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The Search for the Battle Site

The Varus battle soon fell into oblivion. Many antique sources were lost, and only a few survived in monastery libraries – well-protected, meticulously copied, but hardly ever read. From the 15th century onward, they were rediscovered by curious scholars and published soon afterwards: in 1471 the Epitome of Roman History (based on the works of Titus Livy) by Lucius Annaeus Florus, in 1515 the Annals by Publius Cornelius Tacitus, 1517 the History of Rome by Velleius Paterculus, in 1520 The Life of the Caesars by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus and in 1548 the Roman History by Cassius Dio Cocceianus.

While antique authors describe the events of the fateful battle, they do not let their readers in on where exactly it took place. The name saltus teutoburgiensis mentioned by Tacitus was not very helpful, because Tacitus did not provide any further information regarding its location. In 1627, pastor and chronicler Johannes Piderit (1559–1637) renamed a stretch of forest called Lippe-Raum to Teutoburg Forest, and in 1669 Prince-Bishop Ferdinand von Fürstenberg (1626–1683) entered this name together with »Teutoburgium« for Detmold in the diocese map. The Teutoburg Forest was born! A short time later everybody was convinced that the Varus battle must have taken place here.

Local historians and scholars embarked on a search for the exact site of the Varus battle. Over the centuries, supposedly 700 suggestions for the battle’s location came up, but none of them convinced their contemporaries. The topic was also of interest to people from the Osnabrück region. Especially since the 17th century, Roman coins had repeatedly surfaced here during farm work. As early as in the 18th century, it was suspected that the coins could have been left here in the course of Roman military campaigns launched by Emperor Augustus. Among those sharing this conviction were the renowned Osnabrück-based constitutional law expert and philosopher Justus Möser (1720–1794), his university friend Carl Gerhard Wilhelm Lodtmann (1720–1755), as well as corporate counsel Eberhard Stüve (1715–1798), also from Osnabrück, and Karl Ludwig Friedrich Knoke (1844–1928), headmaster of the Ratsgymnasium.

The Search for the Battle Site, 2. Absatz

A century later, renowned scientists began to participate in the discussion, such as ancient historian Theodor Mommsen, who in 1884 entrusted numismatist Julius Menadier with the scientific evaluation of the coins from Kalkriese. Menadier published the results of his research under the promising title »Der numismatische Nachlass der varianischen Legionen« (The Numismatic Legacy of the Varian Legions). Mommsen followed suit with his study »Die Örtlichkeit der Varusschlacht« (The Site of the Varus Battle), which was published in 1885, in which he concluded: »In my opinion, these coins and the ones found near Barenau belong to the remains of Varus’ army, which perished in the year 9 AD in the Venner Moor«. Since weapons and copper coins, the typical currency of soldiers, were missing, this remained one hypothesis among many others.

The search eventually focussed on the eastern Sauerland, south-eastern Münsterland, the Detmold region, that is the Teutoburg Forest, and the Lippe Uplands as well as the Weser region. »700 theories – but none leads to the battlefield« Westphalian archaeologist Wilhelm Winkelmann 1983 summed up the state of research. No one had a clue that only 10 years later things would look quite different.

The Search for the Battle Site, 3. Absatz

The decisive change was brought about by British Major Tony Clunn (May 10, 1946 – Aug. 3, 2014). He was stationed at Osnabrück since 1987 as a member of the British Army of the Rhine and had learned how to use metal detectors in England. In March 1987, Clunn contacted municipal and county archaeologist Wolfgang Schlüter, who informed him of the noticeable accumulation of Roman finds near Kalkriese. Major Clunn went about his task, and on July 5, 1987, he discovered Roman silver coins, followed by several Roman sling bullets a year later. These weapon finds constituted the first indisputable proof of the presence of Roman troops in the Kalkriese region. In fall 1989, the archaeological excavations began on the Oberesch, a parcel of land on the slope of the Kalkriese Hill.

Major Tony Clunn died on August 3, 2014. For his discovery, he was appointed »Member of the Order of the British Empire« by Queen Elizabeth II. In Germany, he was honored with the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany only a few days before his death.