This region still retains the name (Teutobergenwald = Teutobergiensis saltus) which it bore in the days of Arminius.
Continuing Arminius Drives Romans Out of Germany,
our selection from The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World by Sir Edward S. Creasy published in 1851. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Arminius Drives Romans Out of Germany.
Time: 9 AD
Place: Teutoburg Forest
In the room of Tiberius, Augustus sent into Germany Quintilius Varus, who had lately returned from the proconsulate of Syria. Varus was a true representative of the higher classes of the Romans, among whom a general taste for literature, a keen susceptibility to all intellectual gratifications, a minute acquaintance with the principles and practice of their own national jurisprudence, a careful training in the schools of the rhetoricians, and a fondness for either partaking in or watching the intellectual strife of forensic oratory had become generally diffused, without, however, having humanized the old Roman spirit of cruel indifference to human feelings and human sufferings, and without acting as the least checks on unprincipled avarice and ambition or on habitual and gross profligacy. Accustomed to govern the depraved and debased natives of Syria — a country where courage in man and virtue in woman had for centuries been unknown — Varus thought that he might gratify his licentious and rapacious passions with equal impunity among the high-minded sons and pure-spirited daughters of Germany. When the general of an army sets the example of outrages of this description, he is soon faithfully imitated by his officers, and surpassed by his still more brutal soldiery. The Romans now habitually indulged in those violations of the sanctity of the domestic shrine, and those insults upon honor and modesty, by which far less gallant spirits than those of our Teutonic ancestors have often been maddened into insurrection.
Arminius found among the other German chiefs many who sympathized with him in his indignation at their country’s abasement, and many whom private wrongs had stung yet more deeply. There was little difficulty in collecting bold leaders for an attack on the oppressors, and little fear of the population not rising readily at those leaders’ call. But to declare open war against Rome and to encounter Varus’ army in a pitched battle would have been merely rushing upon certain destruction. Varus had three legions under him, a force which, after allowing for detachments, cannot be estimated at less than fourteen thousand Roman infantry. He had also eight or nine hundred Roman cavalry, and at least an equal number of horse and foot sent from the allied states, or raised among those provincials who had not received the Roman franchise.
It was not merely the number, but the quality of this force that made them formidable; and, however contemptible Varus might be as a general, Arminius well knew how admirably the Roman armies were organized and officered, and how perfectly the legionaries understood every maneuver and every duty which the varying emergencies of a stricken field might require. Stratagem was, therefore, indispensable; and it was necessary to blind Varus to their schemes until a favorable opportunity should arrive for striking a decisive blow.
For this purpose, the German confederates frequented the head-quarters of Varus, which seem to have been near the centre of the modern country of Westphalia, where the Roman general conducted himself with all the arrogant security of the governor of a perfectly submissive province. There Varus gratified at once his vanity, his rhetorical tastes, and his avarice, by holding courts, to which he summoned the Germans for the settlement of all their disputes, while a bar of Roman advocates attended to argue the cases before the tribunal of Varus, who did not omit the opportunity of exacting court fees and accepting bribes. Varus trusted implicitly to the respect which the Germans pretended to pay to his abilities as a judge, and to the interest which they affected to take in the forensic eloquence of their conquerors.
Meanwhile a succession of heavy rains rendered the country more difficult for the operations of regular troops, and Arminius, seeing that the infatuation of Varus was complete, secretly directed the tribes near the Weser and the Ems to take up arms in open revolt against the Romans. This was represented to Varus as an occasion which required his prompt attendance at the spot; but he was kept in studied ignorance of its being part of a concerted national rising; and he still looked on Arminius as his submissive vassal, whose aid he might rely on in facilitating the march of his troops against the rebels and in extinguishing the local disturbance. He therefore set his army in motion, and marched eastward in a line parallel to the course of the Lippe. For some distance his route lay along a level plain; but on arriving at the tract between the curve of the upper part of that stream and the sources of the Ems, the country assumes a very different character; and here, in the territory of the modern little principality of Lippe, it was that Arminius had fixed the scene of his enterprise.
A wooded and hilly region intervenes between the heads of the two rivers, and forms the water-shed of their streams. This region still retains the name (Teutobergenwald = Teutobergiensis saltus) which it bore in the days of Arminius. The nature of the ground has probably also remained unaltered. The eastern part of it, round Detmold, the modern capital of the principality of Lippe, is described by a modern German scholar, Dr. Plate, as being a “table-land intersected by numerous deep and narrow valleys, which in some places form small plains, surrounded by steep mountains and rocks, and only accessible by narrow defiles. All the valleys are traversed by rapid streams, shallow in the dry season, but subject to sudden swellings in autumn and winter. The vast forests which cover the summits and slopes of the hills consist chiefly of oak; there is little underwood, and both men and horse would move with ease in the forests if the ground were not broken by gulleys or rendered impracticable by fallen trees.” This is the district to which Varus is supposed to have marched; and Dr. Plate adds that “the names of several localities on and near that spot seem to indicate that a great battle had once been fought there. We find the names ‘das Winnefeld‘ (the field of victory), ‘die Knochenbahn‘ (the bone-lane), ‘die Knochenleke‘ (the bone-brook), ‘der Mordkessel‘ (the kettle of slaughter), and others.”
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