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Ancient History Facts  Facts from the ancient Roman empire/republic and various other related cultures throughout the Era of Antiquity, Bronze-age, and Dark-ages.

—Part 12 of 15, battle of Weser River Stages 1 and 2—
As mentioned in the previous post, Germanicus knew that an invasion through the dark forests of Germany, which had no roads, was likely suicide and his army would’ve taken severe casualties. However, Germanicus knew that the German barbarians had little seafaring skill and another route was completely plausible. He instead sailed his huge army around the Netherlands to the coast of North-western Germany where his fleet found a river and traveled up stream. Then, he had his army leave the ships behind and travel on foot to the Weser River
Germanicus with his estimated 55,000 soldiers (8 legions, numerous Gallic and Germanic auxiliaries, and numerous cavalry units). Germanicus had the Roman scouts move ahead and Arminius, his German ones. Both armies met in a clearing between the Weser River and the forest beyond the bank. The German barbarian horde numbered likely the same—55,000-75,000 troops— however these numbers are pure speculation and troops from the time period reported up to 200,000 tribesmen! Germanicus sent cavalry regiments from both wings of his army forward. The barbarian horde retreated into the forest upon seeing the Roman cavalry charge through the river water. The left wing returned back to the main Roman army however the right wing, auxiliary Batavian cavalrymen, stayed in pursuit of the German skirmishers, hoping to run them down.
Eventually, the Batavian auxiliaries had become completely cutoff from the Roman army and were encircled by German cavalry and spearmen. They were eventually rescued by Roman legionary cavalry but not before most of their unit was killed.
Germanicus, after ordering all his men to return to their position on the riverbank, pitched camp for the night.
According to the account of Tacitus, one German tribesmen (who knew Latin) approached the fort’s walls and yelled something along the lines of, “Romans, desert your leader! We have land and women for you in return”
This offer was declined as a Roman guardsmen yelled back, from behind the wall, “Soon enough WE will carry off your women and take your land.” (To be continued)

—part 11 of 15, Interception at Idistavisus—
It was the summer of AD 16, and Germanicus Caesar had used a fleet of a thousand newly built ships to return to the heart of Germany in search of Arminius and his German allies. At mid morning, the Roman army came marching down beside the Weser River from where it had camped the night.
This time, the Germans were not only ready for the legions, but their leader had chosen the location for a decisive battle, and had sent men posing as defectors to lure the Romans into a trap. At the site of the soon-to-be battleground, there lied 50,000 German tribesmen, situated on a grass field between a great forest and the Weser river.
In addition to Arminius and his Cherusci, there were also at least a half dozen more tribes that were represented; including the Cauchi who had captured one of Varus’ eagles.
As the Roman army rounded the River bend and met the sight of the waiting German horde, Germanicus, riding in the middle of his column, calmly gave orders for his units to deploy. To the 28,000 men of his eight under-strength legions he had added the 2,000 men two Praetorian Guard cohorts sent to him from Rome by Tiberius. It was unique for Praetorians to fight in a field battle, and so far from Rome, when the emperor was not present. Their presence had mor to do with Tiberius’ unfounded fear of his adopted son using his legions to topple him from the throne.
In addition, the Roman army of 74,000 men included 30,000 auxiliaries from Gaul, Raetia, Batavia, Spain and Syria, 6,000 men from allied German tribes, and 8,000 cavalry including 2,000 mounted horse archers. One of Germanicus’ German cohort commanders was none other than Flavus, brother of Arminius.
Germanicus was not concerned at seeing the Germans waiting for him - the tribesmen sent to lure him there had confessed that Arminius planned to entrap him, telling of the Germans’ locations and numbers.

