Battle of Teutoberg Forest

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Apr 2011
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The Battle of Tuetoberg Forest is one of the most important historical events because it stopped an Imperial power, it built a cultural border that still exists and eventually contributed to the fall of the Roman empire.

In 9 AD the Roman Empire was an extremely powerful imperial power. It had stamped out virtually all enemies within its reach. The Mediterranean sea was refered to as the "Lake of Rome". The Emperor Augustus had Ruled for thirty six years and during this time he reformed the army and expanded the borders of the empire further than they ever been. They were really good at "Romanizing" frontier towns and they were proud of how it was working on the Germanic towns they had conquered east of the Rhine river. These towns are Cologne,Meinz and Bonn and they were small frontier towns west of the Rhine river. East of the River Rhine however was a different story. It was considered extremely dangerous territory for the Romans. Twenty years prior to the Battle of Tuetoberg a commander named Drusus had began conquering the Region and had pushed as far as the Elbe river. He died suddenly at the end of the campaign but to the Romans the region had been pacified. The Romans instituted a tribute system; which usually meant they sent gold or warriors to Rome. These warriors were considered extremely loyal and were admired for their ferocity in battle. The Emperor Augustus even had a Personal bodyguard of Germans in addition to the usual Preatorian gaurd. One of these men was a man named Arminius. He served in the Roman auxuleries, learned latin and was given the title of Equities which in modern times would be like "Sir Arminius". In 7AD the Emperor Augustus had named a man named Publius Varus as a the Administrator of Germania. According to the Smithsonian "Like his patrons in Rome, Varus thought occupying Germany would be easy. “Varus was a very good administrator, but he was not a soldier,” (Bordewich, 2005). Varus had tried to set up a taxation system like in all the other Roman provinces instead of the tribute system as had been previously done. They however were completely wrong. Publius Varus was a man who was related to Emperor Augustus through marriage. He had a reputation as a profiteer and a tough administrator who put down a rebellion in Syria; where he crucified over 2000 people.

The German tribal leaders were worried that they would be forced to pay heavy taxes, that they weren't going to be employed in this new province. Arminius was an experienced Roman soldier and knew they were right. He had seen the iron grip of Roman rule and didn't want that to happen to his own towns. According to Historian Ronald Meller of UCLA Varus actually considered Arminius his friend. This was a key factor and as stated by Marcus Paterculus "He came to look upon himself as a city praetor administering justice in the forum, and not a general in command of an army in the heart of Germany." (Marcus Velleius Paterculus, Roman History 2:117-120). Arminius however a made an alliance with Germanic tribesman. Arminius and the tribal chieftains united in outrage of Rome's plan to turn Germania into a formal Roman province. They began plotting to defeat Rome in battle. They knew however they could not defeat the formal Roman legions in an outright field battle. According to Sir Edward Creasy the idea was to strike a decisive blow on the Roman legions to get them out of Germany.(Sir Ed Creasy,1905) In 9 AD word of a rebellion in Germany a couple days march away begin to surface to Varus. These were fabricated by Arminius and his tribal allies. Varus rallied his army of three legions, German auxiliaries and some horseman about 20,000 men in all. The three legions were the 17,18 and 19. These were veterans of many battles and were some of the "best" Roman legions of the day. To get to the "rebellion" the Romans had to march through the large oak Tuetoberg Forest. As the Romans neared the forest Arminius said he was going to ride ahead in the trees as the Romans formed a long column to march through the forest. This was something normal to do so they could scout up ahead. Varus trusted Arminius so he wouldn't have thought what was about to happen. Arminius was actually going to rally about 15,000 to 20,000 thousand German soldiers up ahead. Arminius was also a far more capable commander than Varus and had served with the Romans so he really knew what he was resisting. The Romans were also in an extremely bad situation tactically they weren't in regular formation and it was extremely foggy in the Forest for most of their time there.

The battle started quite suddenly as hundreds of arrows and javelins began soaring out of the forest. Followed by close combat as thousands of men charged on both sides of the Roman line. The column was miles long so one section could be getting attacked when one side didn't know what was going on. Then on both sides of the front line the Germans ambushed the Romans. The Romans could not form up cause the battlefield was chosen by the enemy. The front section of the Roman army was completely annihilated and the Germans retreated back into the trees. The Romans set up defensive camps for the rest of the night. However the very next day the attacks began once again. It was still foggy and apparently according to some sources it was also raining. Arminius planned to break the roman lines into sections and take them out one at a time. On the second day he had taken out more sections of the Roman army. There was extensive planning done by the Germans for the battle. They had filled in between the trees with dirt to blockade Romans who tried to enter the forest. The battle lasted into a third day. The closest Roman town about 60-80 miles away so Varus was trying his best to leave the German forest. Retreat however was cut off and the Romans were ambushed again. The Romans were completely pinned down in the German forest. Varus and his officers knew they were surely going to lose. Many planned on committing suicide in order to not be captured by the Germans. They knew they would have had an extremely horrible death. Some of the cavalry actually retreated and abandoned the infantry in a mad dash to the closest town. As the Roman legions began to lose Varus committed suicide. After his suicide what was left of the Roman legions completely collapsed to the German ambush. Roman historian Die Cassius stated "When news of this had spread, none of the rest, even if he had any strength left, defended himself any longer. Some imitated their leader, and others, casting aside their arms, allowed anybody who pleased to slay them; for to flee was impossible" (Cassius, 3rd Century AD)

After the battle the Romans left were mostly slaughtered. Many were taken to ponds and their throats cut as a sacrifice to the German "forest gods". They apparently held the trees in reverence and its the reason we still use Christmas trees. The lose at tuetoberg put a scare into Rome. Three entire legions were defeated along with several thousand auxiliaries. Arminius and the German tribesman cut off Varus's head and sent it to Rome. It apparently literally showed up on the emperor's doorstep. In addition to this hundreds of heads and hands were nailed to the trees. This was about ten percent of Rome's military. It also put a huge hole in the Roman's defenses of Gaul. So conscription was introduced but the German's had no intention of invading Roman territory. Many Romans actually felt that they would come across the Rhine river and try to occupy Roman provinces. This was an extremely huge victory for the Germanic tribesmen. They were being slaughtered like cattle by the Romans and their very culture was under threat. Germany and the modern German language might never have existed. In Spain or France they speak languages phonetically similar to Latin.

