Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Teutoburg Massacre – End Game

As mentioned in a previous post, Augustus was beside himself when told of the loss of three legions at Teutoburg and screamed “Quinctilius Varus, bring back my eagles!” Augustus was forever spooked by the massacre and commanded that his army retreat to the banks of the Rhine, avoiding all future designs on the German territory. He did not live to see the recovered eagles of the lost legions or get the revenge he must have wanted against Arminius. At the time of his death in 14 A.D, no plans had been made for dealing with the Germans.

Tiberius, however, once he was named Caesar, wasted no time moving north to control the German tribes and gain revenge against Arminius. Even though Augustus’ death occurred as late as August 19th, an army under Tiberius’ nephew Germanicus was ordered to attack the Germans before year end.

The map below shows Germanicus’ campaigns of 14-16 A.D.

In 14 A.D. Germanicus ambushed the Marci and inflicted heavy losses. During its withdrawal to the Rhine, his army was attacked by the aroused Bructeri, Tubonti, and Usipedi tribes, but the  Romans were able to escape after significant losses.

In 15 A.D. there were two major campaigns. In the spring Legatus Caecina Severus attacked the Marsi a second time while Germanicus was defeating the Chatti. These attacks were preemptive and designed to suppress allies of the Cherusci so the latter could be attacked with less risk. In the second half of 15 Germanicus divided the Roman army into three parts, positioning them for simultaneous attacks. Severus attacked the Bructeri while Albinovanus attacked the Frisi. Separately, Germanicus came by sea and met up with them at the Amisia River. The combined armies fought their way to the head of the river which was near the site of the Teutoburg massacre.

Germanicus erected a mound over the burial site containing the bones of the Roman soldiers and conducted funeral rites to honor the dead. On their way back to the Rhine, the Romans were ambushed again by Arminius, but this time Severus and Germanicus were able to fight their way out of the trap. Germanicus had additional difficulty with his withdrawal by sea when his ships could not be fully loaded because of shallow water. Part of his army had to march along the shoreline and many soldiers were swept away and drowned by the tides.

During the campaigns of 15, Germanicus was able to retrieve two of the eagles lost in the Teutoburg battle (the third was not recovered until 41 A.D.).

The year 16 A.D. brought an end to the Roman campaigns against the Germans. The main event that year involved Germanicus pushing across the Weser and defeating Arminius at Idistaviso. Recalled after the German campaign was complete, Germanicus received a triumph in May of 17 A.D.

There is much debate about the Roman position vis a vis the Germans after the Teutoburg massacre. Many have taken the position that the loss of the three legions blocked forever Roman attempts to conquer Germany influencing the course of European development for the future. I think that point is debatable for at least two reasons. First, Tiberius ended the German campaigns because he felt the effort was not worth the losses incurred, not because of the massacre. He decided that the plan of letting the German tribes fight among themselves was a better strategy. Second, he had better uses of the army than post them in barbarian Germany.

The fact that Rome never conquered Germany was more about the difficulty of accomplishing that goal given the strength and relationship between the German tribes than anything else. Rome would eventually reach Britain during the time of Claudius, but would never move east of Gaul after 16 A.D.
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Anonymous said...

Good post Mike and from memory I think one of transport ships was blown across here in a storm and so Britain had its only earlier mini invasion.

Guillermo the IVth said...

Noticed your map has the position of Idistaviso on it. Am trying to figure out exactly where that is so I can GPS it for a map I'm making. Do you have more exacting data for its location?

Mike Anderson said...

Guillermo, I will take a look and comment on what I find.

Mike Anderson said...

Ancient sources identify the location as Idistavisus, but the precise location is unknown, save that it was on the right side of the Weser River, somewhere between the cities of Minden and Hamelin of present-day Germany.

Toby said...
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