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There's a new Readers' Poll up at 'Clades Variana' asking readers which battle they think was the greatest Roman miliatry disaster. The contenders are<br>
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(i) Cannae (of course)<br>
(ii) Adrianople<br>
(iii) The Clades Variana<br>
(iv) The Boudican Rebellion (for the Celtophiles)<br>
(v) The Caudine Forks<br>
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So far Cannae is getting all the votes (not that many votes are in yet). This isn't surprising, since every account of the battle declares it to be Rome's greatest defeat, but if you look at the consequences of the battle, it seems less of a disaster.<br>
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I've just finished Goldworthy's history of the Punic Wars, and a point he makes repeatedly is the ability of the Roman system to bounce back from defeats. The losses at Cannae were punishing and the psychological impact was vast, but they were soon able to field more armies against Hannibal and the victory didn't really advance Hannibal's strategic objectives at all. Which is partially why he won most of the battles and lost the war.<br>
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Adrianople could be said to have had more significant long term effects - leaving an undefeated Gothic army at large in the Empire which went on to form the core of the Visigoths, who then sacked Rome and established the first of the sub-Roman successor states in Gaul and Spain.<br>
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But Varus' defeat was even more significant. In one blow Arminius removed the permanent Roman presence east of the Rhine, put the Romans on defensive and caused a fundamental rethink of Roman policy towards Germania.<br>
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Surely Adrianople or the Teutoburgerwald were more significant disasters than Cannae?<br>
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Thoughts?<br>
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PS I just realised I should have added Caharre to the list. <p>Tim O'Neill / Thiudareiks Flavius<BR>
<P>
Visit Clades Variana - Home of the Varus Film Project<br>

</p><i></i>
Its hard to decide what was a crucial battle because the repercussions are hard to evaluate.<br>
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Adrianople is my vote because things happened quickly thereafter and it is the easiest to evaluate. The roman ability to bounce back was no longer there and the loss of well trained men was a big problem that they never really recovered from. The immediate consequence was the goths settling in roman territory and that certainly accelerated the overall rotting of an already sick empire.<br>
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Varus is another favorite but we must admit it is much harder (also more fun) to try to pin-point the consequences. Rome was still very aggressive in that theater and did not loose the initiative.<br>
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Crassus was a disaster but I wouldn't include it because the romans kept at trying in the east for several centuries. Other bad defeats happened on the same front as well as victories.<br>
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Cannae was a bad defeat (maybe the worst numerically) but the romans WON the war! So...<br>
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I vote for Adrianople <p></p><i></i>

Guest

Salve,<br>
<br>
More significant in ultimate results yes, though Cannae got my vote because of its significantly higher casualty rates compared to the other defeats listed. It was not a decisive defeat, but its scale was greater.<br>
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Whether the <i> clades Variana</i> should receive all the credit for the end of Roman expansion in the area is in my view debatable. Other factors should be taken into account too, since as Jeff already mentioned Rome still took initiatives from time to time and did not limit themselves to defense only. Roman troops regularly embarked on campaigns in the northern <i> barbaricum</i> well into late Antiquity, even if there was little permanent result. Conquest would have required either the presence of the emperor himself or delegation of significant power to a subordinate. Germanicus, even though a relative, was not trusted by Tiberius and neither was Corbulo by Claudius, since too much success might have posed a creditable risk to the imperial position. Moreover next to Germany there were other potential targets which were more profitable, such as Dacia and the eastern empires of the Arsacids and Sassanians, and whose richer pickings succeeded in drawing the attention of imperial campaigns. The Germans could be conquered endlessly, but yielded less plentiful booty.<br>
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Regards,<br>
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Sander van Dorst <p></p><i></i>

Anonymous

Wasn't it Tacitus who wrote that "The Romans triumphed over Germany more often than they won over the Germans"? <p></p><i></i>

Guest

Salve,<br>
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The original phrase comes from the <i> Germania</i> by Tacitus (text and translation).<br>
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<i> Germania</i> 37.<br>
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<i> ... Tam diu Germania vincitur. ...</i> 'For so long Germania is being conquered'<br>
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Regards,<br>
<br>
Sander van Dorst <p></p><i></i>

