Legions From the Shadows, At This Late Date

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From the mists of Germania come slightly tardy tidings of a battle beyond the imperial frontier:

We have to write our history books new, because what we thought was that the activities of the Romans ended at nine or 10 (years) after Christ,” said Lutz Stratmann, science minister for the German state of Lower Saxony. “Now we know that it must be 200 or 250 after that.”

For weeks, archeologist Petra Loenne and her team have been searching this area with metal detectors, pulling hundreds of ancient Roman weapons out of the ground. They paint a picture of a highly organized, technologically superior Roman army beset by Germanic tribes in a forest about 80 km (50 miles) south of the modern city of Hanover.

The hillside battlefield was discovered by relic-hunters illegally searching for souvenirs of more recent wars near the town of Kalefeld-Oldenrode. One of them brought some of the items he found to Loenne, who works for the local government.

The artifacts are so well preserved that the scientists can already retrace some of the battle lines.

“We believe the Germans ambushed the Romans here, but the legions quickly fired back with catapults and archers — and then it came to a massive man-on-man onslaught,” Loenne said.

The items unearthed so far include an axe, still sharp after nearly 1,800 years; horseshoes; shovels; spearheads; and dozens of arrowheads for a Scorpio, a cross between a catapult and a crossbow — the ancient equivalent of artillery.

“With a very high speed, on a very long distance — about 300 meters — you can hit targets precisely,” said Henning Hassman, of Hanover’s archeological institute.

Researchers say the evidence suggests the tribesmen lured the Romans into the forest to keep them from making full use of those long-range weapons and draw them into hand-to-hand combat, outside of the formations the imperial troops had mastered. However, they believe the Romans ultimately prevailed.

Always good to have sources more grounded than Ridley Scott documenting that it wasn’t all declining and falling in the north after Germanicus campaigned to restore the mystique Varus threw away, but I’d better cease and desist before I get drummed out of Howard fandom for Romanophilia (yes, REH danced all over Lovecraft’s face in those barbarism-versus-civilization debates, but I would still rather have dinner with Julius Caesar than, say, Tros of Samothrace).