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The Battle That Stopped Rome: Emperor Augustus, Arminius, and the Slaughter of the Legions in the Teutoburg Forest Paperback – September 17, 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (September 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393326438
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393326437
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #592,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Clearly and effectively written, Wells' volume -part popular history and part archaeological monograph-recounts one of the most catastrophic military defeats in history: the loss of three Roman legions, what amounted to 20,000 men (accompanied by an unspecified number of women and children), in the Teutoburg Forest of Germany. In A.D. 9, led by Varius, the Romans crossed the Rhine and marched confidently into the forests, convinced that a previous expedition had subdued the Germanic barbarians. They were under two misconceptions, as Wells demonstrates. First, the Germans had learned much from the Romans about weaponry and strategy; and second, they had no wish to submit to Rome. Led by Arminius, who had served in the Roman forces, the Germans prepared a trap in the forest, utilizing a narrow trail in which the Romans could not maneuver and a camouflaged wall to conceal their troops. The ruse was successful: the Romans were annihilated, and their dream of world conquest ended in humiliation. Arminius became a national hero, symbol of Germanic defiance against ancient Rome, and later, symbolically, of German resistance to Catholic Rome during the Reformation. Wells, who is a professor of archaeology at the University of Minnesota and an expert on European archeology of pre-Roman and Roman times, gives the story in clear and engrossing detail.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Peter Wells conducts us to a hitherto mysterious and myth-enshrouded place....A journey well worth taking.” (Robert Cowley, editor of What If?)

“Gives the story in clear and engrossing detail.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Always literate and learned....Wells is able not only to reconstruct a credible analysis of the German strategy, but also to explore the thoughts and fears of the combatants on both sides as the massacre commenced.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Wells does an excellent job of weaving the few written accounts, recent archaeological evidence, and his own interpretation into a compelling story that is fluently written and well organized.” (Library Journal)

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Customer Reviews

All told this is a book well worth reading for those interested in ancient European history.
C. Yordy
I was completely disappointed since Mr. Wells, after making such an outlandish claim, provided absolutely no concrete evidence to back it up.
Michael D. Fox
Wells does not trust them for details, so his account of the battle itself is very sketchy and speculative.
Glenn McDavid

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 64 people found the following review helpful By William Holmes VINE VOICE on January 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"The Battle That Stopped Rome" is a very interesting book about the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest, which may have been one of the most important engagements in European history. Wells offers a somewhat revisionist history of the battle based on his interpretation of the archaeology at the battle site, which was finally located in 1987 at Kalkriese in northern Germany.
The broad outlines of the battle are reasonably well understood. Arminius, a member of the Cherusci tribe who had served in the Roman army and had become a Roman citizen, drew three legions under the command of Publius Quinctilius Varus into a trap east of the Rhine. While the legions were on the march in a column that may have been over two miles long, they were ambushed by Germanic warriors. The terrain and the extended column prevented the Roman units from forming up properly, with the horrific result that 20,000 or so men (and possibly a large group of camp followers) were killed on the spot, ritually sacrificed or enslaved. The catastrophe cost the Roman army almost ten percent of its effective strength, revived Roman fears of an invasion by northern barbarians, and may have induced the Romans to halt the expansion of their empire at the Rhine River rather than pressing on to the Elbe.
Wells tends to dismiss classical descriptions of the battle, arguing that ancient historians suffered from the fact that they were not eyewitnesses, were often writing long after the fact, and were burdened by stereotyped and inaccurate notions of how the Germanic tribes fought. He suggests that the battle did not take place over three days (as the writer Cassius Dio claimed 200 years later) but that the slaughter was essentially over in an hour, with the rest of the day devoted to capturing or killing the survivors.
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50 of 59 people found the following review helpful By W. M. Robbins on November 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The complete annihilation of three Roman Legions by Germanic tribesmen under Arminius in A.D. 9 is one of the most important military events in human history. The defeat caused the shocked Romans to give up any plans of further expansion beyond the Rhine, establishing the Rhine as a political and cultural boundary between Latin and Germanic Europe that has existed to this day. It also demonstrated to the world and to the Romans themselves that Rome was not invincible, instilling in them a fear of invasion from the north that became a paranoia, and it provided later German peoples with a source for legend and a national hero in Arminius, corrupted to Hermann.

Mr. Wells has retold the story of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in detail, using information gathered by the latest archaeological efforts as well as contemporary accounts written by the great historians of antiquity. Wells describes the relationships between the protagonists, relating how Arminius had served as an Auxillary Officer with the Roman Army and so had learned their tactics and gained their leaders' trust. Each of the major characters of the book are introduced to the reader, and their life's experiences are delved into, providing a means for understanding their various actions during the battle and it's aftermath. The political and social environment of this period in history is explained, from the regal glory of Imperial Rome to the simple day to day existence of a soldier on the frontier or a Germanic tribesman.
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52 of 62 people found the following review helpful By George R Dekle on August 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Roman military history is full of crushing defeats--Allia, Cannae, and Carrhae, to name a few. None of these battles 'stopped' Rome. Neither did the Teutoberger Forest. Although it broke Augustus' spirit, succeeding emperors were undeterred and expansionist. Rome's failure to conquer Germany was due, not to the military acumen of Arminius, but to three things:
1. The decentralized body politic of Germania. The U.S. confronts a similar problem today in the Iraqi insurgency. It's hard to pacify a country which has no central government to surrender and tell its citizens to stop fighting. Rome solved a similar decentralization problem in Spain in the wake of the Second Punic War, but Spain did not present the next problem.
2. The complete unsuitability of the legionary system for waging war in heavy forests. Close order heavy infantry needs lots of level, wide open spaces to maneuver. Think of the caricature of the Minutemen firing from behind trees on the Redcoats marching by with parade ground precision.
3. There is just so much area that a pretechnological government can control, and Rome was near its limit.

Notwithstanding the flawed premise of the book, Wells gives an interesting account. He starts with the biographies of the three protagonists: Augustus, the aging Emperor who wandered the halls of his palace saying 'Varus, Varus, give me back my legions'; Varus, the doomed general who paid the price for the dual sins of overtrust in a treacherous German 'ally' and underestimation of the tactical and logistical problems of marching three legions through such inhospitable terrain; and Arminius, the duplicitous Roman auxiliary soldier who forsook his hard-won Roman citizenship to betray his mentor, Varus.
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