How Important Was The Varian Disaster For The Future of European History

Jul 2019
43
london
#1
Many years ago I saw a documentary about the defeat and annialiation of 3 entire Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest in modern day Germany by Germanic tribesman in 9 A.D. They were commanded by a man called Varus.

It was a major disaster for the Romans. The 3 legions were never rebuilt in memory of it. The Roman emporer of the time (Augustus) was said to have become depressed and to sometimes bang his head against a doorpost and shout "Quinctillius Varus, give me back my legions."

Various sources, including the documentary I mentioned, claim that the defeat was a decisive reason why the Roman Empire did not continue its advance East of the Rhine and bring all territory West of the River Elbe under Roman control. They point to evidence, such as the location of certain towns, that the Romans had otherwise planned to continue their advance Eastwards.

Some of them also state that if Germany had been thoroughly Romanised one culture not two wouldn't have dominated the ancient world.There would have been no Charlemagne, no Napileon, no Kaiser Wilhelm II, no Hitler, and no Franco-German problem.

Many also claim that the Roman advance Eastwards would have ended at the Rhine anyway for strategic and logistical reasons.

This isn't my specialist area of history, so would be interested to hear some opinions on this.
 
Likes: Futurist
Feb 2016
4,440
Japan
#2
It stopped the Roman advance into Germany, but I don’t see how the Roman Empire extending further would do anything except speed up its collapse.

And why would there be no Napoleon or Charlemagne?, they came from ex Roman territories anyway, and it wouldn’t stop European rivalries.
Spain and Portugal.
Spain and France.
France and England.
Holland and Spain.
Milan and Venice...
all rivals despite being ex Roman colonies. So France and Germany being enemies would most likely still happen.

Big changes would probably be German unification would probably be much earlier. Being turned into a Roman province would set it up as a state, and after the inevitable fragmentation into petty kingdoms they’d reunify sooner, like England and France and Spain. So you’d probably see something like a Germania surface around the 1300s-1400 give or take a few centuries based on the experiences of Spain, France and England, based on the old Roman borders.

The other big difference would be religion, more areas of Germany would be traditionally catholic.

The biggest difference would be on language. We can assume German would evolve with more Latin loan words and grammatical borrowings.

But your Napoleon’s and Hitler’s would still surface.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
21,131
SoCal
#3
It stopped the Roman advance into Germany, but I don’t see how the Roman Empire extending further would do anything except speed up its collapse.

And why would there be no Napoleon or Charlemagne?, they came from ex Roman territories anyway, and it wouldn’t stop European rivalries.
Spain and Portugal.
Spain and France.
France and England.
Holland and Spain.
Milan and Venice...
all rivals despite being ex Roman colonies. So France and Germany being enemies would most likely still happen.

Big changes would probably be German unification would probably be much earlier. Being turned into a Roman province would set it up as a state, and after the inevitable fragmentation into petty kingdoms they’d reunify sooner, like England and France and Spain. So you’d probably see something like a Germania surface around the 1300s-1400 give or take a few centuries based on the experiences of Spain, France and England, based on the old Roman borders.

The other big difference would be religion, more areas of Germany would be traditionally catholic.

The biggest difference would be on language. We can assume German would evolve with more Latin loan words and grammatical borrowings.

But your Napoleon’s and Hitler’s would still surface.
It's far from guaranteed that the Protestant Reformation ever actually occurs with a PoD in the year 9, though! After all, it was more than 1,500 years into the future at that point in time.
 

Valens

Ad Honorem
Feb 2014
8,303
Colonia Valensiana
#4
The problem with this is that the importance of the battle was likely exaggerated by Western historiography, specifically German nationalists in the XIX century who were influenced by the contemporary Romanticism which tended to glorify past 'national' achievements. Hence the view of Arminius as a Germanic hero.

In fact, the Romans were no strangers to military disasters. The one at Arausio a century before the Teutoburg Forest was arguably on a much larger scale and much more dangerous for Rome. The losses the Romans suffered at Arausio at the hands of Germanic Teutones and the Cimbri were so large the Republic's manpower pool had been depleted (but the Cimbric War was far from being the only factor which contributed to it) which had prompted Marius to enact far-reaching military reforms that enabled Rome to draw manpower from the Proletariat, thus replenishing its military strength. Subsequent disasters such as the Battle of Adrianople inflicted much more damage to Roman prestige and Roman power than the Teutoburg Forest. It does away with the notion that Teutoburg Forest was some kind of a monumental turning point in history.

Another major problem with the view that Teutoburg Forest 'stopped the Roman advance into Germania' is that proceeds from a flawed and historically incorrect premise that the Romans intended to conquer and annex Germania. This view is clearly contradicted by the fact Rome under Augustus largely abandoned the strategy of aggressive expansion. Augustus did not initiate any large-scale military adventures. He abandoned Caesar's and Anthony's dreams of conquering Parthia, opting instead for a diplomatic solution in the East. He did finish the long conquest of Hispania, secured Italy by taking Raetia and Noricum and Tiberius and Drusus did wage war in Illyricum, but these conflicts were primarily aimed to secure Rome from the north and the east, rather than aggressive conquest. Similarly, Rome's campaigns into Germania were primarily meant to keep the local tribes divided and to secure Gaul from their raids. To this aim, the Romans adopted a strategy of taking the fight across the Rhine, allying with some Germanic tribes against the others, but it did not mean they intended to conquer or annex the lands beyond the Rhine, much less the Elbe.
It was well understood by both Augustus and Tiberius that expansion into Germania was not feasible or sustainable.
 
