In late September of AD 9, three Roman legions, while on the march to suppress a distant tribal rebellion, were attacked in a prolonged four-day battle with the Germanic barbarians. The Romans, under the leadership of the province's governor, Publius Quinctilius Varus, were taken completely by surprise, betrayed by a member of their own ranks-the German officer and secret rebel leader Arminius. The defeat was a crushing blow to both Rome's military and its pride, and although the disaster was ruthlessly avenged soon afterward, later attempts at conquering the Germans were halfhearted at best.
Four Days in September thoroughly examines the ancient sources, analyzes the hypotheses of modern scholars, and puts forward hypotheses of its own in order to get the clearest picture on the dynamics of the prelude to the battle, the battle itself, and its aftermath.
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FOUR DAYS IN SEPTEMBER
THE BATTLE OF TEUTOBURG
By JASON R. ABDALE
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2013 Jason R. Abdale
All rights reserved.
The City by the Tiber
The origin of the name Italia, which was later Anglicized to "Italy", is vague. One idea states that it is a corruption of the Oscan (one of the Italic tribes) word viteliu, meaning "land of young cattle". Considering that the bull was a symbol used by the Samnites, one of the major Italic tribes, during the Social War, this hypothesis seems plausible. Another possibility is that the name originates from one of the land's tribes, the Itali. Greeks who landed in southern Italy ascribed this name to all of the natives that lived on the peninsula, and thus they were called the Italics and the land that they lived in was called Italia.
In terms of geography, the Italian Peninsula has a wide variety of environments, from fertile coastal plains to dry rocky scrub-covered hillsides. In northern Italy lies the broad expanse of the Po River Valley, long reputed to be the most arable area in all of Italy. Vegetation in the Italian Peninsula consists of scrub and mixed deciduous-conifer trees. The Apennine Mountains run like a spine down the middle of the peninsula, more or less splitting it in half. On either side is a narrow plain. Italy suffers from sporadic earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the most famous of which being the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, which destroyed the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. However, during the time period discussed in this book, the late 1st Century BC to the early 1st Century AD, there was no hint of danger. Most of Italy's earliest settlements occurred on the coasts, a majority of them being located on the western side of the peninsula. One of these western settlements was Rome.
Rome began as a small hilltop settlement on the shores of the Tiber River in west-central Italy. The Romans lived in a region called Latium, where the various tribes spoke some dialect or another of the Latin language; the Romans were just one of these tribes. The city, according to Roman legend as reported by the historian Titus Livius, was officially founded on April 21, 753 BC by the divine twins Romulus and Remus. The two boys were the grand-nephews of Numitor, the king of the city of Alba Longa. King Numitor was a descendant of the Trojan prince Aeneas who had come to Italy centuries earlier after the end of the Trojan War. One day, Numitor was ousted from power by his brother Aemulius, who then executed all of Numitor's heirs except his niece Rhea Silvia, making her a Vestal Virgin. However, she became impregnated by the god Mars. Aemulius ordered Rhea to be imprisoned and the two newborns to be drowned in the Tiber River. As can be expected, the children survived, discovered by a she-wolf and cared for until they were taken away by a shepherd. Growing up as outlaws, living a life of robbery and brigandage, Remus was captured and brought before King Aemulius to account for his conduct. He was then sent to the exiled Numitor for reasons that are unknown, and then it was revealed who he and his brother really were. Romulus and Remus organized a rebellion, executed Aemulius, and re-instated Numitor as the rightful king of Alba Longa. That being done, the two brothers wanted to establish a city of their own, and decided to found a settlement where they were washed up on the shore of the Tiber River. However, the twins each wanted to name the settlement after themselves and quarreled. Romulus killed his brother, and named the city after himself—thus the city of Rome was founded.
The Romans and their Neighbors
The Romans were originally just one tribe among many that dwelt on the Italian Peninsula. In the north were the Etruscans; the region of Tuscany is named after them. Much of southern Italy was controlled by the Greeks. Between the Etruscans and the Greeks were a series of Italic tribes, such as the Sabines, Samnites, and Oscans.
When the Greeks explored the Italian Peninsula, expecting to find backwards savages, for no culture could surely be as advanced as the Greeks, they were astounded to find the complete opposite of what they anticipated—the highly advanced culture of the Etruscans. The Etruscans had their own language, but they wrote in the Greek alphabet—an example of cultural contact between the Greeks and the people of northern Italy. The Etruscans were a very wealthy people due to trade and due to the rich metal deposits in their realm. With these metals, they forged weapons and armor, cast large metal statues, or traded the raw metals for other goods. It is believed that the Romans were either subjugated by the Etruscans or were under their sphere-of-influence. Either of these scenarios is probable, since the Romans adopted many cultural aspects from their northern neighbors, including gladiatorial fights. Stories about Etruscan licentiousness are almost certainly false, but considering that the Romans adopted many Etruscan ways, and considering that we have many tales of Roman decadence and debauchery, one wonders if the tales are not as exaggerated as one many think.
