View over the Teutoburg Forest
The Teutoburg Forest (German: Teutoburger Wald) is a range of low, forested mountains in the German states of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia, which is believed to be the environ of a decisive battle in AD 9.
The Teutoburger Wald is a northern extension of the central European uplands, extending eastward toward the Weser river, southward from the town of Osnabrück and southeastwards to Paderborn. It is divided by a broad valley, where the city of Bielefeld is located, into the two portions called Northern Teutoburg Forest and Southern Teutoburg Forest.
The highest elevation in the Southern Teutoburg Forest is the Velmerstot (468 m) (located south of Horn-Bad Meinburg). In the Northern Teutoburg Forest the highest elevation is the Dörenberg (331 m) (north of Bad Iburg).
The source of the Ems river is located in the southernmost portion of the Teutoburg Forest.
Somewhere in this low mountain chain was believed to have been the site of a battle between Romans and Germans in AD 9; the battle was therefore known as the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. For centuries it was not known where exactly the battle took place; recent excavations seem to suggest rather firmly that it took place further north of the Teutoburg Forest, at Kalkriese north of Osnabrück.
On the Grotenburg hill near Detmold there is a monumental statue of Arminius commemorating the battle, commonly called Hermannsdenkmal because at that time the name of the Germanic leader Arminius was (wrongly) transformed to "Hermann". The monument was inaugurated in 1875 by emperor Wilhelm I. In decades of propaganda Arminius was made an early protagonist of German resistance to foreign rule and of national unity. With the actual location of the battle not known at that time, the statue was placed at the wrong location.
This famous battle between Germanic tribes, under the war leader Arminius, and Roman armies, under the command of Publius Quinctilius Varus occurred in the year AD 9. Three Roman legions, which had crossed the Rhine River in order to subdue Germanic tribes and extend Rome's frontier eastward, were trapped in the forests and annihilated by Arminius' warriors. The battle was the high-water mark of Roman expansion in Germany; subsequently, the Empire withdrew to the west bank of the Rhine and recognized it as the Roman-German frontier.
The Roman emperor Augustus, upon hearing of this shocking defeat of the hitherto-victorious Roman armies by so-called barbarian Germans, is said to have uttered the famous and plaintive appeal, "Quinctillius Varus, redde legiones! (give me back my legions!)"
The last hours
Before nightfall, it was the custom for a legion on the march to build a stockade, surrounded by a ditch, and then lay out the encampment in formation. But the state of the legions in the last hours was so desperate that the exhausted solders could not fell the trees, but only dig the ditch.
The remaining Roman soldiers feared the return to Rome, because they were expected to fight to the death. But without them, no one would have known of the defeat.