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

Valens

Ad Honorem
Feb 2014
8,303
Colonia Valensiana
#21
I am afraid that I cannot find a primary source but I have read that in M. Carroll, Romans, Celts and Germans: The German Provinces of Rome.
The Romans erected fortifications east of the Rhine for sure. And I'm sure there is the archeological date to corroborate it. A series of Roman fortifications east of the Rhine appears on this very good map of the Roman Empire.
Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

What I can recall is that the Constantine erected some fortifications across the Rhine in the IV century, if I am right.

Here's what I could find on a prominent site in the area but it's in German.

Vicus Aurelianus. Das römische Öhringen - Archäologische Informationen aus Baden-Württemberg - Gesellschaft für Archäologie in Württemberg und Hohenzollern e.V.

VICUS AURELIANUS - Aqueducts - Roman Aqueducts

There was a Roman presence beyond the Rhine that's beyond any doubt but we can't be sure about its true character.
 
Last edited:
#22
I have also read that the Romans constructed forts east of the Rhine and that they were abandoned in the aftermath of Teutoburg. Though it seems that some forts were already abandoned in 7 AD, perhaps showing that Teutoburg was not the only reason for the abandoning of the forts. Does anyone have more information about these forts?
Actually, some of these forts continued to be occupied long after Teutoberg. I was recently in Heidelberg, and their museum presented finds from a couple of forts in the area, both beyond the Rhine (albeit not very far beyond the Rhine).
 
#23
It would also be important to note that the Romans subjugated most of Germania:
"Nothing remained to be conquered in Germany except the people of the Marcomanni, which, leaving its settlements at the summons of its leader Maroboduus, had retired into the interior and now dwelt in the plains surrounded by the Hercynian forest."
(Velleius Paterculus, Roman History, Book II, 108)
It depends how one defines Germania. Goths, Heruli, Franks, Vandals, Burgundians, Gepids and Alemanni have all been referred to as Germanic peoples, and they all lived beyond Roman control. Velleius probably had a specific area of Germania in mind. He was also writing under Tiberius' patronage, and would have been inclined to talk up military achievements during his and Augustus' reigns.
 
#24
The Romans erected fortifications east of the Rhine for sure. And I'm sure there is the archeological date to corroborate it. A series of Roman fortifications east of the Rhine appears on this very good map of the Roman Empire.
Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

What I can recall is that the Constantine erected some fortifications across the Rhine in the IV century, if I am right.

Here's what I could find on a prominent site in the area but it's in German.

Vicus Aurelianus. Das römische Öhringen - Archäologische Informationen aus Baden-Württemberg - Gesellschaft für Archäologie in Württemberg und Hohenzollern e.V.

VICUS AURELIANUS - Aqueducts - Roman Aqueducts

There was a Roman presence beyond the Rhine that's beyond any doubt but we can't be sure about its true character.
That would make sense. Constantine is recorded as having bridged the Rhine in the 320s. Similarly, in 288 Maximian campaigned beyond the Rhine into Alemannia, and in 359 and 360 Julian campaigned into both Frankish and Alemannic lands (if I recall correctly).
 
Feb 2011
1,081
Scotland
#25
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.
Thanks for mentioning this.

There was a settlement uncovered at Waldgirmes, 100Km East of the Rhine, with the first known stone buildings in Germany- a full Forum and Basilica, with a splendid gilt Equestrian statue of Augustus. This may have been a trading settlement originally, and predates 4BCE, but it was Roman and developed over nearly 20 years into a nascent civil settlement and possibly the provincial capital. There are no significant military buildings. There may be other such sites not yet discovered. Waldgirmes was destroyed in the aftermath of Teutoberger Wald.

Waldgirmes - Livius

This suggests expulsion from a developing province rather than armies wandering aimlessly about an undeveloped Germany just to menace the locals. Such forward activity might take place initially for a few years, but for a quarter of a century? I doubt it, given the cost and importance of now-permanent trained, paid troops. Caesar made Gaul into a province in 8 years, but the territory was mostly easier going. They maintained this position even throughout the fearsome Illyrian Revolt of 6-9CE. Subjugation of Transrhenate Germany was indeed Augustus' goal- it was quietly reliquished after Teutoberger Wald and Augustus' only reference to Germany in his Res Gestae is decidedly vague.

