TRACING ROMAN GERMANIA III
Roman Villa at Ahrweiler
On the Rhein
Tracing Roman Germania 1999
Tracing Roman Germania 2002
Ancient Rome as seen in the year 2001
KALKRIESE/VARUSSCHLACHT (clades variana)
Close to Osnabrück sits Kalkriese Mountain, the now presumed archaeological site of the final events of the battle of Varus, clades variana. This infamous battle has caught the imagination of many historians and a multitude of lay people, and there were many views as to its actual location. The 19th century German historian Theodor Mommsen had developed the theory that the battle took place in the Osnabrück area – based on analyzing a coin collection of the local von Bar family, but he was a voice in the wilderness. The collection was looted in 1945, however its contents are still known thanks to the thorough cataloguing by Mommsen and others, and some of the coins have been recovered.
In 1987, a young British army officer and amateur archaeologist, Tony Clunn, was stationed in Osnabrück and greatly interested in Mommsen's assumptions. Equipped with a sophisticated metal detector, he surveyed the area and soon found his first Roman coins such as this one, and equally important, a little later, three iron sling shots. His work developed into a cooperation with local archaeologists as well as a coin expert at the Kestner-Museum in Hannover and resulted in a major archaeological project, Varusschlacht, which to most minds now has proven the location of the battle near and at Kalkriese, and which is still ongoing. According to my Osnabrück guide book, as of last year more than 1250 coins had been found and over 2000 pieces of remnants of military equipment of all sorts.
Major Clunn is now retired, lives in the Osnabrück area, and is greatly involved in the project and others related to Roman history in the region. He has written a book, In Quest of the Lost Legions: The Varusschlacht, ISBN 0954419006, October 1999, available at Amazon.uk. There is also a translation in German available at online stores. The text alternates between a narrative of his findings and the progress of the project, and a fictional description – he calls it day dreams – of Varus' ill-fated expedition. The story of his finds and theories is a fascinating read.
Update 2005: There is now a revised and expanded 1st U.S. edition available, The Quest for the Lost Roman Legions: The Varus Battlefield. Here is my review of the book.
One morning, I took the bus from Osnabrück to Kalkriese to visit the site and the museum, which was opened in 2002 and is a popular tourist and school group destination. Excavations were going on right at the grounds. The museum itself is rather strange, both the building and the displays. I was very disappointed in the latter – not what was shown, but how. “Weird” is how I would describe it, you may judge for yourself by my photos. It's a new concept of museum displays and similar to the equally controversial one of the new Holocaust Museum in Berlin.
Apart from weapons, tools, and coins, the most impressive/harrowing sights are an iron battle mask and an accumulation of human bones, as well as the skeleton of a mule. From the way they were buried, it is theorized that the bones are those found and buried by Germanicus. Special soil conditions account for the fact that they were still preserved, and anthropological examination shows them to be from healthy young males.
There is a project and museum website, (English version). Update 2008: It is completely redesigned with much more information. There is an extensive Content (sitemap) page. Here are image links to some of the finds shown: If you click on Archaeology/Finds and findings. Archaeology/Restoration shows the mask before and after restoration. A mask like this would have had a silver covering and decorations around the edges. Presumably, these had been removed by a marauder before it was thrown away. (Photos of the slingshots seem to have disappeared.)
The museum also had a special exhibit on Theodor Mommsen on occasion of the 100th anniversary of his death—my original reason for the visit. It was equally disappointing, and to no surprise of mine curated by the museum's director. It consisted mostly of modern desks and drawers with displays. More on Mommsen.
Another Update: Books published since the writing of this article
- The Battle That Stopped Rome : Emperor Augustus, Arminius, and the Slaughter of the Legions in the Teutoburg Forest
by Peter Wells (2004)
- Rome's Greatest Defeat : Massacre in the Teutoburg Forest
by Adrian Murdoch (2006) my review
(Note: since my original writing of 2003, there has been a proliferation of information on the subject, and to interested pesrson, I do recommend an Internet search)
Monument for a centurion named Caelius from Bononia (Bologna) who perished with Varus on this site
Die Varusschlacht in German, but nice links to images
Paterculus: The Battle of Teutoburg Forest
Dio Cassius: Book 56: How Quintilius Varus was defeated by the Germans and perished (chaps. 18-24) (Lacus Curtius)
Clades Variana - Home of the Varus Film Project
Review: The Quest for the Lost Roman Legions: The Varus Battlefield
2000 Years Varus Battle: What happens in 2009?
… and so back to Osnabrück.
© Irene B. Hahn 2003, 2008
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