Battle of the Angrivarii Wall

Annex E: Battle of the Angrivarii Wall

E.1 The information availabe for the localization of the Battle of the Angrivarii Wall

E.2 The course of the Battle of the Angrivarii Wall

E.1 The information availabe for the localization of the Battle of the Angrivarii Wall

Shortly after the Battle of Idistaviso, which according to the Roman writer Tacitus took place near the Weser, according to Tacitus between the Ems and Weser there was the Battle of the Angrivarii Wall:
“At last they fixed on a position pent in between a stream and the forests, with a narrow, waterlogged plain in the centre; the forests too were encircled by a deep swamp, except on one side, where the Angrivarii had raised a broad earthen barrier to mark the boundary between themselves and the Cherusci.”
About the purpose of this building today there are conflicting views. It is believed that it is this was a pre-historic border fortifications between Angrivarii and Cherusci. However, this wall would be the only known, like a wall protected boundary that had existed between the two Germanic tribes at this time. However from this viewpoint it is also conceivable that this wall was only built in conjunction with the campaign of Germanicus, to fulfill a strategic role within the tactics of Arminius. (Wikipedia: Angrivarierwall)

It is also doubtful whether the Angrivarii could have operated such a border wall. Angrivarii and especially the Cherusci were no small tribes, correspondingly huge were their territories, and correspondingly huge was their common border (provided that this was even fixedly defined), 30 km to 50 km this border would have been long at least. An effective border fortification therefore should have been also at least 30 km to 50 km long, as the Cherusci could have bypassed a shorter border barrier with only one day's march otherwise. An effective border fortification also would have needed to be constantly monitored, the organization of the guards would have been a not to be underestimated challenge for the Angrivarii. Furthermore it argues against the role of Angrivarii Wall as a border wall, that it is very unlikely that the remains of a 30 to 50 km long border fortification were not found until today.
A strategic function of the Angrivarii Wall in the context of a battle between Germanicus and Arminius is therefore much more likely. As described above, the battle of the Angrivarii Wall took place between Ems and Weser. As a Roman legion could not move freely in Germania but had to rely on existing ways, the Angrivarii Wall would have been located at a protohistoric highway system between the Ems and Weser.
An important chain of evidence to find the Battle of the Angrivarii Wall is therefore a Roman-Germanic battlefield at a protohistoric highway between Ems and Weser, in which a wall has played an important role.

A trading route known since the antiquity that meets this criteria is the 'Hellweg unter dem Berg'. The 'Hellweg unter dem Berg' passes north of the Weser Uplands and south of the vast swampy flat zones of Lower Saxony, and leads from Minden across the Ems to the Netherlands.

Hellweg unter dem Berg
Fig. E.1-1: Protohistoric highway 'Hellweg unter dem Berg' (brown) in relation to Ems (light blue) and Weser (dark blue)

At the 'Hellweg unter dem Berg' in 1987 a Roman battlefield was discovered in the Kalkriese-Niewedde depression by the British officer and detectorist Major Tony Clunn, the so-called find-region Kalkriese. Due to finds Kalkriese is associated with the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, a theory independent of finds that derives Kalkriese as place of the Varusschlacht however does not exist. Since many factors influence the conservation of artifacts in the soil (eg soil texture, agricultural use in recent centuries), the theory development for a singular event such as a battle only on the basis of finds is highly dependent on coincidence, with the regarding negative consequences for the reliability of the scenario developed for the events at Kalkriese.

No coins were found in Kalkriese that have been coined after 1 AD (Gaius-Lucius coins as closing coins, embossing period 2 BC to 1 AD) or that probably were counterstamped by Varus between 7 and 9 AD (asses with the mark VAR), and pits, in which human bones (which previously had been at the surface for some time) and mule bones were deposited, are put into context with the grave mound built by Germanicus for the fallen of the Teutoburg Forest Battle as described by Tacitus.
However bones of men together with bones of mules in a hastily built pit have little to do with the state funeral which was reported by Tacitus. Also the fact was that from over 2000 coins found in Kalkriese none was coined after the Teutoburg Forest Battle although 8 legions of Germanicus searched the Varus battlefield, and the presence of a Roman legion normally is always associated with coin finds, would mean that also the Germanicus-legions had no money which was coined after the Teutoburg Forest Battle. This would in turn mean that because of the terminating date 9 AD it is not to decide whether the coins in Kalkriese were lost by Varus legionaries or by Germanicus legionaries.

