Some events have long influences and they change the future for good. It is easy to say that one of those events was battle of Teutoburg forest. It was not so terrible defeat for Rome than some others in Roman history, but it clearly changed policy of Rome. After that defeat Rome did not want to grow over forest of Germania. They were happy to remain on the western bank of Rhein river. Some people want to see Teutoburg battle as a very significant loss for Rome but in the end it was not. For example in many battles against Hannibal Rome lost more men. In Cannae alone Roman losses were 75 000 men, in Carrhae some 30 000, in Thrasimene lake some 20 000 and in Teutoburg some 17 000. So Rome had in it’s history more terrible defeats but Teutoburg changed something in the minds of Roman emperors. It is good to remember that around Mediterranean there were many old cultures and nations which Rome conquered. But these were more or less civilized societies which where able to adapt Roman taxation and culture. Even Gauls were able to take Roman culture and they became in time also members of senate. But Germania was different. Old German tribes were still living with their old ways when Romans tried to civilize them by force – and for vain.
Prelude for the battle
When Gaius Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, he also took some campaign against german tribes and went over Rhein. However he did not penetrate deep into Germania but let his successors to do that. After him came Drusus (Druso) and Tiberius (Tiberio) whom conquered little by little more land from western part of Germania. Especially campaigns of Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus between 14BC – 9BC were extremely successful. He defeated german tribes over and over again and showed that Roman army was undefeatable. With seven legions he defeated Chaucies, Bructeries, Tencteries, Usipetes, Cheruscies, Chatties and Sicambries. In his time Friisi (Netherlands), Saxony, Westfalen and Rhineland became more or less Roman territory. This successful general was halted only by mysterious riding accident. He fell down when riding horse and mysteriously died afterwards. Some even suspected poison (Suetonius sources). But after Drusus came his older brother Tiberius who continued the work of Drusus. He did not want to conquer more Germania because thought it to be too poor. However he wanted to keep the new Roman territory peaceful. At Tiberius time also Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (consul 16 BC) conguered Germania and defeated German tribes in beginning of our time (0 AD). Under Tiberius there was some 10 years period on peace in conquered land. Finally Augustus thought that Germania inferior was ready to be part of Empire and he placed at 6 AD his trusted man to guide this new province. This trusted man was Publius Quinctilius Varus and his mission was to transform Germania as a peaceful tax paying province for Rome. For that new Roman cities and trade centers need to be built. Varus had gained some good experience to his new appointment earlier in middle east and also he had gained some military experience in campaigns of Tiberius. However he was truly a civil governor and not a real military commander. This was to become his destiny. He had about three years time in his office until he was killed in Teutoburg forest. Of course Teutoburg would not be Teutoburg unless there was a real betrayal in question. Varus had a cavalry officer named Arminius whose roots where actually in Germania. He was taken as a hostage from cherusci chieftain when being just a small child together with his brother. Both grew up in Roman world in Italy and became roman warriors. Both showed high skills and were rewarded as being a competent warriors. This also meant that they both learned well the Roman army tactics. Also Arminius was in the field fighting against Pannonian rebels and he saw Roman war machine finally taken the victory. But he also saw how well organized troops could charge Romans because in the end it took three years for Rome to defeat the rebels – and more than eight legions. The difference between brothers were that Arminius was to betray Romans but not his older brother Flavus. And it is said that later on they met in fights in Germania as an enemies.
The actual Battle
Battle took place in 9 AD when Roman forces – three legions with auxialry troops and civilians – were marching towards their winter headquarters in Mogonticum (Maintz). Varus had been speding summer time in Xanten higher up in north Germania and now he was taking his forces southwards to Mogonticum (Mainz), where he could also put out rebellions. His trusted officer Arminus had told Varus that in that region several uprising was to become. Because Arminius had German roots he did discuss a lot with local tribesmen and he was often scouting news among local people. However all was a big scheme and during time Arminius had agreed with other German tribes how to surprise Romans by sudden attack when they were not prepared in March. For some reason – even when warned – Varus let Arminius to leave the main army when march started and disappear for scouting. Actually Arminius was pulling trigger which started a series of attacks. First they destroyed soldier fortress in Xanten after army had left it and then in Karkriese in lower Saxony a real trap was launched. When Roman soldiers were marching in kilometers long queue German tribesmen attacked marchcolon in several places. In thick forest where tribesmen were attacking all sides, there was no way for legionaries to form organized battle lines. It is also proposed that at that time it was raining heavily all the time, which made heavy equipment useless. Also the fact was that Roman troops were mainly rookies – not battle hardened veterans – was favoring Arminius cause. Result was that nearly everybody who took part to that march was killed – either at once or in long pursuit when legionaries tried to escape from Germania towards Rhein. Also all civilians were either killed or slavered. Only some battle hardened few legionaries were lucky enough to survive. Because there were no more Roman army in new province all Roman citadels and strongholds were attacked and either destroyed or abandoned. All this meant that Arminius plan succeeded totally and he became a leader of German tribes with his German name Hermann – for some time. And silence was left over region until Germanicus got back 14 AD to revenge Romans casualties.They buried hundreds and hundreds of Roman bones whom they found in the forests. They also attacked German villages and defeated Arminius in 14 AD and got back to left bank of Rhein after that. Again in 16 AD Germanicus took army on eastern side of Rhein and defeated Arminius totally near Rinteln and soon again in Hanover.
I guess we can say that Varus was totally wrong people to be named to govern Germania. He was arrogant and unexperienced with military matters – and he could not read the signs. For some reasons he trusted blindly to his cavalry officer Arminius. Even though some local chieftain warned Varus that he will be betrayed be Arminius. But Varus did not believe that – not even tried to find out what Arminius actually was doing among German tribesmen. Of course Arminius – in germania Hermann – had a blameless reputation. On the other hand Varus was located in the wildest territory of the Europe, where several hundred thousands hostile germanian tribesmen lived. When they saw how romanization meant lost of own tribe government and high taxes, it was no wonder that they repulsed it. In Arminius they found the key to unlock situation. Arminius knew exactly how to take weapons from roman army because he was trained by Roman army. And because he had roots in Germania, he was able to gather all tribes behind his plan. He knew that the best moment to attack romans was when they were marching as a queue along road or path through forests. Then heavy equipment and good weapons were no use.
And especially Roman troops could not form a dense battle line. And Arminius plan succeeded totally! But why he did it? Was he a hero of Germania, who wanted to keep Germania free? Or was he just trying to create an own kingdom? I had to pick the latter choice. Could be that both ideas were on his mind but why would a successful officer who was used to Roman life abandon that? Living in Germania was not too glorious for a men who was used to hypocaust warmed floors, bathhouses and luxurious life. I believe he wanted to unite german tribes under his dominion. And for a while it worked. Later on Romans came back led by Germanicus – son of past Drusus – and he revenged Roman casualties by destroying German settlements. And also later on Arminius was killed by German tribesmen – Germania was not ready for a one king. And so it was left to stay as wild as earlier. Romans kept the fortification line on the Rhein banks and kept Germanians on the other side. So was the decision of Augustus and later Caesars. And anyway Germania was too poor to deliver riches for Rome – why use money for army to keep it? For some Arminius is a hero and he has a really big statue in Germany. On the others he may be a traitor who did not follow his oaths for Rome.