British Army officer discovers site of Varus’ defeat

The saga of Varus’ defeat by Arminius is ongoing. The tribal leader served as a conveniently heroic model for the nationalistic fervours of the nineteenth century that led to the unification of a myriad small states and the formation of modern Germany. A giant copper statue of Arminius was completed in 1875 just after Germany’s great victory in the Franco-Prussian War. It was erected near Detmold to overlook the forests of the Teutoberger Wald on a possible site of Arminius’ victory over the Roman army. (A counterpart of comparable size, dedicated by German immigrant families in 1897, stands in New Ulm, Minnesota, USA where it is known as the ‘Hermann the Cherusker’ monument).

In 1987, Lieutenant (later Major) Tony Clunn, a keen amateur archaeologist, happened to be serving with the British Army of the Rhine. Influenced by the writings of Mommsen, he came to suspect that the true site of the Varian catastrophe might well lie close at hand and not in the Teutoberger Wald, 80 km distant. In particular, he noted that in the late nineteenth century Mommsen had attached significance to the discovery of gold and silver coins at Kalkriese near the forested hills of the Wiehengebirge. Mommsen’s proposition that this was the site of the Varian disaster had not been not pursued. Using a Fisher metal detector at Kalkriese, Tony Clunn found more than one hundred silver coins (denarii) dating from earlier Republican times as well as from the reign of Augustus.25 These highly significant discoveries led to initiation of full-scale excavations by the Osnabrück Museum, under the direction of Wolfgang Schlüter numerous finds have included coins bearing the name of Varus, tools, military equipment and weapons. Mass graves containing human and animal bones, presumably dug at a later date by the troops of Germanicus, have also been discovered.

  1. Tony Clunn, The Quest for the Lost Roman Legions: Discovering the Varus Battlefield (New York: Savas Beatie LLC and Staplehurst, UK: Spellmount Ltd. 2005) ISBN 1-932714-08-1. []