2 (German) (Arminius and the downfall of Varus. Why the Teutons did not become Romans.)
  • Adrian Goldsworthy, In The Name of Rome: The Men Who Won The Roman Empire. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2004.
  • Joachim Harnecker, Arminius, Varus und das Schlachtfeld von Kalkriese. Eine Einführung in die archäologischen Arbeiten und ihre Ergebnisse. 2nd ed. Rasch, Bramsche 2002 ISBN 3-934005-40-3 (German) (Arminius, Varus and the battlefield of Kalkriese. An introduction to the archaeological work and its results.)
  • Ralf Günter Jahn, Der Römisch-Germanische Krieg (9–16 n. Chr.). Dissertation, Bonn 2001 (German) (The Roman-Germanic war (9–16 CE).)
  • Johann-Sebastian Kühlborn, "Auf dem Marsch in die Germania Magna. Roms Krieg gegen die Germanen". In: Martin Müller, Hans-Joahim Schalles und Norbert Zieling (Eds.), Colonia Ulpia Traiana. Xanten und sein Umland in römischer Zeit. Zabern, Mainz 2008, ISBN 978-3-8053-3953-7, S. 67–91. (German) ("On the march into Germania Magna. Rome's war against the Germanic tribes".)
  • Fabian Link, Die Zeitdetektive. Die Falle im Teutoburger Wald: Ein Krimi aus der Römerzeit. Ravensburger, 2010, ISBN 978-3473345359. (German) (The time detectives. The events in the Teutoburg Forest: a crime story of Roman times.) (youth fiction)
  • Ralf-Peter Märtin, Die Varusschlacht. Rom und die Germanen. S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2008, ISBN 978-3-10-050612-2 (German) (The Varus Battle. Rome and the Germanic tribes.)
  • Günther Moosbauer, Die Varusschlacht. Beck'sche Reihe, Verlag C. H. Beck Wissen, München 2009, ISBN 978-3-406-56257-0 (German) (The Varus Battle.)
  • 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. (Polish) Bellona, Warszawa, 2005.
  • Michael Sommer, Die Arminiusschlacht. Spurensuche im Teutoburger Wald. Stuttgart 2009 (German) (The Arminius Battle. Search for traces in the Teutoburg Forest.)
  • Dieter Timpe, Römisch-germanische Begegnung in der späten Republik und frühen Kaiserzeit. Voraussetzungen – Konfrontationen – Wirkungen. Gesammelte Studien. Saur, München & Leipzig, 2006, ISBN 3-598-77845-7 (German) (Roman-Germanic encounter in the late Republic and early Empire. Conditions – Confrontations – Effects. Collected Studies.)
  • 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[citation needed] "Florus"-based theory.
  • Peter Oppitz, Das Geheimnis der Varusschlacht. Zadara-Verlag, 2006, ISBN 3-00-019973-X (German) (The mystery of the Varus Battle.) Paderborn would have been the site of the battle.
  • Rainer Wiegels (Ed.), Die Varusschlacht. Wendepunkt der Geschichte? Theiss, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-8062-1760-5 (German) (The Varus Battle. Turning point of history?)
  • Reinhard Wolters, Die Römer in Germanien. 5th ed. Verlag C.H. Beck, München 2006, ISBN 3-406-44736-8 (German) (The Romans in Germania.)
  • Reinhard Wolters, Die Schlacht im Teutoburger Wald. Arminius, Varus und das römische Germanien. München 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-57674-4 (German) (The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Arminius, Varus and Roman Germania.)

20th century

  • Gesa von Essen, Hermannsschlachten. Germanen- und Römerbilder in der Literatur des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts. Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen 1998, ISBN 3-89244-312-2 (German) (Hermann Battles. Images of Teutons and Romans in the literature of the 18th and 19th centuries.)
  • Wolfgang Schlüter (Ed.), Römer im Osnabrücker Land. Die archäologischen Untersuchungen in der Kalkrieser-Niewedder Senke. Rasch, Bramsche 1991, ISBN 3-922469-57-4 (German) (Romans in the Osnabrück District. The archaeological excavations in the Kalkriese-Niewedde depression.)

