Lost Legions of Varus
The history of Europe was marked by centuries of war. Each century there were bloody conflicts. Ultimately, the conflict finally exploded and cost millions of lives. It is crazy to think that one event could have lead to this history. That seems to be the case. Few Europeans remember the battle, but the Romans would never forget. It was a conflict that divided chunks of Europe. It was imprinted in European consciousness for centuries. The conflict Europe endured can be traced to one place: Teutoburg Forest. It was here that the Germanic tribes massacred a legion of Roman soldiers.
Germanicus came to the site because he wanted revenge. What he found shocked him deeply. The forest ground was littered with the bodies of Roman soldiers. Three Roman legions were wiped out by the Germanic tribes. Rome was the most technologically advanced armies in the world and they were massacred by barbarians. Germanicus had to take care of the dead. He had no time to waste. He quickly buried the dead men’s bones. The soldiers' grim task was to bury everyone. The soldiers did not know whether or not they were burying friend or foe or animals. They just had to get this job done. Six years after the battle, the remains were finally buried.
For 2000 years the Teutoburg Forest kept its secrets. It devastated the Roman Emperor. He would frequently send patrols to the area. He went into mourning for the lost legions. Emperor Augustus wanted his rule to be a successful one. The Teutoburg Forest massacre was the one blight on his reign.
The Romans did not believe that such a world existed. They had taken over previously established empires such as Carthage and Egypt. These empires had laws and taxes in place, so they could easily be absorbed into the Roman Empire. The Roman expansion into the Germanic territories would become different. These tribes were not united by one king. They had no established laws or taxes. The Romans tried to bribe and set the tribes against each other.
To conquer the Germanic tribes, Varus was sent. Varus was no general. He was a lawyer who married into the Emperor’s family. Both Varus and the Emperor were determined to make the Germanic territories into another Roman province. In 9 AD, Varus and the legions left for the Germanic interior. They wanted to Romanize the Germanic tribes. Varus would use the army to do it.
The Roman governor at the time treated the Germanic tribes as slaves. The Romans leveled taxes on the Germanic people. One particular governor was noted for his cruelty and his greed. He knew the law but not common sense. This caused resentment amongst the Germans. While the Romans ruled the Germanic territories, the Germans were biding their time. They prepared their weapons and waited. As Varus marched through the Germanic territories he was protected by a group of Germanic soldiers.
Arminius, one of the Germans, was raised as a Roman. He was a member of the royal family. He had Roman citizenship. Arminius’ encounters with Varus made him rethink his position in the new Roman world. He witnessed Varus’ stupidity and started to plan. He slowly and carefully started to unite the Germanic tribes. That was a challenge because the Germanic tribes did not trust each other. However, to throw off the Roman yoke the Germanic tribes started to work together.
To find out what happened next continue to watch the documentary.
Downton Abbey’s Jim Carter narrates the Teutoburg Forest story. This is a good documentary for research purposes. You can take clips from this documentary for a lecture. If there is an independent study student, then you can recommend this documentary.
You can access the YouTube video here.
We are continuing with the Germans series. The Germans were originally tribal people, the Bavarians, Swabians, Franks, and the Saxons were all unified by a language and a common enemy. The Magyars swept through the tribal territories. They attacked villages and burned castles. King Otto unified the German tribes to fight the Magyars. The Bavarians, Swabians, Franks, Lorrainians, and Saxons all unified to fight the Magyars. The Magyars were confident of victory, however, they did not know they were facing King Otto.
Before the battle against the Magyars, Otto was the Duke of Saxony. However, his ambitions were bigger: he wanted to be Emperor over a united Europe. He wanted to be as powerful as Charlemagne. He wanted to revive the Roman Empire. However, he started small. He rode into Aachen where he convened all the nobles to be voted as their next king. His father King Henry wanted Otto to succeed him as king. It was tradition for the dying King to divide up the kingdom between his sons, however, King Henry changed the rules and chose one son to succeed him. It was in Aachen, Otto was elected King of the Germans and was accepted by the common people. He was then crowned on Charlemagne’s throne in Aachen.
The action of sitting down on Charlemagne’s throne led to outrage among the other nobles. It was a signal to them that King Otto wanted to rule over all of Christendom. This caused some controversy among the people as well. Otto was a king who ruled on his horse. He traveled widely (over 180 days a year) and had to be taken care of by the people. The people had to provide their king with food and shelter and with food in short supply among the peasants, King Otto’s trips were expensive indeed. The phrase “God bless the king, but may he never return,” was common among all ranks of people. However, by moving from place to place, many peasants would have seen the king and have spoken to the king.
When Otto’s first wife died, he married again to Adelaide of Italy. Together they had a son Henry, who could succeed Otto as King. However, this caused trouble with Liudolf, who was promised that he would be the next king of the Germans. Liudolf then went to the Magyars and tried to make a deal with them. There was also a fight between father and son which led to Liudolf fleeing from the fight. Liudolf takes shelter in a city that Otto promptly attacks. Eventually, Liudolf was reconciled with his father, but he would never be considered heir again. Together, they came united to fight the Magyars. The German emerged victoriously.
With the victory, the German tribes came together. If they had lost the battle they probably would have had to pay tribute to the Magyars. The Germans probably would have been divided into tribes again as well. With this Victory, Otto’s ambitions grew. When the Pope called for King Otto to defend the papal states, Otto answered. Otto would go to Italy as king and would leave Italy as Emperor. King Otto was prepared to defend Rome. He would be crowned with the Imperial Crown and would be known as Holy Roman Emperor. The Holy Roman Empire would unify the German people for centuries to come.
To find out more continue to watch the documentary. In the meantime, keep this documentary in your files to share with a class. You can always use clips from this documentary in a lecture too.
You can access the YouTube video here.
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