Varus; Give me back my Legions

Caesar once stated, “German’s live state of deprivation and poverty , they despise agriculture mainly eating meat, milk and cheese.”

The people living in Germania were tribal, and they thought that a symbol of the quality of a tribe was the amount of uninhabited land about the boundaries of a tribe. For this showed that they were able to drive off their neighbours from their land and homes, for no man would leave his home willingly.

The warrior of 1st century AD Germania wasn’t well equipped, he would be armed with a rudimentary shield, and a spear. Only the wealthiest warrior would carry a sword into battle, most would also be dressed in simple cloth rather than mail. A lot of them went into battle naked, this was also considered a better option than wearing clothes, because many died from infection caused by pieces of dirty cloth infected the wounds.

Vast areas of Germania were forested and these had a powerful role in the psyche of the tribes, these were places full of spirits, and supernatural magic. Along the Roman border there were several major tribes, that included the Marcomanni, Chatti, Cherusci and Chauci. In the west of the region there was another powerful and influential  tribe known as the Batavi. The Batavi supplied the Roman army with much needed mercenaries.

At the beginning of the century Roman traders had started to push much deeper in to the Germania region, setting up trading posts that eventually grew in size to be considered small towns. Roman influence was starting to take a foothold within the region. German nobles started to send their sons to serve in the Roman army, one such noble son was Arminius, son of a Cherusci chieftain.

Quintilus Varus was sent by Rome to oversee the Romanization of Germania. Varus was quite a influential and well connected politician, he was married to the grand niece of Emperor Augusta. He had the ability to call on the 17th, 18th and 19th legions if trouble erupted within the region. Varus some became a friend of Arminius who had returned home after serving with the Roman army. Varus unwittingly believed that Arminius could be trusted. Arminius was secretly plotting, with tribal leaders to get rid of the Romans.

By Autumn of AD 9 reports were coming into Varus of trouble brewing, so Varus roused the legions and set out to out down the problems before they became a real issue. Arminius offered Varus his support, though Segestes, another chieftain tried to tell Varus that Arminius couldn’t be trusted. Varus and the legions ran into trouble almost immediately, they had marched into a dense impenetrable forest, even before they were attacked they were having problems cutting down trees and constructing a useable road.

Once they were deep in the Teutoberg Forest the German warriors struck out at the strung out legions. The Roman army had become a straggle of soldiers, having difficulty in keeping their normal regimented precise marching order. This was to be a decisive moment in the history of the German people, Arminius managed to pen in the confused and badly led Romans. He did this between the forest and a stretch of marshland, which wouldn’t allow the legions to use their normal battle tactics. As a result the entire army of 30,000 troops were destroyed . Varus died either fighting in the thick of the action or chose to fall on his own sword. The 17th, 18th and 19th legions were never reconstituted.

Over the years that followed the massacre, the Roman army made a show of force by making excursions into German territory making small attacks. Though they never made a serious attempt at conquering the region. In AD 14 Tiberius became emperor, he decided to send 6 legions in to the German interior  across the Rhine under the command of Germanicus. They captured Thudsnelda wife of Arminius, this help to force the Germans out into an open battle, where they were defeated by Germanicus and the legions. The Roman army retreated back to the frontier forts across the Rhine.

In AD 19 Arminius was assassinated, many suspected he was trying to set himself up as a king of the Germanic tribes. After his death the tribes descended into fighting amongst themselves. They eventually requested that the Romans send a king. The Romans sent Flavius the brother of Arminius, who had been sent to serve with the Roman army at the same time as Arminius, but had chosen to stay and continue serving with the army, rather than return with Arminius.

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