Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


12.9.06
  Bogs

Roman sources agree on the fact that it had rained the days previous, and during the Varus battle. I think they could be right there, German autums can be on the wet side, lol. Now, imagine a Roman legionary carried some 30 kilo equipment; I have no idea what the stuff weighs when wet, but according to Bernard Hill's statement in the LOTR extras, it's a lot (his armour as Théoden is a mix of metal and leather as well). In 9 AD the mail shirt was still the more common armour albeit some pieces of lorica segmentata, the rectangular plates connected with leather straps we know from the movies, have been found at Kalkriese. This new form of armour became more popular in the time to follow because it was less heavy than mail.

The poor legionnaires also carried a large shield made of leather fortified plywood. That's a lot of leather to get soaked. Not to mention wet equipment doesn't work well: the Romans had a whole auxiliary company of Balearic slingers with wet slings, archers with wet bows, legionnaires with wet feet, soaked shields and rusty mail, and mules with sore hooves.

And this sorry troop, already diminished and disenheartened by two days of continous guerilla attacks from the Germans, now gets driven into bogs by a horde of Germans more used to getting wet, with smaller shields and less armour.

The weather surely was on Arminius' side but would the outcome have been different with weather as sunny as I experienced at Kalkriese? The Romans still would not have been able to display their army in proper fighting order, and a marching column is always an easier target. The bogs would still have been there (like in this little, reconstructed patch),


and we don't know how many Germans there were, not even the Roman sources, usually not beyond exaggerating the numbers, do mention any numbers at all. Maybe a few more Romans would have managed to break through but I think even with good weather, the battle in the Teutoburg woods would have been a disaster. The problems the Romans encountered were too varied, and obviously a bad command - Varus was an administration guy, not a military leader - was among these factors. A psychological aspect as well, I think, the Romans hated the German woods and if you talk about the boogieman long enough, people will believe in it.
 
Comments:
I've met enough bogs that reading your first few paragraphs just makes me cringe.

It does make you wonder, though, how many battles would have turned out differently if not for mud. Nigel Tranter's description of Bannockburn came to mind - I'm not sure how historically accurate it is, but he implied that the bogs played a large part.
 
Hi Ali,
we have some nice bogs in the Harz, too.

I'm not sure weather (except maybe a tornado or earthquake) would significantly change the outcome of a battle but it could alter some moments/aspects. I don't think the Romans would have driven the Germans back into their woods and made Haggis out of them only because the sun had shone, but I can imagine a greater number of Romans may have broken through, and I can also imagine the Germans would not have pursued them beyond a certain distance in order not to spread their own forces too far. But whether three legions and six auxiliary cohorts perished entirely, or some 2-3 thousand (out of 18.000) survived won't change the fact the Teutoburg battle was a terrible defeat for the Romans.

And while the English knights got slowed down by the mud, they made the initial mistake of underestimating the Scots, and dry gound would still have gotten them in trouble.
 
I don't think the Romans, or those legions were used to forest battles or the guerillas. In a stand up fight, the Romans may have won; but on the enemy's home turf, in the rain, in hilly, wooded terrain, wet and miserable, with all that gear weighing them down? It made it that much more difficult. With Varus as their leader... well, it was no wonder Augustus cried out "Varus, Varus, where are my legions?"

Arminius was a brilliant tactician in using the area and his men to the greatest effect. Poor Varus.
 
thus the espression, 'bogged down', lol.
I wonder if the Romans would have greased the leather or put something on it to make it waterproof?
 
Sam has a point about leather being greased, I think.
 
Yes Jaye,
the Romans had problems in the northern countries the moment when climate and people that didn't want to Romanise met. They never got a real foothold in northern Britain and Wales, either. Southern Britons and Gauls adapted, but the Caledonians and Germans didn't though I can only speculate about the reasons. A stronger sense identity, maybe, and the feeling they didn't do to well off the Romans ...

Sam and Bernita,
I suppose the Romans did grese their leather, but they had no time the last two days before the final battle because the Germans already pushed them. And with days of downpour, I suppose even modern Goretex would finally give in, and so will greased leather.
 
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Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK and Scandinavia.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.

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