Varusschlacht: La batalla del bosque de Teutoburgo

Varusschlacht: The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

Silver-coated mask found in 1990 that had belonged to a cavalry soldier of the Roman Army, in the region where the battle took place.

The Roman Empire was the protagonist of great events in the past, worthy of blockbuster scripts, and the Battle of Teutoburg is one of these examples. Betrayal, revenge, decimated troops are elements found in one of the greatest defeats suffered by the Roman Army and marked the end of any hope of expanding the Roman Empire beyond the Rhine River.

If in the great episodes that happened in the past, there are different theories and reports, this one is different, all the historians affirm the undoubted total Roman defeat in this battle, a massacre of the then powerful Roman Empire, and in particular one of its commanders, Publius Quinctilius Varus, Known for being merciless and cruel.

If on one side was the feared Roman Army, on the other were the Germanic warriors, dissatisfied with Varus, who with his iron fist suffocated the population with high taxes, pushing them towards starvation. We know that these factors never end well, and a revolt was a matter of time.

However, to understand what led to this scenario, we need to go back even further. Around the years 11 to 9 BC, after a victory by Rome, commanded by Drusus I over the Germanic warriors. Segimerus, head of one of the noblest houses of the Germanic tribes that had been conquered, sent his sons Arminius and Flavus to Rome. This was a custom for the defeated, called Tributein other words, were hostages of Rome to ensure the good behavior and submission of their Germanic tribe.

In Rome, Arminius and Flavus received military education, where young Arminius was called up by the Roman Army and there he developed his military career, where he became a citizen of Rome and achieved a high class, the horsemensimilar to a gentleman.

Parallel to this, as early as 7 AD, Emperor Augustus saw that it was necessary to “Romanize” the Germanic territory that he had conquered years before, and delegated the task to the severe Publius Quinctilius Varus, together with the XVII, XVIII and XIX. Arminius was also appointed to assist Varus in this task, and perhaps out of arrogance or naivety, he did not notice that the bitterness of resentment still lingers in the mouth of Varus, who saw Rome invade his lands and take him away from his people.

The young prince of the Cherusci, who would now be in a prominent position as a soldier in the Roman Army, used all his influence and knowledge acquired in Rome to devise and put into practice his plan that would devastate Roman pretensions.

That was when in 9 AD Arminius saw the opportunity he was waiting for, when Varus and his three legions would march to their permanent base for the winter. Arminius planned an attack by Germanic tribes on nearby Roman bases. When the news reached Varus, and Arminius already knowing his ruthless behavior, he told Varus that it would be easy to resolve this issue, and that with a quick attack the tribes would be defeated.

Varus immediately decided to follow Arminius' advice, without imagining that he would be marching to his death and taking the future of the Roman Empire with him.

As they marched through the forest, winding through hostile, muddy, unfamiliar terrain, the Germanic tribes tore apart the Roman Empire's XVII, XVIII, and XIX legions. When faced with imminent destruction, some generals fled, others killed themselves to avoid a slow and painful death at the hands of Germanic warriors, and Varus was one of them, throwing himself on his own sword.

Varusschlacht, painting painted by Otto Albert Koch, in 1909, depicting the battle of Teutoburg. Source: Wikipedia

Quinctilius Varus, roll down my legions !

These were the words of Emperor Augustus, banging his head against the wall (literally!), upon learning of the catastrophic defeat.

The defeat was so frightening for the Romans that belief in superstition and the shame it caused meant that the XVII, XVIII and XIX legions never existed again in the order of battle of the Roman Army.

Historians claim that the defeat in the battle of Teutoburg was important not only to contain, but to put an end to, the advance of the Roman Empire in northern Europe.

Traces lost for centuries

For centuries there was speculation about the exact location of the battle. Despite documented reports, it was not known exactly where the events had occurred. In the 17th century, the term “Teutoburg Forest” was coined and the search began, which would only be confirmed in 1987, when Tony Clunn, a British soldier stationed in Osnabrück, experienced in the use of metal detectors, found lead slings and coins. Romans in the Kalkriese region. Thus, excavations and archaeological research begin, and more and more traces of the battle of Teutoburg are found.

It is possible today to visit the Varusschlacht museum, which is very well presented to visitors. Excavations and searches at the site continue to this day and we are still surprised by new discoveries.

The episode was so remarkable for the Germanic tribes that it is still remembered today, with the Varusschlacht museum, in Osnabrücker Land, as its symbol. The museum uses technology combined with archaeological discoveries about the battle, bringing models, illustrations, and texts, all interactive and can be followed through an audio guide in German and English. Of course, the highlight of the museum is at the top of the tower, where visitors can admire a panoramic view of the site of the ancient battle.

Varusschlacht Museum. Source: Wikipedia. Author: Carole Raddato


What was the relationship between Romans and Germans like? What traces of the Roman presence in Germany can we still see today? With our historical route “ROMANS AND GERMANICS”we took them for an immersion in the history of Germany, in the places where everything happened.

To visit this and other attractions in Alemamha on private guided tours in Portuguese, get in touch!