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Coins identify ‘fake news’

Modern Germany traces its beginnings to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, the 9 C.E. battle in which Germanic tribes annihilated an occupying Roman Army. The famed battle is understood to have taken place near Kalkriese, northeast of Osnabrück. It is also understood that the Romans were ambushed in a tight geographic area between a hill and a moor.

There is no doubt that perhaps as many as 18,000 Roman troops were slaughtered by Cheruscan chieftain Arminius and his allies. In more modern history, Arminius has been propagandized as Hermann the German, with the battle being interpreted as being the starting point from which Germany became a nation.

 According to the Kalkriese Museum, "All coins found in Kalkriese date back to the Roman Republic in the first century BC and the time of Emperor Augustus." (Image courtesy

According to the Kalkriese Museum, "All coins found in Kalkriese date back to the Roman Republic in the first century BC and the time of Emperor Augustus." (Image courtesy

Arminius may have earned his reputation, sort of. The defeat of three Roman legions under the command of Rome’s Germania governor and General Publius Quinctilius Varus really happened. It is also fact that the Romans never again attempted to establish settlements in Germany following the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Arminius had received a Roman military education and had Roman citizenship. Arminius commanded an auxiliary German cavalry attached to the Roman army prior to switching his allegiance.

What is fake is that Arminius or Hermann was the heroic liberator who created the German nation. You can thank Martin Luther for this idea. During the mid-20th century, the National Socialists enhanced this concept during the Third Reich.

Tillmann Bendikowski is the author of “Der deutsche Glaubenskrieg: Martin Luther, der Papst und die Folgen,” which addresses this misconception. According to Bendikowski, “Arminius wasn’t the liberator of Germania and it’s simply wrong to call this the hour of the German nation’s birth,” adding, “You can see how hard it is to bury myths right now in Europe and the U.S. where we’re falling back into nationalism.”

It may also be fake that the battle took place near Kalkriese. Questions about how and where the battle took place are still being asked. The Kalkriese Museum was to begin a new three-year excavation project Sept. 4 to try and get some answers. This is where numismatic archaeological evidence is playing an important part in the current research.

University of Munich provincial Roman archaeological specialist Salvatore Ortisi will head the upcoming study. According to Ortisi, “We haven’t got final proof; we haven’t found anything with the inscription of the 19th or 18th or 17th legions. We’re hoping for some piece of a helmet with an inscription or a plaque with the name of a unit, or a stamped artillery bolt.”

Coins are a major part of the already known evidence. Ortisi said of small groups of coins found at various locations in the past, “It looks like the attempt to hide one’s own money purse before it’s too late; it indicates that this must have been a very, very threatening situation.”

According to the July 25 Deutsche Welle newspaper, “The clues in the ground tell stories of desperate legionaries burying their money in the ground, of the dead and dying being violently stripped of their armor, of bodies left to rot in the forest, of victors calmly stacking looted war material for recycling.”

In early 2017 a hoard of more than 200 silver Roman coins, all dated prior to 9 C.E., were found in the Kalkriese area where the battle is suspected to have taken place.

During 2016, University of Osnabrück archaeologists unearthed eight Roman gold aurei east of Bramsche, leading to speculation that Bramsche might be the sight of the battle. Each coin dates from between 2 and 5 C.E. Each of these coins depicts Roman Emperor Augustus on the obverse, with his grandsons Gaius and Lucius on the reverse. Minor denomination bronze coins were found at the same sight. It has been speculated the gold coins were lost by an officer attempting to flee the massacre.

Bramsche has been nicknamed Goldacker, or field of gold, by local citizens because of other area finds. This includes the 1987 discovery of 162 silver coins and three Roman slingshots by British officer Tony Clunn, again none of these coins having been minted after 9 C.E. There has been, however, a general lack of military objects found at Bramsche. Scholars, for this reason, have proposed other possible sites for the Teutoburg Forest battle.

Germanicus’ troops campaigned against the Germanic tribes six years after the ill-fated Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Roman accounts indicate Roman emperor designate Germanicus found the battlefield, then had pits dug to bury the human remains (which included skulls nailed to trees). Researchers hope that by analyzing metal found at Kalkriese they can determine if this metal (and presumably the coins) belong to Germanicus’ troops or to the “Varusschlacht” epic battle won by Arminius.

This article was originally printed in World Coin News. >> Subscribe today.

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