Anonymous

Tacitus was definitely a great writer with a pretty good sense of humour.<br>
As for military disasters, I don't know. The Romans were in the habit of doing many things in grandiose proportions, successes as well as failures.<br>
There are a few spectacular defeats that have not been mentioned: The first being the battle of Allia and the subsequent sack of Rome by the Gauls. The roman population nearly abandoned the city, according to the legend.<br>
There is of course the capture and subsequent death of the emperor Valerian at the hands of the Sassanid persians and the death of the emperor Decius and his son --if I remember welll-- against the Goths in Thrace. Actually the Persian hold the highest score as far as dead roman emperors are concerned: Valerian, Julian and probably Gordian III as well, officially said to have been eliminated by his successor Philip the Arab, but who was apparently soundly defeated by the Sassanids at the little known battle of Misiche, widely publicized by the persian king Shapur in the "res gestae divi Saporis". After that battle Philip gave away a big chunk of Asia to the Persians in exchange for his life and that of what was left of the expeditionary force.<br>
But in terms of not recovering, the biggest disaster IMHO is the sack of Rome in 410 CE by Alaric. It obviously caused a tremendous psychological shock, triggered an exodus from the City and caused among other things St. Augustine to write The City of God, one of the fundamental texts of christianity. Rome was more than a "museum", or "an empty shell" as I've read it described: it was the symbol of the Empire. A holy city in the religious sense. As Connolly rightfully wrote, after that "roman prestige plummeted" and contrary to all the previous disasters, the western empire never recovered from this one.<br>
I think it's Gibbon who wrote than rather trying to figure out why the Empire fell, it would be better trying to figure out why it lasted so long.. <p></p><i></i>

Anonymous

Let's be honest--the question is too simple-mindedly phrased to permit an adequate answer. The distinction must be made between a tactical defeat and a strategic defeat, Cannae being definitely the former and just as definitely not the latter. <p></p><i></i>

Anonymous

The greatest Roman military disaster is obviously Museum Replicas. <p><BR><p align=center><font color=gold><font size=2>
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VTINAM MODO SVBIVNCTIVO NVNQVAM MALE VTARIS<BR>
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Highseas opined:<br>
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<i><br>
Let's be honest--the question is too simple-mindedly phrased to permit an adequate answer. The distinction must be made between a tactical defeat and a strategic defeat, Cannae being definitely the former and just as definitely not the latter.<br>
</i><br>
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I'm <b> dreadfully</b> sorry for being so 'simpleminded'. Part of what I wanted people to decide in making their choice was not simply the circumstances of the defeat but its wider impact, so it asks them to consider both the tactical and the strategic aspects of each defeat. A defeat could be tactically significant but strategically less so, like (it could be argued) Cannae. Or it could be both, like (it could be argued) Adrianople and the Clades Variana.<br>
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So this is not a 'simple minded' question, though it's one which was <i> deliberately</i> couched in language which was broad enough to ensure there was no clear and obvious single answer, since I've found in the past that kind of poll question rarely results in any discussion or debate.<br>
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I hope your reply wasn't <i> deliberately</i> couched in language intended to be rude. <p>Tim O'Neill / Thiudareiks Flavius<BR>
<P>
Visit Clades Variana - Home of the Varus Film Project<br>

