The battle at Kalkriese

Excavations at the Kalkriese site have even revealed how Arminius put the Roman forces at a fatal disadvantage26. The latter were induced into an extended formation as they passed between the Kalkriese forested heights and a vast bog. Whilst traversing this narrow way they found that the enemy had previously erected a long earthen battlement for hundreds of metres along the base of the Kalkriese hill. Five metres wide, one metre high and topped with a wattle hedge, its length was broken periodically by gaps that served as sally points. The constricted space between this barrier and the bog hindered Roman deployment and became the final killing ground. An archaeological museum and park at Kalkriese were opened in 2002. Amongst the many exhibited finds in the museum is an astonishing iron parade mask, originally coated with silver, that models a human face with uncanny accuracy (Fig. 22). Once it belonged to a Roman cavalry officer, now it gazes impassively into his world, into our world, and beyond. Looking at this stern visage, the pitiless battle of AD 9 suddenly becomes reality. In thinking of the survivors’ flight into a darkling forest, as an unredeemed Wagnerian I am reminded of the pulsing bass strings of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Wilhelm Furtwängler as it surges into the storm music of the Prelude to Act I of ‘Die Walkürie’.27

Fig. 22 – Roman parade mask,16.9 cm high (Varusschlacht Museum, Kalkriese).

  1. Rainer Wiegels, Die Varusschlacht – Wendepunkt der Geschichte? (Stuttgart, Theiss, 2009) ISBN 978-3-8062-1760-5 []
  2. Ernest Newman, Wagner Nights (London: Putnam, 1949) 521. []