—part 11 of 14, 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.