--Part 10 of 15, Retreat from Long Bridges--
The battle ended with the Roman cavalry sweeping in through the gates of the fort that was now filled by German barbarians and Arminius with his guard. The legionaries filled the camp through the ramparts and split the attacking german force in two. The German forces outside the camp immediately fled as their king was now isolated in a camp, totally flanked by Roman soldiers and cavalrymen. But, Arminius was able to flee just in time while nearly the rest of his guard was cut to pieces. The Roman legions after, under Caecina’s orders, immediately departed and marched to the Rhine.
When Caecina's four legions finally reached the Rhine, bloodied, filthy, hungry and exhausted, they came without their baggage and carrying severely wounded comrades on hastily improvised litters. They found Agrippina waiting for them at Vetera's bridge of boats. Agrippina had forbidden the bridge's destruction when, with Caecina's army feared lost, the Roman commander at Vetera had wanted to dismantle it to prevent Arminius from using it. With her two year old son Caligula at her side, Agrippina handed out coins, clothing and medicine to the returning men.
Following the campaign, the 1st legion adopted the title 'Germanica'. It was the only one of the eight legions to do so. Without doubt, this was taken by the first, or bestowed on it by Germanicus, for repulsing Germans at Long Bridges, and most particularly for stoutly defending their general Aulus Caecina in that battle. But, the four legions who had just returned, did not know they'd have a chance at vengeance in an all out assault in the heart of Germania.

—Part 9 of 15, Battle of Long Bridges (cont.)—
In the middle of the night suddenly, there was an alarm in the Roman camp. Legionaries ran around screaming that Germans were in the camp. Grabbing swords and whatever equipment they could use as weapons, and determined not to be trapped inside the walls, hundreds of men rushed to the camp’s decuman gates, which faced away from the Germans, demanding that it be opened. Caecina pushed through this mob, stood in their way, and ordered the men back to their beds, assuring a horse had merely broken loose. When the troops persisted to leave, according to Ibid, Caecina declared “you will have to pass over my dead body.”
This checked the men long enough for tribunes and centurions to reach them. The officers were able to convince the men that there were no Germans in the camp, and the legionaries embarrassingly melted away. Caecina then called a council of war with all his officers at his camp tent. There, in the early hours of the morning, Caecina discussed a desperate plan. His officers went away determined to make the plan work, and in the darkness, centurions moved their men, taking legionaries who could ride, giving them special orders.
In the hills, Arminius and his chieftains were also in conference. Arminius counseled letting the Romans leave their camp in their morning and resume the march for the Rhine. Once the legionaries were in the open and clear of the camp, he said, the Cheruscans could wipe them out. But Arminius’ uncle Inguiomerus didn’t want to give the Romans a chance to escape. He was all for attacking their camp at dawn and overrunning it. Other chiefs concurred. So Arminius, outvoted, agreed to lead an attack at dawn on the Roman camp.
At daybreak, the Germans swarmed out of the trees and surrounded the camp. Filling in the trench around the camp walls with hurdles woven from tree branches, the tribesmen crosses the ditch and began to attack and climb the walls. Led by Arminius and his uncle, the Germans flooded over the ramparts and flooded into the camp. To their surprise, the camp was near empty save for the legionaries defending another part of the wall. Then the Roman trumpets sounded off.

— Part 8 of 15, The battle of Long Bridges —
As the summer of AD 15 ebbed away, Germanicus Caesar was withdrawing his army from Germany after a successful campaign. While Germanicus’ division was returning to Holland by sea and Pedo was leading his large cavalry division via Frisia, Aulus Caecina, commanding general of the army of the upper Rhine, was leading the 1st, 5th Alaudae, 20th and 21st Rapax legions among a route called along Bridges l.
This causeway had been built through a marshy valley by Lucius Domitius during his campaigns in Germany between 7 BC and AD 1. Long Bridges provided the shortest route to the Rhine. But, Germanicus knew this road was narrow and covered with mud, making it ideal for ambushes. So, he urged his deputy Caecina to make speed through the region.
Arminius also knew about Long Bridges. And, when he heard about the legions making their way through it, he hurriedly rallied the tribes of Germany for another victory.
It was too late to turn back. Caecina had decades of military experience and he knew that behind him lay the massing tribes of Germany and ahead, safety. Described as fearless by Tacitus, Caecina divided his forces into two groups, one to carry out road and bridgeworks and another to defend them. He built a camp and set up outposts. He then sent his work parties ahead.
Now Arminius struck. Germans swooped down from the trees in their thousands. This was their home territory; and they negotiated the swampland with ease. They harried the work parties with their massive spears, they attacked the outposts with showers of javelins. The legionaries fought them off all day, slipping in the mud and splashing in the water, struggling under the weight of their armored mail, cursing, calling for help. Aid finally came when darkness fell and the Germans withdrew to the hills.
But Arminius and his Cheruscians did not waste time. Through the midnight they worked to divert the course of the river so that it’d flood the Roman’s progress.
At day break, they hastily rebuilt the bridge and rushed the baggage train across with the 20th Rapax bringing up the rear. The bridge proved near useless. (Continued in comments).

