The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

By pallin

The battle of the Teutoberg Forest was a crushing defeat for the Romans, fooled by a German traitor. It took place in 9 AD, when Augustus was emperor. From 27 BC to 14 AD, he would rule as the first emperor of Rome, taking over after Caesar's assassination and civil war.

It began with the commander Publius Quinctilius Varus, the governor of Germania. Varus was born in approximately 46 BC. and perished in the Teutoberg Forest. His father was Sextus Quinctilius Varus, a senator who committed suicide after being involved in Caesar's assassination. Varus married Vipsania, the daughter of Marcus Vipsania Agrippa. Through this marriage, Varus befriended Augustus and Agrippa. Boosting his political status, Varus quickly climbed up the cursus honorum, finally elected as consul in 13 BC. After his consulship ended, Varus was governor of the African province taken from Carthage from 9 to 8 BC. From there, he proceeded to Syria, and then back to Rome. There, he married Claudia Pulchra (Claudia the Beautiful), who was a relative of Augustus. Eventually, Varus was designated as the governor of Germania in 7 AD.


The other important figure in this battle was Arminius, who lived from 16 BC to 21 AD. Arminius could be seen as a double agent, as he was trained in a military commander. Even more, he became a Roman citizen and was an equestrian. Then, he returned to Germania, determined to drive the Romans out. Through his diplomatic skills, Arminius managed to form an alliance between four German tribes, the Cherusci, Marsi, Chatti, and the Bructeri. Arminius was firm on not letting Rome expand past the Rhine River.

In 9 AD, Varus heard reports of a local uprising near the Rhine River. Many people warned Varus and were suspicious of the incident, yet he trusted the man who had come asking for help, Arminius. Varus, victim to his arrogance, told Arminius to lead the way. Arminius led him to the Teutoberg Forest and then left, saying he had to scout out the area with his men. Varus and his men marched through the Teutoberg Forest in a dangerous fashion. They marched single file throughout the narrow paths, almost asking for an attack. The weather and environment was also bad, with rain and muddy patches.

Teutoburg Forest

Finally, the German tribes led by Arminius ambushed the unknowing, unprepared Romans. Marching single file, the Romans were easy bait for the swarming Germanic hordes. Soon, Varus himself committed suicide. It was a complete catastrophe for the Romans, having lost about 20,000 men over the three-day battle. The 17th, 18th, and 19th legions were all lost. Even more embarrassing, all three of the standards (eagles) were captured by the Germans, blowing a major insult to the Romans' pride. When Augustus heard of the news, he supposedly shouted, "Quintili Vari, legiones redde!" ("Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!")

There was also another important character in the Teutoburg story, Segestes, one of Arminiu's father-in-laws. Segestes tried to caution Varus and tell him of the plans, but Varus did not believe him and charged him of spreading slander about Arminius. Since Arminius had gone off with Segestes's daughter Thusnelda, Segestes disliked Arminius.

Arminius was also a source of national pride among the Germans, even in the nineteenth century. After being defeated by Napoleon in 1806, the Germans looked to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest and Arminius, also known as Herman. Napoleon spoke a Romanic language (French: the others are Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Romanian), and considered himself a Roman emperor. The Germans remembered that they had defeated the Romans and used this as a source of unity. A statue of Arminius was built at the Detfold, the site where the battle is presumed to have taken place. There was even a play called Die Hermansschlacht written by a German poet about the Germans and Napoleon. Clearly, Arminius lives on in German culture.


Archaeological excavations have revealed some evidence about the battle. Pieces of armor have been found, coins that were all made before 9 AD, and coins that are stamped with a "VAR". Human remains have also been found at Kalkriese, suggesting that was the site of the slaughter.

Teutoburg provided an example to Rome, showing that they too could be defeated and were not invincible. Although Rome managed to recover from this attack, their expansion past the Rhine was halted.