Today on September 1, 9 CE, three entire Roman legions were annihilated at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest.
The Battle of Teutoburg Forest was one of the most lopsided defeats in Roman history. It took place in the dense forests of Germania, located in present-day Lower Saxony. While traveling through a narrow passage, the Romans were stunned by a well-orchestrated ambush. At this point in history, Rome was in the midst of a long and complex conquest of Germania. The country was still largely made up of many disparate tribes without any centralized leadership. Therefore, the Romans had easily captured large territories of land along the eastern side of the Rhine River. Their treatment towards the local populations was particularly hard-handed, causing widespread resentment and anger.
Under the command of Varus, the main Roman army consisted of three lesions supported by a significant number of auxiliary troops and cavalry. Varus had recently granted citizenship to a local chief named Arminius, who served as a cavalry captain in his army. This proved to be a serious mistake, as Arminius began forging a secret alliance with all of the major Germanic tribes. Arminius crafted a well thought out plan to ambush the foreign invaders. He knew the Germans could never defeat the Romans in an open pitched battle. Instead, he informed Varus of a fake minor uprising to the north, convincing him to quash it immediately. The Roman army hastily left their camp and marched through the Teutoburg Forest in a thin column. Arminius led them directly into his trap and then slipped away to rendezvous with his countrymen.
The German warriors silently hid along the path before suddenly charging at the ill-prepared legionnaires. None of the soldiers were in battle formation and likely struggled to even reach for their weapons. Arminius’ plan succeeded with devastating effect. Around half of the soldiers died on the first day alone. The next day, the began moving back south but encountered large earthworks barricading the path. Over the following weeks, almost all of the fleeing Romans were hunted down and slaughtered. The news of such a crippling defeat sent a shockwave across the entire empire. Historians often regard the Battle of Teutoburg Forest as one of the most decisive battles of all time and a turning point in world history.