“Bits of weapons and horses' limbs lay about, and human heads fixed to tree-trunks. In groves nearby were barbaric altars, where the Germans had laid the tribunes and senior centurions and sacrificed them.” — Tacitus
“It stands on record that armies already wavering and on the point of collapse have been rallied by the women, pleading heroically with their men, thrusting forward their bared breasts…” — Tacitus
“They are not so easily convinced to plough the land and wait patiently for harvest as to challenge an enemy and run the risk to be wounded. They think it is weak and spiritless to earn by sweat what they might purchase with blood.” — Tacitus
A little over 2,000 years ago, Rome was a well-oiled war machine crushing everything in its path. At that time, the Roman legions were the most deadly military force in the Western world, and possibly in the whole world. Every year, they conquered new peoples and pushed the boundaries of their empire. Rape and pillage was the name of the game, and they were masters at it. But in the year 9 CE, something happened in the forests of Germany that was going to have a profound impact on the destiny of the world. Some historians go so far as to suggest that both the German and English languages may not exist as we know them, had things gone differently. News arriving from Germany, along with a severed head delivered by courier, threw Emperor Augustus in a deep depression.
In this first of two parts about the clash between Rome’s power with Germanic tribesmen, we’ll look at what we know about Germanic tribal cultures from those days, walk among the grisly remnants of a battlefield with Roman general Germanicus, and consider how Tacitus’ work was fuel to the fire of Nazi ideology 2,000 years later. Also, in this episode: Europe’s pre-Christian religions, naked tribesmen snowboarding on their shields, the dramatic encounter between Gaius Marius with Cimbri & Teutones, Gaius Julius Caesar making a larger-than-life entrance into Germany, Drusus’ campaign beyond the Rhine, racing on horseback for 200 miles to see one’s brother, slavery with golden chains, and much more as we set the stage for part 2, when the big showdown will take place.
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