The Battle of the Teutoborg Forest
Posted on September 11, 2016
Date of battle-9-11 September, 9 CE
Location of battle-Lower Saxony, Germany
Participants-Publius Varus, leader of the XVIII, XIX and XX Legions of the Roman Empire and Arminius, leader of the Germanic tribes
Outcome-The complete destruction of the three Roman legions, resulting in the greatest defeat of Roman Imperial power
Background-Under the rule of Augustus Caesar, the first true Roman Emperor, the Roman Empire had been pushing steadily south and east into Europe. As they pushed further east, they began to encounter the Germanic tribes. As the Romans tried to bring these tribes under their rule, resistance became the norm. The more the tribes resisted, the more the Romans punished, particularly by using heavy taxation and crucifixion for the worst offenders. Varus, the leader of the three legions which ended up being destroyed by Arminius, was a particularly harsh ruler, known for mass crucifixions.
Arminius was the son of one of the German chiefs, and he and his brother had been taken to Rome as hostages to ensure the good behavior of their father. While in Rome Arminius was trained as a soldier and equestrian, given Roman citizenship, and ultimately given command of a legion that was engaged in subduing the Balkans. When Arminius returned home to Germany around 8 CE, he realized that if the Roman forces continued to press eastward from the Rhine, his tribes would be brought completely under the heel of Roman rule. Arminius decided that now was the time to prevent that from happening.
The Battle-Varus was lured into battle by false reports of an uprising of Germanic tribes. The source of the false reports was none other than Arminius, the “trusted” advisor to Varus. Acting on false intelligence from Arminius, Varus led his legions into the Teutoborg Forest, not realizing that he was entering into an ambush set by Arminius. From 9 to 11 September in 9 CE, the Germanic tribes executed a classic encirclement and destruction of Varus’ legions. When Varus realized that defeat was upon him, he committed suicide by falling on his sword.
The Effect of the Battle-Many historians rank this as one of the greatest, if not the greatest disaster of the Roman Empire. Roman conquest of Germania was halted once and for all, and the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire was fixed at the Rhine River. A Germanic barbarian sanctuary was now firmly established in the heart of Europe, with tribes completely cut off from the growing civilization of the Roman Empire. Ultimately this barbarian sanctuary would lead to the destruction of the Roman Empire, and it would have profound effects on the formation of the German Empires under Bismarck and Hitler. The celebration of Arminius’ victory over Rome was celebrated by German nationalists in the 19th century as Germanic states and independent cities were brought under the rule of Prussia, but once Nazi Germany was destroyed in 1945, the victory of Arminius was no longer celebrated. The German government did not celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the battle at all, despite the fact that this battle is one of the most consequential in the history of Europe and the larger world.