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The Battle of Teutoburg Forest (9 AD)

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The year my ancestors reclaimed their homeland

Teutoburg Forest - The battle that stopped the Roman Empire

Arminius (18/17 BC – AD 21) was a chieftain of the Germanic Cherusci tribe who famously led an allied coalition of Germanic tribes to a decisive victory against three Roman legions in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD. An auxiliary lieutenant to the Roman general Publius Quinctilius Varus, Arminius used his knowledge of Roman tactics to ambush and destroy the legions.

Arminius 2.jpg

Arminius

The German tribes' victory against the Roman legions in the Teutoburg forest had a far-reaching effect on the subsequent history of both the ancient Germanic peoples and on the Roman Empire. The Romans were to make no more concerted attempts to conquer and permanently hold Germania beyond the river Rhine. Modern historians have regarded Arminius's victory as "Rome's greatest defeat" and one of the most decisive battles in history.

Herbst im Teutoburgerwald (Tb Forest in Autum).jpg

Herbst im Teutoburgerwald

In September, 9 A.D, Publius Quinctilius Varus led three Roman legions through the Teutoburg Forest from the Weser River towards their more permanent bases along the Rhine. 20,000 soldiers accompanied by 10,000 others, mostly women, but also traders, medicians, and slaves. Roman General Varus as a representative of Romans hoped to expand Roman power, Roman law, and Roman culture on the north of Europe. The conditions presented heavy rains and dense fog in an already thickly wooded forest, which in addition to the narrow trails prevented the Romans from marching in standard battle formations. On this day, Varus led his legions through this unknown territory of densely forested terrain to investigate supposed uprisings among local German tribes, a mistake that he would eventually pay dearly for.

Teutoburg Forest Map.jpg

Teutoburg Forest route taken by Varus
 

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Varus had an extensive reputation for cruelty and ruthlessness towards Germanic culture and peoples. He was highly revered by the Roman senate and subsequently feared by the Germans, showing incredible arrogance towards the Germans and pursuing heavy taxation policies that threatened the decentralized form of government they practiced. An esteemed military leader, his army boasted 15,000 experienced legionnaires, and he led three legions known as the 17th, 18th, and 19th legions that were supplemented by German allied troops including Arminius, the son of a Cheruscan chief who was trained as a military commander serving under Varus’ command. He felt safe and sure, as he trusted advises of his Germanic friend, Arminius. Arminius, born in 18 or 17 BC, had obtained Roman citizenship as well as the status of equestrian (petty noble), he knew Latin.

Waiting In the Forest.jpg

Waiting In the Forest

The way grew narrow, the Roman convoy had to change it's formation, The line of march was now stretched out perilously long – between 15 and 20 kilometers. Ahead, Germanic warriors waited in grim silence. Meanwhile, a violent rain and wind came up that separated the column still further, while the ground, that had become slippery around the roots and logs, made walking very treacherous for them, and the tops of the trees kept breaking off and falling down, causing much confusion. While the Romans were in such difficulties, the barbarians suddenly surrounded them on all sides at once. At one moment 20,000 spears were in the air aiming at Romans. Arminius set an ambush.

Battle of the Teutoberg Forest-5.jpg

Battle of the Teutoburg

While serving as a commander of auxiliary forces under the Romans, Arminius, secretly recruited German tribesmen under his command to plot an attack against Varus. Knowing that the Romans were disadvantaged on unfamiliar terrain, Arminius deceptively convinced Varius to move his troops through the Teutoburg Forest as he furtively coalesced his own army of troops to launch an ambush onto Varius’ path. Although lacking in overall strength and size compared to the Romans, the German troops consisted of able-bodied freemen. They fought effectively with shields, swords, and spears, which proved to be more powerful than the weapons that the Romans were equipped with. Led by Arminius, German troops ambushed the army during their march through the forest and were able to directly counter Roman military moves due to Arminius’ knowledge of Roman military tactics, relentlessly attacking Varius’ dispersed legions.

Otto Albert Koch Varusschlacht.jpg

Otto Albert Koch Varusschlacht
 

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Continuing their attack, the Germans took advantage of the Romans’ foreignness to the terrain and constructed a trench and wooden barrier built to its sides. As Varus led his army through this preset trap after fleeing their previous attack, German troops bombarded the legions with arrows and spears, continuing to press their forces on the wounded army until thousands of Romans were slain and the army essentially annihilated. An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Romans were killed as a result, provoking far-reaching consequences for the Roman Empire and a history-altering revolution for the Germans. With a portion of their great imperial army destroyed, the Roman’s vast reputation of invincibility was devastated.