Several years later in 14 AD Augustus died and he wrote in his will to not have a war with the Germans. Tiberius did not listen to this at all and sent one of his family members across the Rhine to defeat Arminius. Germanicus was the man in charge of this new raid and he ambushed several German tribes with very good success. Several tribes in turn Ambushed him but were also defeated with heavy loses. The objective was not to conquer Germany but merely to defeat their men and avenge the horrible defeat several years before. So the battle of Tuetoberg forest also had an effect on how Rome planned in the future to fight the Germans. No longer on the table was the idea of conquering them. Germanicus after defeating and destroying several tribes retreated back to the Roman lines across the Rhine. Arminius was still considered a huge thread and he was defeated by Germanicus as a result of this new campaign. Arminius was no longer seen as a great man by other Tribal leaders and became involved with a war with another tribe. He won actually but according to the Encyclopedia Britannica "Though successful he was subsequently murdered by his own people."("Arminius." Encyclopedia Britannica). It did however have long lasted effects on the shape of the Roman empire even if they did have a second campaign and Arminius was dead. The culture survived and changed over time. Eventually in the centuries to come they would take the Roman empire down in the form of the Franks, the Saxons and the Goths.

Later the Franks would come together as one people under a man named "Clovis". This is many centuries after the Battle of Tuetoberg forest but if it wasn't for this battle Clovis would have never have became the sole ruler of the Frankish tribesman. The Franks came into being around the second century. They were a people ruled by several different leaders and eventually Clovis took them over. He looked to the west and the former Roman provinces. Clovis came about as a leader after the Fall of "Rome". This may seem like a huge gap but now it was the German tribesman time to shine. No longer was Rome even around it was actually ruled by a king named King Odoacer. He was apparently German in decent and a Roman soldier who rebelled against the very last Roman emperor. Though Clovis expanded into the regions of Gaul and took them over. Its the very reason today the country of France exists. The Germanic tribesman the people whom lived in Roman Gaul formed the nation of France centuries after Clovis's campaign.

The Battle of Tuetoberg forest influenced centuries of history. It made a culture survive; centuries later this culture would strengthen and expand. It would come to replace the Roman culture as the powerhouse of Europe. If the Romans had won the battle of Tuetoberg forest Europe might be a different place.
 

Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
This is many centuries after the Battle of Tuetoberg forest but if it wasn't for this battle Clovis would have never have became the sole ruler of the Frankish tribesman.
How do you come to this conclusion?
 

beorna

Ad Honoris
Jan 2010
17,473
-
nice essay.
BTW, it is TEUTOBURG.

The Germanic gods weren't forest gods. They were worshiped in sacred groves, but not as forest gods.

His title was not equities but eques.

Varus moved his troops from the summer camps at the weser river to the winter camp in Vetera I. The summer camp is not located. We have to suppose, that he wanted to cross the modern "Teutoburger Wald" an then via the camps in Oberaden and Haltern along the Lippe river back to the Rhine. But then he was told to move the way through the so-called Weser fortress up to the Hase river.

The germanic principes probably did not pay gold for tribute. Their main tribute was manpower. In opposite to this, the Germanics got probably more often Roman money as donation.

If Germania would have been romanized not only German wouldn't exist, but english as well.

Arminius was probably seen as great man, even after his defeat at Idistaviso. That was the reason for his death. He was too great. The germanic principes did not want to change a roman emperor against a germanic emperor.
 

bunyip

Ad Honorem
Sep 2010
2,960
Sallah,good essay,I enjoyed it.

I think it's a common perception that the loss of Varus' legions ended Roman expansion east of the Rhine. Plus that it set the tone for much of European history for centuries,even to today.

However, I tend to be a little suspicious of such simple explanations and grand claims resulting from a single event.

The underlying assumption seems to be that Germany and other countries further east remained isolated from western Europe for centuries. I'm unconvinced that this is the case.

However,I'm perfectly happy to be corrected on any misconceptions.
 

Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
I have an extremely hard time picturing Rome having either the ability or the practical desire to conquer Germania magna, Teutoberg Wald or not.
 

Richard Stanbery

Ad Honorem
Jan 2009
8,298
Tennessee
Good thing Arminius won. I dont think the Appalachian dialect would have sounded right pronounced with a Latin influence. Let me see...

OK, I thought about it a moment.

Nope. It just wont work.

And so, we can see that the Tootieburger forest was a bigger win for civilization than most folks think of today. It was perhaps the defining moment of the Western world of antiquity. Or pretty darn close to it.

And that just because of the Anglo-Saxon connection. Without the win by Arminius, possibly no Anglo-Saxon invasion of England 400 years later.

Yep. That truly was important. More than we can say.
 

Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
And so, we can see that the Tootieburger forest was a bigger win for civilization than most folks think of today. It was the defining moment of the Western world. Or pretty darn close to it.

And that just because of the Anglo-Saxon connection. Without the win by Arminius, possibly no Anglo-Saxon invasion of England 400 years later.

Yep. That truly was important. More than we can say.
I just can't agreed with you here, Richard. Even without this battle, I don't see the Romans being able to conquer Germania and seriously Romanize it.
 
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