sabato 27 ottobre 2012

The Lost Legions Of Varus

n the autumn of 9 AD Roman forces occupying Northern Germany were lured into a death trap. Over 20,000 of the world's most feared troops, their families, even their animals, were slaughtered by Iron Age tribes. The bloody massacre defined forever the limits of Roman expansion and left Europe fatefully divided, yet for almost 2,000 years the exact site of this disaster was only guessed at. Then, in 1987, a British soldier made a find that suggested the true whereabouts of the 'Battle of Teutoburg'. Today a grim picture of deception, ambush and ritual slaughter is beginning to emerge.

"In the autumn of A.D. 9 Varus marched his three legions from their summer camp to a winter camp further west. The army was huge, fifteen thousand men plus a train of ten thousand women, children, slaves and pack animals. The march was scheduled to take several days, over difficult terrain, and at times the column would be up to nine miles long as they wound through narrow forest tracks and ravines. Because of the fatal trust of Varus and the cunning of Arminius the Germans knew the exact route this long, lumbering army would take. Thousands of German warriors prepared the trail with trapdoors, hides and traps, and waited.

Varus' army marched without incident for the first day then, just before dusk, when the entire army was far from the safety of camp and committed to the march, the Germans sprang their trap. Small-bands of warriors burst from their hides and cut down passing Romans then melted into the forest. Spears were hurled from trees or rocky outcrops. The Romans, trained to fight in large formations in the open field, were ambushed as they milled in complete disarray. Isolated and confused, they were cut to pieces by one attack after another. For three days and three nights the Germans hunted the shattered bands of Romans to extinction, deep in the dark rain-drenched forest. There were few survivors. Some, including Varus, chose suicide rather than fall into enemy hands. It was the German practice to sacrifice their prisoners to their Druidic gods by crucifying them on sacred oak trees. After the battle the heads of the Roman dead were nailed up along the trail; all except for Varus, whose head Arminius presented to Morboduus, the King of Bohemia, in an attempt to impress him.

Legend has it that it was not until Morboduus forwarded Varus' head to the Emperor that Rome became aware of the disaster that had befallen the German garrison. Three entire legions, out of Rome's twenty-eight, were swallowed by the Teutoberg forest. But the defeat in Germany generated shockwaves far beyond the magnitude of the loss, which was smaller than Carrhae, and indeed smaller than the losses during the civil wars. Those three days in the German forest decided the course of history for millennia to come. Rome was already short of military manpower and the losses in Germany simply could not be made up. Those three legions disappeared form the roles forever and the Roman army would never again field more than twenty-five legions. As the old emperor Augustus drew near death, at the age of seventy-nine, he was seen by his servants wandering the palace weeping and crying "Quinctilius Varus give me back my legions!" The blow to Roman confidence was irreparable. In his will Augustus advised Tiberius to never again cross the Rhine -- "be satisfied with what we have and never desire to increase the size of the empire". This policy would hold until the fall of Rome."