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Astronomy of the Germanic and Scandinavian Sky

Since the dawn of civilization, humans have been looking at the night sky viewing the stars, constellations, planet alignments, the moon and more. The vastness of space has been intertwined into folklore, myths and stories of Gods and Goddesses all over the world. It is a subject I have been fascinated with for many years with my interest specifically focusing on star navigation at sea and the ancient Astronomy found in Germanic and Scandinavian history. So today I wanted to share with you some amazing resources on this very topic regarding the ancient and some modern interpretations of Germanic and Scandinavian astronomy.

Our understanding of ancient astronomy in Northern Europe has been limited because no record exists of the native constellations among the Germanic tribes in ancient times. They certainly did not know of the constellations of the south have become our standard ones today. However, it would be unusual to suppose they never had any, only that the knowledge of them has not come down to us.

Fortunately, the surviving mythology of Scandinavia has left us enough clues to allow us to piece together this forgotten knowledge of the past. At the time these myths were recorded in 13th century Iceland the people no longer believed in the old religion. However, even back during the Viking Age, before the year 1000 AD, when the religion was still strong, many of the beliefs held then seem already to have been understood only in abstract terms, while the naturalistic explanations they embodied went back even further.

It is now clear that the mythology of Scandinavia as we know it arose from a fusion of traditional local gods with several other more widespread traditions. While the myths attained their present form within the Iron Age, some elements and aspects of it go back even into the Stone Age, when humans were first trying to make sense of their universe. SOURCE

Bronze age sky disk

A group of German scientists has deciphered the meaning of one of the most spectacular archeological discoveries in recent years: The mystery-shrouded sky disc of Nebra was used as an advanced astronomical clock.

The purpose of the 3,600 year-old sky disc of Nebra, which caused a world-wide sensation when it was brought to the attention of the German public in 2002, is no longer a matter of speculation.

A group of German scholars who studied this archaeological gem has discovered evidence which suggests that the disc was used as a complex astronomical clock for the harmonization of solar and lunar calendars.

Unlike the solar calendar, which indicates the position of the earth as it revolves around the sun, the lunar calendar is based on the phases of the moon. A lunar year is eleven days shorter than the solar year because 12 synodic months, or 12 returns of the moon to the new phase, take only 354 days.

The sky disc of Nebra was used to determine if and when a thirteenth month — the so-called intercalary month — should be added to a lunar year to keep the lunar calendar in sync with the seasons. Continue reading HERE.

For thousands of years people have looked up to the night sky and told stories about the stars. These epic tales tell of vengeful gods and goddesses, of monsters and heroes. Others try to make sense of the natural world, or unravel the mysterious forces of the universe. This stunning book brings together 23 of these legends from all over the world: from Ancient Greece to North America, Egypt, China, India, and the South Pacific. Written by award-winning author Anita Ganeri and with beautifully detailed artwork by illustrator Andy Wilx, this is a magical book to be treasured for generations to come.

Scandinavian Daymarks

The Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans all lived far enough north of the equator that they could not rely on a fairly constant Sun-path over the year, as people in the tropics did, but they were not so far from the equator that the differing lengths of day and night made it difficult for them to use their “temporal hours”, even though their lengths changed somewhat over the course of the year.

Very far north (or south) of the equator, however, the difference between the length of daylight time in the summer is very much greater than in the winter. In parts of Scandinavia above the Arctic Circle (at a latitude of 66.5° North) the Sun does not set at all for part of the summer–it is daylight all the time. On the other hand, for part of the winter the Sun does not rise in these same areas. Obviously there is no point in dividing the daytime or nighttime into twelve sections if they are not taking place! Even if the Sun sets for only three of our modern hours in the summer, if one is dividing the daytime and nighttime into Babylonian/Egyptian-style “temporal hours”, the nighttime hours will be so short compared to the daytime hours that there is hardly any point in making the divisions.