</p><i></i>
I have to agree that just looking at a battle or series of battles one way or the other as turning points is only part of the question. I remember that the historian Shelby Foote said during the US Civil War the biggest change was from<br>
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"The United States are.." to<br>
<br>
"The United States is....â€ÂÂ
I've read rebuttals of the supposed long term effects that you mention for all of the above battles.<br>
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As Sander says, Roman activity in Germania didn't stop after Teutoburger Wald. There is not much evidence, IMO, that supports that this battle actually prevented Roman conquest. Much more important would seem the lack of an adequate societal structure that the Romans could "conquor", as well as the poor returns on such a conquest.<br>
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As for Adrianople, I've read at least one paper that rebutts the "myth" of a diaster crippling the Roman state. For one, the Roman army at this battle was probably not very large. Secondly, the Gothic army fragmented shortly after. Much more important was the inability of Theodosius to defeat the Gothic tribes in the 4 years of campaigning following Adrianople.<br>
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You've also forgotten Arausio - defeat of Mallius and Caepio to the Cimbri and Teutones with reportedly 80,000 dead. The battle resulted in the rise of Gaius Marius to complete pre-eminence in the Roman state (for a short while), and thus probably contributed to his later megalomanic attempts that started the civil wars with Sulla.<br>
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Incidentally, saying "greatest military disaster" (clearly Cannae or Arausio) is not at all the same thing as saying the "most significant military disaster" (which is probably what you mean, and can be debated endlessly). <p>Strategy<br>
Designer/Developer<br>
Imperium - Rise of Rome</p><i></i>
StrategyM wrote:<br>
<i><br>
I've read rebuttals of the supposed long term effects that you mention for all of the above battles.<br>
</i><br>
<Robert de Niro voice><br>
'You talkin' to me?'<br>
</Robert de Niro voice><br>
<i><br>
As Sander says, Roman activity in Germania didn't stop after Teutoburger Wald. There is not much evidence, IMO, that supports that this battle actually prevented Roman conquest. Much more important would seem the lack of an adequate societal structure that the Romans couldv "conquor", as well as the poor returns on such conquest.<br>
</i><br>
The Germanic peoples had about as much 'societal structure' as several other tribal peoples that the Romans managed to conquer quite happily. Unless you have some evidence of a vast or significance difference between the societal structure of the tribes in Germania and those, for example, in Britannia, I really can't see how this argument will wash. The argument that the conquest gave poor economic returns is far more likely to have been a factor, but that alone doesn't explain why the Romans didn't return to Germania Magna to re-conquer it after Varus' defeat. There were good strategic reasons for the conquest of the area between the Rhine and the Elbe in the first place - it created a larger and more easily defended buffer north of Italy and reduced the enormous salient in the northern frontier created by the Rhine/Danube frontier.<br>
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Clearly, Tiberius decided the cost in lives and resources was not worth the prize of changing this frontier. But that realisation was brought about by Arminius' defeat of Varus, and Germanicus' failure to either reconquer the province or bring Arminius to heel. No-one said the Romans never campaigned beyond the Rhine again, and it's quite likely that Germanicus' campaigns were at least partially intended to bring the lost province back under Roman control. The point is - after the Varian Disaster (and Germanicus' inconclusive campaign) Germania was written off by Rome as a lost cause.<br>
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If it was simply these economic and strategic concerns which caused this decision, do you really think the Romans would have withdrawn <i> without</i> the Varian Defeat? If the answer is 'No' (and it clearly is), then the Teutoburgerwald was highly significant both strategically and tactically.<br>
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A chap called Augustus certainly seemed to think so, even if some modern writers like to gloss over its significance.<br>
<i><br>
As for Adrianople, I've read at least one paper that rebutts the "myth" of a diaster crippling the Roman state. For one, the Roman army at this battle was probably not very large. Secondly, the Gothic army fragmented shortly after. Much more important was the inability of Theodosius to defeat the Gothic tribes in the 4 years of campaigning following Adrianople.<br>
</i><br>
In all my reading on Adrianople, I've never even come across this 'myth', so I'm hardly likely to be arguing in support of it. And I'm often in the position of arguing with those who'd like to believe Valens army was bigger than the evidence indicates, so I would never support that position either.<br>
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But the battle was a significant tactical defeat because an army of elite Eastern Roman units was crushed by a far less disciplined and generally weaker force which had been on the defensive. And it was signficant strategically for precisely the reason you mention - the best chance the Romans had of bringing the Goths to heel was lost at Adrianople. If Valens had won (or if he'd waited for Gratian) or even if he'd accepted Fritigern's offers to negotiate a settlement, Theodosius would not have been required to deal with the Goths at all. Those opportunities were swept away in Fritigern's victory.<br>
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And while elements of the Gothic army at Adrianople split away from the main force - particularly Alatheus and Saphrax's Greuthungians, Alans and Huns - enough of the Tervingians and their allies remained as a force to be reckoned with. This force was large enough to hold off Theodosius, force a settlement from him and go on to follow Alaric to Italy and carve out a kingdom in Gaul. That's sounds pretty much like strategic significance to me.<br>
Cheers,<br>
<br>
<p>Tim O'Neill / Thiudareiks Flavius<BR>
<P>
Visit Clades Variana - Home of the Varus Film Project<br>