Furthermore, in Kalkriese unusually many hoards of coins were discovered (hitherto 7 hoards), lastly a hoard of 200 silver coins. This would be too much for an amount of money carried by a legionary, but too little for a legion’s cash. It would, however, correspond to the amount of money a civilian, such as a Roman trader, carried with him. Together with the high number of finds of civilian or sacred objects in Kalkriese, it occurs that two or more events have contributed to the overall findings of Kalkriese: a military event which explains the weapons and a civilian event which explains with the coins and the other civilian and sacred objects. The civilian event could be an attack on a Roman refugee trek.

The Roman historian Cassius Dio reports about Roman city foundations in Germania: "Cities were founded and the barbarians adapted to the Roman way of life, visited the markets and held peaceful gatherings". In these cities, therefore, mainly Germani lived in an early stage of Romanization, but also Romans lived there, for example traders or people have worked in administration. Under Varus' govenorship a too rapid a transformation of Magna Germania into a completed Roman province led to an increasing upset or even hate of the Germani on the Romans who were now regarded as occupiers. As a consequence, in the spring of the year 10, when the Roman legions did not return east of the Rhine and could no longer offer protection, the Romans in Magna Germania were not safe any longer: they had to escape.

As discussed in chap. 1 Roman cities were embedded in an agrarian environment, which supplied the cities with food. A very good location would be as also discussed in chap. 1 the Hildesheim Boerde, so very likely a Roman city was founded there. Since in the Hildesheim Boerde there aren’t any Roman traces, the Roman city must be under roof today, thus today's Hildesheim could have its origins in the Roman city foundation.
For the escape of the Romans from Hildesheim to the west towards the Rhine, the abovementioned ‘Hellweg unter dem Berg’ was the shortest connection. Since the escape of the Romans, who were wealthy in some cases, were not unnoticed by their Germic neighbors, the danger of robbery resulted for the refugee trek, a good place to intercept the refugees was the bottleneck of the Hellweg at Kalkriese. And in these attacks on the Roman refugees in the year 10, most of the coins found in Kalkriese also came into the ground. This might be because at the attacks the copper coins (aces) which were valueless for the Germani were thrown away, and only silver coins and gold coins were kept, or because some Romans had buried more valuable coins as a hoard when Germanic groups approached, to possibly recover these coins later.
In the context of the escape from the Roman city foundation at Hildesheim probably also the Hildesheim Treasure came into the ground, a hoard of silverware, with engraved user names showing that several pesons deposited their valuables together in the hoard, in order to recover them on their return to Hildesheim .

As discussed below, a battle between Romans and Germani took place at the Kalkrieser bottleneck in the year 16, during which the weapons came in the ground. As part of the preparations for the battlefield, the remains of the Romans killed during the robbery of the year 10, were buried, today's bone deposits. The Romans would thus have been buried by their Germanic enemies, but for reasons of piety even today killed enemies are still buried with dignity.

However in Kalkriese also a 400 m long wall construction was discovered at the find site Oberesch, which apparently had a strategic role for the battle of Kalkriese.

Grasssodenwall in Kalkriese
Fig. E.1-2: Reconstructed section of the Kalkriese Oberesch wall construction (Wikipedia)

But since in none of the ancient sources reporting about the Teutoburg Forest Battle such a wall construction is mentioned, it is relatively unlikely that the find region Kalkriese is related to the Teutoburg Forest Battle. And as the above criteria for battle of the Angrivarii Wall (a wall construction important for a battle at a prehistoric road between the Ems and Weser)are met at Kalkriese, it is very much likely that the find region Kalkriese is the location of the Battle of the Angrivarii Wall.

In a literal interpretation of Tacitus the Kalkriese-Niewedde depression is not quite exactly with Tacitus' description of the battle field of the Angrivarii Wall. However, Tacitus was not an eyewitness of the battle and dependent on information from second or third hand, and Tacitus' informants have not necessarily had its own accuracy claim. Thus if one abstracts Tacitus' description of the battle field of the Angrivarii Wall in order to minimize the error potential always latent existing in ancient sources, there is an approximate, that the environment of the battlefield consisted of a stream, a forest and wetlands, and that Angrivarii and Cherusci were there in a geographical relation to a wall-like construct, which matches with the conditions of the Kalkriese-Niewedde depression.


