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Review of Peter S. Wells' 'The Battle That Stopped Rome'

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Review of Peter S. Wells' 'The Battle That Stopped Rome'

The Bottom Line

Early Empire/Principate > Age of Augustus > Teutoberg Wald Disaster

If you're trying to understand what we know of the Teutoberg Forest disaster in A.D. 9, when three Roman legions were annihilated by German tribes, or you are looking for background on the opening scene of the movie Gladiator, Peter S. Wells' very clearly written "The Battle That Stopped Rome" will be invaluable. There was a lot of repetition in the 220 pages, but after listening to a half dozen of his lectures, I have come to see the value in this because it reinforces important points.

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  • Easy to understand
  • Thorough
  • Nicely illustrated


  • Very repetitive
  • Maps hard to figure out and badly placed
  • Unclear organization


  • Describes life for a Roman soldier.
  • Describes the arrangement of a Roman legion.
  • Discusses the glorification of the German hero Arminius through history.
  • Reflects on the affects of the disaster on subsequent history.
  • Discusses whether it was Augustus or Tiberius who ended Roman expansion.
  • Lists the consequences of the Rhine as the border to the Roman Empire.
  • Describes what the day of battle must have been like for the Romans.
  • Imagines the battle's aftermath - butchery, sacrifice, sale into slavery.
  • Like a series of lectures.

Guide Review - Review of Peter S. Wells' 'The Battle That Stopped Rome'

The main points of The Battle That Stopped Rome, by Peter S. Wells are put forth in the preface: (1) Dio Cassius and Tacitus explain that a barbarian chieftain in A.D. 9 successfully led an army of Germanic warriors against 20,000 well-trained Roman troops, (2) the annihilation of the three legions in Teutoberg Forest stopped the expansion of the Roman Empire into northern Europe, and (3) excavations of Kalkriese in 1987 revealed our first archaeological insight into the actual battle beyond a single cenotaph of a centurion who had died in the battle. The rest of the book fills in all we know about the battle and all a skilled archaeologist can deduce from the surviving artifacts. Photographs of artifacts show the reader much about the dress and weaponry of both sides in the engagement.

Wells details the marching conditions for Roman soldiers because, on the day of their ambush, they were moving, under the leadership of Publius Quinctilius Varus, from their camp near the Weser River to a supposed rebellion only a couple of day's march away. Varus had been told of the rebellion by Arminius, sometimes known as Hermann, a German chieftain who was thought to be a supporter of Rome. Another German leader, Segestes, had warned of possible treachery. Because of this warning it was possible (after the fact) to blame Varus for the disaster, but Wells shows it was more the terrain, the heavy packs of the legionaries, and German tactics than Roman gullibility that led to the Roman tragedy.

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Not only did I receive a review copy from the publisher, but I have audited a related class that Peter S. Wells teaches.

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