The 'Limes Giant' Mask
Found at Kalkriese
Clades Variana   (The Varus Disaster)
By Kevin Barry
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In 9 AD, during the reign of Augustus, an event took place that literally changed the course of Roman and European history. It happened in Germany at a place known as the Teutoburger Wald (Forest).

The event was a battle involving the newly appointed Roman governor of Germany, a Roman army of approximately 16,500 men, 3 German tribes and a man who later came to be seen as the savior of ancient Germany. By the time the battle was over, the governor was dead by his own hand and 3 Roman legions, along with 3 cavalry alae and possibly ten thousand camp followers, were utterly decimated. When the news reached Rome, the shock to the emperor and the Roman people was profound and long lasting.

The battle is known today as The Varus Disaster, named after the governor of Germany and commander of the legions. That the battle took place was known through historical records, both Roman and German, but exactly where it happened was not known. It is only within the last few decades that archaeologists have been able to identify the general area and within the last 10 years, possibly pinpoint the various locations of the battle.

This was a period where Rome was aggressively expanding and pushing the borders of the empire into northern Europe. The Rhine River was not considered a border, rather it was a stepping stone to further conquests to the north. At this time, both Drusus and Tiberius led extensive campaigns to conquer the territory and bring it into the sphere of the empire.

Authors Note: This article is an attempt to piece together the many conflicting reports of the events that took place before and during the battle. Some of the information that we do not know for certain is surprising, for example, some sources state that the battle took place over 3 days, others say 4. Some sources say that Varus was marching to put down a rebellion in the north, others say he was relocating to a winter camp when the ambush took place. However, there are certain events that took place within the battle that all sources agree on.

Dramatis Personae

Publius Quintilius Varus. In 13 B.C. he was consul with Tiberius and later appointed governor of Syria by Augustus. He was also married to the grand-niece of Augustus. Some time before 7 AD, possibly at the time Tiberius was recalled to Rome, Augustus appointed Varus as the governor of a supposedly 'pacified' Germany. Varus may have been counting on Augustus to give the husband of a favored grand-niece an easy and profitable assignment. From historical records (which may be biased) it seems possible that Varus was a poor choice for the post, given his previous record in Syria and considering that Germany was far from pacified.

From Gaius Velleus Paterculus, "Roman History"
The occasion, and the character of the leader, demand some attention. Quintilius Varus was born of a noble rather than illustrious family, was of a mild disposition, of sedate manners, and being somewhat indolent as well, in body as in mind, was more accustomed to ease in a camp than to action in the field. How far he was from despising money, Syria, of which he had been governor, afforded proof; for, going a poor man into that rich province, he became a rich man, and left it a poor province. Being appointed commander of the army in Germany, he imagined that the inhabitants had nothing human but the voice and limbs, and that men who could not be tamed by the sword, might be civilized by law. ....

From Cassius Dio, "The Roman History", Book LVI:18
But when Quintilius Varus became governor of the province of Germany, and in the exercise of his powers also came to handle the affairs of these peoples, he tried both to hasten and to widen the process of change. He not only gave orders to the Germans as if they were actual slaves of the Romans, but also levied money from them as if they were subject nations. These were demands they would not tolerate. The leaders yearned for their former ascendancy, and the masses preferred their accustomed condition to foreign domination.

Arminius was the son of Segimer (18 BC? - 19 AD?), chief of the Cherusci, a Teutonic tribe inhabiting parts of what is now Germany, in the area of present-day Hanover. He served in the Roman army (AD 1-6) along with his brother Flavius, obtaining Roman citizenship and attained the rank of Knight (eques). His time in the army gave him valuable insight into the art of war and policy as practiced by the Romans. Returning home about AD 7, he found his people oppressed by the Roman governor Publius Quintilius Varus.

A Note On Names

Varus: Depending on which reference you turn to, Varus was either Publius Quintilius Varus or Publius Quinctilius Varus. For this article we will keep to the spelling used by Cassius Dio and Paterculus, which was Quintilius.

Arminius: We have no idea on what his Cheruscan name was, one suggestion in some literature points to Erminameraz as a likely candidate. We do know that Arminius was not his true name, but a romanized version of the original Cheruscan. German nationalists of the 19th century celebrated him as a national hero, under the name of Hermann, for having freed Germany from the Romans.

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