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Clades Variana
(The Varus Disaster)
Dramatis Personae
The Setup
The First Dat and Ambush
The Second Day
The News Reaches Rome
Links About The Battle
The Battlefield at Kalkriese
Roman Artifact Recovery From The Battlefield At Kalkriese
By Christian Ziehe

At the Kalkriese battlefield (site of at least one of the battles during the Varus engagement) since the beginning of the official explorations in 1988 over 5500 roman objects were found in an area of 17 square cilometres. Most of them belonging to military equipment which means weapons and equipment of foot soldiers and cavalary. Beneath the military discoveries there are a lot of objects belonging to the baggage-train and civilian items belonging to the camp-followers. The following selection shows only a very small part of the items found.

Since the middle of the 19th century until the official start of the exacavation in 1989 several objects were found on a casual basis.

Scale hook. First discovery of a roman artifact which has been proven to be from the battlefield of Kalkriese.

Aureus of C. ANTISTIVS VETVS. An extremly rare Aureus is discovered.

A denarius of Augustus. This denarius was the reason for a further examination of the finding place.

First hoard of 162 Roman Republic and Augustan denarii, plus three gaming tokens.

This discovery was the reason for speculations about the presence of Roman soldiers at Kalkriese: The first weapons:

Three lead sling bullets (glandes) Finder: J.A.S. Clunn This discovery was the reason for an official exacavation by the German authorties.

From 1988 until today several exacavation campaigns were held at the battlefield of Kalriese.
The main campaign was focused on a place called "Oberesch" which is a slope between the hills of Kalkriese and a large swamp. Because of the discoveries there, Oberesch is believed to be the place of the ambush.

Roman military items from Kalkriese
Here you can see how it looks like when objects were found. It needs a lot of experience to bring them out to the daylight without damaging them.

Several bones, iron, bronze and glass items

This is a x-ray picture of the item showed in the left picture (center to right upper corner). It is a bridle. The bones were indentified as the remains of a mule.

The bronze items were also related to the mule gear:
A bronze bell, a phallic amulett, glass beads, pendants

The photos clearly show how hard it is to determine the findings without scientific examination

The mule was found in front of a grass-wall which is believed to be Germanic. But the mule was definitely roman and had belonged to a cavalry unit. This was not the only finding at this place. A very important object had waited for the archaeologists:

Very near to the mule the most significant object of the Kalkriese excavations were found: The military face-helmet. Look at the image at left, could you say that it is a mask when you see it?
I could not !
The size is 16.9 cm x 8.4 cm. The face-mask is the earliest known example of the whole roman empire !
The picture left, shows a "dolabra", a military pioneer axe. On the right it is restored.

Also several bone deposits were found. That means that the remains of the battlefield (humans and animals) were collected and throwed together in holes. This is not a funeral !

A bone depot

Part of a human skull
A examination had proved, that the person had died because of a sword strike

Several objects could not identfied at the first . But many reference pieces gives the chance to do it, like the helmet part showed in the left picture

The item left shows the top of a roman military helmet. Similar piece on the referenece helmet at right which was found in complete at the roman military camp in Haltern

Breast plate of a body armour. The drawing by Peter Conolly shows the complete body armour found 1964 in Corbridge, UK. So also here the reference helped a lot.

Other items could be identfied very clear, like the shield boss or the weapons showed at next:

Roman iron shield boss (umbo) and edge of the shield 

Different iron weapons

Many objects found belongs to the personal equipment of soldiers. Most of them were pendants and fastenings and lot of them were silvered.

Several pieces of the personal equipment of a roman soldier: Pendants, fastenings etc.

Also very rare "organic" pieces were found like parts of wooden walls and leather shoes:


Parts of roman military sandals with iron sole nails.

But do not think that all items were as good as this shown here. Most of them are iron objects and also most of them are fragments !

Roman civilian items from Kalkriese

In relation to military objects only a few civilian items were found at the battlefield, among these were keys, gaming tokens, glass beads, pottery and others. In the baggage-train of the Legions were not only men but also women and children.

Roman bronze keys and small handles


Roman one handle jug, heigh:18 cm
 A roman silver spoon, lenght: 11,3 cm
The jug was not found at Kalkriese but some pottery shards show that the same type was used.
The jug shown here comes from the legionary camp in Haltern which is about 120 km south-west of Kalkriese
The silver spoon was definitely used by a higher officer because it is a rare and valuable item..

Roman fibulas

Many different types of fibulas were found, like this "Aucissa" and Omega type.

Roman hair pin
 Wagon parts

Also very personal items were found like rings, hair-pins, small jewelery, dices, gaming tokens, glass beads etc.

I hope that you have enjoyed this small tour through different Kalkriese discoveries. As you can see, most of them are not very valuable in terms of rarity. But all are very valuable in the historical context and in relation to the site to open to all of us a part of the roman history and to solve a long lasting enigma: The battle of Varus.

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