THE BATTLE OF TEUTOBURG
In September 9 AD three Roman legions, the 17th, 18th, and 19th under the command of Quintilius Varrus crossed the Rhine and into the lands of Germania, to bring rebellious Germanic tribes under Roman control.
Varrus had every reason to be confident, for three years earlier he had crossed this same border and gave battle decimating 20,000 of these same barbarians, there was nothing that made him believe the outcome to this expedition would be any different.
Varrus was accompanied by Arminius, a powerful chief of the Cherusci tribe. Arminius was a loyal and trusted ally who along with his fellow tribesmen had served and fought many battles on the side of Rome.
Arminius was guiding the Roman's to their winter encampments through the vast Teutoburg forest. Along the march Varrus allowed his troops to straggle into a thin un-defendable line with no means of command or communication.
The other Germanic leaders accompanying Varrus one by one began to fabricate excuses to leave the Roman column. In truth this was to enable them to take command of their forces already lying in wait for the Roman's within the most dense part of the forest. When all was ready Arminius himself slipped away undetected to join his fellow countrymen.
As the Roman's drew closer to the trap the Germanic forces fell upon the advance guard of the Roman column. Caught totally by surprise the Roman's attempted to fall back and regroup, but the speed and ferocity of the enemy attack quickly pushed them back against the main column still moving forward.
Unable to form effective defensive formations or advance against their foe, the Roman's began to panic and attempted to escape into the forest itself. Within the surrounding area the German's had built large earth walls and ditches to entrap their foe. Forced into the ditches the Roman's became easy targets for the German archers waiting along the top of the ramparts.
At the end of the first days fighting the legion's had been badly mauled, but these were experienced troops who would not give up easily. On the second days march the Roman's had cleared the forest and entered more open ground where they continued onward in better formation. But again there march had forced them back into the forest were again the column began to loose cohesion and thin out.
Beginning to lose grasp of the overall situation Varrus failed to adhere to his subordinates warnings of possible danger and continued to march on blindly into the next ambush with devastating consequences for the legion's under his command.
The forest was so thick at the point of this next attack that the Roman's could not draw their bows or hurl their javelins to any effect. While their German adversaries were lightly clad and could move about with little difficulty, the Romans also suffered from being weighed down with their personal kit and body armor.
All day the German's implemented the tactic of hit and run against different sections of the Roman column inflicting heavy losses on their unsuspecting foe. It was on this second day of battle that all three Imperial battle standards were lost to the enemy, the greatest disgrace for a legion in the Roman army to endure. Only the coming of nightfall prevented the German's from complete victory and the Roman's from total annihilation.
Varrus now gathered what remained of his legion's and ordered the construction of a fortified earth encampment for their protection, but the German's would have none of it instead continuing with their attacks throughout the night to great effect, so much so that by dawn the Roman's had lost nearly half their numbers and had not yet finished completing their defenses.
when the last barbarian attack came the shattered legion's pathetic remnants attempted to make a final stand but the earth defenses didn't hold and their thin defensive lines were easily penetrated and overwhelmed by superior numbers. Within one of the last pockets of Roman resistance Varrus chose to commit suicide rather than capture.
The troops captured here should have followed their commanders example, the captured Roman's including the wounded were tortured and then beheaded, all centurions and tribunes were burned alive during the Germanic victory celebrations in front of their captured battle standards.
Of the 20,000 Roman legionaries and a baggage train of 10,000, fewer than 2,000 escaped alive. Teutoburg was no battle but a three day massacre. In a dark dense forest in Germania Rome discovered the limit of its power.
News of the massacre shook the very foundations of Rome itself. The Roman emperor AugustusCaesar was so devastated by the news that it is said he went unshaven and let his hair grow for months on end while walking the palace halls shouting '' QuintiliusVarrus give me back my legion's.''
Augustus now took stock of Rome's empire, the lands beyond the Rhine and Danube rivers were left to the barbarians. This defeat was to halt the expansion of the Roman empire for forty years until the legion's would march in conquest against the island of Britain.
After the massacre their would never be a 17th, 18th, or 19th legion in the Roman army, the memories they represented were banished from memory.
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