</p><i></i>

Anonymous

You make some interesting points, Tim. I have one idea to put forth before the group though. Don't you think that IF the Romans had REALLY wanted to, they could have reconquered/finally conquered Germany, irrespective of the Varian disaster? After all, the Dacians were much more formidable on the battlefield, and they, with a good deal of effort and strain, of course, were subdued and Romanized quite nicely.<br>
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As I see it, Varus' defeat wasn't so much of a strategic blow as it was a psychological one that destroyed the WILL to conquer Germany. <p></p><i></i>
Hi Julius<br>
We are tempted by psychological explanations but at the end I prefer more understandable arguments. I disagree with you about making comparisons of roman behaviour in Germany with Dacia.<br>
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In Dacia there was a centralized kingdom with a powerful king, a capital and a lot of GOLD! The latter was a hell of a good reason to go and the former two were the basis of HOW to win. If there are "cites" or "town", like in Gaul, and a kingdom like in Dacia then there are ways to plan a victory with methodical fighting.<br>
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What was in Germany? Nothing! Forests as in Dacia (more mountainous!) but no certralized kingdom, just trouble!!<br>
Unlike Ceasar's victories in Gaul and Trajans' in Dacia the Romans in Germany, in the 20 years before 9AD, NEVER made a significant victory over the germans. They occupied Germany without ever winning anything, no "showdown", no smashing victory, no captured king or leader.<br>
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I believe the realization that there was nothing in Germany worth conquering, or better yet, there was nothing to conquer, was what REALLY made the Romans draw the line at the Rhine. They realized every conquest would have been volatile. They learned it the hard way: the 20 year occupation and pacification suddenly evaporated. POOF. <br>
<p></p><i>Edited by: <A HREF=http://pub45.ezboard.com/ugoffredo.showPublicProfile?language=EN>goffredo</A> at: 4/19/02 11:43:58 am<br></i>
Flavius - read Goffredo's response to the Dacia/Germania comparison. When you can point me to any proof that there was any good reason to conquor Germania, then we can discuss whether or not Varus's defeat had any real impact.<br>
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Your "strategic" reasons with the bulge I don't buy; the Roman concept of strategy was significantly different from the modern concept. There are many reasons for this (many cultural), but a good example is that you can see the bulge because you look at modern maps. The Romans did not have such maps. I would seriously contend (unless you can point to definite ancient evidence) that the Emperor was even aware of such a bulge in the frontier existing!<br>
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<b> If it was simply these economic and strategic concerns which caused this decision, do you really think the Romans would have withdrawn without the Varian Defeat?</b><br>
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But they did not withdraw, even with the Varian defeat. When considering Roman strategy, you have to realize that their vision of "control" and "strategic zones" is not the same as modern strategic thought. Tiberius, Drusus, Germanicus and Corbulo all had their "fun" in the Germannic forests. I very much doubt you'd have a contemporary Roman commander considering this to be a withdrawal.<br>
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In general, I think the following summarization of the Germans probably catches the Roman reasoning quite well: too backward and poor to exploit efficiently, too savage to conquor easily.<br>
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Apart from underlining the "too savage to conquor easily" -- something the Romans would have learnt along the way in any case (or already knew) -- I don't see the Varus disaster as having any effect on this reasoning at all. Conquest only makes sense as long as you can get it to pay for itself. The conquest of Germania couldn't.<br>
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<b> But the battle was a significant tactical defeat because an army of elite Eastern Roman units was crushed by a far less disciplined and generally weaker force which had been on the defensive.</b><br>
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Which statement is something I'd consider part of the myth.<br>
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<b> This force was large enough to hold off Theodosius, force a settlement from him and go on to follow Alaric to Italy and carve out a kingdom in Gaul.</b><br>
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In itself a good arguement that the Gothic army was of significantly larger size than the Roman one at Adrianople.<br>
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But quite apart from this, I consider the failure of Theodosius the (not so) Great's inability to either defeat the Goths, or come to a suitable settlement to be a much more significant factor. From the other point of view, one can speculate that a Roman victory at Adrianople would not have changed the resulting years much - after all Theodosius (and Gratian) had quite a number of successes against the Goths, without being able to "destroy" them. Why should the result of Adrianople have been any different?<br>
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As purely military disasters, though, I agree that Teutoburger Wald and Adrianople were significant. But Cannae and Arausio still top that list by far. <p>Strategy<br>
Designer/Developer<br>
Imperium - Rise of Rome</p><i>Edited by: <A HREF=http://pub45.ezboard.com/ustrategym.showPublicProfile?language=EN>StrategyM</A> at: 4/19/02 9:47:48 am<br></i>
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