The previously untold story of the watershed battle that changed the course of Western history.
In AD 9, a Roman traitor led an army of barbarians who trapped and then slaughtered three entire Roman legions: 20,000 men, half the Roman army in Europe. If not for this battle, the Roman Empire would surely have expanded to the Elbe River, and probably eastward into present-day Russia. But after this defeat, the shocked Romans ended all efforts to expand beyond the Rhine, which became the fixed border between Rome and Germania for the next 400 years, and which remains the cultural border between Latin western Europe and Germanic central and eastern Europe today.
This fascinating narrative introduces us to the key protagonists: the emperor Augustus, the most powerful of the Caesars; his general Varus, who was the wrong man in the wrong place; and the barbarian leader Arminius, later celebrated as the first German hero. In graphic detail, based on recent archaeological finds, the author leads the reader through the mud, blood, and decimation that was the Battle of Teutoburg Forest.
Clearly and effectively written, Wells' volume --part popular history and part archaeological monograph--recounts one of the most catastrophic military defeats in history: the loss of three Roman legions, what amounted to 20,000 men (accompanied by an unspecified number of women and children), in the Teutoburg Forest of Germany. In A.D. 9, led by Varius, the Romans crossed the Rhine and marched confidently into the forests, convinced that a previous expedition had subdued the Germanic barbarians. They were under two misconceptions, as Wells demonstrates. First, the Germans had learned much from the Romans about weaponry and strategy; and second, they had no wish to submit to Rome. Led by Arminius, who had served in the Roman forces, the Germans prepared a trap in the forest, utilizing a narrow trail in which the Romans could not maneuver and a camouflaged wall to conceal their troops. The ruse was successful: the Romans were annihilated, and their dream of world conquest ended in humiliation. Arminius became a national hero, symbol of Germanic defiance against ancient Rome, and later, symbolically, of German resistance to Catholic Rome during the Reformation. Wells, who is a professor of archaeology at the University of Minnesota and an expert on European archeology of pre-Roman and Roman times, gives the story in clear and engrossing detail.