Gaius Velleus Paterculus  - Roman History


Caesar had but just concluded the war in Pannonia and Dalmatia, when, within five days after the final determination of it, mournful news arrived from Germany; that Varus was killed, three legions cut to pieces, as many troops of cavalry, and six cohorts....

The occasion, and the character of the leader, demand some attention. Quintilius Varus was born of a noble rather than illustrious family, was of a mild disposition, of sedate manners, and being somewhat indolent as well, in body as in mind, was more accustomed to ease in a camp than to action in the field. How far he was from despising money, Syria, of which he had been governor, afforded proof; for, going a poor man into that rich province, he became a rich man, and left it a poor province. Being appointed commander of the army in Germany, he imagined that the inhabitants had nothing human but the voice and limbs, and that men who could not be tamed by the sword, might be civilized by law. With this notion, having marched into the heart of Germany, as if among people who delighted in the sweets of peace, he spent the summer in deciding controversies, and ordering the pleadings before a tribunal.

But those people, though a person unacquainted with them would hardly believe it, are, while extremely savage, exquisitely artful, a race, indeed, formed by nature for deceit; and, accordingly, by introducing fictitious disputes one after another, by sometimes prosecuting each other for pretended injuries, and then returning thanks for the decision of these suits by Roman equity, for the civilization of their barbarous state by this new system, and for the determination by law of disputes which used to be determined by arms, they at length lulled Quintilius into such a perfect feeling of security, that he fancied himself a city praetor dispensing justice in the forum, instead of the commander of an army in the middle of Germany.

It was at this time that a youth of illustrious birth, the son of Segimer, prince of that nation, named Arminius, brave in action, quick in apprehension, and of activity of mind far beyond the state of barbarism, showing in his eyes and countenance the ardor of his feelings (a youth who had constantly accompanied our army in the former war, and had obtained the privileges of a Roman citizen, and the rank of a knight), took advantage of the general's indolence to perpetrate an act of atrocity, not unwisely judging that no man is more easily cut off than he who feels no fear, and that security is very frequently the commencement of calamity. He communicated his thoughts at first to a few, and afterward to more, stating to them, and assuring them, that the Romans might be cut off by surprise; he then proceeded to add action to resolution, and fixed a time for carrying a plot into action. Notice of this intention was given to Varus by Segestes, a man of that nation, worthy of credit, and of high rank; but fate was not to be opposed by warnings, and had already darkened the mental vision of the Roman general.... Varus refused to credit the information, asserting that he felt a trust in the good will of the people, proportioned to his kindness toward them. However, after this first premonition, there was no time left for a second.

The circumstances of this most dreadful calamity, than which none more grievous ever befell the Romans in a foreign country, since the destruction of Crassus in Parthia, I will endeavor to relate in my larger history, as has been done before. At present we can only lament the whole. An army unrivaled in bravery, the flower of the Roman troops in discipline, vigor, and experience in war, was brought, through the supineness of its leader, the perfidy of the enemy, and the cruelty of Fortune, into a situation utterly desperate (in which not even an opportunity was allowed the men of extricating themselves by fighting, as they wished, some being even severely punished by the general, for using Roman arms with Roman spirit), and, hemmed in by woods, lakes, and bodies of the enemy in ambush, was entirely cut off by those foes whom they had ever before slaughtered like cattle, and of whose life and death the mercy or severity of the Romans has always been the arbitrator.

The leader showed some spirit in dying, though none in fighting; for, imitating the example of his father and grandfather, he ran himself through with his sword. Of two prefects of the camp, Lucius Eggius gave as honorable an example of valor as Ceionius gave of baseness; for, after the sword had destroyed the greater part of the army, Ceionius advised a surrender, choosing to die by the hand of an executioner rather than in battle. Numonius Vala, a lieutenant-general under Varus, who in other cases conducted himself as a modest and well-meaning man, was on this occasion guilty of abominable treachery; for, leaving the infantry uncovered by the cavalry, he fled with the horse of the allies, and attempted to reach the Rhine. Fortune took vengeance on his misdeed; for he did not survive his deserted countrymen, but perished in the act of desertion. The savage enemy mangled the half-burned body of Varus; his head was cut off, and brought to Marobodus, and being sent by him to Caesar, was at length honored with burial in the sepulcher of his family.

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