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Ancient Warfare Special issue 2009 - The Varian Disaster

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Ancient Warfare Special 2009: The Varian Disaster The Source: Jona Lendering, 'Four... mehr
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Ancient Warfare Special 2009: The Varian Disaster

The Source: Jona Lendering, 'Four misrepresentations.'

Until the Kalkriese excavations put an end to the long debate about the site where Varus' legions were destroyed, the only evidence for the battle was alimited set of sources: Velleius Paterculus, Tacitus, Florus, and Cassius Dio. They are all biased.

Prelude: P.Lindsay Powell, 'Bella Germaniae. The German campaigns of Drusus the Elder and Tiberius.'
Illustrated by Carlos de la Rocha


Iin focusing on the three fateful days the battle lasted in September of 9 AD, it is often overlooked that up to that moment, Magna Germania, the name the Romans gave to the lands beyond the Rhine and Danube, was already well into a process of pacification intended to transform it into a fully functioning province. Drusus the Elder

Fortifications: Duncan B.Campbell, 'Secrets from the soil. The archaeology of Augustus' military bases.'
Illustrated by Andrew Brozyna and Carlos de la Rocha.


Without the archaeological study of the sites along the Rhine and in the interiorof Germany, we could speculate endlessly on the movements and campaigns of Augustus' armies. It is only by correlating the narrative sources with the results of archaeological excavation that we obtain a more complete picture. And the material remains provide one or two surprises along the way.

The Generals: Sidney Dean, 'Road to destiny. Arminius and Varus before AD 9.'
Illustrated by Stéphane Langrange


Arminius and Varus will forever be known as the great antagonists of the Teutoburger Forest. Less famous are the roads both men traveled prior to AD 9. This article explores their careers up to that fatefull Fall.

The opposing armies: Ross Cowan, 'Augustan legionaries. Defining features of the Roman army.'
Illustrated by Johnny Shumate and Stéphane Lagrange.


Unlike the great wars of the Late Republic, the conquests and campaigns of the age of Augustus are poorly documented. However, the surviving literary evidence (histories, geographical writings and poetry) and epigraphic sources (epitaphs and dedicatory inscriptions) do provide glimpses of the wars and the legionaries who fought in them.

The opposing armies: Christian Koepfer, 'The legionary's equipment.'
Illustrated by Johnny Shumate


Contrary to the situation for Germanic Warriors, the evaluation of archaeological data for the Roman soldier has been an ongoing process since the first scientific excavations in Germany. This started under the auspicies of the'Reichlimeskommission' (imperial limes committee) between the 1890s and the end of WWI. Since then a gigantic number of artifacts has been found, evaluated, sorted in relative chronologies and, where possible, linked to absolute dates. Archaeology as a science has improved as well with the result that today, we have a rather detailed and accurate image of the Roman soldiers and his kit, although several detailed questions about the equipment still wait for a definite answer.

The opposing armies: Michael J. Taylor, 'Hit and run. The Germanic warrior in the 1st century AD.'
Illustrated by Johnny Shumate


The Germanic warrior confronted the Augustan legionary at a distinct material disadvantage. The Augustan legionary was an 'iron man', encased in body armor and helmet, savagely armed with a short sword and two javelins. They compensated for this disadvantage with strategy, tactics and courage.

The opposing armies: Christian Koepfer, 'Arming the warrior. Archaeological evidence'.
Illustrated by Johnny Shumate


Research into ancient German peoples suffered from a lack of interest and perhaps even stigmatization in Germany itself between 1945 and the 1970s. It took a while for the subject to become respectable again, while a younger generation came to the fore iin the last quarter of the 20th century. These new archaeologists generally had to base their work results pre-dating the 1930s, but as new finds came to light, the old and new could be combined, resulting in new insights.

The battle: Adrian Murdoch, 'Arminius' masterstroke. The campaign of AD 9'.
Illustrated by Carlos de la Rocha, Stéphane Lagrange and Igor Dzis


In September AD 9 the Roman empire suffered its greatest setback at the battle of Teutoburg Forest in northern Germany. "The heaviest defeat the Romans had suffered on foreign soil", wrote one contemporary of the battle. The winners: Arminius, a nobleman of the Cherusci, a tribe that dominated the area that roughly corresponds to the southern part of the modern state of Lower Saxony, and his confederation of Germanic warriors. The losers: Publius Quinctilius Varus and three legions, three cavalry alae and six auxiliary units.

Aftermath: Paul McDonnell-Staff, 'After Varus. Rome and the Rhine.'
Illustrated by Carlos de la Rocha


When the Romans first encountered Germanic peoples in the late 2nd century BC, the latter destroyed whatever Rome could put in their way. It required a new army under the 'New man' Marius to erase the stain. More than a century of confrontation and cooperation with these belligerent peoples shaped Roman ideas about what to do when Arminius destroyed Varus' army.

Jasper Oorthuys, 'Looking for Varus. The quest for the Teutoburg forest.'
Illustrated by Peter Nuyten.


When Tacitus' Annals and Germanica first appeared in print around AD 1500, these writings brought about a new interest. Contemporary Germans desired to know about their ancient ancestors and their fight against mighty Rome. Very quickly the battle of the Teutoburg Forest became a symbolic mark in German history, that was studied, used and abused for all manner of purposes, many of them nationalistic.It goes without saying that this attention raised one big question: where exactly had these events taken place?

The battlefield: 'In Varus' footsteps. Tips for visiting the area.'
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