19th century


See also

Mjollnir icon.png Ancient Germanic culture portal


  1. ^ "Marcus Caelius". 2010-09. 
  2. ^ Wells, Peter S. The Battle that stopped Rome. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2003, p. 187 ISBN 0-393-32643-8
  3. ^ Kevin Sweeney, Scholars look at factors surrounding Hermann’s victory.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "Publius Quinctilius Varus (46 BCE – 9 CE)". 2010-09. 
  5. ^ Tacitus, Annals, IV.66
  6. ^ Velleius 2,195.
  7. ^ Velleius 2,109.
  8. ^ a b c "Legio XVII". 2010-09. 
  9. ^ Strabo 7, 1, 3; Velleius 2, 108, 2; 2, 109, 2f.; Tacitus, Annals, II.45
  10. ^ Wilkes, J. J. The Illyrians, 1992, p. 216, ISBN 0631198075. "Further east the formidable Daesitiates of central Bosnia retained their name. The great rebellion of All 6 had been led by their chief Bato, and their relatively low total of 103 decuriae likely reflects..."
  11. ^ Wilkes, J. J. The Illyrians, 1992, p. 207, ISBN 0631198075. "The rising began among the Daesitiates of central Bosnia under their leader Bato but they were soon joined by the Breuci. The four-year war which lasted..."
  12. ^ The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. 10: The Augustan Empire, 43 BC-AD 69 (Volume 10) by Alan Bowman, Edward Champlin, and Andrew Lintott,1996,page 176: "... Daesitiates was soon matched by rebellion of the Breuci in Pannonia, headed by Pinnes and another Bato. ..."
  13. ^ Velleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History 2, 109, 5; Cassius Dio, Roman History 55, 28, 6–7
  14. ^ a b "Legio V Alaudae". 2010-09. 
  15. ^ Eck (2003), 55.
  16. ^ Dio 54.1, 6, 10.
  17. ^ Eck (2003), 78.
  18. ^ a b Boyne, William (1968). A manual of Roman coins. p. 13. 
  19. ^ Velleius 2,105.
  20. ^ a b "Drusus in Ancient Library". Ancient Library. 2010-09. 
  21. ^ Tacitus Annals, II.9
  22. ^ Tacitus, Annals, XI.16
  23. ^ Velleius 2,118.
  24. ^ a b "Segimerus in Ancient Library". Ancient Library. 2010-09. 
  25. ^ Several examples by Max Ihm, s. v. "Cheruski", in: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (RE) III.2, Stuttgart 1899, cols. 2270–2272. (German))
  26. ^ "Chatti in Encyclopædia Britannica". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010-09. 
  27. ^ Velleius Paterculus 2, 104,2
  28. ^ a b c d e f "The Ambush That Changed History". Fergus M. Bordewich, Smithsonian Magazine. 2005-09. Retrieved 2008-10-17. 
  29. ^ "Germans under Arminius Revolt Against Rome". Edward Shepherd Creasy, The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol. 2. 1905.,_Vol._2/Germans_under_Arminius_Revolt_Against_Rome. 
  30. ^ Tacitus, Annals, I.71
  31. ^ Spilsbury, Julian Great Military Disasters UK: Quercus ISBN 9781848660397 
  32. ^ Marcus Velleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History, II. 119.
  33. ^ Tacitus, Annals, I.61
  34. ^ Velleius 2,119,5.
  35. ^ Tacitus, Annals, I.50
  36. ^ Tacitus, Annals, I.51
  37. ^ Matthew Bunson: A Dictionary of the Roman Empire. Oxford University Press US 1995, ISBN 0195102339, p.83
  38. ^ Tacitus, Annals, I.56
  39. ^ Tacitus, Annals, I.57
  40. ^ Tacitus, Annals, II.25
  41. ^ One Legion Eagle was recovered from the Marsi in 14 CE; the Legion XIX Eagle was recovered from the Bructeri in 15 CE
  42. ^ Tacitus, Annals, II.26
  43. ^ An image of a coin of Germanicus with a recovered standard can be seen at
  44. ^ Tacitus: [1] Annals: Book 2 {Chapter 32}
  45. ^ Tacitus, Annals, XII.27
  46. ^ Heather, Peter(2006). The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians.
  47. ^ Tacitus, Book 12, 27–31: Text in Latin and English at Sacred Texts
  48. ^ Germania, UNRV History
  49. ^ Wolfgang Schlüter: Zwischen Lutherdamm und Oberesch – Die Anfänge des Kalkriese-Projektes. In: Varus-Gesellschaft (Ed.): Varus-Kurier. Georgsmarienhütte, April 2002. pp. 7 ff. (German)
  50. ^ Smithsonian, p 81.
  51. ^ Das Geheimnis der Varuschlacht, Kelkheim, Germany: Zagara-Verlag, 2006 (German)
  52. ^ David Crossland, "Battle of the Teutoburg Forest: Germany Recalls Myth That Created the Nation", Der Spiegel 28 August 2009.
  53. ^ "Sendung mit der Maus spielt Varusschlacht nach" Rheinische Post, official website. (June 23, 2005) Retrieved November 2, 2010 (German)

External links

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