The 'Limes Giant' Mask
Found at Kalkriese
Clades Variana   (The Varus Disaster)
By Kevin Barry
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Page 3

The Second Day:

After a night of harrassment attacks by the Germans, the Roman forces broke camp. Varus decided to either burn or abandon the baggage train and proceed with only what was absolutely necessary. Those that died during the night would have been buried and the legions, along with what was left of the civilians, formed up for the days march.

The question was, which way to go? Should they proceed north or try to return to a fortress on the Lippe river? We do not know if Varus or his lieutenants made the decision, but they decided to push onward, deeper into the Teutoburgerwald and German territory. Today we know that was a grave mistake, although we do not know if the way would have been any easier if they had decided to turn back.

The Romans expected that the Germans would meet them in open combat at the site of the first camp. Unfortunately for them, the Germans would not oblige and kept to the forest where they had the advantage. So the Romans had no other choice but to march back into the forest. The going was tough for both men and horses with the mud from the previous days storm and (possibly) recurring rain. They came under continual attack and it was on the second day that the majority of the casualties occured. Eventually, the decision was made to abandon the forward march and retreat towards the Lippe.

The Romans retreated and in open terrain caused the Germans some casualties. But it was not enough. Darkness was coming, so they found a suitable spot for the second nights camp. The close of the second day found a severely depleted Roman army. Varus made plans to escape the next day.

The Third Day and Beyond:

Rather than growing weaker from casualties, the German force had grown stronger as more and more tribes joined the banner of Arminius. The stage was set for the final destruction of the Romans.

From Cassius Dio, "The Roman History", Book LVI:21
The fourth day (writers note: Cassius may have benn refering to the 4th day of march, not the 4th day of battle. This is one of the contradictions in the historidal accounts) saw them still on the move, and again they experienced heavy rain and violent winds, which prevented them from advancing or even finding a firm foothold and made it impossible to wield their weapons. They could neither draw their bows nor hurl their javelins to any effect, nor even make use of their shields, which were completely sodden with rain. Their opponents, on the other hand, were for the most part lightly armed, and so could approach and retire without difficulty, and suffered far less from the weather.

With dawn, the remnants of the ragged Roman army prepared to move out and make a run for the Lippe and safety. They must have suspected that the situation was hopeless, but they were not prepared to give up. The Germans set a trap by withdrawing and allowing Varus and his men to leave camp. The Romans fought their way forward, occasionally breaking out into the open, until they came upon a barricade of fallen trees laid by Arminius which blocked the path. They had advanced into the final 'killing ground', a trap where they were surrounded by the Germans.

A hasty ditch and mound defense was thrown up as the Romans prepared for the final assault. As the frenzied Germans swarmed over the defenses, the Roman forces were broken up into smaller and smaller groups, isolated from each other. Varus, wounded and realizing that the situation was hopeless, commited suicide by falling on his sword. The Praefect Eggius stood his ground and fought to the end with his men, while his comrade Ceionius prefered to surrender and take his chances with German mercy.

At this point, the nerve of the cavalry commander, Numonius Vala, broke. He rallied his cavalry and tried to break out of the trap, leaving the poor foot soldiers and the rest of his comrades to their fate. The attempt did not succeed, the cavalry was wiped out to the last man and horse.

From Gaius Velleus Paterculus, "Roman History"
Numonius Vala, a lieutenant-general under Varus, who in other cases conducted himself as a modest and well-meaning man, was on this occasion guilty of abominable treachery; for, leaving the infantry uncovered by the cavalry, he fled with the horse of the allies, and attempted to reach the Rhine. Fortune took vengeance on his misdeed; for he did not survive his deserted countrymen, but perished in the act of desertion.

One by one the small groups of soldiers were overrun and slaughtered or forced to surrender. One body of brave veterans formed a ring on a little mound and fought off the German attacks until the end of the day. Two of the three eagles, the symbol of the legions, were captured. An unknown soldier carrying the third eagle decided to die rather than let it be captured. As the Germans were closing in he ran to a nearby swamp and waded into it with the eagle and disappeared. Shortly after that, the battle ended.

The battlefield grew quiet, except for the cries of the wounded. The victorius Germans circulated through the area, dispatching the wounded where they lay and selecting others for cold blooded amusements. Officers were burned alive, soldiers nailed to trees.

From Polk's "Fifteen Decisive Battles Of The World"
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.

Most of the bodies were left where they lay, unburied and exposed to the elements. It was said that Arminus did this as proof to other tribes of his ability and a warning to the Romans. Varus's body, which was apparently buried by the Romans during the attack, was dug up and his head brought to Marobodus of the German Marcomanni tribe. Since the Marcomanni were neutral in the fight, this may have been either an invitation to join Arminius or a threat. The Marcomanni remained neutral and Marobodus eventually returned the head to Rome.

Few, very few of the Roman survived 3 days of attack. Some accounts place the number of survivors at fewer than 12, soldiers and civilians, out of a possible 25,000 people. Could the small number of survivors be an exageration? Possibly. But even the Roman accounts state that the force was utterly decimated. So terrible was the defeat that the legion numbers (LVII, LVIII, LXIX) were never used again.

The survivors had other problems. Unknown to them, all across northern Germany Roman garrisons, forts and towns were under attack. And every one of those locations, except one, was sacked or burned to the ground. For the survivors, there was no safety, no safe haven, north of the Rhine.

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