The "Battle in the Teutoburg Forest," or the the
"Varus Catastrophe," as the Romans called it was the beginning and
also the central event of the Germanic War of Liberation that lasted
from 9 to 16 AD. However, it was not the only event of that war,
for the ancient Germans still had to defend the advantage they had
gained against a carefully planned counterattack by a gigantic,
militarily superior army.
The German-Roman War at the dawn of our era put
an abrupt end to the rapid expansion of the Roman Empire that had
taken it in 200 years from its Italian homeland to domination of
the entire Mediterranean area and large parts of northern. Never
before had a conquered people liberated itself from Rome –
and never again would any, until the collapse 400 years later.
The long war set the stage for an even longer era of contact between
ancient Romans and ancient Germans. For while Rome might be unable
to conquer Germany, the Germans were likewise unable to overwhelm
the Empire. Instead, they could, over the centuries, appropriate
those elements of its culture that they wanted, at the limes, the
fortified borderline that stretched from Rotterdam to Vienna and
beyond. And by the time they finally did pour in the Western Roman
Empire and bring it down, its culture was already so familiar to
them that they didn't simply smash it, but took over much of it.
European history since then has seen the continued interaction of
these two cultural traditions. Europe as we know it today is the
result of this war; had its outcome been different, Europe, too
would have been incredibly different – too different for us
even to imagine.
The Course of the War
The war began in 17 BC, with the annihilation
of the V Legion by the Sugambrians, a tribe that lived in what is
now the industrial Ruhr valley. The battle must have taken place
somewhere in the area between Cologne and Aachen, today on the Dutch
and Belgian border.
The Romans planned their counterstroke carefully,
for four years. In 12 BC, their commander Drusus, stepson of Emperor
Augustus and younger brother his heir, Tiberius, marched in and
rapidly subjugated the Germanic tribes in the present-day states
of North Rhine-Westphalia and Hesse. While trying to extend his
conquests to the lands between the Weser and the Elbe, he died in
an accident. It is very likely that the place of his death has been
found – the Roman camp he founded at Hedemünden on the Werra,
between Kassel, Hesse, and Göttingen, Lower Saxony. The camp may
later have house one of Varus’ legions.
His brother Tiberius soon finished the job, his
six-year-old son inherited his honorary epithet "Germanicus" –
conqueror of Germany. By the time he was old enough to in fact assume
that heritage, it was time to prove he was worthy of it: For three
years, Caesar Germanicus was to lead the vain attempt to regain
the lost conquests. Not until his recall in 17 AD did Europe's first
"Thirty-Year War” end..
In between, there had been the “Great Uprising,”
that broke out around the turn of the millennia, and covered most
of Westphalia and southern Lower Saxony; it was not completely suppressed
until 6 AD, and was of course followed three years later by the
ultimately successful rebellion that began with the famous "Battle
of the Teutoburg Forest.”.