The Spoils of War

The Germanic dead were collected from the battlefield, and their fellow tribesmen would later carry them home. The collection of weapons and armour from the Roman dead then began. Any Roman found still alive was killed or left to die of exposure on the third night. There were approximately 1,500 Roman prisoners taken by the Germanic warriors; a good number of the prisoners were sacrificed to the Gods as was the custom. The remaining number were placed into slavery to Germanic warriors who gained distinction during the battle. It is likely the sacrificed were herded like animals before the sod wall where they were bound with cord. Guards would have been placed to watch over the sacrificed, then on the following morning the offerings to the Gods began. Some of the offerings were done in the forest and some were done by the bog. Sacrificial altars have been found in rectangular enclosures outlined by stones measuring approximately five yards square. The Romans to be sacrificed were often dragged one at time before the Germanic tribespeople with words to a God, Gods, Goddess or Goddesses before their throats were  slashed, at which point the body was dragged aside and another one brought into the enclosure. Other forms of sacrifice included hanging from oaks.

Art work by Kevin Knight

The most significant offering was the beheading and removal of hands of several of the sacrificed and then nailing the decapitated head to a tree with a foot-long spike through the eye socket and out through the back of the skull. This caused the remaining Romans to be filled with even more fear as they were dragged past the heads nailed to the trees. The fastening of the severed heads to the trees represented the Germanic victory over the Romans in what the Germanic tribespeople saw as their temple. Sacrifices at the marsh were also done one at a time. A Germanic warrior would hold the Roman as another Germanic warrior would cut his throat, and the blood would spew forth out into the bog. When the blood stopped, the body was cast out into the marsh. Others were stabbed in the heart; as with the throat stabbing, when the bleeding stopped,  the body was committed to the bog.

Art work by Kevin Knight

With the human sacrifices completed, all that remained was the division of goods left by the Romans. Most of the goods were offered to the Gods as another form of offering. The higher the pile of goods, the better the offering was; it was also customary to sacrifice both some of the weapons of the fallen enemy and some of the weapons of the Germanic warriors who were victorious. After the Gods had taken their share of goods and weapons, the remainder were divided amongst the warriors who had participated in the battle. As with the human sacrifices, the weapons and goods offered to the Gods were divided up so that some were given in the forest and some were given by the bog.

The Roman dead were left in place to serve as a monument to the battlefield, and some of the most prized items left by the Romans were placed as markers on the battlefield to mark its importance to the Germanic people as it was now a sacred place. One such marker was the iron cavalry mask that belonged to an auxiliary. It was not a battle mask but rather a ceremonial mask; it is unknown whether the owner had been killed or whether it simply was lost during the battle and the auxiliary cavalryman escaped. The mask was placed next to the sod wall and became a highly valued symbol of their victory.

Perhaps the biggest insult to a Roman was the capture of the 17th, 18th and 19th Legion standards. The most prized possession of each legion was the standard, usually surmounted by an eagle, but not always. When Varus was defeated, he was held directly responsible by Augustus for the loss of the eagles. However, the Romans were not the only ones insulted: Arminius cut off Varus's head and sent it south to King Maroboduus of the Marcomanni. The reason for this action was to show Maroboduus what he missed out on: his kingdom could have participated in the attack on Rome but instead he had decided to remain loyal. Maroboduus, after receiving the severed head of Varus, sent the head on to Rome for burial. This soured the relationship even more, and later when Rome took its revenge upon the Germanic tribes and Arminius by sending Germanicus to reinstate Roman authority, Maroboduus remained neutral in the war.


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