— Part 7 of 15, Germanicus prepares for Long Bridges — During the winter of 14/15 AD, all eight of Germanicus’ legions prepared for a massive spring offensive in Germany. But when news reached Germanicus that Arminius was clashing with his father-in-law Segestes, a once loyal tribe to Rome, Germanicus seized the opportunity to to split the German confederation by striking before winter had ended. From modern day Mainz in the Rhine, Germanicus departed with only four of the legions, the upper Rhine legions, and numerous other auxiliary cohorts and allies. At the same time, Caecina led his four legions of the lower Rhine across the Rhine at Vetera, using a bridge of boats. With this offensive taking the Germans completely by surprise, Germanicus made a far rapid advance as far as the River Eder. After sacking Mattium, the Chatti capital, he turned for the Rhine. Caecina’s army would cover his withdraw, colliding with the Cherusci and Marsi tribes, who hurried down from the north to support the Chatti. As Germanicus withdrew, his aid was sought by the Chatti once more. Their king Segestes wished to join the Romans once more in an alliance. Segestes offered Thusnelda, his daughter and pregnant wife of Arminius as prize. But Segestes was surrounded and besieged but Arminius’ Cheruscans at a stronghold in the hills. Germanicus marches to the stronghold and drove off the Cherusci. Germanicus then sent Thusnelda to be confined at Ravenna with her sister in law. Not content with this success, Germanicus launched a full-scale offensive in the summer, involving a three-pronged attack. In the first stage, Germanicus took a fleet of ships from Traiectum, today’s Utrecht in Holland, across the Zeider Zee and into the North Sea. He then sailed along the Frisian coast, turning up the Ems River. Meanwhile, Albinovanus Pedo led a diversionary cavalry operation in the Frisian area of Holland. At the same time, Caecina crosses the Rhine from Vetera again, then marched his four legions to seems where they’d link up with Germanicus, creating a force of close to 80,000 men deep in German territory. (Continued in comments)

—Part 6 of 15, Invading Germania— Ever since the disaster in the Teutoburg Forest, Romans wanted revenge. In AD 14, almost by accident, the Roman military was given the excuse and the opportunity to take that revenge. Augustus, who had refused to send anymore military expeditions across the Rhine following the Varus disaster, died in August AD 14, after reigning since 30 BC. Several years before, Augustus had extended the enlistments of all legionaries from sixteen to twenty years. In the wake of the emperor’s death, with his stepson Tiberius not immediately claiming the throne, the extended enlistments and numerous other complaints about service conditions sparked mutinies throughout the legions. The Dalmatian legions were soon brought to heel by Tiberius’ son Drusus and Praetorian perfect Sejanus, who led elements of the Praetorian Guard and German Guard to Dalmatia where they executed ringleaders. In command on the Rhine was Drusus’ adopted brother Germanicus Caesar, brother of Claudius, father of Caligula, and grandfather of Nero. He himself was heir apparent to the Roman throne. Germanicus was collecting taxes in Gaul when his legions mutinied however, hurrying first to the lower and upper Rhine to deal with their grievances. According to Germanicus, ‘this was causing more destruction than remedy,’ so Germanicus distracted his troops by launching a lightning campaign east of the Rhine. In October, Germanicus led 12,000 men from four legions, twenty-six allied cohorts, and eight wings of cavalry into the territory of the Marsi, between the Lippe and Ruhr rivers. Surprising and wiping out Marsi warriors while they were celebrating their festival of their goddess Tamfana, Germanicus advanced a broad front for dozens of miles, destroying every village and living thing in his path. As he turned around and marched back towards the Rhine, the Bructeri and Tubantes tribes overtook him, but they were quickly beaten of. The senate voted Germanicus a triumph for his success. But he had only just begun.

