The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9 C.E.)


It’s September of year 9. Augustus rules in
Rome, and the Empire is at peace. And far to the north, Publius Quincillus Varus is
on the other side of the Rhine with three legions. Germania, though still unconquered, has been
pacified. Many tribes now consider themselves allies to Rome. During the summer months, Varus had been touring
around Germania, trying to expand Roman influence. He put down little uprisings, acted as an
arbiter in local disputes, basically gave the locals a small taste of Roman law. It was the end of the campaigning season and
Varus was heading back across the Rhine. Representatives from a bunch of different German tribes approached
Varus and asked if they could each host a Roman cohort for the winter. (A Roman cohort
at this time was around 480 men.) Now, remember that Varus was trying to expand Roman influence,
so this is pretty much a dream request. “What, you want Rome to have a heavier military footprint
in Germania? Uhh, sure, I mean, if that’s what you guys want, we can do that.” So the Germans went home to their tribes,
each accompanied by a Roman cohort. The cohorts built for themselves little outposts, and
settled in for the winter. On an agreed upon day, each one of these German
tribes rose up and slaughtered the Romans in their midst. The whole thing was one big
conspiracy, and was executed flawlessly. On the same day, the Germans sent messengers
to Varus, who was still marching west, and told him that a revolt had broken out to the
north, and the Germans up were formally requesting Roman assistance. This was another trick.
There was no revolt. But Varus felt honour bound to protect Rome’s allies, so he lead
his army north. Under normal circumstances Varus would have
had 20,000 men, but he had already sent 5,000 men away with the Germans. These men were
already dead, but Varus didn’t know this yet. It wasn’t a good time to be marching north.
The weather had turned, and it was pouring rain. The Romans were struggling to navigate
this thick Forest with its narrow dirt path, which were quickly turning into mud. The path lead through a swampy pass between
two steep hills. Now let’s pause here for a moment. If you
were approaching this pass, what would you do? One option is to just say “I’m not marching
my whole army through a damn swamp,” and to find another way around. Marching off into
the woods isn’t ideal, but it was possible. Another option is to treat the swamp like
a river crossing. Send a cohort across first and have them form a defensive bridgehead,
and then slowly cross, a little bit at a time, while your men hold defensive positions at
each end of the swamp. This might take all day, and Varus was in a rush, but sometimes
cautiousness is the way to go. Another option is to thoroughly scout ahead
before committing to crossing the swamp. Send some guys up onto the hillside, check out
the far side of the swamp, you know, stop and look around. Again, this would take some
time, and it wouldn’t make you immune to an ambush, at least you’d have some warning. Another option is to encamp for the night.
If its raining and you have a complicated swamp crossing coming up and you have no idea
what’s out there, it’s okay just sit tight. If Julius Caesar were here, that’s what he
would have done. He was capable of sitting around for weeks just to make sure he wasn’t
put at a disadvantage. I know I’m beating this to death but I want
to illustrate how Varus had options, and how he didn’t use any of them. Even if you don’t
know what happens next, I hope you can see how careless this was. Seemingly from nowhere, the Romans were being
hit by ranged attacks from all directions. So there were Germans hiding on both hills.
Obviously. Many Romans died in these first few moments.
They tried to form a shield wall, and failed, and then tried to throw their javelins in
response, but the hills were just too steep. Varus ordered half of his men to hold the
Germans back, which basically meant stand there and try not to get killed, and the other
half to get onto dry land and start constructing their fortified encampment. The Romans carried
their walls with them, so they could throw these things together in no time. The defences were completed, and the rest
of the army retreated behind the walls for a sleepless night. That night, Varus took council from his subordinates.
They begged him to fall back across the Rhine and into Roman territory. Varus remained convinced
that there was an uprising to the north, even though there wasn’t, and felt compelled to
help. Honourable, but foolish. He went against the advice of his subordinates, and made plans
to continue north. The next morning, the Romans ditched many
of their supplies and took off pre-dawn, successfully slipping by the Germans in the darkness. A
good plan, and it actually worked. They advanced all day in silence, finally
exiting the forest onto a wide open plain, and encamping for the night. They weren’t
hiding. They were sitting out in the open hoping for a fight. Let me explain their thinking here. The Romans
have always preferred to fight out in the open, seeing it as much more honourable to
meet your opponent face to face. The Roman word for ambush was the same one they sometimes
used for treason. And just like we don’t view treason as a normal part of politics, they
didn’t view ambushes as a normal part of warfare. It goes without saying that history has proven
them wrong, but that’s what they thought. So anyway, that’s why the Romans were just
sitting out in the open after being so badly beaten. They wanted to have a “real” battle
out in the open. But the Germans didn’t bite. On the third day they kept pushing north until
they were forced to renter the forest. This is when the Germans attacked. The Romans were more prepared this time, but
couldn’t get a good grasp on where the Germans were coming from due to the dense vegetation,
and had a hard time fighting in the mud. It was a mistake to get sucked into battle here.
They took heavy losses, and were forced to retreat yet again into another fortified encampment. On the forth day the rain picked up again,
with gusts of wind so strong that it pushed people over. Varus decided to sit tight until
the storm passed, which is pretty reasonable. Unfortunately, it was on this day that German
reinforcements arrived. On the fifth day, the Romans emerged from
their encampment. They didn’t see any Germans, so they continued heading north. As you might
expect, they walked right into yet another German ambush. Now, this is the big one, so let’s slow down
and get the lay of the land. To the south there a small hill, covered with trees. To
the north, there was a swamp. Yes, another swamp. Varus must have learned his lesson
from Day One, because this time he did everything he could to keep his men on dry land. As the
Romans moved to go around the swamp, Germans poured out of the forest to block their path.
What do you think Varus did? He had his men to build another fortified encampment. Is
anybody else noticing a trend? If I can see a pattern, and you can see a pattern, we know
that the Germans probably saw the same pattern. Now, at long last, we have our first mutiny.
The Roman cavalry decided that they’d had enough, and made a break for it, charging
east. As luck would have it, that’s exactly where some more Germans were hiding, and they
easily ran the Romans down. So much for that idea. Varus was up at the front line, holding the
Germans back, when he was badly wounded. Probably by a javelin, but we don’t know for sure.
His men took him back to the encampment, which was still only half built. During this confusion,
some concealed Germans up on the southern hill revealed themselves, and charged. The
Romans here were busy setting up walls, and couldn’t get into formation in time. They
didn’t stand a chance. Varus, badly wounded and seeing that the battle was lost, killed
himself. These Germans eventually moved up and envelopped
the other half of the Roman army, continuing the slaughter until a Roman officer stepped
up and surrendered to the Germans. They were utterly defeated, there were maybe a couple
hundred Romans left. What happened next became the stuff of legend.
The Germans took the surviving Roman soldiers, lined them up, and systematically beheaded
them, keeping their skulls as trophies. Then, they took the surviving centenarians to a
group of trees and crucified them. And finally, they gathered up the surviving commanders,
took them to a sacred grove, and burned them alive in a ritual sacrifice. It’s conventional wisdom now that Rome never
really recovered from this defeat. Romans would campaign against Germania for generations,
but from this moment on they always viewed it as enemy territory, and never again as
a potential future province.

