This is a precis of the screenplay as it stands at the moment. This summary is going to be subject to regular changes and expansion as the script progresses. Names of people or places which are in italics are fictional or conjectural. Reconstructed Germanic names are marked thus '*' and given parenthetically in italics after their recorded Latin forms. All other names are historical.
The film opens with with Germanicus leading his army to the site of the destruction of Quinctilius Varus' army. He discovers piles of bones and rusting armour and finds skulls nailed to trees in the sacred groves near the battle site. A voice-over gives his description of the scene in a letter to his uncle, the Emperor Tiberius.
The scene then flashes back six years, with Publius Quinctilius Varus, recently returned from his governorship in Syria, attending an early morning audience with the Emperor Caesar Augustus. The Emperor comissions Varus with the governorship of the new province of Germania, recently conquered by Drusus and Tiberius. Augustus also introduces Varus to the young Cheruscian Flavus (*Ermanagastiz), brother to Arminius (*Erminameraz) - Flavus has been serving as a auxiliary commander in Tiberius' army in Pannonia and is in Rome with Tiberius while recovering from a recent battle wound.
Meanwhile in Germany, Erminameraz returns to his people's land after service in the Roman army. After their submission to the Romans, most of the chiefs of the Cherusci decided that it was better to be allies of Rome rather than its enemies. Erminameraz's father Segimerus (*Sigimeriz) sent both Arminius and his brother to serve with the Roman army as auxiliary commanders. Erminameraz now returns to the Cherusci as a Roman commander holding the rank of Knight, but this time he finds all is not well in the lands of the Cherusci.
His childhood friend Gudameraz, a Cheruscian warrior and priest, soon brings him up to date and confirms his misgivings about living under Roman rule. The priest tells him how several small rebellions amongst the Cherusci and their neighbours has been brutally repressed and how even individual acts of defiance have resulted in floggings and executions. Gudameraz also makes it clear that a major revolt was simmering, though Sigimeriz remains opposed to any rebellion.
At the Roman fortress of Aliso the three legions assigned to Varus as governor of Germania are assembling to meet their new governor and march into the hinterland of the new province. The members of First Century, Eighteenth Legion, Contubernium Fimi discuss Varus meet their newest member, the young recruit Marcus Aius.
Erminameraz encounters his father-in-law Segestes (*Seugastiz). There has been a fued between them ever since Erminameraz secretly married his daughter Thusnelda (*Thurazhilda) - Seugastiz had intended marrying her to a powerful chief and never forgave Erminameraz for 'stealing' his daughter. Seugastiz warns Erminameraz to ignore the priest Gudameraz and advises co-operation with the Romans as the best way to avoid repressive rule, but his young rival remains noncomittal.
Varus, convinced in Rome that Germania was fully conquered, takes up his governorship oblivious to the simmering revolt. Erminameraz meets him along with several other local chiefs and Varus soon takes a liking to the charismatic young Cheruscian chief. Erminameraz finds Varus less than appealing, but still feigns friendship with him.
When Varus punishes a village for the death of a Roman tax collector by crucifying its men, Erminameraz decides it is time to act. He organises an assembly of chiefs and other tribal leaders from the Cherusci and surrounding tribes. Erminameraz argues that it is time to rebel, and draws on his experience in the Roman army to outline a plan which he feels would lead to victory. He knows his rival, Seugastiz, still opposes any uprising and so ensures he keeps his plans secret from his father-in -law.
Still not suspecting any major rebellion Varus prepares to move his troops back to the Lippe Valley for the winter. As they enter Cherusci territory Varus is met by Seugastiz who warns him not to trust Erminameraz and cautions that some kind of rebellion seems to be brewing. Varus holds Erminameraz in high regard and knows about the fued between Seugastiz and his son-in-law, so he ignores the warning. Soon afterwards Varus gets word of an uprising in Cheruscian territory and he turns his army from their march to put it down before the onset of winter.
Erminameraz then meets Varus with his unit of auxiliaries and offers to guide them through the deep forest of the Teutoburger Wald on their way to crush the reported small rebel band. Not suspecting a trap, Varus' troops and their long baggage train then enter this forest led by Erminameraz's men, unaware of the warbands of Germanic warriors from several local tribes gathering around them.
As the army, their wagons and accompanying traders and civilians struggle through a narrow defile in the middle of a violent thunder storm, the bulk of the German auxiliaries turn on their comrades and are suddenly joined by thousands of German warriors. Taken completely by surprise and hampered by their baggage, the terrain and the weather, the Romans take heavy losses as they try to fight their way out of the ambush. With nightfall they dig in as best they can and wait till dawn.
The next day Varus orders the baggage to be abandoned or burned and the army tries to back toward the forts on the Lippe, unaware that all Roman outposts in this part of Germania are now under attack. The column is attacked repeatedly and the Romans struggle to come to grips with the lightning hit-and-run tactics of the German warriors. A few counter-attacks in more open country take their toll on the attacking Germans, and Erminameraz seems to withdraw his men. On the second night Varus plans a major push the next day to escape from the Germans' trap.
The third day begins well for the now rather ragged Roman army and the German forces seem to fall back under their determined attacks. It's not until too late that Varus and his remaining officers realise they have been lured into a killing ground. Trapped by a huge German army in a meadow between fortified steep slopes and an area of marsh and swamp, the remains of the three legions stop to make a last stand. One cavalry commander breaks out with a force of horsemen, but they are soon hunted down and killed. A few small bands of soldiers, one accompanied by some of the civilians, also break out, though most are also tracked and cut down.
By this stage Varus and most of his officers are wounded. The remaining Romans have thrown up makeshift field defences to try to slow the waves of German attacks, but their numbers are thinning with every assault. Finally Varus decides all is lost, draws his sword and falls on it, with most of his officers following his example.
With their commanders dead, the last remaining Roman soldiers decide to make a last stand around the eagles. One by one they fall until two of the three eagle standards is captured, with their standard bearers fighting to the last. The third remaining standard bearer decides that his eagle won't fall into enemy hands, and makes a break for the nearby swamp with a group of young warriors in hot pursuit. Before they can catch him, however, he wades out into the bog and sinks below the surface, taking the eagle standard with him.
An epilogue describes the wars of revenge that follow, the fate of Erminameraz and his family and the historical legacy of Varus' monumental defeat.
Home | Background | Synopsis | Discussion | Screenplay