However, even very far north (or south), no matter where the Sun rises or sets, the middle of its path is above about the same part of the horizon. That means you can always tell when the middle of the day is if you know above which point on the horizon the highest point of the Sun’s path is. Also, no matter how high the Sun is above the horizon, it always passes over the same points on the horizon after the same interval of time. Using these facts, the people living in Scandinavia developed a system of time-keeping quite different than the Babylonian/Egyptian system.

As said earlier, our modern system of time-keeping divides each sun-cycle into twenty-four hours, each of which is 60 minutes long. The Scandinavians divided each sun-cycle (sólarhringr, “sun-ring” in their language) into eight sections. They did this by dividing the horizon into eight sections (north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west, and northwest). Each of these sections was called an eighth (átt or eykt). 3 A place on the horizon which lay dead center in any of these eight directions (due north, due northeast, etc.) was called a daymark (dagmark). 4 The identified the time by noting when the Sun stood over one of these daymark-points on the horizon. Continue reading HERE.

The Vikings used the stars to navigate across the seas on boats like the Skidbladner. They gave their own names to what they observed above them. The North Star (Polaris) is ever present in our northern skies. They called it Leidarstjarna, meaning ‘guiding star’. Watch this animation about the Vikings and the stars.

Viking Age Star and Constellation Names

While the Germanic peoples obviously knew the night skies and had names for the objects they saw therein, as Grimm goes on to comment, few of the old names have been preserved.

Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda says in Gylfaginning:

Þá tóku þeir síur ok gneista þá, er lausir fóru ok kastat hafði ór Múspellsheimi, ok settu á mitt Ginnungap á himin bæði ofan ok neðan til at lýsa himin ok jörð. Þeir gáfu staðar öllum eldingum, sumum á himni, sumar fóru lausar undir himni, ok settu þó þeim stað ok skipuðu göngu þeim. Svá er sagt í fornum vísindum, at þaðan af váru dægr greind ok áratal.

[Then they (the gods) took the sparks and burning embers that were flying about after they had been blown out of Muspellheimr, and placed them in the midst of the firmament (Ginnungagap) both above and below to give light heaven and earth. They gave their stations to all the fires, some fixed in the sky, some moved in a wandering course beneath the sky, but they appointed them places and ordained their courses.]

Vôluspá in the Poetic Edda expresses the same idea:

Sól það né vissi
hvar hún sali átti,
stjörnur það né vissu
hvar þær staði áttu,
máni það né vissi
hvað hann megins átti.

[The sun knew not
where she had her hall,
the stars knew not where they had a stead,
the moon knew not
what power he possessed.]

Elsewhere in the Poetic Edda, the poem Alvíssmál gives a complex series of astronomical synonyms attributed to the various races of the Norse cosmos, but doesn’t name stars or constellations:

Þórr kvað:
“Segðu mér þat Alvíss,
– öll of rök fira
vörumk, dvergr, at vitir,
hvé sá himinn heitir
heimi hverjum í?”

Alvíss kvað:
“Himinn heitir með mönnum,
en hlýrnir með goðum,
kalla vindófni vanir,
uppheim jötnar,
alfar fagraræfr,
dvergar drjúpansal.”

Þórr kvað:
“Segðu mér þat Avlíss,
– öll of rök fira
vörumk, dvergr, at vitir,
hversu máni heitir,
sá er menn séa,
heimi hverjum í?”

Alvíss kvað:
“Máni heitir með mönnum,
en mylinn með goðum,
kalla hverfanda hvél helju í,
skyndi jötnar,
en skin dvergar,
kalla alfar ártala.”

Þórr kvað:
“Segðu mér þat Alvíss,
– öll of rök fira
vörumk, dvergr, at vitir,
hvé sú sól heitir,
er séa alda synir,
heimi hverjum í?”

Alvíss kvað:
“Sól heitir með mönnum,
en sunna með goðum,
kalla dvergar Dvalins leika,
eygló jötnar,
alfar fagrahvél,
alskír ása synir.”

Thórr said:
Say to me, Alvíss,
for it seems to me
there is nothing you do not know:
what is heaven called,
that all know,
in all the worlds there are?