Comments

  1. More Rome vids please! NATO is boring subject. Also it's AD not CE. If you want a godless hippy calendar, start your own.😒😒😒

  2. People here always say that when southern europeans were creating civilization , the germans were living on trees eating nuts . The point is that they couldn't get them away from those trees xD

  3. If he had lived long enough, and gone West as planned, Alexander would've conquered the German territories.

  4. The thing about the real battle thing is rubbish. The Romans were better at fighting in the open, that’s why they wanted a fight in the open.

  5. IMO Arminius and Flavus were stolen children and since Flavus was the younger brother, he was more susceptible to the brainwashing which explains why he remained loyal to the Romans while Arminius reconnected with their homeland.

  6. It means 9 ad after the birth of christ in roman yrs it's the yr 762 since the founding of rome

  7. As far as I've ever been able to tell from historical records, roman rule only ever brought good things to their provinces, technology, medicine, infrastructure, stability. Yes they had to pay taxes, but compared to constantly worrying that the tribe next door will slit your throats in your sleep, seems like a decent bargain. Yet most of these tribes were incredibly hostile, scheming, backstabbing, and would revolt at the drop of a hat. Why? What did they gain from kicking the Romans out? All that came with independence was the return of conflicts between tribes, local warfare, and all the crap that comes with that(famine, disease, forced human migration).

  8. William: "You ignored the rules of engagement! In a fair fight, I'd kill you!"
    Jack: "Well that's not much incentive for me to fight fairly, now is it?"

