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Rome's Greatest Defeat: Massacre in the Teutoburg Forest Kindle Edition
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Top customer reviews
The biggest problem I have with this book is that Murdoch does somersalts trying to exonerate Varus from any blame. Over and over again Murdoch says it wasn't Varus's fault. "Varus had no idea. . . ." "Varus could not have known. . . ." "Varus had no reason to expect. . . ." Etc., etc., etc. At times Murdoch's apology for Varus gets downright nauseating.
Murdoch even seeks to excuse Varus's inexcusable failure to march his troops in regular order. Murdoch's excuse is that Varus had no reason to think his formation was in danger of attack.
Say what? He was marching to put down an uprising in a nearby tribal area, and he'd allowed Arminius to go off to round up some friendly locals to augment his forces to help put down the trouble. So Varus should have at least suspected that all might not be well with some of the locals.
Furthermore, Varus had been warned by Segestes that Arminius was going to lead a revolt against him. Didn't Varus get just a little suspicious when Arminius asked permission to go recruit additional local forces? Apparently not.
But Varus's failure to heed Segestes' warning is really a separate issue. The point is that Varus was marching toward an area where he'd been told an uprising was occurring, and the uprising was serious enough that he thought he needed help from friendly local troops. Yet, his formation was a long, unorganized gaggle, and many of the soldiers weren't even carrying their weapons (they put them on wagons).
Another problem I have with Murdoch's book is that he makes it seem like Rome lost virtually all influence beyond the Rhine after Roman forces pulled back to their side of the river. Yet, in point of fact, in the years that followed, Roman diplomacy succeeded in getting many German tribes to become client tribes of Rome.
Indeed, during the reign of Claudius, a mere four decades after Arminius's revolt, the Cherusci themselves asked Rome to appoint a king over them! And they received as their ruler Italicus. Italicus was a Roman citizen and was educated in Rome. He was also Arminius's nephew! (He was the son of Arminius's brother Flavus.) Oddly, Murdoch fails to mention this fascinating turn of events.
The title of the book is debatable. The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest was not Rome's worst defeat ("greatest defeat" sounds odd, since no defeat is "great"). Varus lost between 15,000 and 20,000 troops in that battle. But the Romans lost twice that many soldiers at the Battle of Cannae in 216 B.C. when Hannibal decimated the Roman army sent to crush him, and following that battle Hannibal controlled a sizable chunk of Italy for a number of years. Also, the Romans lost 30,000 troops when Crassus was defeated by the Persians at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 B.C. (20,000 dead, 10,000 captured). So the claim that Varus's defeat was Rome's "greatest defeat" is questionable.
All this being said, I did enjoy the book and found it to be worthwhile. Murdoch does provide some interesting insights into the protracted battle, the Roman response (there were two, contrary to what some documentaries say), Roman politics in the region, the fates of Arminius and other Germanic leaders, the impact the battle had on Rome, and the impact the battle had on German self-identity in the centuries that followed.
However, Mr. Murdoch's comparatively short handling of the battle itself, Arminius, and Germanic tribes is very disappointing. Not only is it short, but also opinionated, and very often does not mention other views. Yes, there are only Roman accounts and archeological finds to work with, but that has never stopped historians and other interested people from proposing theories and debating them.
The life, character, and motivation of Arminius have been speculated about, embellished, and reexamined since the ancient Roman writings were rediscovered. To just characterize him as a "turncoat" and write a drawn out list of German conservative nationalist art is not enough. A detailed discussion of the different opinions concerning Arminius would have been much better. Mr. Murdoch does it for Varus, why not for Arminius?
The recent finds at Kalkriese have entailed a flurry of new hypotheses concerning the details and course of the battle itself. Why not mention a few and discuss them in detail? Instead we get a description of Mr. Murdoch's visit to the Kalkriese museum, including his opinion on the visitor shop, architecture, and installation.
I also think a more thorough mentioning of all the research that is available on Germanic people would have been nice. Most of us probably have at least a beginners understanding of Rome from books and documentaries, but not of Germanic culture and motivations. Mr. Murdoch only gives tidbits, scattered throughout the book, yet other historians have written entire books on the topic.
In the last chapter, Mr. Murdoch draws a connection from the Roman Empire, to the British empire, and finally to modern day USA and the war in Iraq. My jaw dropped when I read it. My political views are not conservative, but that's not needed to realize that this is oversimplification of history underlined with political opinion.
A professional reviewer called "Rome's Greatest Defeat" the definite book in English on the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. I can't subscribe to that view. I think it's still necessary to have several sources to get a good understanding. Mr. Murdoch's book gives a lot of interesting information, especially about the Roman side, but a "definite book" it is not.
Most recent customer reviews
A good read.