Alvíss said:
Heaven it is called by men,
the Arch by gods,
Wind-Weaver by the Vanir,
by giants High-Earth,
by elves Fair-Roof
by dwarves the Dripping Hall.

Thórr said:
Say to me, Alvíss,
for it seems to me
there is nothing you do not know:
what is the moon called,
that men see,
in all the worlds there are?

Alvíss said:
Moon it is called by men,
the Ball by gods,
the Whirling Wheel in Hel,
the Speeder by giants,
the Bright One by dwarves,
by elves Tally-of-Years.

Thórr said:
Say to me, Alvíss,
for it seems to me
there is nothing you do not know:
what is the sun called,
that is seen by men,
in all the worlds there are?

Alvíss said:
Sól it is called by men,
Sunna by the gods,
by dwarves, Dvalinn’s toy,
by giants Everglow,
by elves Fair-Wheel,
All-Bright by the sons of gods.

The pagan Great Midwinter Sacrifice and the ‘royal’ mounds at Old Uppsala

At the end of the 17 th century, the farmers of Uppland were still using the so-called rule of King Aun, according to which the phases of the moon in the Julian calendar fell one day earlier after 304 years. Such displacements in the eight-year cycle took place in 1692, 1388, 1084, 780, and 476. The semi-legendary king Aun is considered to have reigned about AD 450-500 and t o have been buried at Old Uppsala. The three ‘royal’ burial mounds there have been dated to AD 450-550. These mounds are oriented in such a way that they could have been used to regulate the sacrificial calendar.

The importance of the Disting and the precise definitions as to when it should take place

The original meaning of the Disting was threefold; there should be: a great sacrifice for peace and victory for the king, a general meeting with representatives from all the Swedish provinces, and a major market (Granlund 1958: cols 112-115). At the general meeting, important common political decisions were taken, such as election of a new king or solution of judicial questions that not could be solved at local courts. The participation of the representatives was compulsory, and Christian representatives who refused to come because of the human sacrifice had to pay a great fine.

The dates for the Disting were linked to the phases of the moon according to an ancient rule preserved in medieval texts. Already Tacitus had pointed out that important meetings among the Germanic peoples must take place at the new or full moon (Hutton 1970: 149 [Germania 11]). In his Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus, written in 1555 during his exile in Rome, Olaus Magnus, the last Roman Catholic archbishop in Sweden, explained that the Disting was started at the full moon because the light from the moon facilitated travel to Uppsala during the short days at midwinter (Foote 1996: 203 [Magnus 4.6]).

The exact rule for determining the starting date of the Disting was given by Olof Rudbeck (1679: 68), professor in medicine at the university of Uppsala and a scholar with broad scientific interest: The moon that shines in the sky on Twelfth Day (6/1) is the Christmas moon and after this follows the Disting’s moon. This means that the earliest date for the beginning of the Distingwas 21 January (7/1+14 days) and the latest date was 19 February (7/1+29 days). The Disting started on the day of the full moon between 21/1 and 19/2, according to the Julian calendar. The corresponding interval for the beginning of the Disting in our modern calendar is 28 January-26 February. It may seem strange that this originally heathen rule was related to Twelfth Day, or the Epiphany, as in the rule for the start of the Disting in Magnus (Foote 1996: 203 [Magnus 4.6]). The explanation is that the rule for the dates of the Disting was related to the Christian calendar in the 12th century. At that time, there was a shift by seven days between the Julian calendar and our Gregorian calendar that is closely related to the solstices and equinoxes. This fact also explains why the Swedish tradition says that the night of St. Lucia, 13 December, is the longest and darkest night of the year. If seven days are added to this date, we get the date of the winter solstice at that time. This fact indicates that the pre-historic Swedish calendar was closely related to the solstices and equinoxes and supports the results found in my earlier archaeoastronomical investigations of ancient monuments in Sweden (Henriksson 1983, 1989a and b, 1992, 1994,
1995, 1999 and 2002).

