Issue 140, Fall 1996
As the retreating Bructeri began to burn their own
possessions, to deny to the Romans every sustenance but
a flying column sent by Germanicus
commanded by Lucius Stertinius
and there, discovered amid plunder and the dead,
was the Eagle of the nineteenth
legion, lost with Varus.
The Romans now
brought to the land of the Bructeri, —to whatever lay
between the river Ems and the river Lippe,
to the very edge of their territory, —
until they reached at last
the Teutoburgian Wood,
in whose darkness
Varus and the remains of his fifteen thousand men,
it was said, lay unburied.
Germanicus then conceived a desire
to honor with obsequies these unburied warriors whose
massacre once filled Augustus himself with rage and
with hope or fear every corner of the Empire, —
while the least foot soldier, facing alien
terrain, was overcome with pity when he
thought of family, friends, the sudden
reversals of battle, and shared human fate.
First Caecina and his men
ordered to reconnoiter the dismal
treacherous passes, to attempt to build bridges and
causeways across the uneven, sodden marshland,—
then the rest of the army, witness to scenes
rending to sight and memory of sight.
Varus’ first camp, with its wide sweep and deployment
of ordered space in confident dimension,
testified to the calm labors of three legions; —
then a ruined half-well and shallow ditch
showed where a desperate remnant had
been driven to take cover;—
on the open ground between them
were whitening bones, free
from putrefaction, —
scattered where men had been struck down
fleeing, heaped up
where they stood their ground before slaughter.
Fragments of spears and horses’ limbs lay
intertwined, while human
skulls were nailed
like insults to the tree-trunks.
Nearby groves held the altars
on which the savage Germans
sacrificed the tribunes and chief centurions.