Perhaps the Romans were escorting some Roman 'David Attenborough' type around to try to identify the animals Caesar claims to have lived in the Hercynian Forest region- unicorns, Aurochs (fair enough) and elks with no horns and no knees which couldn't lie down but leaned against trees to sleep! He went on to add that hunters tracked them and sawed the trees near the base to collapse when the elks leaned against them....

"
Chapter 27

There are also [animals] which are called elks. The shape of these, and the varied color of their skins, is much like roes, but in size they surpass them a little and are destitute of horns, and have legs without joints and ligatures; nor do they lie down for the purpose of rest, nor, if they have been thrown down by any accident, can they raise or lift themselves up. Trees serve as beds to them; they lean themselves against them, and thus reclining only slightly, they take their rest; when the huntsmen have discovered from the footsteps of these animals whither they are accustomed to betake themselves, they either undermine all the trees at the roots, or cut into them so far that the upper part of the trees may appear to be left standing. When they have leant upon them, according to their habit, they knock down by their weight the unsupported trees, and fall down themselves along with them. "

The Internet Classics Archive | The Gallic Wars by Julius Caesar

Re setbacks. it seems unlikely that defeats sustained to maurauding Cimbri and Teutones a century before can be deemed to have deterred the Romans from attempting a conquest a century later - they certainly tried hard for about 25 years. Further, most of the defeats being mentioned took place out of a large pool of citizen manpower on call closeby. By 9CE, the army was trained, permanent rather than levied and spread in a wide thin arc around the empire. The removal of 10% of that army in one go was a terrific blow, but Rome did have the manpower to come back strongly, given the time to levy, equip and train.

What might have happened had the province survived? It's impossible to guess. It might have changed little in the end, or maybe it might have generated further impetus Eastward towards Poland and into Denmark so that extra bulwark, shorter frontier and elimination of future enemies might just have enabled the Western Empire to hang on much longer. Or maybe Franks, Vandals, Goths and Huns would have done enough damage anyway.
 
Aug 2018
182
America
#26
Re setbacks. it seems unlikely that defeats sustained to maurauding Cimbri and Teutones a century before can be deemed to have deterred the Romans from attempting a conquest a century later - they certainly tried hard for about 25 years. Further, most of the defeats being mentioned took place out of a large pool of citizen manpower on call closeby. By 9CE, the army was trained, permanent rather than levied and spread in a wide thin arc around the empire. The removal of 10% of that army in one go was a terrific blow, but Rome did have the manpower to come back strongly, given the time to levy, equip and train.
Yes it can be deemed that way because Romans were left fighting a series of civil wars caused by the Cimbri and Teutons that left it exhausted by the time it reached Germany. The Cimbri and Teutones didn't just destroy a massive army either, they occupied and ravaged a substantial portion of Roman Spain and Italy itself.
 
#27
Edit: This was meant to be quoting Benzev:

I agree with you that the defeats to the Cimbri aren't convincingly linked to later Augustan policy, and your point about Teutoberg's effect in light of trained troops and nearby manpower is a fair one. I mainly question how much the change in policy can be solely blamed on the defeat, in light of the different impacts of other terrible defeats, the fact that Roman commanders continued to campaign beyond the Rhine in the form of punitive expeditions, and the general likelihood that things are rarely ever so simple. Then again, it's not like anyone here has attributed what followed solely to Teutoberg anyway. It's just a point worth making.
 
Feb 2011
1,081
Scotland
#28
Edit: This was meant to be quoting Benzev:

I agree with you that the defeats to the Cimbri aren't convincingly linked to later Augustan policy, and your point about Teutoberg's effect in light of trained troops and nearby manpower is a fair one. I mainly question how much the change in policy can be solely blamed on the defeat, in light of the different impacts of other terrible defeats, the fact that Roman commanders continued to campaign beyond the Rhine in the form of punitive expeditions, and the general likelihood that things are rarely ever so simple. Then again, it's not like anyone here has attributed what followed solely to Teutoberg anyway. It's just a point worth making.
Hi, yes it is interesting. Rome was famous for its determination to wage wars through to the bitter end, despite major setbacks. It seems to me that this approach is mostly observed in wars of survival up to the end of the 'Middle Republic'. In the Late Republic, this approach is seen in the Northern, Social and Spartacus Servile wars- wars of survival- then the senate gradually lost its grip on affairs as wealthy nobles conscripted 'plebs on the make' looking for loot and pensions, marching armies off on frequently undeclared wars of aggression. As often as not such attacks by essentially untrained armies led by untalented generals ended badly. The Romans did not always follow up such losses as they had been wont to do, as political turmoil supervened.