Astronomy is perhaps the oldest science to be studied to this day. Since humans gained intelligence and the ability to think, we have made many discoveries, answered questions, and made many more discoveries, all at the same time. Today on Feed My Curiosity, we explore the Evolution of Astronomy, starting with how the Ancient Greeks and the Mayans observed it. We them look at the accomplishments and discoveries made by key figures such as Newton and Einstein, and how much rocket science and space exploration has evolved, with SpaceX and Boeing leading the way. We conclude with the future of astronomy and what we plan to do next, like sending humans to Mars, and how we understand unresolved mysteries of the universe, like its fate.

Observations in Eddic Astronomy
How Passages in the Eddas Act as
References to Constellations by Dr. Christopher E. Johnsen

The Norse Myths have a distinctive flavor all their own, but they also have many similarities to the Greek, Roman, Persian and Indian mythologies. These myths from other cultures have many well-known correspondences with the stars, whereas the Norse mythical tradition has a paucity of them, or perhaps it would be better to say that they have been intentionally hidden and the keys to deciphering these correspondences have been lost.

Astronomy, stjörnuíþrótt in Old Norse, is the science of observation of the stars – it seems that the ancients were very good at it. It is likely that the people living far North near the Arctic circle had a natural tendency to focus on observation of the stars since so many winter nights were filled with nothing but darkness and the stars above to observe, with little sunlight present around the winter solstice. 

Modern astronomy’s roots can be traced to Mesopotamia, and it descends directly from Babylonian astronomers who in turn derived their knowledge from Sumerian astronomers.  The earliest Babylonian star catalogues date from about 1200 BC and many star names are in Sumerian suggesting that the Sumerians were one of if not the first people to study the stars that have been observed in the archeological record or that they inherited an astronomical tradition from some unknown earlier culture.
The Sumerians developed the earliest known writing system – cuneiform – whose origin is currently dated to circa 3500 BC.  Baked clay tablets with cuneiform writing have been found that recorded detailed observations of the stars which led to the sophisticated astronomy of the Sumerian’s successors, the Babylonians. Only fragments of these cuneiform tablets detailing Babylonian astronomy have survived down through the ages. Many believe that “all subsequent varieties of scientific astronomy, in the Hellenistic world, in India, in Islam, and in the West—if not indeed all subsequent endeavour in the exact sciences—depend upon Babylonian astronomy in decisive and fundamental ways.” An argument can be made that this statement also holds true for the Norse astronomers of old and that they were continuing the ancient Sumerian/Babylonian tradition.
Continue reading HERE.

Surveys the pre-Christian beliefs of the Scandinavian and Germanic peoples. Provides an introduction to this subject, giving basic outlines to the sagas and stories, and helps identify the charachter traits of not only the well known but also the lesser gods of the age.

Further Resources:

Skylore of the North

Observations in Eddic Astronomy
by Dr. Christopher E. Johnsen

Viking & Germanic People Star Lore in Viking and Germanic Mythology

Germanic Astronomy: An Attempt to Recover the Old Heathen Constellations of Northern Europe by Peter Krüger

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Nehalennia: Dutch Goddess of the North Seas

A couple of years ago I learned about the little know Dutch Goddess of the North seas, Nehalennia. Since my main deities are Gods and Goddesses of the seas I had to dive into who this Goddess is and her importance. Nehalennia is the Goddess of the North seas, Sailors, fortune at sea, safe passage at sea and sometimes considered a Goddess of life and death. She is also considered to be a Mothergoddess. So in many ways you can see similarities between Nehalennia and the Norse God Njordr, Ægir and the Goddess Rán. I always like to give lesser known Gods and Goddesses the spotlight they deserve and Nehalennia definitely deserves such honor.

In 1645 a large part of the Zeeland Dunes in Domburg were eroded due to a huge storm. What they found were altarstones or votive stones dedicated to the Goddess Nehalennia. These stones dated back to the second and third century BC. They also find the remains of a Temple. Which suggests that there once was a Temple dedicated to Nehalennia there. Although it is still not known whether this Goddess was Celtic or Germanic, it is known that the Romans in the area worshipped this Goddess. The texts on the votive stones are in Latin. Therefore it is thought that Nehalennia is the name the Romans gave to the Goddess. The stones found in Domburg were displayed in the church, which turned into a sort of museum. However in 1848 lightning struck the church tower, burning it to the ground. Most stones were destroyed.

