Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Finding Varus

(Tony Clunn with Roman coin from thetimes.co.uk)

In a world where credentialed experts dominate many fields let's take the opportunity to salute an amateur who solved a mystery that had puzzled many for centuries.  Tony Clunn, who died on August 3, 2014 at the age of 68, was a retired British Army major and Member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).  Tony's hobby while stationed at various posts across Europe was searching for Roman coins using a metal detector.  While posted in Germany in 1987 he decided to see if he could find remnants of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest or The Varus Battle (9AD) which no one had ever definitively located.

The difficulty in finding the battlefield lay in its history.  After completing the conquest of Gaul in the first century BC the boundary of the Roman Empire was along the Rhine River.  Starting in 12BC, Roman legions at the order of the Emperor Augustus crossed the river to begin the conquest of Germania.  Through a series of campaigns lasting two decades Germany as far as the Elbe River was nominally pacified.

In 6AD, Augustus appointed a friend, Publius Quinctilius Varus, to be governor of the new province of Germania.  Varus was an experienced administrator having previously served as governor of Africa and Syria but did not have much military experience.  In his new role Varus also commanded three legions (about 15,000 soldiers) and each year during the summer and early autumn he would lead them on a campaign within his province to ensure its quietude.  Many of the German tribes had supposedly become Roman allies and Varus' chief allied auxiliary was Arminius whom he trusted greatly.  On the return march from the Elbe to the Rhine in the rainy fall of 9AD, Arminius' advice to take a new and different route was accepted by Varus.  It was a trap.  Arminius had been working to create an alliance of Germanic tribes in order to revolt against the Romans.  When the trap was sprung the Roman legions were strung out in a long marching formation and trapped on a narrow path between wooded hills and a swamp. The battle last three days and resulted in the annihilation of the legions.  Varus committed suicide on the field and only about 400 Romans ever made it back to the Rhine.
(This map, from The Lost Fort, shows the lands between the Rhine and the Elbe; Kalkriese towards the top center is the location of the Varus Battle)

The battle spelled the end of Roman plans to conquer Germania and the border once again became the Rhine where it stayed for more than four centuries.  The destruction of three legions created a brief panic in Rome, awakening fears that the German barbarians might descend on the city but instead they reverted to their fractious infighting among themselves.  It was said that for months thereafter Augustus would wander his palace at night proclaiming:

Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions!

The defeat prompted Augustus (who died 2,000 years ago on August 19, 14AD) to declare that Rome had reached its natural borders and had no need for further expansion.
http://www.livius.org/a/germany/kalkriese/kalkriese_slingstones.jpg(Roman slingstones found at site)
At the time and, for that matter, until very recently, the Battle of Teutoborg Forest was considered a turning point in the history of Rome and of Europe because it spelled the end of Rome's attempt to conquer the entire continent.  More recently several historians have pointed out that Germania and the unconquered portions of Europe were too poor and unsettled to have made any economic sense for the Romans to occupy in the long run.  Even Gaul at the time of its conquest with its towns, small manufacturing and coinage was more advanced than Germania which lacked all three attributes. 
http://www.livius.org/a/1/maps/kalkriese_map.gif(Map of the battle site from livius.org; you can see how the Romans were trapped between hill and bog)

Although a punitive Roman expedition reached the battle site a few years later there was no definitive description of the location and later writers gave conflicting accounts.  For over 200 years historians had argued over its exact location.  Clunn's discoveries of coins (none dated later than the year of the battle) and other artifacts led to a consensus that he had found the site.  Tony continued his work over the years (after retiring from the army in 1996 he moved to Germany) and eventually was able to trace the entire route of Varus' legions.
http://www.livius.org/a/germany/kalkriese/kalkriese_mask.JPG(Roman cavalry mask found on battlefield from livius.org

The site of the battle, near the town of Osnabruck, has been turned into an Archaelogical Park & Museum

Bill Wyman, the former bass guitarist of The Rolling Stones, and a fellow archaeology and metal detection enthusiast paid tribute to his friend Tony Clunn at his website.

No comments:

Post a Comment