Although Caesar planned a war of revenge for Crassus' defeat by the Parthians and although Ventidius Bassus won victories over the Parthians who were invading the East, no real action was taken to finish the war by defeating the Parthians after Mark Anthony's failure. When Augustus turned his attention to it, he was content with a propaganda victory and the return of standards.

My opinion is that the onset of the Principate set a different approach. Unless survival was at stake- increasingly unlikely as the Empire attained massive proportions- the man at the top was most concerned with balancing the books, not wasting valuable trained soldiery and in keeping that soldiery- which had sworn alliegiance to him personally- onside. He was also concerned with a balancing trick of survival, trying not to give any one general too much power and experience.

Augustus is also supposed to have provided Tiberius with written instruction not to expand the Empire.
I don't think we have his reasoning, but the underlying reason, if this is true, is likely to be economic. It's possible that Augustus didn't like the thought of Tiberius completing something he had failed to do, but equally likely that Tiberius might have invented this instruction to avoid blame for not looking to reoccupy transrhenate Germany. Nobody could argue with the instructions left by a 'god'. Or Maybe he wanted to assess the conduct of the punitive operations first and found these too expensive and ineffective in terms of re-establishing a viable province.
 
#29
Hi, yes it is interesting. Rome was famous for its determination to wage wars through to the bitter end, despite major setbacks. It seems to me that this approach is mostly observed in wars of survival up to the end of the 'Middle Republic'. In the Late Republic, this approach is seen in the Northern, Social and Spartacus Servile wars- wars of survival- then the senate gradually lost its grip on affairs as wealthy nobles conscripted 'plebs on the make' looking for loot and pensions, marching armies off on frequently undeclared wars of aggression. As often as not such attacks by essentially untrained armies led by untalented generals ended badly. The Romans did not always follow up such losses as they had been wont to do, as political turmoil supervened.

Although Caesar planned a war of revenge for Crassus' defeat by the Parthians and although Ventidius Bassus won victories over the Parthians who were invading the East, no real action was taken to finish the war by defeating the Parthians after Mark Anthony's failure. When Augustus turned his attention to it, he was content with a propaganda victory and the return of standards.

My opinion is that the onset of the Principate set a different approach. Unless survival was at stake- increasingly unlikely as the Empire attained massive proportions- the man at the top was most concerned with balancing the books, not wasting valuable trained soldiery and in keeping that soldiery- which had sworn alliegiance to him personally- onside. He was also concerned with a balancing trick of survival, trying not to give any one general too much power and experience.

Augustus is also supposed to have provided Tiberius with written instruction not to expand the Empire.
I don't think we have his reasoning, but the underlying reason, if this is true, is likely to be economic. It's possible that Augustus didn't like the thought of Tiberius completing something he had failed to do, but equally likely that Tiberius might have invented this instruction to avoid blame for not looking to reoccupy transrhenate Germany. Nobody could argue with the instructions left by a 'god'. Or Maybe he wanted to assess the conduct of the punitive operations first and found these too expensive and ineffective in terms of re-establishing a viable province.
Fair points. The soldiery were often keen for a good campaign (loot, chances for promotion, something to do, etc), and they liked to see their emperor be militarily involved, militarily accomplished and attentive to military matters, but on the same token a punitive action could satisfy this itch better than lengthy and costly campaigns of conquest.
 
Nov 2011
4,767
Ohio, USA
#30
The disaster wasn't huge by Roman standards, nor did it stop the Romans from re-invading Germany as vengeance, but I would find it hard to believe that Teutoberg didn't exercise influence on the Romans' belief that incorporating large areas east of the Rhine just wasn't worth the relatively meager resources they could extract from such a forested land. It didn't presage the eventual weakening and parcelling of the WRE by Germanic peoples in even the remotest sense though. Much later and unrelated events would see to that.