In 1970 a fisherman at Colijnsplaat in Zeeland noticed four large stones in his fishing net. He decided to take them to shore and showed them to a lot of people. They recognized the name Nehalennia, which was still readable on one of the stones. In the years after this discovery they excavated more of these votive stones, together with pieces of building materials. Suggesting that here too, once a Temple dedicated to the Sea Goddess stood. SOURCE.

Nehalennia Dutch Goddess Statue, Colijnsplaat. Date
ca. 100 CE–ca. 250 CE
Nehalennia, a Dutch Goddess Kindle Edition
by Ingrid de Haas

Further Resources:

Nehalennia (Celtic: “she of the sea”): ancient goddess, venerated in the Roman age at the mouth of the river Scheldt.

A Dutch Goddess, Nehalennia

Nehalennia – the ‘Cailleach’ of Zeeland?

Nelahennia is a native Dutch Goddess

Ancient Goddesses Indigenous to The Netherlands: Nehalennia, Hludana and Tanfana

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Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore

It has been a while since I posted a book recommendation so here we go with this true literature gem. Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology and Magic by Claude Lecouteux is a book filled with such great details and images it is one I refer to often as a great resource. Not only does this encyclopedia give brief yet detailed descriptions of every know God and Goddess of the Norse and Germanic pantheons but also of places, creatures and other things from the Böxenwolf, the Werewolves of Northern Germany, to the Goddess Sinthgunt, Goddess of the Cosmos and time, plus so much more. This brilliant book is one I highly recommend for the personal library of anyone who has interest in this subject.

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Goddess Ostara – What is Known

As much as is written and as many websites along with Youtube videos you can find regarding the Germanic Goddess Ēostre (Ostara, Ēastre), so little is known historically. But does this mean we disregard her as a true Goddess? I say no because as we see with Gods and Goddesses of other Pantheons such as the Norse, Celtic and Slavic, it does not lessen their importance. So being that Spring has begun I felt the need to offer this post to my readers to get a deeper insight and see other opinions regarding Goddess Ostara.

Ēostre (Ostara, Ēastre) is an obscure Germanic and Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and dawn, and is thought to be the namesake of the Christian holiday Easter. Her festival is celebrated on the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring.

Her name is thought to mean “to shine”, therefore Ēostre is seen as a goddess of the dawn. However it is also thought that Ēastre is the ancient word for “spring”. There are also links to the name Ēostre and “east”, the direction of the sky where the sun first rises, which gives Ēostre the name “Eastern Star”.

Ēostre is connected with growth, renewal, abundance, new beginnings and fertility. As symbols of rebirth and fertility, eggs and rabbits are sacred to her, as is the full moon.

Ēostre represents the transitional time between childhood innocence and adult passion, and reminds us that life is full of untold possibilities and adventures. SOURCE

Ostara/Spring Equinox Vernal Equinox March 21-22

A point of perfect balance on the journey through the Wheel of the Year. Night and day are of equal length and in perfect equilibrium – dark and light, masculine and feminine, inner and outer, in balance. But the year is now waxing and at this moment light defeats the dark. The natural world is coming alive, the Sun is gaining in strength and the days are becoming longer and warmer.

The gentle whispered promise of Imbolc is fulfilled in the evident and abundant fertility of the Earth at Ostara. It is time for the hopes of Imbolc to become action. The energy is expansive and exuberant. It is the first day of Spring!

Ostara takes its name after the Germanic goddess, Eostre/Ostara, who was traditionally honoured in the month of April with festivals to celebrate fertility, renewal and re-birth. It was from Eostre that the Christian celebration of Easter evolved, and indeed the naming of the hormone Eostrogen, essential to women’s fertility. The Goddess Ostara has the shoulders and head of a hare. SOURCE

The changing of the seasons, phases of the moon, even our personal experiences-all are reflections of the Divine Feminine. Create a stronger connection to the sacred world and your own divinity by welcoming these thirteen powerful Celtic and Nordic goddesses into your life.

