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Unless otherwise indicated, pictures on this page © Marco Prins and Jona Lendering. Photos can be downloaded and used for non-commercial purposes, but you have to acknowledge Livius.
Map of the Kalkriese excavations. Map design Jona Lendering.
In September 9 CE, the Romans suffered one of the greatest defeats in their history in the Teutoburg Forest. Three legions (the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth) were destroyed; general Publius Quintilius Varus was forced to commit suicide. The site of the battle has been discovered at Kalkriese, north of modern Osnabrück (satellite photo).
Here is a small strip of solid land between the Kalkrieser Berg (Mount Kalkriese, picture) and a great bog. The most accessible part of this zone was a strip of cultivated land with a width of only 220 meters. This could well have been called "narrows" or saltus; the Roman name Saltus Teutoburgiensis, often rendered as "Teutoburg Forest", should be translated as Teutoburg Narrows.
A modern reconstruction of the Kalkriese narrows at the Kalkriese Museum. Photo Marco Prins.
A modern reconstruction of the Kalkriese "narrows" at the Kalkriese Museum. In front, the bog; then, a small strip of land, and finally the slopes of the mountain, fortified with a wall. The Germanic leader Arminius, who was believed to be a Roman ally, guided the legions to these narrows and unexpectedly attacked his former friends. The results were terrible, as was shown during the excavation. Archaeologists found so many objects, that it was hard to believe that the fight at Kalkriese was a minor skirmish: Roman swords and daggers, parts of javelins and spears, arrowheads, sling stones, fragments of helmets, a mask (below), nails of soldiers' sandals, belts, hooks of chain mail and fragments of armor.
Other finds were less military in character: locks, keys, razors, a scale, weights, chisels, hammers, pickaxes, buckets, finger rings, surgical instruments, seal boxes, a stylus, cauldrons, casseroles, spoons, and amphorae. Finally, jewelry, hairpins, and a disk brooch suggest (but do not prove) the presence of women. The army trapped here was large and not prepared for battle.
The environment of Engter, perhaps the place that the Romans occupied after the first attack. Photo Jona Lendering.
Yet, according to the historian Cassius Dio (whose account can be found here), the Romans were able to reorganize themselves and tried to build a new fortress. The obvious place would have been near modern Engter (picture), where they could cross the Riesengebirge and start to move to Haltern. More finds are to be expected in the area of Osnabrück and Münster.
Today, the Kalkriese area is a tranquil piece of land. There is a museum that gives the visitor an impression of the puzzle itself, and the field where most discoveries were made can be visited. Excavations have not been finished yet (picture). Near the museum is a large tower so that you understand the environment: a mountain to the south, a bog to the north, and a narrow corridor.
Cavalry mask, found at Kalkriese, now in the Kalkriese Museum. Photo Marco Prins.
The most dazzling piece of the museum's collection is this mask, once owned by a cavalry man. It was discovered in front of the wall on the picture above.
     In the nineteenth century, many Germans believed that the battle in the Kalkriese narrows was the birth of their nation: a symbol of the eternal opposition between the overcivilised and decadent Latin and the creative and vital Germanic people.
The Hermannsdenkmal at Detmold. Photo Jona Lendering.
To make the connection between the noble savages of Antiquity and the modern nation closer, the Germanic war leader whose name had been rendered by the Romans as Arminius was referred to by his (presumed) real Germanic name: Hermann. The war hero soon became a symbol of national unity that could be used on almost any occasion. For example, in 1809, the romantic poet Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) wrote a play called Die Hermannsschlacht, to inspire the Germans to a national war against Napoleon. At Detmold, which was once believed to be the site of the battle, the Hermannsdenkmal was erected in 1875 (picture). Today, many Germans don't like to be reminded of these excesses of nationalism, which were, however, nothing worse than the nationalistic "cults" of Vercingetorix and Boudicca in France and Britain.
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