Osnaburg, Germany (9 AD)
The Battle of Teutoburg Forest was one of the most important in the history of the Roman Empire. It marked one of the greatest defeats of the imperial legions, and effectively ended for all time Roman efforts to expand the empire beyond the Rhine River. This in turn marked the end of further Roman expansion into Europe. In later years, the Battle of Teutoburg Forest came to be viewed by some historians as the beginning of German history and an unfortunate rallying event for German nationalism. For years the location of the battle was forgotten; but 20th century excavations have rediscovered the battlefield, which has since been redeveloped as an historic site and museum.
In the second half of the 1st century BC, the Roman Empire began to expand into northwestern Europe. Under the leadership of future emperor Julius Caesar, the Romans absorbed most of Gaul, what is now modern-day France, and made inroads against Britannia in the north. After spending a few decades consolidating their gains, the Romans turned their attention towards the region which lay beyond the Rhine River.
The initial campaign began in 12 BC and met with great success. By 6 AD large areas of what is now Germany were conquered and being re-organized into the new province of Germania. Their success was due in no small part to rivalries and even internecine fighting between the various German tribes. However, this did not prevent them from chafing against foreign rule, and revolts against Roman rule began as early as 4 AD.
The Romans, led by the ruthless general Publius Varus, spent several years trying to pacify the increasingly restless province. In 9 AD the conflict came to a head, when Varus received reports of a larger uprising. While the reports were technically true, the information he received was misleading, and designed to draw the Romans into a trap. The ruse worked. Varus assembled an army of three Roman legions and auxiliaries and marched off to deal a decisive blow to the rebels.
What happened instead was one of the worst Roman defeats in history. The Romans, traveling through unfamiliar territory, were ambushed in the Teutoburg Forest just outside of what is modern day Osnabruck. The result was a massacre. All three legions were completely annihilated, the few survivors taken as slaves. Varus was also killed during the fighting. After the battle, the Germans began retaking Roman territory and garrisons. Eventually the Romans were forced to withdraw west of the Rhine, ending their last major attempt at conquest in Central Europe.
The Teutoburg Battlefield was considered lost for millennia, until it was accidentally rediscovered by an archaeologist in the 1980s. Thousands of artifacts of the battle have since been recovered in the area around Kalkriese Hill. There is now a museum of the battle on the site, which incorporates some of the surrounding area. The museum now houses many of the artifacts, and there is an observation tower offering views of the battlefield as well.
The Teutoburg Battlefield is located just north of the modern-day city of Osnabruck, approximately 250 miles west of Berlin. Because the exact locations related to the battle are uncertain, the main site of interest is the Varus Museum and Park, which houses a large collection of artifacts from the battle. It is open daily from 10:00am to 5:00pm (closed Mondays; later hours in summer). The cost of admission is E7.00. Web: www.kalkriese-varusschlacht.de (official website).