All About Eostre – The Pagan Goddess of Dawn

Goddess Ostara

OSTARA: Saxon Goddess of the Dawn and Spring

Who is Ostara?

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Nerthus, The Earth Mother Goddess

Nerthus, the Earth Mother Goddess of the Norse Vanir Gods. Lady of trees and sacred bogs, Lady of the fertile earth plowed up to give us food, Lady who is always veiled, and whose face is death to look upon.

Nerthus still to present time is quite the mysterious Goddess seeing how there is so little known about her. Some feel she is a Goddess just of Germanic tribes but there are some hints and clues that lead to showing that not only is she of the Vanir but may possibly be Njord’s sister and possibly Wife. Despite the mysterious origins of her I feel she is deserving of honor.

Nerthus is associated with Spring, cycles, health, energy, peace and prosperity. Her symbols are fire, chariots and soil.

We first learn about Nerthus from the Roman historian Tacitus, who was writing in the first century C.E. He called Her ‘Terra Mater’ (earth Mother) and noted that She was worshiped by several Germanic tribes. He describes a ritual setting in which an image of Nerthus stands concealed in a cart within a sacred grove. Only Her clergy were permitted to touch or approach the sacred image. All others were put to death. Tacitus writes that this cart would be driven in a holy procession, after which the statue and its accoutrements would be tended to and cleansed in a special lake (and the slaves who assisted with this would be drowned in that lake). (Simek, p. 230). Simek considers Nerthus to have been a Baltic and/or Danish Goddess, since the tribes Tacitus specifically refers to settled east of the Elbe River. He also associates the ritual washing of the statue and its gear with the sacred marriage, or hieros gamos. (ibid).

Because Tacitus, in good Roman fashion, compares (or syncretizes) Nerthus with the Roman Terra Mater, examining how the Romans viewed their own Earth Mother may provide valuable clues into the nature of Nerthus. (Krasskova, p. 88). The Romans had no sentimental illusions about Terra Mater. She was a nurturing and gift giving Goddess of the earth, but She was also the terrible Goddess of earthquakes, famine, flood, storm, and destruction. There was bounty, but also tremendous danger and outright terror all contained at once in the holy presence of this Goddess. (ibid). Tacitus specifically talks about the mysteries of Nerthus as begetting “terror and a pious reluctance to ask what that sight can be which is only seen by men doomed to die.” (Tacitus, chapter 40). In this, it would seem, Nerthus contains within Herself the embodiment of holy power and perhaps holy terror as well.

In surviving Anglo-Saxon writings, there is a ritual (Æcerbot or ‘field remedy’) for blessing the fields prior to ploughing and planting. Despite its rather late provenance (11th century) in this ritual “Eorðan Moðor,” or Earth Mother is invoked. Contemporary Heathens, particularly those with an Anglo-Saxon focus, look to this rite for one of the Holy Tides: Charming of the Plough, which usually occurs in late February. While few of us today are bound to the earth in the way that our largely agrarian ancestors were, we can still honor its cycles and honor the gift of our own creativity too in such rites. SOURCE

Useful Sources: “Dying for the Gods” by M. Green, “Looking for the Lost Gods of England,” by Kathleen Herbert, “Boar, Birch and Bog” by Nicanthiel Hrafnhild, “Exploring the Northern Tradition” by Galina Krasskova and “Dictionary of Northern Mythology” by Rudolf Simek

The Germanic Kingdoms and the Eastern Roman Empire in 526 CE

Nerthus and Njorun: a Norse Mystery

The Goddess Nerthus

Goddess Nerthus

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Arminius (Hermann the German)

One of my favorite historical figures during the Roman empire age is Arminius (Hermann the German). Who lived a life that was filled with so much that I felt the need to feature him on my Blog with the best resources I believe exist.