South of the Etruscans were various Italic tribes. Those that lived along the flat fertile coastline were predominantly farmers while those that lived in the hills and mountains were largely pastoralists raising livestock like goats and sheep. Prior to their contact with the Greeks, it's likely that they lived in a village-based tribal society, but after the Greeks' arrival, they quickly became Hellenized. Beginning in the 8th Century BC, the Romans began subjugating or outright conquering the various surrounding tribes, beginning with their immediate neighbors, the Latins. In due course, the Romans continued their spread throughout the Italian Peninsula, taking several centuries to complete the task. The mountain-dwelling Samnites in particular were tough warriors, and the Romans had to fight three wars against them before they were finally conquered.
Although the Italic tribes had been long subdued by Rome by 100 BC, the Romans still stood on shaky ground with many of their neighbors. Indeed, in the beginning of the 1st Century BC, their Italic allies seceded from the Roman Republic and declared that they were now an independent country—"Italia". To further drive home the point that this Italic confederation had no love for their Roman overlords, some of the coins that they minted showed the Italic bull using its horns to gore the Roman wolf. Of course, the Romans would never let such an affront go unpunished, and thus the so-called "War of the Allies" (Bellum Socii) commenced, a bloody and savage civil war that lasted for three years. In the end, the Italic confederation was crushed and the Romans emerged victorious.
South of the Italics were the Greeks, who had become well-established in southern Italy and Sicily long before Rome emerged as a major power in Italy. Indeed, it can be argued that the most powerful of all the Greek city-states was neither Athens nor Sparta nor Corinth, but was Syracuse in Sicily. At first, Rome sought to ally with the Syracusans, but later declared war on them when the Romans felt strong enough to do so. In due time, the Romans would invade Greece itself.
By 600 BC, the Celts, who inhabited much of western Europe, began crossing the Alps into what is now northern Italy. By 500 BC, they occupied the entire Po River Valley, which led to the Romans calling all lands north of the Po River Gallia Cisalpina, or "Gaul on this side of the Alps", as opposed to Gallia Transalpina, "Gaul across the Alps". In the early 300s BC, the Celts attacked the city of Rome itself, which led to a long history of antipathy towards the northern peoples. This anti-northerner attitude that the Romans bore at first towards the Celts alone was later augmented both in intensity as well as the numbers of different people that this fear targeted when the Germans attacked in the last years of the 2nd Century BC, defeating several Roman armies sent against them before they were defeated in turn.
By the time that Rome's first emperor Octavianus (later to be re-named Caesar Augustus) came to power in 31 BC, Rome was unquestionably the master of the Mediterranean, with the city's population numbering at around a million people. The empire now encompassed much of the Iberian Peninsula, Gaul, Italy, the Adriatic coast, Greece, almost all Asia Minor except the interior, Syria, most of the North African coast, and all of the various Mediterranean islands. The Roman Empire was still expanding, and it would be two hundred years later during the 2nd Century AD that it would reach its full size. Lands that would be acquired in the near future would be modern-day Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Israel, the Netherlands, and Germany.
In terms of the empire's neighbors, Rome's holdings in North Africa were flanked on the west by the vassal state of Mauretania (modern-day Morocco); to the south were the various Saharan tribes which to this day are collectively referred to by Europeans as Berbers, a corruption of the Roman word "barbarian". Britain was not yet a Roman province, but the Romans and the Britonic Celts were certainly aware of each others' existence; they conducted trade with each other, and Rome typically inserted itself into Britonic politics saying who would and wouldn't be a particular tribal king. On the European continent, the empire was bordered by various tribal societies, some friendly and others not. The northernmost portion of Spain, encompassing what would today be Galicia, Asturias, and Basqueland, was not yet under Roman rule, but it would be soon. Almost all of Gaul was under Roman control, with the exception of the western Alpine areas which separated Italy from southern France; this area, with its difficult terrain and obdurate warriors, would take a long time to bring into subjection. East of Gaul across the Rhine were the various Germanic tribes. Immediately to the north of Italy, occupying the lands between the Alps and the Danube River in what is now modern-day Austria, eastern Switzerland, and southern Germany were the Celts of central Europe and a mysterious people called the Rhaetians, reputed to be a fusion between Etruscan and Celtic cultures; even the ancient Romans were not sure how to classify them. To their east, in what roughly corresponds to modern Hungary, were the Pannonians, a cultural group of the famed Illyrians who controlled the entire Balkan region throughout most of classical history. North of Roman Greece in modern-day Bulgaria were the Moesians, and east of Greece was the vassal state of Thrace. In the East was the vassal state of Cappadocia. Beyond them was Rome's major enemy in the east, the Parthian Empire, who would be a thorn in Rome's side for many years.
