Legions destroyed: XVII, XVIII, and XIX
Year of Battle: A.D. 9
Victorious general: Arminius
Favored by Augustus, Publius Quinctilius Varus was made consul with Tiberius in 13 B.C. He was also married to a grand-niece of Augustus. Afterwards, Varus was made governor of Syria where, Velleius Paterculus says, a poor Varus quickly became a very wealthy man on the backs of the Syrians. When Augustus, intending to expand his dominion of Germania to the Elbe Rive, appointed Varus governor to Germania, Varus continued his exploitation of local populations.
Cassius Dio says that the Germans pretended to go along with Varus and his financial burdens because Varus was accompanied by an intimidating military presences -- three legions. The Germans led Varus inland. Then, when comfortable and secure in the friendliness of the inhabitants, Varus spread his troops out, as requested by the Germans, to help local communities with such things as robbers and escorting trains of provisions.
Two of the leading German conspirators, Arminius (a Romanized name of a Cherusci leader that was later "Germanized" as Hermann) and Segestes / Segimerus, stayed with Varus, acting friendly and complacent. Meanwhile, there was an uprising in an area distant from where Arminius had brought Varus; so Varus, leading his troops, set out to quell the disturbance. Arminius and Segestes excused themselves saying they would be gathering their own troops to help Varus. In reality, they were gathering troops, but not to help. The Roman soldiers who had not been dispatched to (and killed by) the small communities, with all their armor and heavy baggage, headed out through the Teutoberg Forest to assist in the uprising. Dio says bad weather and terrain hindered their progress. Attacked by the lighter armed forces of the Germans led by Arminius, the Roman leaders soon realized how disastrous their situation was. Varus did what the Romans considered the honorable thing: he committed suicide.
This loss of three legions was one of the worst defeats in Roman history. Velleius Paterculus says it was the worst defeat since Crassus (of the triumvirate with Pompey and Caesar) was killed by the Parthians.
Whether Varus was defeated in The Teutoberg Wald or further north is debated.© 2002 N.S. Gill
"For centuries, it was assumed that the battle did take place in today's Teutoburg Forest, south of the city of Osnabrück. However, there were many Roman coin finds north of the city, in the Wiehengebirge, and the eminent 19th century historian Theodor Mommsen maintained that it was there that the battle took place. Nonetheless, a monument to Arminius the Cheruscan was built in the Teutoburg Forest. It was not until a British amateur archaeologist found a couple of Roman catapult projectiles and coins in 1987 that Mommsen was vindicated. Today, the location at Kalkriese has been transformed into a museum and archaeological park, Varusschlacht (Varus Battle)" - From the Forum