Aug 2018
182
America
#5
Another major problem with the view that Teutoburg Forest 'stopped the Roman advance into Germania' is that proceeds from a flawed and historically incorrect premise that the Romans intended to conquer and annex Germania. This view is clearly contradicted by the fact Rome under Augustus largely abandoned the strategy of aggressive expansion. Augustus did not initiate any large-scale military adventures. He abandoned Caesar's and Anthony's dreams of conquering Parthia, opting instead for a diplomatic solution in the East. He did finish the long conquest of Hispania, secured Italy by taking Raetia and Noricum and Tiberius and Drusus did wage war in Illyricum, but these conflicts were primarily aimed to secure Rome from the north and the east, rather than aggressive conquest. Similarly, Rome's campaigns into Germania were primarily meant to keep the local tribes divided and to secure Gaul from their raids. To this aim, the Romans adopted a strategy of taking the fight across the Rhine, allying with some Germanic tribes against the others, but it did not mean they intended to conquer or annex the lands beyond the Rhine, much less the Elbe.
It was well understood by both Augustus and Tiberius that expansion into Germania was not feasible or sustainable.
Why did Rome annex Britain and Dacia though? Also, Augustus annexed Egypt.
 
#6
In fact, the Romans were no strangers to military disasters. The one at Arausio a century before the Teutoburg Forest was arguably on a much larger scale and much more dangerous for Rome. The losses the Romans suffered at Arausio at the hands of Germanic Teutones and the Cimbri were so large the Republic's manpower pool had been depleted (but the Cimbric War was far from being the only factor which contributed to it) which had prompted Marius to enact far-reaching military reforms that enabled Rome to draw manpower from the Proletariat, thus replenishing its military strength. Subsequent disasters such as the Battle of Adrianople inflicted much more damage to Roman prestige and Roman power than the Teutoburg Forest. It does away with the notion that Teutoburg Forest was some kind of a monumental turning point in history.
I think this is a particularly important point. If an existing Roman plan to expand deeper into Germania existed, but was then changed, we cannot lay that completely at the doorstep of Varus, because the defeat at the Teutoberg Forest was not exceptional next to other Roman disasters. The manpower losses at Cannae, Arausio and (if the claims of the victorious Persians are believed) Barbalissos and Edessa were far worse, and yet in all of those cases Rome picked itself back up and kept pushing for its goal. Carrhae was on a similar level to Teutoberg, and yet Caesar and Antony did indeed still cherish hopes of defeating the Parthians.

With that being said, @benzev has drawn my attention to evidence that the plan for Germania did change around the time of Teutoberg, and perhaps he will provide that link again for this thread. But as far as I see it, any change of plans is unlikely to be the sole result of Teutoberg.
 
Likes: benzev
Aug 2018
182
America
#7
I myself tend to think that the Teutonic invasion and its victories at Noreia and Arausio are what decidedly stopped Roman advancement into Germany. It initiated a series of civil wars that left Rome exhausted by the time it decided to subjugate Germany. Britain and Dacia still seem very anomalous, however. Shouldn't Britain be even more difficult to conquer given that you require to cross the sea to invade it? The Romans still annexed nearly 200,000 square kilometres as well. Dacia was also some 100,000 square kilometres yet Trajan managed to conquer it, although in Dacia's case, it lasted only for about a century. Were the Hercynian forest and the Rhine, Weser and Elbe rivers really that difficult to traverse?
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,656
#8
I myself tend to think that the Teutonic invasion and its victories at Noreia and Arausio are what decidedly stopped Roman advancement into Germany. It initiated a series of civil wars that left Rome exhausted by the time it decided to subjugate Germany. Britain and Dacia still seem very anomalous, however. Shouldn't Britain be even more difficult to conquer given that you require to cross the sea to invade it? The Romans still annexed nearly 200,000 square kilometres as well. Dacia was also some 100,000 square kilometres yet Trajan managed to conquer it, although in Dacia's case, it lasted only for about a century. Were the Hercynian forest and the Rhine, Weser and Elbe rivers really that difficult to traverse?
The Germany you see today was substantially different in that time- huge areas of bogs, damp forests, and really not much obvious agricultural potential or mineral wealth. Dacia on the other hands had vast agricultural lands, known mineral wealth, Danube for shipping, and a better climate not to mention not controlling up to the Danube left Illyria and Greece continually under threat of invasions from Dacia.

Drusus Germanicus did do punitive expeditions and that seems to have been the main Roman response to German aggression- also even past the Rhine up to the Elbe there is considerable evidence of Romanization. The main issue is that the Germans who lived around the Elbe were pushed out by the advancing Goths and Huns later and most of the benefits of that Romanization was swept aside at least for a century or so when the Western Roman Empire was reeling.
 
Aug 2018
182
America
#9
The Germany you see today was substantially different in that time- huge areas of bogs, damp forests, and really not much obvious agricultural potential or mineral wealth. Dacia on the other hands had vast agricultural lands, known mineral wealth, Danube for shipping, and a better climate not to mention not controlling up to the Danube left Illyria and Greece continually under threat of invasions from Dacia.
But what about Britain? Was Britain really that attractive to the point the Romans built a fleet and spent decades pacifying Celts there and even raiding as far as central Scotland?


Drusus Germanicus did do punitive expeditions and that seems to have been the main Roman response to German aggression- also even past the Rhine up to the Elbe there is considerable evidence of Romanization. The main issue is that the Germans who lived around the Elbe were pushed out by the advancing Goths and Huns later and most of the benefits of that Romanization was swept aside at least for a century or so when the Western Roman Empire was reeling.
Germanics didn't need any "benefits" from Rome.
 
Nov 2010
7,666
Cornwall
#10
Don't think it made a lot of difference to be honest. Except to send Augustus a bit potty. Later a whole legion seems to have disappeared in Scotland - or maybe not! Had such an effect on history that no one really knows if it did or not!