The Roman Religion
The Romans worshiped a polytheistic religion that had many ties to their Greek, Etruscan, and Italic neighbors. The king of the gods was Jupiter, modeled on the Greek supreme god Zeus, and in more ways than his position as a heavenly monarch—Jupiter, according to proper Latin pronunciation, is actually pronounced "Yoo-piter", not "Joo-piter". That being said, Jupiter may not be a name but a title, descended from Eu Pator, which in Greek means "Good Father". While on the subject of etymology and correct Latin pronunciation, I also want to add that Jove, another of Jupiter's names, is actually pronounced "Yo-way", which is eerily similar to the Jewish god Yahweh. Coincidence?
Jupiter or Jove or whatever he was called may have been the king of the Roman pantheon, but perhaps the god most identified with Rome was the war-god Mars, since Mars was the father of Romulus, the founder and first king of Rome. Originally a god of fertility and agriculture, based upon the Etruscan god Maris, he slowly became a war-god, which may be due in part to his duty as a protector of fields and pastures—in other words, he guarded the homeland. As Rome's borders expanded due to the frequent wars against its neighbors, the homeland expanded with it, and Mars' job as a guardian of Roman soil took on greater importance until he became a full-fledged god of battles.
The chief priest in Rome was the pontifex maximus. Originally, this was a person appointed by the Senate, and he maintained this post until death, but following the transition from Republic to Empire, the emperor himself became Rome's chief priest. Not only that, there soon grew the practice of an "imperial cult", in which people prayed to the genius ("essence/soul/spirit") of the emperor. This act served multiple purposes: to demonstrate loyalty to the emperor, to allow a certain "closeness" to an all-too-often distant or inaccessible monarch, and to offer some degree of stability in a religion were practices were continuously adopted, changed, or discarded altogether.
One of the more well-known aspects of Roman religion was that of the Vestal Virgins, who were under the direct authority of the pontifex maximus. They were the six priestesses of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, and they all took a vow of chastity. It was their duty to make sure that the ceremonial fire of Vesta never went out, believing that if the fire died, the Roman state might die soon afterwards.
Every month in the Roman calendar had at least one religious festival. On many of these days, there was a general holiday, where all business would be closed. Other festivals or religious events would be carried out whenever special circumstances arose. As an example, the doors of the temple of Janus were open in times of war and closed in times of peace, although the reasoning behind the custom is somewhat ambiguous.
Roman Social Culture in the Age of Augustus
When Octavianus came to power, the city of Rome had almost a million people. His reign was known as the principate, from the title Princeps, "First/Leading Citizen", which was the title that he took when he came to power. So, what was life in Rome like under the principate?
Roman society was divided into two orders of people: the patricians and the plebeians. The patricians were the original aristocratic families of the Roman people. According to Titus Livius, when Romulus founded the city of Rome, he appointed a hundred men as to act as the city's council of elders, and upon them he bestowed the honorific address pater, or "father"—the word patrician comes from this, denoting that these select men were the fathers or guardians and father-figures of the Roman people. All patricians claimed to be descended from one of these original hundred men. As such, being classified as a patrician was purely a matter of birth and heredity, and was not based upon wealth, politics, or ability. These people enjoyed special privileges during the Republic and into the Empire. At first, only patricians could become priests, hold elected office, or be involved in the inner workings of government, but as the Republic continued, the non-patricians, generically referred to as plebeians, began to secure more power for themselves.
The plebeians were, quite simply, anyone regardless of status who wasn't descended from these original hundred men. Plebeians were the overwhelming majority of the Roman people; they could be either rich or poor, weak or powerful. After civil rights were secured for them, many plebeians could own property, take part in government, and become members of the aristocratic classes, although they were still not regarded as being on the same level as the more ancient patrician aristocracy.
But Roman social structure was far more complex than just being divided into two groups based upon hereditary credentials. The division between patrician and plebeian was simply a matter of "who was" and "who wasn't". A separate stratification also existed within Rome which divided its people into various classes based upon wealth and social position.
Naturally the emperor and the imperial family were at the top of the social hierarchy. Directly under them were the senators. The word senator comes from the Latin word senex, meaning "old man" or "elder". These men were the cream of the Roman elite, coming from the richest and most prestigious of the Roman aristocracy, the so-called nobiles. The reason why I put money first and prestige second is that money was a determining factor in becoming a senator. Most of a senator's wealth was in the form of how much property he held. "Senators had to prove that they had property worth at least 1,000,000 sesterces; there was no salary attached to service in the Senate, and senators were prohibited from engaging personally in nonagricultural business, trade or public contracts". A senator could be easily spotted in a crowd due to the clothes he wore—a white toga with a wide purple stripe.
Excerpted from FOUR DAYS IN SEPTEMBER by JASON R. ABDALE. Copyright © 2013 by Jason R. Abdale. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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Table of Contents
I. ROME.................... 13
II. GERMANIA.................... 31
III. VARUS.................... 60
IV. ARMINIUS.................... 76
V. GERMANIA UNDER ROME.................... 90
VI. THE BATTLE.................... 143
VII. THE AFTERMATH.................... 231
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excellent book! Extremely well thought out and researched. Great for any history buff or student