—Part 5 of 15, the Reaction at Rome—
The emperor Augustus was devastated by the news of what became known as the Varus disaster when he had heard of it in 9 AD. According to Dio, Augustus let his hair grow and didn’t shave for months, mourning for the lost legions ‘as if they were his children’. Suetonius also stated that he was often heard to cry, ‘Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!’
The immediate dread in Rome was that Arminius and his German tribesmen would flood over the Rhine, sweep down through Gaul, and destroy Italy. Suetonius also says, ‘the emperor immediately ordered patrols of the city at night to prevent any uprising of the populace. He also prolonged the terms of all his provincial governors so that Rome’s allies would have men they knew and trusted in places of power. And, suddenly mistrusting Germans, he temporarily disbanded the German Guard.
Augustus also ordered special cohorts of slaves levied at Rome, and sent them to Germany. ‘The Roman bank of the Rhine must be held in by force.’ Recruited as slaves from the households of stable men and women, these men were given their freedom upon joining their cohorts. These special units of freedmen were euphemistically called ‘volunteers’ cohorts, because the previous slave owners were forced to volunteer their services.
At Vetera, a nearby location to the stages of the Teutoburg forest battles, a stone monument was erected to honor Centurion Marcus Caelius of the 18th legion by his brother. The monument’s inscription, after giving the details of the centurion’s life, asked that, should Marcus Caelius’ bones ever be found, they be deposited there at the monument. But Caelius’ bones were never reunited, as they likely laid on the battlefield scattered amongst thousands of his comrades.

--Part 4 of 15, the Second Day--
As the column entered thick woodland again, tribesmen resumed the attack in earnest. This time the Romans energetically defended themselves, only to take the greatest casualties so far. Dio said, "since they had to form their lines in a narrow space in order that the infantry and cavalry might run down the enemy, they collided frequently with one another and the trees." The depleted, savaged army again labored to build another camp for the night.
Dio says when the fourth day of the encounter dawned, Varus' exhausted men resumed the march, to be faced with rain that had made progress so difficult on the first day. Soaked by downpour, the Roman troops were now greatly shaken by the wind. The gale was so strong that the Romans were unable to keep their footing, nor could they launch their javelins or loosen their arrows. Their shields were also waterlogged, too heavy to raise. Now too, Arminius original bands of marauders and tribesmen were now reinforced by more Germans. Significantly outnumbered, the surviving men of the Roman column again found themselves completely surrounded by the Germans.
At this point, with the way ahead blocked ahead by more tribesmen arriving from the north, Varus gave orders for a new camp to be built on the spot. Some legionaries withdrew from the fight to commence building which would run along the bottom of the hill in the forest to give them protection by Germans on the slope.
One of Varus' cavalry officers decided to make a break for the east now. Vala Numonius, the prefect of horse, supposedly argued earlier for the column to make a break for the east but was ignored. Now, he was going to personally lead his cavalry regiment east. They were cut down soon after deserting the army by german spearmen moving towards the battle.
As the thinning ranks of legionaries assigned to digging hacked out a shallow ditch and threw up a wall 640 meters long at the bottom of the hill. Varus meanwhile abandoned his cavalry with many of his soldiers wounded or dead, and tried to organize the defense. But then he too was wounded, apparently also by spear. (Continued in comments)

--3 of 15, the first volley of the last German victory--
A storm began to erupt with thunder shaking the ground and thick rain to cloud the Germans' approach on both flanks of the marching legions. This played right into Arminius' hands. He gave the signal, and, with a roar, on both sides of the defile, Germans emerged from the trees to pelt the Romans with stones, slingshot and throwing spears, while other tribesmen ran to block both the way forward and the way back.
At first they hurled their volleys from a distance. As missiles came at them from all directions, the Romans, completely taken by surprise, dumped their shoulder poles and hurriedly raised their shields to defend against the missiles. Many Romans were wounded in these first few minutes of attack. The Romans, unable to assemble in regular formation, and 'being at few points than their assailants', could offer hardly any resistance.
These legions were not inferior ones either, supposedly being unmatched by discipline and courage according to Velle. But for all their discipline, energy and experience, these legions were in desperate straits. Varus ordered a marching camp to be thrown up on the spot. After securing a suitable place atop a nearby mountain, part of the army dug the walls while the remaining troops kept the Germans at bay.
At nightfall the tribesmen pulled back, and Varus with his bloodied troops, together with the terrified civilians, spent a sleepless night behind camp walls.
(Continued in the comments)

