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The Roman Slaughter at Teutoburg Forest near Kalkriese, Sept. 9 AD

Updated on October 24, 2010
German warriors
German warriors
Depiction of battle
Depiction of battle
Roman soldier
Roman soldier

The Roman disaster in the TeutoburgForest in September, 9 A.D remains one of the great defeats of the Roman Empire. Led by one of Rome’s favorite son’s, German born Arminius, turned on those that loved and trained him, he secretly led four German tribes (18000 men) into deadly battle with Varus’ Roman Army. Arminius was a trusted and loyal officer of the legion, but German. He always was. While he truly became a Roman in all ways, when it came to the Roman conquest of Germany, his allegiance secretly changed and he plotted to lead Rome's legions into a killing zone. The German ambush at the KalkrieseNarrows ( a narrow strip of land only 220m wide) caught the Romans by complete surprise with an ambush. Within three days, all 20,000 Roman soldiers had been killed in a savage and brutal bloodletting. The battle began on the second day as the Romans approached the narrows and the German attacked. Some historians believe that the battle lasted no longer than three hours, with the main deluge taking only 30 minutes. However, Roman writings clearly indicate it was over a period of three days, with Day 2 as being the when the massacre occurred.

The attack was top secret. As the Roman legions approached the narrow one lane path which lied between the 110m Kalkriese Hill and the Great Moor swamp (near present day Engter, Germany, off Hwy B218) Arminius, which was scouting far ahead, switched loyalties and vanished. Varus, the legion commander, never saw him again. The Roman soldiers casually and with their guard down, walked in single file past a 4-5 ft. high mud wall with trees and brush on both sides and the swamp a few hundred yards away. They never suspected what awaited them behind the wall and in the woods until Arminius issued the attack order.

The Roman advance into Germany in September, 9 AD, consisted mostly of the 17th, 18th, and 19th legions, 3000 non-roman and about 400 cavalry. Varus was the commander and was basically on a patrol mission and goodwill tour in Germany. The German tribes were not friendly to Rome and Rome was never really successful there. Roman forts were located at Alsio, Haltern and Oberaden. The German tribes became united under Arminius, at least for this battle. They consisted of Bructeri, Chatti, Cherusci, Marsi, Chauci and totaled 15000 men who were savages and poorly armed when compared to the Roman soldier.

When the first legion approached the "wicked narrows" on that fateful day, normally, the legion would occupy a width of space of 16 yds, however, because of the terrain, the soldiers had to enter and move in single file along the path-this weakened Roman tactics monumentally. The geographics of the battlefield made it impossible to employ Roman tactics very well, there simply was no space. When the attack began, the German tribes came out of nowhere from both sides of the path instantly causing mayhem in brutal in your face combat. The Germans sent in their men in waves under the command of Arminius as Roman reinforcements entered. The German tribes attacked the legions Ballistas and archers before they could be employed and their supply train was wiped out.

The battle was really man for man, chaotic, brutal and savage. Varus had little time to conduct "proper" military tactics of any sort. As the battle went on, it was apparent some Roman soldiers chose to flee the debacle, most did not get far and only a few did escape with the news of the battle.

The Germans lost around 7000 men. They were fighting for their land while the Romans in Germany considered it a fringe area and not really valuable as a colony. It was Rome's backwater area and lesser quality troops were sent there as well.

After the battle, 20,000 dead Romans laid. Any still living were beheaded by the victors. It was a blow Rome never really got over.


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    • perrya profile image

      perrya 4 years ago

      Yes, thanks

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      Jenn 4 years ago

      I'm making a YouTube video about Rome, and I was wondering if I could use your Roman soldier image for it. I will give you full credit and put this URL in the link, but can I?