The Battle of Teutoburg Forest

In 1 CE, Tiberius, his brother Drusus, and Drusus' son Nero (later known as Germanicus) began a campaign against the Germanic tribes east of the Rhine and in the northern regions of the Upper Rhine. They successfully subdued several tribes including the Cherusci, and in 7 CE the province of Germania was established east of the Rhine, along the Lippe and Main, with Varus as governor.

Among the hostages the Cherusci sent to Rome as part of the peace treaty was a prince whose name was Latinized as Arminius, so it may have been Irmin; in German he is usually called Hermann. About 18 years old when he went to Rome, he was trained as a military commander and became a Roman citizen and an Equestrian (petty noble). Around 4 CE he assumed command of a Cheruscan detachment of auxiliaries, probably fighting in the Pannonian wars on the Balkan peninsula.

In 7 or 8 CE he returned to northern Germania. Varus was attempting to extend Roman rule east toward the Weser and Elbe. Arminius, privy to the plans, determined to oppose them and formed an alliance between the Cherusci, Marsi, Chatti, Bructeri, Sicambi, and Chauci. King Marbod of the Marcomanni declined to join the alliance, leaving Arminius with between 16,000 and 20,000 warriors.

He sent word of a Germanic revolt to Varus, who summoned three legions - the 17th, 18th, and 19th - plus three detachments of cavalry and six cohorts of auxiliaries, for a combined force of 25,000. Arminius' father-in-law, who had opposed his daughter's marriage, warned Varus of a trap, but Varus shrugged off the possibility that any force of lightly-armed Germanic warriors could defeat three legions of highly trained and superbly equipped Roman soldiers.

So confident was he, in fact, that on September 9, 9 CE, when his troops reached the Weser and a storm blew up, he sent them into the Teutoburg Forest along a narrow path, without even sending scouts ahead (probably near Kalkriese Hill, about 20 km north of Osnabrück). Arminius, hiding with his men on familiar terrain in the forest, sprang the trap. The Roman forces were unable to bring their formation-based training to bear among the trees and by September 11 they had been slaughtered to the last man by the guerrilla Germanic warriors.

Both the Roman army and Roman prestige were permanently damaged. The Emperor reputedly called out, "Varus, where are my legions?" Varus fell on his sword. Germania was freed and the limes constructed to keep the Germanic tribes away from Gaul and the other provinces.


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