  9. Germanicus Ceaser invaded years later and beat Arminius a few times in battles. So there was one more campaign by the Romans past the Rhine

  10. You would think varus would realize there isnt a revolt up north when you are ambushed on your way there, the barbs obviously knew where the romans were head ed and he should have realized it

  11. There is a lot of stuff left out of this post. First the Romans came back a won a number of battles. They made the Germans give them every single one of their captured Aguilas back!!! Every damn one. Arminius was dead within a couple of years. Killed by the very tribes that united to slay the Romans. Also Arminius's wife, whom he is reported to have loved greatly, and his son where taken back to roman as captives. There were those among the Romans that wanted to go back into Germania and dust the place. And in my opinion they could have done just. Roman has an intuitive approach to war. And was very adaptable. And it had shown the ability to absorb massive defeats, then pick itself up and defeat the enemy. But the Emperor decided not to pursue that path. In the end Arminius lost everything. And he had a brother that remained loyal to Rome.

  12. I see the name "Arminius" thrown around a lot in the comments, and I've seen a fair few videos making the whole story about him and his betrayal of Varius, but you didn't mention his name once. You've peaked my curiosity in that regard, and you're making me wonder why you didn't mention him. Was there a lack of evidence? Was that part of the story a later addition that was just accepted? Or did you not feel like adding that part because you felt it was an irrelevant story. 😮 I suppose regardless now you're making me want to go find the sources of this story myself, so thank you for that! ^_^

  13. I've never even heard of this battle, but I knew exactly what was going to happen the moment you started describing the terrain.

  14. My name is Then Royal King of Discord, Discord means argumentive slave. My name is older than Thor's. The German people killed the filthy romans in the Kalkriese to avoid slavery. The spirit of the German people is the Spirit of Freedom. Do not attempt to enslave us or you will end up F BOMBING yourself like Varus. That is what that word means by the way to kill yourself with your shiny roman sword.

  15. Imagine how different German history would be if the Romans would have just claimed asylum instead of sending their legions.

  16. What the fuck did the Germans win exactly? The Romans would've civilized them, united them into a single Roman nationality, modernized Germania and created vast infrastructure; instead, all the Germans achieved was delaying the arrival of civilization by a millenia; after Teutoburg forest, the Germans remained a bunch of small petty kingdoms the size of a city fighting each other over chickens, adoring fucking trees as gods, dancing naked around bonfires, their most modern technology being wooden and cooper tools and warring each other (Arminius ended up killed by his own tribe and the king of his tribe who was also his father-in-law defected to the Romans). So why the Germans celebrate this 'victory' is beyond me: besides, it wasn't even a victory, the Romans returned several times and fucked the Germans up each time, Arminius fought several more battles against Rome and lost them all and, if they needed to, the Romans were able to move unhindered through German territory, additionally, Germania was a piss poor province with no natural resources of any kind that would've been extremely unprofitable to the Roman Empire, it would've provided no revenues and would've been very costly to maintain requiring money in upkeep instead of providing it, so the Romans actually dodged that bullet. Fun fact: Several centuries later during the Great Migration, the Germans arrived in mass to the Roman Empire, seeking refuge and asylum in the very nation they rejected lol.

  17. Romans: We conquest Galia and hispania easly, why not Germania?
    Barbarians after the battle of teutoburg: Easy GG

  18. I'm curious as to who the mastermind behind the German plan of attack was. By the standards of the art of war, this entire battle from start to finish was textbook definition perfect. The Germans divided their enemy first then used disinformation to lead the enemy towards battleground that favored the Germans, where the Germans used the surrounding environment to their advantage and only engaged when the situation was in German favor, refusing to fight on the enemies terms on open ground. Perfect

  19. It's easy for historians to look down on Varas. However, if you objectively look at the information he had to work with and take into account the most important fact of all: Arminius (who was not mentioned in this video)… his actions don't seem nearly as absurd or foolish.

  20. The roman cavalry commander was the ring leader of it all it was his plan and most of the German's belonged to his tribe when he lead the cavalry away they just rode off into the forest and joined up with the rest of the German's

  21. Too bad not to mention Arminus, German by birth, who grew up and got education in Rome, was perfectly familiar with Roman tactics, and had great strategic mind. He was the one who masterminded all the uprising, without him such a level of coordination was impossible

  22. 7:50 I find these things hard to believe.
    1. Northern Europeans didn't keep skulls of their enemies, they kept skulls of their ancestors from their graves, to help remember their past lives.
    2. I don't know about this crucifixion, if it happened then it'd happened in a response to Varus' ruthless crucifixions.
    3. Humans were never burned in effigies as sacrifices. Effigies are still an important tradition in many places in northern Europe. Effigies were built for May Queen celebrations and whenever a Lord died.

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