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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Buy this well-written Osprey title!, 6 Feb. 2011
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This review is from: Teutoburg Forest AD 9: The destruction of Varus and his legions (Campaign) (Paperback)
Events such as the Varian or Kalkriese disaster did not happen to the Roman Empire very often. Indeed few battles in Rome's entire 750 year history can be compared to the battle of the Teutoberg forest in AD 9. Most would agree that Hannibal's unparalleled victory at Cannae and Carrhae in 53 BC are of similar importance, but the Kalkriese disaster seems to have a special resonance even today. Perhaps it is because the battle took place in the middle of Europe, and the victors are still a recognisable nation (whereas the other victors, the Carthaginians and Parthians, are not)?

This Osprey title is a most welcome addition to the other texts on the subject, not least because of its well-written text and its excellent pictures (by Peter Dennis). In typical Osprey style, it lays out the background to the battle for Germania Magna (the lands to the east of the River Rhine) in the years previous to Kalkriese, the generals who led the opposing armies - Varus and the Cheruscan leader Arminius - the details of their armies and so on, before moving to what is known of the battle itself. Here it should be noted that the descriptions of combat events in the book are NOT historical fact - in fact almost nothing is known of what happened during the real battle. In my mind, this should have been prominently acknowledged. Last of all, the book considers the aftermath - the punitive campaigns to recover lost eagles and honour, and the fact that from AD 9, Rome's policy towards Germania Magna was one of containment, rather than offense.

It doesn't mention, however, the 3rd Century AD battlefield deep inside Germania Magna that proves that Rome continued to launch attacks into the area for hundreds of years after Kalkriese (i.e. it wasn't all about containment; see relevant threads on romanarmy dot com.) Nor does it mention the fact that there is NO conclusive proof that the site at Kalkriese is THE battlefield where Varus and his men were annihilated. Many many pointers suggest that it is, but frustratingly, there is nothing concrete to prove absolutely that it is.

Interested readers would undoubtedly enjoy the Ancient Warfare (AW) special edition about the Varian Disaster. Find it at ancient hyphen warfare dot com. In my mind,the AW magazine pips this Osprey edition by a good margin. Another text well worth reading is Rome's Greatest Defeat: Massacre in the Teutoburg Forest.

Ben Kane, author of The Forgotten Legion.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 23 Jan 2012 13:46:26 GMT
Last edited by the author on 23 Jan 2012 13:48:27 GMT
A reader says:
Nice review. In particular, I'd like to draw attention to your point that much of the book is speculative - and while that's fine as far as it goes, it is not made terribly clear, which is more than a bit naughty on the part of the author and Osprey. As a aside note, I've read other Osprey titles that, alas, fictionalise history in this way. It's as if (in some titles), they don't think the reader can handle the concept of "we don't know", which is pretty fundamental in ancient history, and instead present one possibility as established fact.

So, even knowing the author had made a lot of it up, (e.g. it's pretty obvious that the conversations between the Roman commanders, and their reasoning, is invention) I was left a bit confused as to which elements are pure speculation and which come from solid evidence (presumably some of the survivors must have briefed their commanders, and that may be reflected in the ancient historic accounts, but the book doesn't state what comes from the historians, and what is made up - there's not really any excuse for this - a few footnotes could have improved things immensely).

I'll definitely pick up the AW magazine special edition that you mention, as I suspect this will help me sort out what actually happened from . For readers interested in this battle, I'd recommend the Ancient Warfare Magazine podcast on the subject, which is well worth listening to, and isn't afraid to stress what we don't know (i.e. most of it!).

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Jun 2015 23:14:48 BDT
R. EVANS says:
The best way of 'knowing' is to also read the primary sources, which are always where any novice or academic should turn to.
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