Monday, October 11, 2010

"Quinctilius Varus Give Me Back My Legions"

>Publius Quinctilius Varus suffered the greatest defeat at the hands of the Barbarians of any Roman commander during the Pax Romana (first two centuries of the Imperium). During the later years of the Imperial reign of Augustus, Publius Quinctilius Varus was given command of the new Province of Germania Magna. With three full legions, the 17th, 18th & 19th, and the bureaucracy of Rome at his disposal, Varus was responsible for the Romanization of this barbaric territory.

>Face plate from a Roman cavalry officers helmet recently found on the battlefield.
Varus was a trusted member of the extended family of Augustus but not a good choice as a military governor. He treated the Germans poorly and was very trusting of his German officers. One of the latter, Arminius-a Romanised Germanic chieftan, lead Varus and his three legions into an ambush in the marshy Teutoburg Forest. It was a massacre, the three legions, their auxiliary troops and camp followers were wiped out. Close to 30,000 Roman soldiers were lost as were the three Legion Eagles. Open revolt spread throughout Germania Magna destroying all evidence of the Romanization of the area.

When he heard of the defeat, Augustus was seen rending his clothes while screaming,"Quintili Vare, legiones redde!" ("Quinctilius Varus, give me back my Legions!"). After some brutal reprisals (and the recapture of the three Eagles), Rome abandoned all attempts to make Germany East of the Rhine into a peaceful, rich, Roman province like Gaul. A turning point in European and World History that will have ramifications through to the 20th century had occurred. The Rhine would be the new border between the Roman World and the Barbarians.  For the next 20 centuries this line would be fought over by successive hordes, empires, kingdoms and republics, ending in the last and greatest conflict-World War Two.

This ring from an officer of the 19th Legion is mute testimony to the personal cost of the disaster.

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