The battle of Teutoborg forests ended Roman expansion in Northern Europe. Six years would pass before a Roman army would return to the battle site. The scene the soldiers found was horrific. Heaped across the field at Kalkriese lay the whitening bones of dead men and animals, amid fragments of their shattered weapons. In nearby groves they found “barbarous altars” upon which the Germans had sacrificed the legionnaires who surrendered. Human heads were nailed everywhere to trees.

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They enter the doleful scene, hideous in appearance and association. The first camp of Varus appeared in view. The extent of ground and the measurement of the principia left no doubt that the whole was the work of three legions. After that a half-decayed rampart with a shallow foss, where their remains, now sadly reduced, were understood to have sunk down. In the intervening portion of the plain were whitening bones, either scattered or accumulated, according as they had fled or had made a stand. Near them lay fragments of javelins and limbs of horses. There were also skulls fixed upon the trunks of trees. In the adjacent groves were the savage altars, where they had immolated the tribunes and centurions of the first rank. Those who survived the slaughter, having escaped from captivity and the sword, related the sad particulars to the rest: “Here the commanders of the legions were slain; there we lost the eagles; here Varus had his first wound; there he gave himself another, and perished by his own unhappy hand. In that place, too, stood the tribunal whence Arminius harangued. How many gibbets he erected for the execution of his captives; what trenches he dug; and how, in proud scorn, he made a mock at the standards and eagles.”

Marked as one of the most prominent battles and catastrophic defeats of the Roman Empire, the Battle of Teutoburg Forest simultaneously hindered the march of the Roman Empire into Northern Europe and halted the conquest of Germany. It is without doubt that the Germans’ victory successfully allowed them to evade Roman expansion and rule indefinitely, potentially altering the course of history and illustrating a significant turning point in the Roman Empire’s imperialistic conquest. Known as Rome’s greatest defeat, the Battle of Teutoburg Forest held an enormous impact, threatening the survival of the Roman Empire and successfully preventing the Romanticization of German territory.

When they wiped out Varus' army, the Germanic tribesmen also captured the three legions' eagle-bearing standards, which were religious objects held sacred under the Roman national cult. Thus, once memory of the defeat faded a bit, the Romans attached some importance and a great deal of national pride to their recovery.

After Augustus' death, his stepson Tiberius (born 42 BC, ruled 14-37 AD) suceeded him as emperor, and Tiberius' nephew Germanicus (16/15 BC - 19 AD) was made military commander in charge of Germany. Germanicus scored a number of victories east of the Rhine, weakening the coalition Arminius mounted against the Romans and retrieving two of the lost eagles. The final eagle wasn't recovered until 41 AD, during the reign of the Emperor Claudius (born 10 BC, ruled 41-54 AD).
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Ranks #7 on Greatest Milatary Blunders of All Time.

http://www.thegoatseries.com/greatest-military-blunder-of-all-time/

http://museum-of-artifacts.blogspot.com/2015/11/teutoburg-forest-battle-that-stopped.html
http://meeg-toomuchinformation.blogspot.com/2009/09/teutoburg-forest.html
http://historyweblog.com/2013/03/roman-army-buries-dead-at-teutoburg/
http://honortheroots.com/battle-of-teutoburg/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arminius
http://www.ancient.eu/article/1010/

Gold Coins Found at Battle Site
http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/43089

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Interesting. Shows what happens when your military is arrogant and over-extended.
Yes, arrogant and over-extended. The Romans had the tactics, the numbers and superior military equipment but they were defeated by a disorganized rabble whose only distinction was commitment to the cause.

Knowledge of the enemies’ tactics, taking advantage of their hubris, asymmetrical warfare and fighting them on their own home turf are what won the day.


BF
 

latemetal

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Treasonous bastard, that is what won the battle. The Romans trusted Arminius...
 

arminius

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The Romans had the tactics, the numbers and superior military equipment but they were defeated by a disorganized rabble whose only distinction was commitment to the cause.
They were men defending their homes.

Treasonous bastard, that is what won the battle. The Romans trusted Arminius...
He was a man defending his people and his land against a vastly superior foreign force. How exactly is that treason?
 
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ttazzman

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well done ....appreciate the effort and the new knowledge........i also enjoyed reading through the greatest military blunders site
 

Howdy

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Treasonous bastard, that is what won the battle. The Romans trusted Arminius...
Rome was multicultural. Is a man treasonous when he defies the king of a multicultural nation or when he defies his own people? A difficult question but pondering it will give you some insight as to how badly our own country will end.
 

Alton

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Rome was multicultural. Is a man treasonous when he defies the king of a multicultural nation or when he defies his own people? A difficult question but pondering it will give you some insight as to how badly our own country will end.
The price of true loyalty is quite high, considering who pays the most will add to your insight.