Roman Germanic Wars

12 B.C. to 17 A.D.
Rome — versus — German Tribes between the Rhine and Elbe Rivers.

Roman Conquests in Germany, 12 B.C. to 9 A.D.
The German Rebellion, 9-17 A.D.

The Gauls were the ancient natives of Western Europe, and for 400 years the Romans had fought them, in Northern Italy, Hispania, and Gaul. The Germans were relative late-comers, ethnically and religiously different from the Gauls, and even larger and lighter skinned. They are thought to have originated in Denmark and the North Sea, but by the first century BC , they were all over central Europe, and pressing upon Gallic territory to the west. Rome's first encounter with the Germans was in 114 BC during the Cimbrian War and fifty years later, Julius Caesar encountered several German tribes in the Rhine valley during the Roman Conquest of Gaul. By 52 BC he had established the Rhine river as the eastern boundary of the empire, but there was no notion within the Roman Government, that it should remain there permanently. There were plenty of Roman Generals still hungry for conquest, Roman had increased its territory steadily over for over 200 years, and by now the empire was stronger and richer than ever. Yet there, at the Rhine, the border remained, and the story of the Roman-Germanic Wars, fought between 11 BC and 16 AD tell the reasons why.

Roman Conquests in Germany : 12 B.C. to 9 A.D.

By about 15 BC , Augustus had consolidated power in Rome, and was ready to turn his attention to further conquests. To this end, he sent his stepson, Nero Drusus as governor to the Rhine region of Gaul. After dealing with German incursions into Gallic territory, and pacifying regional conflicts, he pursued a tribe of Germans who had crossed the Rhine, back into their original territory. This was the first of four campaigns he led into German territory, between 12 and 9 BC , and in spite of some difficult fighting, he was generally successful, and subdued numerous tribes. He progressed to the Elbe River, built boats and sailed to the North Sea, and built fortifications. Legend has it, that he saw a vision of the Norse goddess Germania who warned not to proceed further, and of his coming death. In any case, he died suddenly in a fall from a horse during his fourth campaign, and was replace by his brother Tiberius, who later succeeded Augustus as emperor.

DateBattle Summary
11 BC  
Battle of Lippe   Romans victory
Fought B.C. 11 between the Romans, under Drusus, and the Sicambri, Suevi and Cherusii. The Romans were largely out-numbered and surrounded, and so certain were the Germans of victory, that they had already apportioned the spoil among the various tribes. Drusus, however, attacked the barbarians vigorously, and totally routed them with very heavy loss.
Battle of the Main   Romans victory
Fought B.C. 9, when the Romans, under Drusus, attacked and totally routed the Marcomanni, driving them to the eastward and occupying their territory.

Short Biography
Drusus Son of Livia, father of Germanicus. Died on campaign in Germany.

Story Links
Book Links
Beyond the Rhine  in  Helmet and Spear  by  Alfred J. Church
Story of Drusus  in  Barbarian and Noble  by  Marion Florence Lansing

The German Rebellion : 9 to 17 A.D.

The Romans continued to hold their territory between the Rhine and Elbe Rivers. Two legions were stationed there and although the dense forests and swamplands were difficult to penetrate, and the forest people difficult to govern, the Romans considered the region conquered territory until they were caught entirely unaware by a large scale rebellion in 9 AD, led by Hermann (a.k.a Arminius) . This first great German hero was a prince who had worked in service to Rome, but who desired to liberate his people from subjugation. This he did by carefully planning an ambush and wiping out two entire legions, almost to a man. This defeat, at Teutoburg forest, was the greatest military catastrophe Rome had faced in generations and it shocked the entire population. Augustus Caesar himself, was utterly stunned by it, and died calling for his lost legions.

The route of the legions and their fortifications was total—all progress made toward conquering Germany had been lost in one blow. But it would be un-Roman to give up after such a defeat. Six years later a new expedition of 50,000 with naval support was launched under Germanicus, the son of Nero Drusus. The Roman army re-took some of the lost German territory, won numerous battles, found the battlefield on which the previous legions had been lost, and gave the dead Romans, whose remains were still visible an honorable burial. They even met and defeated Hermann in battle, and captured his wife and children, but the campaign was an extremely difficult and costly one. They had lost too many men to remain so far in the interior surrounded by hostile tribes, so they retreated by boat. Tragically, a storm arose on the North Sea and destroyed much of the fleet that had come to transport them home. Although Germanicus received a triumph, and his expedition was regarded as a victory for Rome, in reality it was a victory for German. Tiberius, now emperor, declined to raise any more expeditions into Germany. The Rhine became the permanent eastern Border of Roman territory.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Teutoburg Forest   Germans victory
The site of this famous battle is supposed to be between the rivers Ems and Lippe, not far from the modern Detmoldt. In A.D. 9 the Roman army, under Quintilius Varus, was attacked while on the march and encumbered by a heavy baggage-train, by the Germans, under Arminius or Hermann. The country was thickly wooded and marshy, and the Romans could make but little defense, with the result that they were almost annihilated. Varus committed suicide on the field to avoid falling into the hands of the victors.
Battle of Idistavisus   Romans victory
Fought 16, between 8 Roman legions, under Germanicus, and the Germans, under Arminius. The Germans attacked the Romans in the open plain, but failed against the superior discipline of the legionaries, and were routed with enormous loss. Arminius with difficulty cut his way out of the press and escaped.

Short Biography
P. Quinctilius Varus Led two Roman legions to utter destruction at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest.
Hermann Hero of Germany. Annihilated three Roman legions at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest.
Germanicus Roman military hero and heir to the throne. Probably murdered.

Story Links
Book Links
Death and Burial of Germanicus  in  Pictures from Roman Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Death of Augustus  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Varus Avenged  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Hermann  in  Back Matter  by  books/horne/soldiers/_back.html
Three norse Boys  in  Patriots and Tyrants  by  Marion Florence Lansing
Hermann the Deliverer  in  Patriots and Tyrants  by  Marion Florence Lansing
Herman, the Hero of Germany  in  The History of Germany  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Hermann, the Hero of Germany  in  Historical Tales: German  by  Charles Morris

Image Links

Germans going into battle
 in The Story of the Middle Ages

The Defeat of Varus at Teutoburg Forest
 in Greatest Nations - Germany

Hermann's Triumphant procession after the defeat of Varus
 in Greatest Nations - Germany

Segestes Surrendering his Daughter to Germanicus
 in Greatest Nations - Germany

The Retreat of the Troops of Germanicus
 in Greatest Nations - Germany

Hermann Calling the Germans to Arms
 in Greatest Nations - Rome

German army of Hermann
 in Back Matter

Hermann's Triumph over the Romans
 in Back Matter

Germania repelling Drusus
 in Barbarian and Noble

Return of Hermann after his victory over the Romans
 in Historical Tales: German

Romans Destroying a Village of the Germans
 in European Hero Stories

Romans Fighting with the Germans (Relief from the column of Marcus Aurelius.)
 in European Hero Stories

Varus invading Germany.
 in Herman and Thusnelda