6 Battles that Significantly Affected the Roman Empire

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 2 – Battle of Teutoburg Forest (AD 9)

A number of historians claim this battle was one of the most important in world history. It pitted a Roman force led by Publius Quinctilius Varus against an alliance of Germanic tribes led by Arminius. The battle occurred in September AD 9 in Lower Saxony and resulted in a decisive victory for the Germanic tribes.

Varus had been sent to consolidate the new province of Germania a few years earlier and he apparently angered Germanic tribes by disrespecting their culture and hitting them with heavy taxation. This caused grave unrest amongst Germanic tribes and by AD 9, this was in danger of becoming open rebellion. In September of that year, Varus led at least 15,000 men towards permanent military bases near the Rhine and he was investigating reports of an uprising.

According to ancient sources, Arminius had planned to release these fake reports in the hope of luring the Romans into a trap. Varus even ignored the warning of a local chieftain who said Arminius was a traitor. Arminius instructed the Romans to take a short detour into rebel territory and soon, the Roman army was stretched out across several miles. Heavy rain caused the army to become even more stretched and confusion reigned.

Once they had the Romans where they wanted them, the Germanic tribes surrounded them on all sides and engaged in guerilla-style assaults. The Romans marched on but were worn out by the constant attacks and terrible conditions. After a couple of days of hit and run tactics, the Germanic tribes closed in for the kill. Varus elected to commit suicide rather than risk capture and the majority of his commanders followed suit. The leaderless remainder was cut down almost to a man in what was described by ancient historians as a brutal slaughter.

Approximately 10% of Rome’s entire imperial army was wiped out at Teutoburg Forest and Emperor Augustus was enraged. Although Germanicus led successful Roman campaigns to the Rhine over the next few years, these attacks were mainly to restore honor. By AD 16, it was decided that the cost of keeping an army beyond the Rhine was too great and thus, Rome’s Germanic expansion was halted.

According to historian Peter S. Wells, almost all of modern day Germany and the Czech Republic would have come under Roman rule had Teutoburg Forest not happened while the lengthy and bitter conflict between Germany and France may never have occurred.

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