Teutoburg Forest (3)

Battle in the Teutoburg Forest (Latin Saltus Teutoburgiensis): the defeat of the Roman commander Publius Quintilius Varus against the Germanic tribesmen of the Cheruscian leader Arminius in 9 CE. In this battle, three legions (XVIIXVIIIXIX) were annihilated.

Written sources: some first conclusions


As we have seen above, there are four sources for the battle in the Teutoburg Forest, which contain important information:

Of course there are discrepancies and errors. This is only to be expected. General Publius Quinctilius Varus had committed suicide and the officers had been tortured to death; the only survivors were common soldiers, brave men but lacking the overall perspective of the commanders. The discrepancies reflect their different positions during the chaotic battle, and are in fact proof that our authors are not simply repeating imperial propaganda.

On the other hand, no ancient author could resist the temptation to add some color to his story. The story of a military defeat in a faraway country was inevitably adorned with descriptions of large forests, sacred groves and holy trees, because the Greek and Roman authors were obsessed with the forests on the edges of the earth. An accurate description of the battle's topography is therefore not to be expected. Another reason is that the soldiers did not really know what was going on and cannot have informed people like Velleius Paterculus and Pliny the Elder about the precise whereabouts of the Teutoburg Forest - if it was a forest at all.

Yet, the following information from our sources can be accepted as more or less correct.

Three authors (Paterculus, Florus, Dio) agree that the cause of the Germanic revolt was the fact that the Roman governor Varus had imposed tribute.