Little Bits of History

Pushing Back at Rome

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 9, 2015


September 9, 9 AD: The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest is fought. Arminius was a chieftain of the Germanic Cherusci born in 18 or 17 BC, the son of chief Segimerus. He trained as a Roman military commander while he was a hostage in his youth. While living as a hostage, he obtained his Roman citizenship and even earned the title of equestrian – a petty noble. He returned to Germania after serving with Roman forces in the Pannonian wars on the Balkan peninsula. He assumed leadership of the Cherusci in 4 AD. The Romans had secured territory east of the Rhine and were hoping to increase holdings. Publius Quinctilius Varus was appointed as governor of the Germanic region by Augustus. Arminius planned to unite the Germanic factions in order to stave off the Romans.

In the fall, 25-year-old Arminius told Varus a rebellion was afoot in northern Germany. He persuaded Varus to divert three legions (17th, 18th, and 19th legions) plus three cavalry detachments and six cohorts of auxiliaries from their winter march and to have them suppress the rebellion up north. Varus trusted the information and led the troops into the trap Arminius had laid out. The three day battle began on this day. Archeological finds show the exact location as near Kalkriese Hill north of Osnabrück. The exact detail are unknown, but Arminius led troops from six different Germanic tribes and had a force between 12,000 and 32,000 strong. Varus had between 20,000 and 36,000 troops at his disposal. The decisive German victory had an unknown cost in lives. But the Roman defeat led to between 16,000 and 20,000 dead with others enslaved. As defeat became imminent, Varus committed suicide by falling on his sword.

The Romans did not take defeat lightly and the following years were fraught with incursions into German territories. Arminius was defeated twice by the Romans but lived to fight on. He had captured three legions’ eagles, a symbol of his victory over the Romans and these were prizes to be recovered by returning Roman troops, two were recovered, one in 15 and the other in 16 AD. The third was eventually brought back to Rome, but not until 41 AD. Arminius also met with inter-Germanic problems. His father-in-law and other pro-Roman Germanic leaders were increasing. Even so, the Romans were left with the Rhine as a border they could not cross, and north of the River were lands they could not hold.

With the end of the Roman threat, wars broke out within German lands and eventually, Arminius was killed in 21 AD in what many believe was an assassination by poisoning by his opponents. His victory shaped both German and Roman histories. The Rhine held as a border between the two states and the Roman made no more attempts to conquer or permanently hold Germania. Today, his victory is regarded by historians as “Rome’s greatest defeat”. In Roman histories, Arminius was highly regarded for his leadership skills and military acumen.

Arminius, without doubt Germania’s liberator, who challenged the Roman people not in its beginnings like other kings and leaders, but in the peak of its empire; in battles with changing success, undefeated in the war. – Tacitus

It was not by secret treachery but openly and by arms that the people of Rome avenged themselves on their enemies. – Tacitus

Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions! – Augustus on learning of the absolute defeat

The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart. – Robert Green Ingersoll

Also on this day: Stop Bugging Me – In 1947, a computer bug was found.
Billion Dollar Betsy – In 1965, Hurricane Betsy became the first US billion dollar hurricane.
Prison Riot – In 1971, the Attica Prison Riots began.
Crimean War – In 1855, the Siege of Sevastopol ended.
Mammoth Mammoth Cave – In 1972, more caves were found to be part of the Mammoth Cave system.

* “Arminius pushkin” by shakko – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


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