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What happened in the Varus Battle in the Teutoburg Forest?

In the Varus Battle, often also called Hermann Battle, the Cheruscan prince Arminius defeated in 9 AD. three Roman legions under their chief army leader Publius Quinctilius Varus.

It is one of the most devastating defeats the Romans suffered in the centuries of history of the Roman Empire. However, they were also victims of ambushes and betrayals.

It is uncertain whether the battle actually took place in the Teutoburg Forest. But it was probably somewhere in today's Osnabrück region. Researchers are currently favoring the Kalkriese area as the location of the action.

Treason and ambush attack

The victory of Germanic tribes over the supposedly superior Romans, which some nationalists have repeatedly glorified, also has its dark sides on closer inspection.

Arminius belonged to the Cherusci people who died in 9 AD. in fact already belonged to the Roman Empire and lived in peace with the Romans. As a descendant of a noble family, Arminius had even enjoyed his entire military training in the Roman army and had previously participated in numerous battles on the Roman side. He was raised to the Roman knighthood and promoted to commandant. Publius Quinctilius Varus was also a good acquaintance.

But then one day he must have decided to change sides. He recruited several other tribes in addition to the Cheruscans in the Germanic land and ambushed the three Roman legions in impassable terrain.

The battle consisted of repeated attacks and lasted a total of several days. Most of the 20,000 or so Romans perished, only a few returned. This led to the famous saying of Emperor Augustus: "Varus, give me back my legions."

Disastrous results

When he was about to be overwhelmed, Varus threw himself into his dagger on the battlefield, so he committed suicide. Considering what the Teutons did to the captured Romans, possibly a wise decision. Most of the Romans were brutally massacred and their heads were later nailed to trees.

After the Varus Battle, the Romans withdrew from the area north of the Danube for some time. A few years later, Arminius himself was murdered by relatives in internal Germanic disputes.

Author: Dr. Jörg Zorn