Teutoburg Forest - battle that stopped Roman Empire

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Three Legions were marching thru German dark forest. 20 000 soldiers accompanied by 10 000 mostly women, but also traders, medicians, slaves. Roman General Varus as a representative of Romans hoped to expand Roman power, Roman law, and Roman culture on the north of Europe.

He felt safe and sure, as he trusted advises of his Germanic friend, Arminius. Arminius, born in 18 or 17 BC, was son of the Cheruscan chief Segimerus and trained as a Roman military commander. He had lived in Rome as a hostage in his youth, where he had received a military education, and obtained Roman citizenship as well as the status of equestrian (petty noble), he knew Latin.

The forest was dark, Roman convoy had to change it's formation, The line of march was now stretched out perilously long – between 15 and 20 kilometers. The Germanic warriors waited in grim silence. Meanwhile, a violent rain and wind came up that separated them still further, while the ground, that had become slippery around the roots and logs, made walking very treacherous for them, and the tops of the trees kept breaking off and falling down, causing much confusion. While the Romans were in such difficulties, the barbarians suddenly surrounded them on all sides at once. At one moment 20 000 spears were in the air aiming at Romans. Arminius set an ambush.

Cache of silver dinarii discovered in 1987 on the site of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest

Marching units disintegrated into chaos. The attacked soldiers stopped walking, in order to try to defend themselves. Since they were marching in close formation and few could see much beyond the men immediately around them, those behind kept marching forward and crashed into their fellows. At first, soldiers farther back in the column were unaware of what was happening toward the front, and they kept pressing on.… Like a chain-reaction highway crash, men piled into one another.

Wounded, dying, and already dead men quickly covered the track, making movement increasingly difficult for the others. The scene was one of complete chaos — spears falling like hail, men collapsing and gasping, even those not yet wounded struggling to remain on their feet, and occasionally frenzied horses and mules crashing through the swarm of troops. Within minutes, thousands of Roman soldiers lay dead or dying, pierced by spears, while others struggled to stay on their feet and to use their shields for shelter.

Iron roman keys found in Kalkriese
Varus understood that there was no escape. Rather than face certain torture at the hands of the Germans, he chose suicide, falling on his sword as Roman tradition prescribed. Most of his commanders followed suit, leaving their troops leaderless in what had become a killing field. Of the 15,000-20,000 Roman soldiers, fewer than 1,000 survived. An army unexcelled in bravery, the first of Roman armies in discipline, in energy, and in experience in the field, through the negligence of its general, the perfidy of the enemy, and the unkindness of fortune was exterminated almost to a man by the very enemy whom it has always slaughtered like cattle. Tacitus wrote that many officers were sacrificed by the Germanic forces as part of their indigenous religious ceremonies, cooked in pots and their bones used for rituals. Others were ransomed, and some common soldiers appear to have been enslaved. Three Legions Legio XVII, Legio XVIII, and Legio XIX were wiped out. These legion numbers were never used again. 

When the news of the battle reached Rome, Emperor Augustus banged his head against the palace walls, shouting Quintili Vare, legions redde! (“Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!”)

Six years would pass before a Roman army would return to the battle site. The scene the soldiers found was horrific. Heaped across the field at Kalkriese lay the whitening bones of dead men and animals, amid fragments of their shattered weapons. In nearby groves they found “barbarous altars” upon which the Germans had sacrificed the legionnaires who surrendered. Human heads were nailed everywhere to trees. The battle of Teutoborg forests ended Roman expansion in Northern Europe. 

For almost 2,000 years, the site of the battle was unidentified. Late-20th-century research and excavations found that a small village of Kalkriese. Archeologist firstly found a roman coin from the times of Augustus. More complex excavations found other artifacts like spears, sling projectiles, bones broken by the swords an finally, beautiful silver mask of Roman officer. 

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