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The Quest for the Lost Roman Legions
Discovering the Varus Battlefield
by Tony Clunn
The soil was black, peat-like, and still moist considering the time of the year. I moved my metal detector over the small hole I had dug. Again, I heard the sharp, double-toned ringing in my headset indicating a round solid object. There appeared nothing obvious in the hole, so I carefully lifted a small amount of soil in my hand and again moved the machine over the whole. Nothing. Whatever lay in the earth gathered in the palm of my hand.
Thus began one of the more amazing archeological journeys and detective work in modern times. When I was visiting Germany in 2003, my travels brought me to the Kalkriese/Varusschlacht Museum and excavation site near Osnabrück and the Teutoburg Forest, the locale of the infamous battle of the Germans against Varus in 9 AD, ending in the annihilation of three legions. While the main reason for my visit was a Mommsen exhibit, I was of course intrigued and excited by the fact that the battleground had finally been discovered and by the artifacts shown in the museum. In the museum shop, I found the book Auf der Suche nach den verlorenen Legionen by Major Tony Clunn, and I was fascinated by his tale. A little later, I acquired the English version which Major Clunn had self-published in the UK. Now, in 2005, he has found an American publisher for his book. A link to an interview describing the new edition is below.
The current book is a revised and updated version of the two mentioned above. It traces one man's tenacity, pursuing a theory in what the author calls “the long, exhilarating, and often frustrating journey to document where Varus and his men met their end”.
Major Clunn, at the beginning of the events in 1987 stationed with the British Rhine Army in the Osnabrück area, is an amateur archaeologist and military historian, a combination well suited to the task he set himself. He had been intrigued by the assertion of the 19th century German historian Theodor Mommsen that coins found in the Kalkriese area indicated a specific topographic gap as the location of the Varus Battle. This assertion had always been met with deep skepticism by archaeologists and historians up to our era, whereas Clunn's military historian expertise led him to giving more credence to the claim. After he found several coins himself, pin-pointing the 9 AD time frame, he contacted the local archaeological authorities to gain official permission to continue his excavations. This was granted to him, although Wolfgang Schlüter, the man in charge, very much doubted that anything would come of it.
The results are now known to anyone interested in Roman and/or military history.
The two men eventually began to work closely together, even when Major Clunn was stationed in other parts of Germany and in London. Upon his retirement, Major Clunn settled in the Osnabrück area, and he continues to involve himself in Kalkriese and other archaeological research projects related to the subject. He received various awards in Germany, recognizing his work, as well the British OBE for his services to Anglo-British relations.
The book, based on his diaries and other records, tells a gripping tale! From early beginnings of just finding coins the story moves on to the exciting find of three pearl shaped stones which turned out to be sling shot pieces, to co-operation with Dr. Schlüter's team, to the famous silver battle mask and other military objects, and finally bones of slain soldiers, much of which can be seen now at the Kalkriese/Varusschlacht Museum. Along the way, the author made friends with local farmers and land-holders on whose properties he did his his excavations, sometimes assisted by his children, as well as with other archaeologists, the most notable being Frank Berger, a world leading coin expert working at the Kestner Museum Münzkabinett in nearby Hannover. The reader follows the story from day one and shares the author's “exhilaration and frustration” as it unfolds. There are a number of surprises here which I will not reveal, as it would spoil the suspense; therefore, this is not a lengthy review.
Interspersed in the narrative is an imaginative fictional re-telling of the events leading to the battle and the battle itself, based on ancient historians, various archaeological finds, and Major Clunn's knowledge of the topography, thereby fleshing out the story.
Visits to the archaeological site of Varus's winter camp near the town of Haltern and similar locations round out the picture.
There are also excellent explanatory maps as well as photos and illustrations of archaeological objects.
To any aficionado of archaeology, let alone military history, this is a thoroughly entertaining read.
Major Clunn concludes his introduction to the book thus:
The Varusschlacht spun history, and thus Western Civilization, in a different direction. The Quest for the Lost Roman Legions is not the final word on this watershed event. Out in the fields, there is much more waiting to be discovered.
We wish him and the German team well in their continuing quest!
The book would have profited from a German-speaking "reader": there are a number of misspellings of names and locations. I have been assured that this will be corrected with the next printing.
© 2005 Irene B. Hahn
Kalkriese/Varusschlacht (clades variana)
The Battle That Stopped Rome: Emperor Augustus, Arminius, and the Slaughter of the Legions in the Teutoburg Forest
by Peter S. Wells Review by N.S. Gill
Note: I recently acquired this book–luckily cheaply second hand–and was very disappointed. It seemed to me that Mr. Wells was simply jumping on the bandwagon. However, Mr. Wells is the author of an excellent book: The Barbarians Speak: How the Conquered Peoples Shaped Roman Europe.
Added 2006: Review, Rome's Greatest Defeat : Massacre in the Teutoburg Forest by Adrian Murdoch
The Quest for the Lost Roman Legions:
Discovering the Varus Battlefield
Savas Beatie, April 2005
List Price $24.75
Auf der Suche nach den verlorenen Legionen
Rasch und Roehring Verlag, 1998
From the Publisher Q: What’s new in this edition of your book?
A: First, the book has been completely re-edited and re-designed inside and out, so it looks and reads a bit differently. We added additional pictures and maps, which will certainly please readers of history. Derek Williams, one of the world’s authorities on Roman history, wrote a very nice Foreword for this edition, and Christian Jaletzke, the Director of the Museum and Park Battlefield, has provided a first class piece about the museum and its role in interpreting this battle. And of course, Professor Doctor Schluter’s original Foreword remains. All of these contributions, together with a new Aftermath chapter I have written, bring together all the exciting events and discoveries that have been made since my first edition appeared about five years ago.
Excerpts from the book may be read here in PDF format:
Articles & Essays by group members & friends
Roman History Reading Group