--Part 2 of 15, Treachery in Teutoburg Forest--
Arminius, also known as Hermann to the German nationalists groups of the 1920s and 30s, was a charismatic prince of the Cherusci tribe. And he was always loyal to the Roman armies in those areas in their military campaigns to consolidate the Rhine under Roman rule. Arminius even served with a rank equivalent to prefect, a commander of a cohort of allied Cheruscan troops attached to Varus' army now. But at the final feast hosted by Varus before he set off to lead his legions south, Segestes (german king of the allied Chatti tribe) warned Varus' that Arminius and the other Germans were planning an uprising against him. Segestes had always said things of this manner and it had never happened so as all the other times, he ignored these claims.
Now, Varus marched with his 18th and 19th legions and a third legion which is almost certainly the 17th. These legions had served in prior campaigns in the area so it would make sense that the 17th was a legion there as it was stationed in the Rhine earlier. One major problem was that many officers were absent in the legions. And most centurions and prefects had been promoted to fill the gap. The exact reasoning for the officers' absences isn't quite known but there was the Pannonian war happening around the same time which took much military intervention on Rome's part so perhaps the officers were pulled from these legions.
The legions marched through the dense forest with its rugged roads. Behind them trailed thousands of non combatants, many of which were women and children, the illegal families of the legionaries. A number of German leaders escorted Varus as he set out for the Rhine with his army; Arminius was not among them. Segestes was to claim that, following the feast which Varus had refused to listen to his warning, Segestes would put Arminius in chains to prevent rebellion. But the next day Arminius had been freed by his fellow Cheruscans, who in turn put Segestes in chains.
Meanwhile, the German leaders riding with Varus were present when urgent news arrived of an uprising among German tribes to the north.

--1 of 15, the beginning of the Varus Disaster--
It was September, in the dying days of summer. Strung out for miles, a large Roman military column was moving west towards the Rhine River after spending many months in Germany east of the Rhine. They were heading south to their winter quarters. The column was led by the commander of Rome's two armies of the upper and lower Rhine, Publius Quintilius Varus. Varus had formerly served as governor of Syria in the following decade and consul in 13 BC. Varus was, in the words of the historian Velleius, "a man of character and of good intentions". In Syria, Varus had acted swiftly to counter a brief Jewish revolt in Jerusalem following the death of King Herod the Great. Soon after that, he retired back to Rome. He was then called out of retirement in 6 AD for this new posting as Roman commander on the Rhine. Tiberius had been conducting a campaign in Bohemia against the Suebi Germans where he was forced to suspend those operations in order to lead his legions south to put down more revolts in Dalmatia and Pannonia.
But, aside from the Suebi issue, Augustus felt that Germany east of the Rhine was a pacified area. Flourishing Roman trade in the east also supported such a belief. Over the next three years that Varus had been in charge there, he had led his troops across the Rhine each spring and, after linking up with allied German contingents, had paraded through Germany between the Rhine and the Elbe both to awe and inspire the locals.
At various German settlements along his route Varus had sat in judgement over local disputes. Varus would find himself more often acting as a city Praetor administering justice in German forums, rather than a General of his armies. Varus was convinced the German people were subjected peoples who wanted to embrace Roman ways and Roman justice.
Furthermore, Varus' 'campaigns' had seen neither plunder nor violence but rather Varus wasting even an entire summer on legal procedures in German towns. Throughout that summer, Varus had befriended himself with much German royalty, including the young prince of the Cherusci tribe who had always aided the Romans on past campaigns. He was Arminius.

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