Arminius (b. circa 18 BC, d. circa 21 AD, assumed to be the Latinized form of Hermann) was the chief of the Germanic Cherusci tribe during the later stages of Augustus’ reign. Prior to the great revolt which pushed Rome permanently out of the Germanic interior, and after the conquests of Drusus and Tiberius, Arminius served as a Roman auxiliary (c. 1 to 6 AD), apparently with much success. Some have painted a picture of a young Germanic warrior with the ultimate goal of freeing the tribes by learning Roman military ways, but his service and that of his fellow Cherusci warriors, actually exemplifies the completeness in which the Romans had spread their influence throughout Germania (as well as identifying the early stages of the barbarization of the Roman Legions). Though at this stage, Germania Magna was not an official province, and was still unsettled per Roman victory conditions, the slow process of Romanization had begun in earnest. Arminius, it seems, even earned Roman citizenship as well as equestrian status, perhaps in part, as a peace settlement.

During the revolt in Pannonia, which forced Tiberius’ withdrawal from Germania, and his replacement by Publius Quinctilius Varus, conditions seem to have deteriorated considerably. Varus, it seems, (one must consider the conflicting reports by Dio Cassius, Tacitus, Florus and Paterculus regarding the political climate and the battle itself) was probably given the task of completing the subjugation of Germania and implementing Roman provincial standards by Augustus. Regular taxation, undoubtedly a condition that the Germanics were unaccustomed to, as well as other ‘excesses’ seem to have turned the tribes against their Roman occupiers.

Arminius returned to the Cherusci as early as 7 AD, and likely began preparing for a massive revolt soon after his arrival. Inter-tribal warfare and lack of unity was something that would plague the Germanics for centuries, but in this one instance, the tribes were uniquely brought together in their zeal to throw off the Roman yolk. Everything was not completely in unison, however. Arminius’ rival, Segestes, actually his own father-in-law, reportedly betrayed the plans of revolt to Varus, but these reports were unheeded. Perhaps writing off the idea as political infighting for personal gain, or trusting Arminius due to his service as a Roman auxilia, and equestrian, Varus ignored the warnings, with predictable results. In 9 AD, the situation had come to a head and reports of a growing uprising in northern Germania (perhaps the Chauci) began to reach Varus. Encouraged by promises of allied assistance from tribal leaders like Arminius, Varus set out northward for the Chauci.

In late summer of 9 AD, Varus marched in loose formation with the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth legions, and did so through what they thought was friendly territory. According to Cassius Dio, ” They had with them many wagons and many beasts of burden as in time of peace; moreover, not a few women and children and a large retinue of servants were following them. one reason for their advancing in scattered groups.” As the Romans approached a particular hilly and forested area (and likely fortified in advance) known as the Kalkriese, Arminius and fellow allied chieftains ‘begged to be excused from further attendance, in order, as they claimed, to assemble their allied forces, after which they would quietly come to his aid.’ Unbeknownst to Varus, regional tribes had already put the ambush in motion by killing or capturing legionary detachments that had been working on various projects throughout the region.

Over a period of 4 storm filled and rain drenched days, the Germanics launched a series of blistering attacks on the disorganized and unprepared Roman columns. All three legions and accompanying cavalry were so scattered and beaten in the surprise attacks that communication and cooperation between the two were non-existent. The cavalry attempted a breakout and escape but was cut down before they could. The infantry continued to fight, with little success in hopes of reaching safety. By the 4th day, the cause was lost and Varus committed suicide rather than submit to capture (and the shame). All three legionary standards (eagles) were captured by the Germans and the survivors, of which there were very few, scattered in various directions to safety. Conflicting ancient source material tells differing tales, but some officers joined Varus in suicide while others surrendered. The battle itself was little more than an overwhelming massacre. Read the entire article HERE.

The Hermannsdenkmal (German for “Hermann’s Monument”) Located in
Teutoburger Wald, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

The Varus Battle

Hermann the Cheruscan

The Battle of Teutoburg Forest