E.2 The course of the Battle of the Angrivarii Wall

Coming from Idistaviso at the Weser Germanicus marched with his legions on the ‘Hellweg unter dem Berg’ westwards. At Kalkriese there was between the Venne peat bog and the Kalkriese hill a natural narrow, which in addition Arminius also had let fortified by the Oberesch wall construction, at which certainly the whole Kalkriese mountain was occupied by Germanic warriors. At the narrow Arminus countered the Romans with his main force. Due to the narrow the Romans could not form up in full extent and were first of all at a disadvantage.

Schlacht am Angrivarierwall Ausgangssituation
Fig. E.2-1: Battle of the Angrivarii Wall initial situation, advance of the Romans (blue), positions of the Germani (red), Oberesch wall construction (brown), peat bog (yellow), Kalkriese hill (green)

The soil map of Lower Saxony shows that the environment of Kalkriese mainly consists of relatively moist gley soils, on which the Romans were additionally at a disadvantage because of the weight of their armor. However there was relatively dry and firm ground in the area of the ​​‘Hellweg unter dem Berg’ along a quicksand ridge, today ‘Alte Heerstraße’, and because of the relatively high mounds of bedrock directly below the Kalkriese hill, today ‘Venner Straße’.

Geologischer Schnitt durch die Kalkrieser-Niewdder Senke
Fig. E.2-1a: Geologic profile A-B of the Kalkriese-Niewedde depression. Simplified illustration according to Lower Saxony State Office for Soil Research (ed.), drawn with 25-fold superelevation;
- 1 bedrock - 2 slope sand - 3 lowland sand - 4 quicksand - 5 peat - 6 lowland silt
(University Osnabrück: Varusforschung)

In addition to the flank cover serving combating the Germani on the Oberesch wall, which for this reason was strafed with torsion guns, the Romans attacked the the Germani in westerly direction in two spearheads, as discussed along corridors along the 'Alte Heerstraße' and the 'Venner Straße'. The goal was the encirclement of the Germanic warriors.

Battle of the Angrivarii Wall Roman Attack
Fig. E.2-2: Battle of the Angrivarii Wall Roman attack (blue), resistance of the Germani (red), Oberesch wall construction (brown), peat bog (yellow), Kalkriese hill (green)

Due to the intense fighting along the corridors of the 'Alte Heerstraße' and the 'Venner Straße' there should also diverse and numerous finds of Roman military equipment to be expected, which is confirmed by the distribution of sites with Roman finds.

Roemische Fundstellen Kalkriese
Fig. E.2-3: Distribution of sites with Roman finds in the Kalkriese area (Universität Osnabrück: Varusforschung)

The distribution of the finds does not indicate that the two Roman attack groups could unite and the encirclement of the Germanic warriors thus succeeded. Therefore it can be concluded, that the Germani in face of the impending defeat succeeded to escape from the site of battle, and to avoid the encirclement. Thus the Romans were the winners the Battle of the Angrivarii Wall, however it was not a sustainable victory.

Since it can not be assumed that the Germanicus army encamped in the Kalkriese-Niewedde depression while the Germani built the Oberesch wall, it can be concluded that the Romans had to cover a certain march distance to the battlefield. Thus the battle began at the earliest in the late morning. The size of the battlefield suggests that the battle lasted for a while, thus the battle ended in the afternoon. As the Romans searched the battlefield for their own wounded and killed, there was no time to march further, and the field camp for the following night was built on the spot. Thus in the immediate vicinity of the battlefield in the Kalkriese-Niewedde depression there should be traces of a Roman field camp. Due to the soils which had been swept up by the fighting, it might have been advantageous to place the field camp directly on the northern slope of the Kalkriese hill, since the slope gave a natural drainage to the camp. For this purpose, the Germanic wall on the Oberesch would have been planished in the area of the camp. A trench-wall system of Roman construction north of the Oberesch wall, discovered in the summer of 2016, could correspond to the northern wall of a so placed field camp. Thus the northern wall should be located directly at the foot of the Kalkrieser mountain, where the slope passes into the plain (thus at the level of the blue mark in the attached graphic).