Throughout Germany the Roman garrisons were assailed and cut off; and within a few weeks after Varus had fallen, the German soil was freed from the foot of an invader.
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
The bulk of the Roman army fought steadily and stubbornly, frequently repelling the masses of assailants, but gradually losing the compactness of their array and becoming weaker and weaker beneath the incessant shower of darts and the reiterated assaults of the vigorous and unencumbered Germans. At last, in a series of desperate attacks, the column was pierced through and through, two of the eagles captured, and the Roman host, which on the morning before had marched forth in such pride and might — now broken up into confused fragments — either fell fighting beneath the overpowering numbers of the enemy or perished in the swamps and woods in unavailing efforts at flight. Few, very few, ever saw again the left bank of the Rhine. One body of brave veterans, arraying themselves in a ring on a little mound, beat off every charge of the Germans, and prolonged their honorable resistance to the close of that dreadful day. The traces of a feeble attempt at forming a ditch and mound attested in after-years the spot where the last of the Romans passed their night of suffering and despair. But on the morrow this remnant also, worn out with hunger, wounds, and toil, was charged by the victorious Germans, and either massacred on the spot or offered up in fearful rites on the altars of the deities of the old mythology of the North.
A gorge in the mountain ridge, through which runs the modern road between Paderborn and Pyrmont, leads from the spot where the heat of the battle raged to the Extersteine — a cluster of bold and grotesque rocks of sandstone — near which is a small sheet of water, overshadowed by a grove of aged trees. According to local tradition, this was one of the sacred groves of the ancient Germans, and it was here that the Roman captives were slain in sacrifice by the victorious warriors of Arminius.
Never was victory more decisive; never was the liberation of an oppressed people more instantaneous and complete. Throughout Germany the Roman garrisons were assailed and cut off; and within a few weeks after Varus had fallen, the German soil was freed from the foot of an invader.
At Rome the tidings of the battle were received with an agony of terror, the reports of which we would deem exaggerated did they not come from Roman historians themselves. They not only tell emphatically how great was the awe which the Romans felt of the prowess of the Germans if their various tribes could be brought to unite for a common purpose, but they also reveal how weakened and debased the population of Italy had become. Dion Cassius says: “Then Augustus, when he heard the calamity of Varus, rent his garment, and was in great affliction for the troops he had lost, and for terror respecting the Germans and the Gauls. And his chief alarm was that he expected them to push on against Italy and Rome; and there remained no Roman youth fit for military duty that were worth speaking of, and the allied populations, that were at all serviceable, had been wasted away. Yet he prepared for the emergency as well as his means allowed; and when none of the citizens of military age were willing to enlist, he made them cast lots, and punished, by confiscation of goods and disfranchisement, every fifth man among those under thirty-five and every tenth man of those above that age. At last, when he found that not even thus could he make many come forward, he put some of them to death. So he made a conscription of discharged veterans and of emancipated slaves, and, collecting as large a force as he could, sent it, under Tiberius, with all speed into Germany.”
Footnote 1: It is clear that the Romans followed the policy of fomenting dissensions and wars of the Germans among themselves.
Dion mentions also a number of terrific portents that were believed to have occurred at the time, and the narration of which is not immaterial, as it shows the state of the public mind when such things were so believed in and so interpreted. The summits of the Alps were said to have fallen, and three columns of fire to have blazed up from them. In the Campus Martius, the temple of the war-god, from whom the founder of Rome had sprung, was struck by a thunderbolt. The nightly heavens glowed several times as if on fire. Many comets blazed forth together; and fiery meteors, shaped like spears, had shot from the northern quarter of the sky down into the Roman camps. It was said, too, that a statue of Victory, which had stood at a place on the frontier, pointing the way toward Germany, had of its own accord turned round, and now pointed to Italy. These and other prodigies were believed by the multitude to accompany the slaughter of Varus’ legions and to manifest the anger of the gods against Rome.
Augustus himself was not free from superstition; but on this occasion no supernatural terrors were needed to increase the alarm and grief that he felt, and which made him, even months after the news of the battle had arrived, often beat his head against the wall and exclaim, “Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions.” We learn this from his biographer Suetonius; and, indeed, every ancient writer who alludes to the overthrow of Varus attests the importance of the blow against the Roman power, and the bitterness with which it was felt.
The Germans did not pursue their victory beyond their own territory; but that victory secured at once and forever the independence of the Teutonic race. Rome sent, indeed, her legions again into Germany, to parade a temporary superiority, but all hopes of permanent conquests were abandoned by Augustus and his successors.
The blow which Arminius had struck never was forgotten. Roman fear disguised itself under the specious title of moderation, and the Rhine became the acknowledged boundary of the two nations until the fifth century of our era, when the Germans became the assailants, and carved with their conquering swords the provinces of imperial Rome into the kingdoms of modern Europe.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history