Battle That Stopped Rome: Emperor Augustus, Arminius, and the Slaughter of the Legions in the Teutoburg Forest

Overview

The previously untold story of the watershed battle that changed the course of Western history.
In AD 9, a Roman traitor led an army of barbarians who trapped and then slaughtered three entire Roman legions: 20,000 men, half the Roman army in Europe. If not for this battle, the Roman Empire would surely have expanded to the Elbe River, and probably eastward into present-day Russia. But after this defeat, the shocked Romans ended all efforts to expand beyond the Rhine, which ...

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Overview

The previously untold story of the watershed battle that changed the course of Western history.
In AD 9, a Roman traitor led an army of barbarians who trapped and then slaughtered three entire Roman legions: 20,000 men, half the Roman army in Europe. If not for this battle, the Roman Empire would surely have expanded to the Elbe River, and probably eastward into present-day Russia. But after this defeat, the shocked Romans ended all efforts to expand beyond the Rhine, which became the fixed border between Rome and Germania for the next 400 years, and which remains the cultural border between Latin western Europe and Germanic central and eastern Europe today.
This fascinating narrative introduces us to the key protagonists: the emperor Augustus, the most powerful of the Caesars; his general Varus, who was the wrong man in the wrong place; and the barbarian leader Arminius, later celebrated as the first German hero. In graphic detail, based on recent archaeological finds, the author leads the reader through the mud, blood, and decimation that was the Battle of Teutoburg Forest.

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Editorial Reviews

Robert Cowley
“Peter Wells conducts us to a hitherto mysterious and myth-enshrouded place....A journey well worth taking.”
Kirkus Reviews
Important analysis of a fierce first-century surprise attack by German tribesmen that ended Rome's designs on territory east of the Rhine and profoundly altered subsequent history. Wells (Archaeology/Univ. of Minnesota) argues convincingly that both archaeologists and historians must contribute to understandings of long-ago events. (Naturally, he believes the former are less subject to bias since histories are written by the victors.) The site of this little-known battle was not located until 1987. Since then the four-by-three-mile location has yielded a trove of relics; more than 4,000 Roman objects had been recovered by the end of 1999. The author's account of the battle consumes only a single short chapter and is admittedly heavily inferential: the surviving written accounts are scanty (and Roman); the archaeological evidence is still being uncovered and assessed. Still, Wells is able not only to reconstruct a credible analysis of the German strategy—pinning the Romans into a tight area of unforgiving forest and marshy terrain in which they could not execute their customary combat tactics—but also to explore the thoughts and fears of the combatants on both sides as the massacre commenced. In about an hour it was all over but the dying and scavenging, the burying and celebrating, the torturing and sacrificing of prisoners. Three Roman legions, some 20,000 men, were destroyed; a very few survivors escaped to spread the news. The Roman leader, Varus, a trusted ally of Augustus, probably fell on his sword when he saw the imminent defeat. The German leader, Arminius, became a folk hero: though trained by the Romans and granted citizenship, he gave the treacherous intelligence thatled the legions to the slaughter. Wells offers much background on Roman and Rhineland history, politics, anthropology, military strategy, and weaponry, supplying myriad grisly instances of the sanguinary horrors of war. Ultimately, Rome vastly underestimated the "barbarians" they faced. At times repetitive or obvious, but always literate and learned. (16 pp. illustrations, 9 maps, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393326437
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 675,203
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter S. Wells is professor of archaeology at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of The Battle That Stopped Rome and The Barbarians Speak. He lives in St. Paul.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations 9
List of Maps 11
Important Dates 13
Preface 15
1 Ambushed! 25
2 Creation of the Legend 30
3 History and Archaeology of the Battle 37
4 Augustus: Rome's First Emperor 56
5 Varus and the Frontier 80
6 Arminius: The Native Hero 105
7 Warfare in Early Roman Europe: Prelude to the Battle 125
8 The Battle 161
9 The Horror: Death on the Battlefield 177
10 The Victors' Celebrations 186
11 The Immediate Outcome 200
12 The Meaning of the Battle 213
App. 1 How an Archaeological Site Is Formed 221
App. 2 Roman Weapons Found at the Kalkriese Battle Site 222
App. 3 Museums, Roman Remains, and Archaeological Parks 223
Sources and Suggestions for Further Reading 227
Acknowledgments 239
Illustration Credits 241
Index 243
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2004

    Arminius¿neither a hero, nor a great general

    Arminius was not a great general, and he never achieved a place of distinction amongst Rome¿s greatest adversaries such as Hannibal or Mithradates. However, what Arminius did manage to achieve was a grand deception: betraying general Varus and the Romans, who had been his benefactors, and inflicting upon them a crushing defeat that was not won by military strategy or bravery, but by subterfuge and duplicity. During a period of German nationalistic fervor, Ulrich von Hutten, in a drama which he wrote in the 1520s, agued that Arminius deserved to be regarded as the greatest general in history¿greater, he proclaimed, than even Alexander the Great. To elevate Arminius to this heroic status clearly points to a form of self-delusion that only a country desperate to seek a national hero could produce. This supposed ¿battle than stopped Rome,¿ which took place in the Teutoberg forest in the year 9 AD, did nothing more than lure unwitting Roman soldiers into a killing field where they were butchered like trapped animals. This was treachery, not generalship. Subsequent emperors continued Rome¿s expansionist policies, conquering England in 43 AD and Dacia during the early part of the second century AD. The failure of Rome to completely conquer Germany has less to do with its defeat at the hands of Arminius than with the realization that other lands (i.e., England, Dacia, and the eastern territories) held greater economic and political advantages by virtue of their vast resources. In addition, Rome was near its limit regarding the amount of land area it could effectively control, and did not view further expansion into the German hinterland as beneficial. Given the pragmatic nature of the Roman state, and the systematic way in which Rome conquered and maintained its territories, all of Germany, not just the lands west of the Rhine, would have ultimately succumbed to Roman might, just as many other countries had done, if Rome had deemed the acquisition of these lands necessary. Wells argues that the failure of Rome to conquer the vast land area of Germany east of the Rhine was due to the Romans¿ lack of understanding of the nature of the indigenous peoples and their way of life. This hardly seems the case, as contact between the two societies over the centuries would certainly have made the Romans familiar with German tribal culture. It was due rather to the lack of economic and political advantages that could be gained from the military conquest of the region that Rome ceased to pursue her military exploits east of the Rhine, and not because of Rome¿s ignorance of the northern Germanic tribes¿ social structure or the destruction of three legions brought about by the treachery of Arminius.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2009

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    Posted March 18, 2010

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