CHAPTER V. VICTORY OF ARMINIUS OVER THE ROMAN LEGIONS UNDER VARUS, A.D. 9.
The bulk of the Roman army fought steadily and stubbornly, frequently repelling the masses of the assailants, but gradually losing the compactness of their array, and becoming weaker and weaker beneath the incessant shower of darts and the reiterated assaults of the vigorous and unencumbered Germans. At last, in a series of desperate attacks the column was pierced through and through, two of the eagles captured, and the Roman host, which on the yester morning had marched forth in such pride and might, now broken up into confused fragments, either fell fighting beneath the overpowering numbers of the enemy, or perished in the swamps and woods in unavailing efforts at flight. Few, very few, ever saw again the left bank of the Rhine. One body of brave veterans, arraying themselves in a ring on a little mound, beat off every charge of the Germans, and prolonged their honourable resistance to the close of that dreadful day. The traces of a feeble attempt at forming a ditch and mound attested in after years the spot where the last of the Romans passed their night of suffering and despair. But on the morrow this remnant also, worn out with hunger, wounds, and toil, was charged by the victorious Germans, and either massacred on the spot, or offered up in fearful rites at the alters of the deities of the old mythology of the North.
A gorge in the mountain ridge, through which runs the modern road between Paderborn and Pyrmont, leads from the spot where the heat of the battle raged, to the Extersteine, a cluster of bold and grotesque rocks of sandstone; near which is a small sheet of water, overshadowed by a grove of aged trees. According to local tradition, this was one of the sacred groves of the ancient Germans, and it was here that the Roman captives were slain in sacrifice by the victorious warriors of Arminius. ["Lucis propinquis barbarae arae, apud quas tribunos ac primorum ordinam centuriones mactaverant." - TACITUS, Ann. lib. i. c. 61.]
Never was victory more decisive, never was the liberation of an oppressed people more instantaneous and complete. Throughout Germany the Roman garrisons were assailed and cut off; and, within a few weeks after Varus had fallen, the German soil was freed from the foot of an invader.
At Rome, the tidings of the battle was received with an agony of terror, the descriptions of which we should deem exaggerated, did they not come from Roman historians themselves. These passages in the Roman writers not only tell emphatically how great was the awe which the Romans felt of the prowess of the Germans, if their various tribes could be brought to reunite for a common purpose, but also they reveal bow weakened and debased the population of Italy had become. [It is clear that the Romans followed the policy of fomenting dissension and wars of the Germans among themselves. See the thirty-third section of the "Germania" of Tacitus, where he mentions the destruction of the Bructeri by the neighbouring tribes: "Favore quodam erga nos deorum: nam ne spectaculo quidem proelii invidere: super LX. millia non armis telisque Romanis, sed, quod magnificentius est, oblectationi oculisque ceciderunt. Maneat quaeso, duretque gentibus, si non amor nostri at certe odium sui quando urgentibus imperii fatis, nihil jam praestare fortuna majus potes quam hostiam discordiam."] Dion Cassius says: [Lib. lvi. sec. 23.] "Then Augustus, when he heard the calamity of Varus, rent his garments, and was in great affliction for the troops he had lost, and for terror respecting the Germans and the Gauls. And his chief alarm was, that he expected them to push on against Italy and Rome: and there remained no Roman youth fit for military duty, that were worth speaking of, and the allied populations that were at all serviceable had been wasted away. Yet he prepared for the emergency as well as his means allowed; and when none of the citizens of military age were willing to enlist he made them cast lots, and punished by confiscation of goods and disfranchisement every fifth man among those under thirty-five, and every tenth man of those above that age. At last, when he found that not even thus; could he make many come forward, he put some of them to death. So he made a conscription of discharged veterans and emancipated slaves, and collecting as large a force as he could, sent it, under Tiberius, with all speed into Germany."